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Back in the Northern Hemisphere

By Kate “Bob” Addison

For Picton Castle and some of her crew, it’s already been a voyage of two and a half years. We set sail from Lunenburg late in 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, bound around the world and with a couple of bonus loops of the South Pacific and months of sail-powered cargo operations in the Cook Islands too.

I suppose it’s been a rare sort of voyage for these days of Panamax bulk carriers and GRP yachting. There are not so many square rigged ships wandering the world these days, their crews learning the same seamanship that has been passed down through the generations in an unbroken chain all the way from those supermen, the Age of Sail mariners who coaxed their vast and magnificent vessels around Cape Horn, grossly undermanned and under fed by modern standards.

Now after navigating oceans and dropping our anchor in so many wonderful and varied ports and islands we are finally homeward bound. Bound, by way of the Caribbean and Bermuda, for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada where we will close the circle and bring this unique voyage to an end.

And so we find ourselves back in the choppy North Atlantic – more or less home waters for most of our crew, hailing as they do from Europe or Canada or the USA.

I was grumbling cheerfully to Erin, our Bermudian Bosun about being back in the rainy, lumpy North Atlantic, and she laughed and said, ‘yep three degrees north – try complaining about that to the folks back home.’ Fair point. And it’s true that it is tropical-warm here, at a steady and pleasant 27°C (80F), the water temperature being much the same as the air, and night being almost as warm as day.

But it is interesting to me to see how different the Atlantic looks to the intense blue of the Pacific, and the even brighter blue of the Indian Ocean where we’ve clocked up so many nautical miles over the last few years.

Really it’s all just the one ocean stretching all around the globe and rushing around the crunch points of Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope. So maybe it’s just the overcast sky we have at the moment that’s muting the naturally vibrant colour of the sea. Whatever the reason, all from here to the horizon is a deep, dull, grey-blue, the only bright colour is the stream of turquoise and white surf streaming under our stern
counter as we fly through the waves under sail and steam, trying to make northing to get out of this squally doldrums weather.

The fishing lines are stretched out behind, optimistic that we’ll catch something better than yet more sargasso weed. There are plenty of flying fish, dolphins and porpoises and sea birds around these days, so it seems like there must be some big fish down there, but for some reason they aren’t biting – leaving us eating tinned and frozen food, and staring wistfully at the stubborn lines.

But there is also something rather wonderful about being almost home – we are back in the Western hemisphere and now north of the equator and within a few months we’ll be making the final passage from Bermuda back up to Lunenburg.

There’s a familiarity about this Atlantic for someone like me brought up playing yachting in the typically jumbled weather of an English summer in the Channel. It’s oddly comforting to be blanketed in clouds, and not to have to worry much about sunscreen for a change. And the rainy weather is an excuse for cozy things too – organizing bunks, sea chests and work spaces, getting round to sorting through photographs, finishing up sewing projects and books, or just drinking hot chocolate and hanging out down below.

Of course we’re all looking forward to fun times in the Caribbean: who could resist these seductive islands with their pristine white sand beaches and jungly interiors, clear aquamarine water and relaxed days of reggae music and ice-cream, small boat sailing and splashing about with a snorkel, sailing the ship on and off the hook and trade-wind day-sails between these fabulous islands.

But we’re enjoying this last, long ocean passage too, despite the rain – five weeks or so in a fine ship with great shipmates, no traffic, or deadlines or bills or anything much at all to worry about, and not much in the way of news or appointments either.

I think it’s pretty rare and wonderful in this age of instant communications and unfiltered information bombardment to have so much time and space to breathe, and just be.

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