Friday, March 20th, 2015
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?