Captain's Log

Archive for December, 2014

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Day’s Run – December 20

DATE: Dec 20th, 2014
BOUND FROM: Reunion Island, France, Indian Ocean
TOWARDS: Cape Town, South Africa, Atlantic Ocean
NOON POSITION: 28°08.8’S /044°16.4’E
DAYS RUN: 117nm
COURSE AND SPEED: NW 255T, 4.7 knots
WIND: Wind Force 3-4, SExS
WEATHER: fair, 7/8 cloud, visibility very good, barometer 1018 millibars and steady
SAILS SET: All square sails set running downwind.
SHIPS WORK: Work continues on the monomoy floor boards, which are being sanded back ready for a fresh coat of paint. More tarring aloft. Another footrope was overhauled. Paint finished on the focslehead ladder and quarterdeck stanchions.
REMARKS: Feeling festive today with Christmas music playing on the
quarterdeck all morning!

Erin and Amy plan the work day
Erin and Amy plan the work day

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Day’s Run – December 18

BOUND FROM: Reunion Island, France, Indian Ocean
TOWARDS: Cape Town, South Africa, Atlantic Ocean
NOON POSITION:26°33.5’S /048°12.6’E
DAYS RUN: 96nm
COURSE AND SPEED: WxS 243T, 4.4 knots
WIND: Wind Force 4, S
WEATHER: fair, 7/8 cloud, visibility very good, barometer 1017 millibars and steady
SAILS SET: All sails set.
SHIPS WORK: Continued to overhaul running rigging and footropes.
Overhauled turnbuckles ready for replacing the main stay in Cape Town. Carpentry work continues in two small areas on the quarterdeck. Bent on a new fore topmast staysail. Sailmaking work continues on the new jib, the hatch cover and patching the bridge awning.
REMARKS: Caught 3 fish last night and this morning – two wahoo and a mahi mahi, each big enough to make a meal for all hands. An afternoon workshop was held on seizing, and everyone was given some old rope and lengths of small stuff to practice three seizings – more to come tomorrow. 7 days til Christmas and it’s starting to get festive!

Alex sweeping santa
Alex sweeps the waterways on the quarterdeck in a Santa hat


Terry, Emil, Dkembe and Jens, all on the 4-8 watch, scrub the decks in festive accessories

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Ship’s Work

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Tuesday December 16th, 2014

A typical Tuesday afternoon of this Indian Ocean passage and all about the Barque Picton Castle are scenes of quiet and very salty industry.

People sometimes ask how we fill our time all day at sea. If you’re used to short holidays aboard a fibreglass yacht with synthetic lines and sails, GPS navigation and not much in the way of deck space, it’s a reasonable question. It’s not like we have TVs on board or spend much time commuting. But it always sounds an odd question to me – there’s never enough time in the day to fit everything in, and with so many people around there’s always someone to sit and chat with if you do find yourself at a loose end.

Firstly there’s watch. Most of the crew are part of the four hour on, eight hour off watch system that rolls along non-stop day and night until we drop the anchor or send our mooring lines ashore. The on-watch are responsible for keeping the ship sailing along safe so the off watches can sleep, relax or get on with their own projects. The watch rotate through hour-long tricks at the helm, the big teak wheel aft on the quarter-deck and also hour long rotations standing up on the fo’c’sle head, acting as dedicated forward lookout when it’s night, or if weather conditions, proximity to shore or traffic demand it.

The rest of the time the watch are looking after what ever needs doing to keep the ship sailing effectively and safely. It might be trimming the sails or bracing yards around if the wind shifts, or if our ordered course changes. If the wind picks up they might be ordered to take in the light-airs sails and run up aloft to furl them snug. Or if we’re slowing down and the wind is light they might set more sail. There’s domestic cleaning that needs doing everyday – you can imagine a house with 45 people living in it would need pretty regular scrubbing to keep it reasonably clean. We wash down the decks every morning too – the salt water being good for the oiled pine decks and keeping the seams tight, as well as cleaning off any wood chips or project debris that escaped the previous evening’s deck sweep, and the scraps of midnight snacks that invariably get spread around the quarterdeck by the night watches.

Then there’s is always ship’s work to do. The natural fibre running rig and sails are plenty strong, but they are affected by the elements and there’s always work to do aloft and on deck to keep them in good condition. The wire standing rigging is tarred regularly to protect the marlin serving and steel from sun and salt water, and areas that might chafe or rub are protected with pieces of sewn on leather or canvas, or served with marlin. Blocks need to be overhauled and kept well greased so the lines run through them with as little friction as possible, and sails need any small tears or thin spots repairing before they get bigger. Salt water would corrode steel pretty fast if not protected, so we chip or scrape off any surface rust that’s formed, clean up the steel and then prime with special paint to protect and seal the steel before applying top coat. We use epoxy paint in dry dock when we can sand blast the hull and do a good job of it, but on top of that is many layers of oil paint, applied fairly often as protection for the epoxy coat, to slow down any corrosion and for the cosmetic effect too. Wood too would suffer from the elements if not kept painted, varnished, or oiled so there’s usually some scraping, sanding or coating that needs doing somewhere on the ship, and the bosun and lead seamen keep these projects organised and running smoothly throughout the day.

Then there are the ‘day-men’ and their special projects, which all crew are welcome to join in with if they find something interesting. Actually that’s usually how we choose the next day men – people who’ve shown some interest by getting involved in some of their off time. Day-men work as sailmakers, riggers, engineers and carpenters.

The sailmaking team is especially strong this passage, and since the weather has been fair the sailmakers have been catching up on repairs to plenty of old sails, as well as making some brand new ones. I think it’s pretty cool that we make sails from scratch onboard, usually starting them off in a yacht club or on a well-swept concrete dock in some exotic port, and then seaming them up with a machine or by hand. But all of the finishing and hand work is done onboard, up on the quarterdeck where it’s clean and fairly flat, as far as possible from the tar and paint of the bosun’s supplies up forward.

First we roll out the bolts of brand new white cotton canvas to make the panels, and seam them up with beeswax coated twine, pushing the special sail-maker’s needle through stitch after stitch using a thick leather palm with its angled metal thimble. That makes the body of the sail, which is laid out a second time and its final shape cut out. Then there is more stitching to do: adding tabling and patches, and sewing rope along the edges for strength, and a long sacrificial sun-patch along the top for protection when the sail is furled. Then fitting the hardware: head earrings and clews and grommets all along so it can be lashed to its yard or stay. Finally the sailmaker gets the honour of marking the completion date, the name of the sail and the ship’s name in a corner and the sail is ready to send aloft.

It’s quite a process but we have lots of hands interested in helping out, and if a few volunteers put in an hour or two of seaming every day it’s amazing how quickly it moves along. This week the sailmakers started making a new canvas cover for the main cargo hatch. With its twelve long, straight seams and nice square shape it’s an ideal project for people new to sail making to practice their stitching, and two seams are done already.

Sailmaker John works on a repair job on the quarterdeck, with help from one of the ship’s cats

Assistant Engineer Nikolaj does some fine painting on the outside of the charthouse

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Day’s Run – December 17

BOUND FROM: Reunion Island, France, Indian Ocean
TOWARDS: Cape Town, South Africa
NOON POSITION:26°02.8’S /049°54.3’E
DAYS RUN: 138nm
COURSE AND SPEED: W 240T, 2 knots
WIND: Wind Force 2, SSE
WEATHER: fair, 7/8 cloud, good, barometer 1017 millibars and steady
SAILS SET: All sails set.
SHIPS WORK: Continued to overhaul running rigging and footropes. Tar and patch serving applied in the head rig. The carpenter and chief mate are making a couple of ‘Dutchmen’ or small planks of new wood on the quarterdeck. Sailmaking work continues on the new outer jib, canvas hatch cover and a mainsail. Bent on the new brand new inner jib, which the sail makers finished just before Reunion.
REMARKS: Abandon ship drills and discussion, followed by a workshop on rigging theory: an overview of the purpose and nature of standing rigging. Rather than teaching specific hand-skills today, Captain discussed the basic purpose of rigging, the different strengths and characteristics of the main mast, topmast and t’gallant masts and their yards, shrouds and stays and deliberate weak points, a basic description of how Picton Castle’s rig was designed, the first principles behind setting up and tuning a rig, and touched on the evolution of sailing ship rig design and materials across Europe and the Americas. Great questions from the gang included why we serve wire rigging with tarred marlin, use of different types of ‘goop’ to preserve the rig, if it would be possible to send down the whole rig aboard ship without using a crane (yes), advantages of modern materials and fittings, and the relative advantages of wire splices compared to wire seizings.

Abandon ship drills
Abandon ship drill

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Day’s Run – December 16

BOUND FROM: Reunion Island, France, Indian Ocean
TOWARDS: Cape Town, South Africa
NOON POSITION:24°22.5’S /051°34.8’E
DAYS RUN: 85nm
COURSE AND SPEED: SW 200T, 3.6 knots
WIND: Wind Force 3, ExNE
WEATHER: fair, 4/8 cloud, good, barometer 1019 millibars and steady
SAILS SET: All square sails and outer jib set. Took in all other fore
and aft sail because of squall activity astern.
SHIPS WORK: Continued to overhaul running rigging and footropes.
Sailmaking work continues on the new jib, canvas hatch cover
REMARKS: Painting and coatings workshop discussing the benefits of different types of modern paint and coatings to protect wood and steel, and tips for how to prepare and set up a project and do a good job. Captain worried the bosun by ‘accidentally’ spilling a good quantity of green paint on the deck: the lesson was not to panic, but how to clean it up quickly and well!

Captain Moreland looks at bosun Erin after intentionally spilling paint on the deck in order to teach a lesson on how to clean it up

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Day’s Run – December 15

BOUND FROM: Reunion Island, France, Indian Ocean
TOWARDS: Cape Town, South Africa
NOON POSITION: 23°07.0’S / 052°17.8’E
DAYS RUN: 141nm
COURSE AND SPEED: WSW 216T, 3.6 knots
WIND: Wind Force 2-3, NE
WEATHER: overcast, 7/8 cloud, good, barometer 1019 millibars and falling slowly
SAILS SET: All sails set
SHIPS WORK: We’re continuing to get the ship ready for any possible weather around the Cape – the main job has been inspecting the rig carefully, and replacing plenty of running rigging with brand new rope. The port fore upper topsail foot rope was sent down for overhauling today; and the main royal sail too.
REMARKS: Still underway from La Reunion to Cape Town, the weather is less sunny today and squally, though so far there’s been no strength in the squalls, just heavy rain showers and a slight wind shift. Abandon ship drills took place this afternoon followed by a talk from Captain Moreland on our plan for this passage: we will be heading south of Madagascar in the south equatorial current and then passing round the tip of Africa, passing close by Durban to pick up the strong Aghulas Current. It’s the best time of year to be rounding the Cape, so we have a pretty good prospect of fair winds and good weather, but we’re busy making sure all is ship-shape just in case.

Kelley watching the sunset
Kelley on lookout at sunset

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Day’s Run – December 14

BOUND FROM: Reunion Island, France, Indian Ocean
TOWARDS: Cape Town, South Africa
NOON POSITION: 21°34.3’S / 054°11.7’E
DAYS RUN: 72nm
COURSE AND SPEED: WxS 241T, 7.1 knots
WIND: Wind Force 1-2, Variable wind direction
WEATHER: fair, 4/8 cloud, visibility good, barometer 1019 millibars and steady
SAILS SET: All sails set
SHIPS WORK: Sunday at sea! The cooks today were Jens, Amanda and Morten – great job with potato salad and tuna toasts for lunch and spaghetti with tomato sauce, and big salad and chocolate brownies for supper.
REMARKS: After a lovely week in ‘France’, we’re now underway from La Reunion, bound two thousand miles around the Cape of Good Hope for Cape Town. Hot weather today so we rigged the power shower after lunch.

Kurt helm leaving Reunion
Kurt on helm leaving Reunion

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Day’s Run – December 5

BOUND FROM: Rodrigues Island, Mauritius, Indian Ocean
TOWARDS: Reunion Island, France, Indian Ocean
NOON POSITION: 20°48.9’S / 057°29.5’E
DAYS RUN: 107nm
COURSE AND SPEED: WNW 262T, 8.4 knots
WIND: Wind Force 2, SE
WEATHER: fair, 3/8 cloud, visibility very good, barometer 1019 millibars and falling slowly
SAILS SET: all sail set – after steaming for a spell to ensure we make our appointment with the pilot at Reunion at 1400 tomorrow.
SHIPS WORK: John finished to the rope cover on the new foretopmast staysail – it’s completely finished now. Mahogany chest on the quarterdeck varnished. Joe made a new hardwood box on the foremast for the steaming light and sent it up. And new lockers for the fire hoses. Overhauled boat falls and blocks for longboat, spot painting, much communications with authorities in Reunion for pilots and such.
REMARKS: Sarong/lavalava/pareau-themed marlinspike for the end of the passage, by demand a Polynesian dance lesson for the girls with Miss Vai from Tonga, and a talk introducing Reunion and reminding people this is the last port before Christmas to buy presents.

Kelley at the paint locker
Kelley at the paint locker

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Underway from Rodrigues

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Tuesday December 2nd, 2014

This time yesterday Picton Castle was getting underway from Rodrigues. The harbour tug Solitaire was off our port bow churning the turquoise harbour water to white as she took up the strain on our headline, and slowly we came round into the wind, pivoting off the dock on our stern spring. The wharf was scattered with port workers, and the men unloading sacks of rice out of a shipping container stopped work for a minute to watch us leave. The small, covered fishing pier on the east side of our dock was crowded too – it seemed like after a week in Rodrigues everybody knew about Picton Castle and half the town came out to wave us off.

There was some wind and current as we navigated between the marker buoys to get out of the pass, but we didn’t need the tug that was standing by and soon we were clear of the coral and out in the open ocean. And now a day later we are sailing peacefully along, bound for Reunion Island, a mere 500 miles away. All sails are set and we are experiencing light airs behind the tropical storm that held us in port for a few extra days. So we may have to motor a little to make up time until the trade winds fill in again, but for now we are sailing along slowly in small seas, enjoying the quiet and calm of being just crew together at sea again.

We had a good time in Rodrigues – it is a really lovely place, very laid-back, and French influenced, with a mainly Creole population who couldn’t have been friendlier or more accommodating to us. The Harbour Master, Captain Gilbert deserves special recognition for being incredibly helpful to us.

Rodrigues is independently governed now, but had a prolonged history of European administration because of it’s importance as a sort of ‘service station’ to ships making the long Indian Ocean passage on the spice trade to India. Our pilot book says that the first European ships called here in the early sixteenth century, and that they would have re-provisioned their ships with giant tortoises and dodo birds, which lived here and on Mauritius. The giant tortoises are still doing well – now they can be found in a special reserve near the spectacular caves in the southwest. Most of our crew paid the tortoises a visit, and were suitably impressed, though Terry remarked that that they were smaller than the giant tortoises he’d seen in the Galapagos. The dodos of course did not survive all those generations of hungry sailors.

There are strong links with Mauritius, and that’s where the biweekly supply ship comes from – we had to move Picton Castle from the town dock out to anchor in the bay for a couple of days to allow her to berth and unload cargo, a pretty slick process that took them little more than 24 hours, working all night under big floodlights. It was certainly a much bigger scale operation than when Picton Castle delivers cargo in the Cook Islands, but then there are about 40,000 people living on Rodrigues, compared to 400 on Puka Puka. It was blowing hard enough while we were anchored there in the small basin with really no room to drag, and blowing all of Force 7, but we put both anchors out and they held beautifully – we didn’t drag an inch.

While at anchor we had a special treat, organised by Ship’s Medical Officer, Dr Nick. He had met some people in town who were in a band and thought it would be fun to come out and play on the ship, so we loaded band, instruments and amplifiers into the skiff, and enjoyed a brilliant impromptu concert on the hatch, with party lights and popcorn adding to the atmosphere. The music was mostly French and Creole jazz, blues and folk with a few American classics thrown in for fun. It was a wonderful evening.

The town of Port Mathurin is a grid about 4 streets by 6, with a small but good local market for vegetables, home-made hot sauce and woven hats and baskets. There are two or three nice French restaurants where the excellent marlin fumée, steak frites, chocolate mousse and crème brûlée were very welcome treats after a month at sea. My personal favourite was actually a tomato salad, but beautifully done with delicious fragrant tomatoes, sliced thin with a proper vinaigrette. There were plenty of small ‘snacks’ too, offering tasty canteen style food for small money. The range of food reflects the melange of the population: Indian curry places and carts selling samosas alongside East African Creole spots where everything comes with the spicy red local sausage and fiery green chilli paste. And then, just down the street, a proper French boulangerie stuffed with baguettes and fancy patisserie. There were plenty of small shops selling everything from ladies summer dresses to artificial flowers and bicycle tires. We found some good paint thinner and a new steel thermos flask for the ship.

Rodrigues was a good place for hiking; relatively small effort was rewarded with wonderful views as the volcanic hills dropped away to reveal another secluded sandy cove and the aquamarine water inside the reef. Some beaches came complete with a little shop to buy something cold to drink, others completely undisturbed. The countryside inland is all rolling hills dotted with simple little colourful houses, mostly with a pig or goat tethered outside, laundry on the line, vegetable gardens and small children playing in the mud. November must be spring here because there were fluffy chicks and ducklings everywhere – incongruous to my northern hemisphere brain with the Christmas decorations in the shops in town!


Arriving alongside at Port Mathurin, Rodrigues

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Day’s Run – December 4

BOUND FROM: Rodrigues Island, Mauritius, Indian Ocean
TOWARDS: Reunion Island, France, Indian Ocean
NOON POSITION: 20°36.7’S / 059°23.3’E
DAYS RUN: 118nm
COURSE AND SPEED: WxN 247T, 4.6 knots
WIND: Wind Force 4, SSE
WEATHER: fair, 4/8 cloud, visibility very good, barometer 1019 millibars and steady
SAILS SET: All sails set
SHIPS WORK: A coat of varnish on the oars for the long boat, and a coat of primer on the kedge anchor. More paint on the hatch cover and spot painting tropical blue on the ‘aloha deck’ overhead astern. The blocks for the monomoy falls were removed and overhauled by taking the weight of the boat on a strop. All greased up and oiled now. Even the fall gets a light tarring as a sunblock.
REMARKS: The cats had an unfortunate flying fish for breakfast this morning. More practice tacking the ship back and forth this afternoon, four actual tacks with one missed stays and with three longtails flying overhead looping in and out between the masts; they looked like they were wondering what this big floating bird below them was doing, and if it meant there might be fish nearby!

Fiji in a mainsail

Ship’s cat Fiji inspects the stitching on the mainsail

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