Captain's Log

Archive for March, 2015

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4-8 Watch In The Evening

Squally squally equatorial afternoon

March 13, 2015

The Picton Castle is about 200 miles off the NE corner of Brazil just about on the equator. All square sail is set barring the fore royal which is waiting for the just now finished shiny new royal yard to be sent up and crossed. The yards are braced well ahead of square on the starboard tack for a beam wind. We are sailing in the equatorial doldrums. This means plenty of rain squalls the last few days. More to come it looks like too.

We turn to on the quarterdeck for the 4-8 afternoon watch and take over from the 12-4. New helmsman takes the wheel, Norma from Sweden. She steps on the weathered helmsman grating and repeats the helm order she has been given, west-north-west says she and thus she steers taking the big varnished wheel, as tall as she is in hand. A lumpy sloppy cross sea shoves the ship around in the light winds. As the wind returns after a wind-stealing squall, this feeling will ease. A long grey squall line crawls up from astern and warns us it is going to engulf the ship in rain soon enough. To make steering easier, in case it should breeze up, Acting Lead Seaman Amanda, also from Sweden and a former student of the fine bark Gunilla, leads the watch in taking in the spanker. Halyards for upper staysails are laid out on deck for easy casting off if needed.

The character of the squalls we have been in lately have not been violent but sometimes arrive with big wind shifts. But we are wary about intensity anyway, you never know. This one does not look so bad and indeed it is not. But we get a nice short freshwater deluge nonetheless.

The day’s work is coming to a conclusion on the 4 to 8. The riggers are making a new fore cap-stay with some 1″ wire we bought in Fiji for the job. The upper end gets spliced and the lower end gets four wire seizings. And then tarred everywhere, some even gets on the rigging intended. A nice piece of rigging work for the gang to learn to do. The carpenter daymen are planing away on a piece of Reunion pine making a new mast (and lots of wood chips) for one of our small boats which we intend to sail as much as we can once in the Caribbean islands. The sails are almost finished and a rudder and tiller are on the way. The gang is keen to do a lot of small boat sailing in the blue Caribbean. The watch gets out the brooms and sweeps up bushels of shavings from the mast job. A sail being patched on the hatch by Gabe gets rolled up and put away. Bruce, leading up the celestial navigation gang, is frustrated with the overcast sky. He comes on the quarterdeck looking out to sea and sky hopefully, not sure why. There will be no star sights tonight.

Amanda has the watch go about slacking lines of manila running rigging that have swollen in the rain. Our old canvas is aloft, soft, patched and grey to creamy white. The new white patches standing out in sharp contrast on the old grey canvas made darker when soaking wet as they are now.

Tonight’s supper is in the ‘tween-decks salon at our four mahogany tables instead of on deck. Rice and peas and spicy curry chicken is the fare for this evening. The 4 to 8 brings their bowls and plates on deck to eat. We see another rain squall-line crawling up on us from astern. Hopefully in a day or two we will be back in blue-sky weather and can dry out. We are getting moldy… It looks to be a dark and squally night coming up. So, just to be on the easy side we will take in and stow the flying jib for the night. We will take and furl the main royal before too long as well. It is not blowing at all hard just now but just as well to have it in and stowed so to pay attention to other things that may need attending to should a squall come on sharp and mean.

The grey of the late afternoon has diminished into a darker grey of night. The Chief Mate comes on deck with a big cup of coffee steaming in his hand, about half an hour before his 8 to 12 watch is to muster. We talk about the day’s work, plans for tomorrow and how things are going in general. It is both easier and better to head off problems before they begin than it is to fix them after the fact. Tomorrow is another day, but we dare not plan overly much. The 8 to 12 watch relieves the 4 to 8; helm, lookout, discussion between lead seamen on what needs doing. Lanterns are burning bright, galley is done. Tools and projects put away.

We are all a bit nervous. We have crossed The Equator yesterday but have not met up with Neptune as yet. However, there have been plenty of sea birds have swirled about this ship of late. Many pods of porpoise have swung by, under the bow to check out the Picton Castle. Plenty mahi-mahi jumping near us, each with one baleful eye on the side of their head taking in the state of our crew in an chilling manner as they leap from the sea. Perhaps these are scouts for King Neptune and the Royal Court?

Squall on the horizon

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Day’s Run – March 19, 2015

Another fine day of trade wind sailing and we’re getting back into our fair weather routines. Captain ran another splicing workshop this afternoon: mostly a refresher for most people, but with the aim of bringing everyone up to the same level. He ran through eye splice (with different tapers), with-the-lay sailmakers’ eye splice, short splice, chain splice and laying up grommets. The gang will get plenty of time to practice them all before the end of the week.
SHIPS WORK: Carpenters have finished work on the new small boat spars, which are getting coats of varnish. Sailmakers are working on a new gaff topsail, a lower topsail and an inner jib. The weather’s good enough for painting again, so the watch were busy here and there with brushes and cans and rags to catch the drips.
BOUND FROM: James Bay, St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
TOWARDS: Grenada, Windward Islands, Caribbean Sea
NOON POSITION: 04°38.5’N /042°01.9’W
DAYS RUN: 145 nm
COURSE AND SPEED: North West by North, Course made good 173° true, 6.2 knots
WIND: Wind Force 5, North North East
WEATHER: Fair, 4/8 cloud, barometer 1017 millibars and falling slowly, visibility good
SAILS SET: All sails set
More splicing practice
The crew practice splicing at the workshop

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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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Day’s Run – March 18, 2015

We seem to be finally out of the wet and squally weather and back into trade winds and there was even enough sun to get a noon sight today for the first time in a week. Hurrah! The ship is bowling along nicely with almost everything set. Captain held a long splice workshop this afternoon.
SHIPS WORK: Lots of spot painting, spar making for boats, replaced fore topmast staysail sheet pennants and head earring for main upper topsail. Finished making the sails for SYDNEY and finished roping the new topmast studdingsail.
BOUND FROM: James Bay, St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
TOWARDS: Grenada, Windward Islands, Caribbean Sea
NOON POSITION: 04°14.2’N /039°38.8’W
DAYS RUN: 158 nm
COURSE AND SPEED: North West, Course made good 280° true, 6.5 knots
WIND: Wind Force 5, North North East
WEATHER: Fair,7/8 cloud, barometer 1017 millibars and rising slowly, visibility very good
SAILS SET: All square sails to the t’gallants; main, fore and mizzen topmast staysails, main t’gallant staysail, inner and outer jib and spanker all set and braced up on the starboard tack.
Fiji and the gang at the long splice workshop
Ship’s cat Fiji and the crew at the long splice workshop

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Day’s Run – March 17, 2015

We’re used to a tropical, outdoors-lifestyle on PICTON CASTLE but the continuing rain showers are sending most projects down below: the bosun and riggers have turned the cargo hold into an impromptu workshop and there are bits of rope and wire stretched here and there being spliced or served or tarred. The sailmakers have set up shop in the spacious salon, using the mother of pearl-inlaid Bali sea chests as temporary sail benches, the new sails spread out all around them on the varnished wood. The watch is split between the carpenters shop, aloha deck and boat deck where they are using the wet weather as an opportunity for a deep clean and scrub down. Nicole has the helm, neon bright in her wet weather gear. Alex is standing by on the quaterdeck, keeping a weather eye out for squalls. We eat down below when it’s wet out, and between meals there’s usually a small group of the off watch hanging out and playing cards, Pictionary or backgammon.
SHIPS WORK: Deep clean of carpenter’s shop, coffee station and drinks cooler rack, galley house and forepeak. Sailmakers are roping the new upper studdingsail, roping a new topsail and making grommets on a new jib. Riggers are catching up on odd jobs: tidying stores, sorting rope and making up new headsail sheet pennants. Donald is saving us from getting too grumpy about the rain by making cinnamon buns for breakfast, and fried chicken for supper.
BOUND FROM: James Bay, St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
TOWARDS: Grenada, Windward Islands, Caribbean Sea
NOON POSITION: 03°31.3’N /037°10.7’W
DAYS RUN: 183 nm
COURSE AND SPEED: North by West, Course made good 320° true, 7.6 knots
WIND: Wind Force 1-2, Variable
WEATHER: Light rain interspersed with fair weather and heavy downpours, overcast, barometer 1017 millibars and rising slowly, visibility poor
SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: East North East 1-2 m
SAILS SET: Main upper and lower topsails, foresail and fore lower
topsail and main and fore topmast staysails set, all braced up on the starboard tack.
Playing cards in the salon
Playing cards in the main salon

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Day’s Run – March 16, 2015

The winds continue light, so mid-morning the Captain told the engineers fired up the Burmeister & Wain Alpha seven-cylinder main engine and now we’re steaming through the doldrums, getting far enough north of the line to pick up the trade winds again. Age of Sail mariners would have been plenty jealous of our reliable Danish diesel topsail as they rolled around in the doldrums for days or even weeks waiting and whistling for a breeze. We much prefer to sail whenever we can, but it’s certainly very reassuring to have the option of steaming for a spell when we need to.
SHIPS WORK: Dress fore royal yard, ready to send aloft. Tar turnbacks in the headrig, replace spanker peak outhaul and clew inhaul and mizzen topmast staysail downhaul, take apart the old, damaged topsail to keep any hardware that’s still good and the canvas for chafe gear or patching, repair fore royal lift strop, and spot-paint tropical blue on the breezeway overhead.
BOUND FROM: James Bay, St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
TOWARDS: Grenada, Windward Islands, Caribbean Sea
NOON POSITION: 01°50.6’N /034°33.7’W
DAYS RUN: 72nm
COURSE AND SPEED: North West 1/2 West, Course made good 234° true, 7.7 knots
WIND: Wind Force 2, North by East
WEATHER: Fair, overcast, barometer 1017 millibars rising slowly,
visibility good
SAILS SET: All four topsails and all fore-and-aft sails except the gaff topsail set, braced up on the starboard tack.
Chief Engineer Billy running the ME
Chief Engineer Billy runs the main engine

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Day’s Run – March 15, 2015

Sunday at sea. We were visited by plenty of sea birds today and what looked like hundreds of dolphins approaching broad side-to in a long line off to port. They got close enough to have a good look at us and then turned away to the southeast, still in formation. And a ‘Shellbacks Only’ marlinspike this afternoon.
SHIPS WORK: The old main upper topsail parted today – a big vertical tear from head to foot on the port side – Captain said it was about time for a sail that’s nearly 20 years old – and all hand-made aboard this ship from natural fibre. We sent the sail down and sent up a newer one up in its place this morning.
BOUND FROM: James Bay, St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
TOWARDS: Grenada, Windward Islands, Caribbean Sea
NOON POSITION: 01°32.6’N /033°36.9’W
DAYS RUN: 64nm
COURSE AND SPEED: West North West, Course made good 261° true, 2.9 knots
WIND: Wind Force 2, North North East
WEATHER: Fair, 7/8 cloud cover, barometer 1015 millibars and steady, visibility good
SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: East South East 1-2 m
SAILS SET: All sails set, braced up on the starboard tack
The remains of the main upper topsail
The remains of the main upper topsail

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Vanuatu – Cyclone Pam

The crew of Picton Castle were shocked and saddened by the news of the vast destruction reportedly caused by Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam to the tiny and beautiful island nation of Vanuatu.

It wasn’t so long ago that we were last there, trading clothes, knives and pots and pans for fresh fruit, handmade baskets and tiny model dug-out canoes, learning to speak a little Bislama and playing on the beaches with hordes of inquisitive small children.

We had a wonderful time in Vanuatu – from the tiny but bustling capital, Port Vila on Efate to wonderful Banam Bay on Malekula Island, which is like visiting another world, or at least another time.

We were welcomed into the villages like old friends, and the arrival of a ship full of sailors seemed like a great excuse for singing and dancing and string bands playing on the sandy beach under the stars and coconut fronds. It’s our favourite way to visit, when the islanders enjoy the party as much as our crew.

But Vanuatu is not a place to be in a severe cyclone. Low-lying villages and fragile buildings with thatched or sheet-tin roofs are no match for 26 foot sea surge and 180mph winds. And an economy based mainly on subsistence farming will not make the recovery any easier.

So we’re grateful to the quick response from New Zealand and Australia, and all of the aid agencies who are working to get basic supplies to these gentle and gracious people, who had so little to start with and who now face total devastation.

Our thoughts are with all in Vanuatu, but especially our friends in Malekula, Maewo & Pentecost.

– Captain Daniel Moreland and the crew of the Picton Castle

If you would like to help, please consider making a donation through an aid agency of your choice. Here are a few agencies that are already working to provide relief in Vanuatu.

Red Cross – Canada
UNICEF – New Zealand
Oxfam – Australia

Picton Castle crew in Asanvari, Maewo, Vanuatu

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Day’s Run – March 14, 2015

DATE: March 14th, 2015
REMARKS: We hove-to after lunch so Neptune’s Court could come aboard and complete the usual Line-Crossing ceremonies today. All went very well, and the new shellbacks are enjoying the coolness of their new haircuts.
SHIPS WORK: No additional ship’s work today.
BOUND FROM: James Bay, St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
TOWARDS: Grenada, Windward Islands, Caribbean Sea
NOON POSITION: 01°06.8’N /032°38.7’W
DAYS RUN: 64 nm
COURSE AND SPEED: North West by West, Course made good 292° true, 1.9 knots
WIND: Wind Force 1-2, East North East
WEATHER: Light rain, overcast, barometer 1015 millibars and steady, visibility good
SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: North East by North 1-2 m
SAILS SET: All sails set, braced up on the starboard tack

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Day’s Run – March 13, 2015

DATE: March 13th, 2015
REMARKS: Another squally day and lumpy cross seas coming with some of the larger squalls.
SHIPS WORK: Hard to get ship’s work done on deck in squally, wet weather. The bosun has set up a workshop in the cargo hold to work on various wire splices and seizings, under the shade of various sails and foul weather gear, strung up from the overhead to dry. The sailmakers are in the salon with their work draped over the tables, and the watch is mostly busy with sail handling and bracing around to keep up with the fickle wind.
BOUND FROM: James Bay, St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
TOWARDS: Grenada, Windward Islands, Caribbean Sea
NOON POSITION: 00°44.1’N /031°42.2’W
DAYS RUN: 91 nm
COURSE AND SPEED: North West, Course made good 292° true, 4.8 knots
WIND: Wind Force 4, North East by North
WEATHER: Fair, overcast, barometer 1015 millibars and steady, visibility good
SAILS SET: All sails set, braced up on the starboard tack

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