Captain's Log

Archive for April, 2015

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Sailing the Isles of the Blest

April 14th, 2015

We just sailed from Bequia of St Vincent and the Grenadines, yesterday afternoon in our Barque Picton Castle. Bound for Antigua we are just now. Sailing under the lee of St Lucia and Martinique – plan to get to windward of Dominica to get some useful winds on the Atlantic side of the islands and carry on towards Falmouth. Or see how it goes. Sailing along the lee of Dominica is nice too, even if winds are fluky. The day looks to be coming in squally. Maybe I will go for fluky on the smooth lee side of the island instead of heavy squalls on a lee shore on the windward side.

The Picton Castle came to anchor under sail off Hillsborough, Carriacou, Windward Islands, Eastern Caribbean a couple weeks ago. We had been 35 days at sea from St Helena deep in the middle of the South Atlantic and a couple weeks before that in Cape Town on this 6th world voyage of hers. 5,600 miles. We had crossed the equator back into the northern hemisphere for the first time in over two years. A good passage, with a good gang, made good time, a good few days of rain squalls along the coast of Brazil, but fair winds and currents so, can’t complain. Studding sails were set for quite a few days too.

As land approached on the port bow, no doubt much as Columbus may have seen it for the first time, we sailed out of the Atlantic around the north end of Carriacou with a fine fresh following breeze on a trade-wind morning in to the blue Caribbean Sea and let go the big port hook into the sandy bottom off this small West Indian port. Pretty much perfect way to end a passage.

Carriacou is as peaceful and enchanting as ever. One gas station, a few dozen road-side BBQ cold drink shops and a large wooden fishing sloop in frame abuilding and getting planked up at Windward. Not bad. Actually three wooden vessels are being built right now over at Windward; two motor fish boats and a sloop. Dunstin Bristol, son of shipwright Mathias Bristol (RIP), once in Customs, came down to see us and good to see him when we visit. Mathias and his brother George Bristol were shipwrights who taught me caulking and carving timber and planking when I worked at the shipyard in Grenada. This has served me well over the ensuing years. Young mariners coming up have little idea how to caulk, spike in a plank or lay in a dutchman anymore unless they get a chance like that. The easy tempo of the island was capped by a big old lobster feed for all hands on the free watch at OFF THE HOOK near MAMA JOY’S in Paradise Beach made for a sweet visit to Carriacou. Then we sailed to St George’s, Grenada, 35 miles away.

Grenada remains charming yet as well. High, mountainous with lovely old brick buildings is the town of St George’s. Can’t say I like this mega-yacht marina in the lagoon where the shipyard used to be that much, with no way to haul boats and just expensive restaurants instead of welding shops, only really big yachts. But I suppose its much better than a shut down bankrupt shipyard for the local economy. My old shipwright boss Bones is going strong. Looks the same, just white hair now.

Getting things done in Grenada is a bit easier today than it was 30/40 years ago, but no two or three big red or light grey two masted schooners in from Trinidad alongside in the Careenage anymore, but so it goes. Still plenty of inter-island traders though. The cool old veggie/fruit/spice market in town is still going strong and has been fixed up with all little quiet stucco stalls now and tiled up all instead of weathered plank tables under tin roofs with lots of delightful market noise going on.

One Mike Burk Windjammer Schooner is still around; Mandalay ex Vema ex Hussar, once a grand old three masted schooner of 450 tons. Once a grand yacht and later a research vessel manned entirely by lads from Lunenburg under the firm command of Captain Henry Kohler, she has been a passenger schooner for awhile. She is registered in Tanzania now and is shy one foremast. But the hull looks as strong and graceful as ever. She needs a multi-millionaire owner to love her up and restore her. I do not know what has become of the Flying Cloud, Yankee Clipper or the Polynesia, the old Portuguese fishing schooner. Nice vessels these all were at one time.

The gang explored spice plantations, an old rum distillery with water wheels and gears from the 1700’s, waterfalls, fish markets, a big BBQ at Donald’s house and another big ‘Boil Down’ on the beach at Mal Bay by former shipmate Queen.

We put in at Union and Mayreau. All doing well it seems, we could see houses getting built at nearby Petite Martinique. I am told that fishing is strong today and tax-free import/export is doing well too. Mayreau gets plenty visiting boats some days and few the next. Sweet as ever and folks are nice. A surprisingly excellent restaurant up on the hill; ‘Island Paradise’ and at a fair prices. We launched all our small wooden sailing craft at Mayreau to have some good small boat sailing exercise in and about the Tobago Cays. Only one broken boom and one broken rudder, all fixed pretty pronto.

Bequia is much the same, a bit more built up but far more like its old self than many places we could think of. A bit more lively and that’s not bad either. Everywhere is internet cafes now. Former Prime Minister, Sir James, Son Mitchell holds court at the FRANGIPANI. Some recall the building of Bob Dylan’s schooner Water Pearl right on the beach here, now quite a long time ago. The old freighting schooner and former ferry to St Vincent, the Bequia Schooner Friendship Rose, built right here too, is now all spruced up and making daysails. She is an interesting vessel, always the husky one back in the day but I guess that she is about as much schooner you can put into 80 feet that is possible to build. I figure that she is the very last built sailing ship built for cargo in the western hemisphere. She would be last commercial sailing ship at the extreme end of the age of sail, not including those built for romantical reasons.

They still also have the real working wooden sailing whale-boats here; pulled up on the beach with, as you well know, most famous one being called the Iron Duke which in its original incarnation came off a New Bedford whaling ship in the 1870’s. She has only been rebuilt 20-30 times or so. Every time getting heavier frames and planks it seems. She is a bit heavier now than the original Beetle-built version that pulled into Port Elizabeth, lo this century-plus years ago but still very much the classic whale boat of yore. Like Grandpa’s old axe which over the years has had 4 new heads and 6 new handles… Any harpooner out of Nantucket or New Bedford would feel right at home in these craft. They have four original wooden sailing, pulling whale boats yet. They got a small whale this year. Waterfront buzz suggests that they might just pack in their whaling from Bequia soon just out of evolving sensibilities. They just don’t want to be told by anyone to stop. I get that, but no one needs to kill whales anymore, do they? No one with a car anyway.

Saw an old friend from Nova Scotia in his 50′ wooden schooner at anchor at Bequia. He has a sweet schooner perfect for sailing the islands and few know them as well as he does. Raconteur, gifted chef de cuisine, brilliant social commentator, well known balladeer and guitar picker (with a number of superb records to his credit, google it all up) and all around fun guy. If anyone wants to have the time of their lives sailing in the Eastern Caribbean (and who in his right mind does not?) then they should sign on with Tom Gallant in his delightful island schooner Avenger, sailing about paradise – sort of part Jimmy Buffet and part Sterling Hayden and all heart and talent. Sounds like a recipe for clean sweet island living to me. Despite all these cheap plastic bare-boats that proliferate, there is still room for a fine ocean-proven, handsome wooden schooner and true Nova Scotian island schooner skipper who knows and loves what he is doing to guide one into and share in the delights of the Lesser Antilles of the Eastern Caribbean under gaff rig. We do not regret what we do so much as we regret what we don’t do.

Our two year, eight month old son Dawson makes us laugh and smile every day. At anchor his day (and ours) starts just after dawn with him clambering out of his bunk, checking on his mum Tammy then checking on me before he climbs the chart room ladder to run around the quarterdeck like a mad monkey as his mum and dad have their morning coffee, their very very early morning coffee…

The morning ferries all depart from the town dock almost at once for Kingston across the way in St Vincent, as we watch an island tropical morning grow and warm up the day before us. The occasional fisherman rows his two-bow boat across the bay in the early morning while things are still quiet.

The little guy goes swimming every day he can here at some little coral sand beach with tiny lapping waves. Sometimes I get to join him. When at small little beaches, he wants one of us to come in with him. He loves the water but won’t go in without one of us. Grabs me by the finger and pulls me along into where he wants to play. He does not want me to actually hold him but for he to hold me as he requires. He holds on to me as he kicks and splashes. Sometimes he lets go for a bit, floating for a bit and then comes back. He will stay in for hours splashing and dunking. It is much fun. He loves getting tossed back and forth between his mum and me. He sails a barque around the world in the bluewater tradewinds and in our old lapstrake 24′ long boat on expeditions to little cays with the big crew. He has his own deck scrub down brush and he has comments at every muster. He runs around ashore chasing goats and chickens while sucking mangoes. Basically he has the kids life of dreams. Swallows and Amazons has nothing on this little guy. Dawson has been a good little shipmate this voyage. And for that we too are very very thankful.

TRADE WINDS

In the harbour, in the island, in the Spanish Seas,
Are the tiny white houses and the orange-trees,
And day-long, night-long, the cool and pleasant breeze,
Of the steady Trade-Winds blowing…

There is the red-wine, the nutty Spanish ale,
The shuffle of the dancers, the old salts tale,
The squeaking fiddle, and the soughing in the sail,
Of the steady Trade-Winds blowing…

And o’nights there’s fire-flies and the yellow moon,
And in the ghostly palm-trees the sleepy tune,
Of the quiet voice calling me, the long low croon,
Of the steady Trade-Winds blowing…

John Masefield 1902

Dawson swimming photo by John Gareri
Ship’s boy Dawson and mum Tammy swimming in the Caribbean Sea, photo by John Gareri

crew watch Caribbean islands photo by Donald Church
Crew watch Caribbean islands from the rail of the Picton Castle, photo by Donald Church

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Picton Castle at anchor, photo taken from aboard Lunenburg dory Sea Never Dry

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Union – Mayreau – Bequia

By Kate “Bob” Addison

As crew on Picton Castle you get pretty familiar with long ocean passages, two or three thousand nautical miles, maybe a month or so out of sight of land and often whole oceans between port visits – all pretty standard, pretty cool but no big deal. But it’s pretty novel to be here island hopping in the gorgeous Caribbean, where you can often see your next destination before you’ve even left the last.

Navigating is fun amongst these islands too – no need for celestial navigation here where it’s all about visual pilotage, but you can still pull out a sextant to measure the height of hills or radio towers on nearby islands to work out your distance off and get a position fix – surprisingly accurate this.

All hands were called early on Wednesday morning to get underway from Grenada, bound for Mayreau, where the Captain promised us there would be almost nothing to do except sail our small boats about – ideal. Nicole made good, hot coffee before wake-ups, so caffeine fuelled we turned to in the lovely morning light, hoisted the skiff, heaved up the anchor, and got underway. We arrived at Union Island by noon, dropped the hook and launched the skiff to go ashore to clear in. Mayreau is part of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and there’s no port of entry (or airport, or bank) on the tiny island, so we had to make a short call at Union to clear in first.

We anchored off the town of Ashton in the lee of Union Island, and made the hot and hilly, but short cross-island hike to Clifton to visit Customs and Immigration. Clifton is a bright and cheerful town, seeming to cater pretty well to visitors in boats, with upmarket resort wear and souvenir stores and several fancy places eager to part you with your dollars in exchange for delicious-looking cool drinks, plates of grilled lobster or enormous ice-cream creations. There is a stone wall running the length of the waterfront, dividing a sort of moat from the sea beyond, and little stone arched bridges that people can run their dinghies under to tie them up at the sheltered docks inside. The fruit and vegetable stands in the market looked particularly beautiful here with their bright, shiny produce stacked up in the painted wooden stalls.

But we were headed for Mayreau and the stunning Tobago Cays on the other side of the island, so we hopped in a mini bus to take us back to Ashton and the ship; we had the anchor at the rail again by 4pm. It is not far at all from Union to Mayreau, but the wind was fair so we set all sail – and then took it all in again just half an hour later when we reached our anchorage at pretty Saline Bay on the west side of Mayreau.

We launched all three of the ship’s sailing boats: Cutter Sydney, Dory Sea Never Dry and the long boat monomoy, first thing in the morning and towed all three near the beach to anchor where we could rig them up ready to go sailing. Proceedings were delayed slightly by a broken main-boom, but a quick fix with epoxy and wood screws was plenty strong enough for sailing and was done before we’d finished stepping her mast and rigging the other boats. So then masts stepped, bow sprits run out, all shrouds and stays tensioned; spars and sheets lashed in place and sails bent; rudders and tillers fitted; check the centreboard (Sea Never Dry) and leeboard (the monomoy) – Sydney has a keel instead. Then checked we have all the required gear: life jackets, bailers, extra bits of string, anchors, oars and a waterproof chart and we’re ready to go sailing! And we had a bright blue-sky sunny wind buffeted day for it too.

The gang piled aboard from the skiff with snorkelling gear, cameras, bottles of water and sunscreen and stash everything between and below the thwarts, trying to keep the boat balanced with all those people moving about doing last minute jobs. Then with everything stowed and ready we set sail with head to wind, heaved up the tiny anchors, beared away and we were off, water creaming up in the bow wave, sails filling and masts and spars creaking gently as they take up the strain. The crew have to move quickly from inboard to the rail and back again to balance the boats as the gusts fill the sails and then ease off just as abruptly. We take turns steering with the tiller or looking after the sheets to pull the sails in and out depending on where the wind is coming from. Small boat sailing really does help teach seamanship, as the effects of an unbalanced boat, carrying too much sail or steering too close to the wind are pretty obvious when your lee rail ducks under and the boat starts filling up with water, or the sails luff up. But mostly it’s just such good fun!

Ashore in Mayreau was chilled out and pretty, with a few informal beach bars and places to buy colourful t-shirts and sarongs. The only road on the island leads up the hill to the only village but there are a couple of restaurants perched on the hill with tables outside and gorgeous views.

We could have happily stayed much longer here, but we have plenty of other places to go, so early on Friday morning we hoisted all three boats back aboard and got ready to sail for Bequia all of 22 miles away.

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The monomoy and Sydney sailing off the coast of Mayreau

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On To Grenada

By Kate “Bob” Addison

After a few days to relax, decompress and do nothing in Carriacou after so long at sea, we made the short passage to Grenada, which is just a perfect daysail away with sunny skies and fair winds. It’s a fair amount of work taking a square rigger out for a day sail from heaving up the anchor, setting all sail and then taking it all in again a few hours later. I think most folks are glad that our passages are usually a bit longer than that, and have newfound respect for the crews of daysail boats that do as many as seven sails in a day.

After sailing over a sunken volcano and then under the lee of high green Grenada, we dropped the anchor again outside just outside St George’s where ship’s cook Donald’s pretty blue house is perched half way up the hill overlooking the swanky marina and the old colonial Carenage with its elegant Georgian buildings and Napoleonic fortifications. Donald hosted all hands at his house that night, with a barbecue to feed a hundred: delicious grilled chicken and fish parcels that Amanda said were the best she’s ever tasted, and possibly the biggest potato salad I’ve ever seen in my life. My highlight was looking up into Donald’s breadfruit tree at dusk and seeing four or five chickens roosting in the branches, bright orange bundles of feathers tucked in safe for the night amongst the distinctive broad breadfruit leaves.

We put the colourful dory Sea Never Dry in the water in Grenada, and either Amy, Gabe or Sam took small groups out every day: just tacking about around the ship or heading over to the huge white expanse of Grand Anse beach a couple of miles away to anchor off and go for a swim and a lounge on this famous tourist beach before heading back to the ship for supper. We got plenty of admiration for our fabulous wooden Lunenburg dory with her Norwegian mainsail on this beach – it seems it’s more usually populated by catamarans, windsurfers and speedboats towing inflatables plus shrieking customers.

Queen, who is an old friend of the ship and especially the Captain, came out to offer us spices, vanilla, hand-made jewellery, hats and bags, even hand crocheted bikinis. She also organised a fabulous beach afternoon for the crew at her house over near Grand Mal – a big feed including a huge pot of coconut cream and callaloo ‘oil down’. It was such a perfect afternoon with local kids playing cricket in the surf, diving for sea urchins and splashing about off the anchored fishing boats, music pumping from someone’s car stereo and our gang mingling with the locals, eating and swimming and having a time. We had our signing off ceremony for Magnus, Anne-Mette and Ben right there on the beach, and presented them with their sea time certificates and South Pacific fishhooks.

Island tours were popular in Grenada too – it’s a big island with a lot to see in the jungly interior: from the old rum distillery and chocolate factories to beautiful waterfalls and beaches. There is plenty of nightlife and a bustling shopping district between the wonderful covered fish market and the open air vegetable and spice market. We were in Grenada over the long Easter weekend so we just had Saturday and Tuesday to shop and do jobs in town – meaning we were forced to relax and have fun for the rest of the long weekend, just like the locals.

Picton Castle behind breadfruit and palm trees
Picton Castle at anchor, hiding behind palm and breadfruit trees

Queen brings things aboard photo by Donald Church
Friend of the ship, Queen, brings her wares aboard, photo by Donald Church

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Caribbean Landfall

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Sailing into Carriacou after over a month at sea

On Saturday the 28th March 2015 Picton Castle and her crew made landfall at the beautiful island of Carriacou, part of Grenada in the Windward Isles of the Caribbean. The first sight of land was at dawn: a pale grey triangular smudge through the binoculars that gradually grew bigger and more distinct throughout the morning until we could make out the pretty green hills of Carriacou, Union and Petite Martinique. All the while, we sailed fast, throwing out spray in fresh breezes over bright blue seas and under gorgeous cobalt blue skies.

Five weeks and 3,800 miles earlier, on the 21st of February, we had sailed from the sweet roadstead anchorage at the tiny South Atlantic Island of St Helena: letting the ship drift off from the land in the offshore breeze as half the crew worked the windlass to heave up the last few fathoms of chain, and the rest whirled around the decks setting sail and trimming yards to get underway. We set our course northwest across the Atlantic Ocean and then, some 35 days and many squalls later, sailed back onto the hook, but this time in the northern hemisphere, west of Greenwich and in the Caribbean Sea.

We braced the yards as we followed the east winds around the top of Carriacou and made our approach to the sandy, sheltered anchorage at Hillsborough, the tiny but funky main town on the west and lee side of the island. Brace up sharp from square, make ready the port anchor, take in sail ’til we’re going dead slow and the Captain on the bridge calls out ‘sounding!’. Bosun Erin is ready, standing up on the starboard rail with the lead line already swinging in her right hand, the coil of line in her left: she casts it out far forward and lets the line run so it’s vertical in a couple of seconds when the forward momentum of the ship catches up with the line – wait til the lead weight just kisses the bottom and read off the depth: ‘mark five!’ is the white cotton mark just above the three leather strips and the order comes ‘let go port anchor!’ The chain clatters across the foc’slehead rushing out as the ton or so of ground gear splashes down down into the water and takes its hold on the bottom, five fathoms or thirty feet below the surface. That anchor fetching up in the sand was the first time any part of Picton Castle had touched land in more than a month.

We launched the skiff just as soon as the anchor was properly set, and Captain, Tammy and I went straight ashore with the passports and ship’s papers to clear in with customs and immigration. It was a bit late in the afternoon and we thought we might be too late to clear in that day – but luckily the lady at the immigration office at Hillsborough saw us coming and kindly held the office open for us, though it should have been past closing time on a Saturday night. We were very grateful! Cleared in and the yellow ‘Q’ flag lowered we could finally send the off watch ashore and begin our Caribbean adventures.

When we sailed away from Nova Scotia in November 2012, bound for the South Pacific and beyond, Carriacou was one of our very first island calls, and I remember having so much fun in this laid-back, beautiful place: rowing the long boat around, dropping the anchor to go snorkelling when we felt like it, and revelling in our first blissful taste of sunshine, warm turquoise water, white sand beaches and funky island culture. So it’s wonderful to be back here again after sailing our way all the way around the world. It would seem like a good time to reflect on the last few years and try to digest some of the amazing things we’ve seen and done. But the reminiscing will have to wait – you can’t be all ruminative in the Caribbean – this place is all about
living in the now!

So much to see and soak in; beautiful Paradise Beach and Mama Joy’s Hardwood Café; a big wooden sloop a building by way of Alwyn and his son over at Windward; a delightful afternoon at Baialeau Caribbean Cottages with Dave Goldhill; excellent tours of the island by Dunsten Bristol in his fine van “MY APPOLOGY” to see old sugar plantations and windmills, Carib and Arawak archaeology sights, beautiful reefs and again and again stunning views of islands and the sea. And, of course, just hanging around ‘limin’ in Carriacou.

In Carriacou we launched Sydney to sail her about with the rig we made underway across the Atlantic, we bought heaps of fresh fruit and veggies and eggs from the colourful little wooden shops in the market and fresh tuna and snapper from a passing boat – fresh produce is heaven after eating tinned and frozen food on a long passage. We ate grilled lobster at sunset on Paradise Beach, and drank cool grapefruit Ting at funky little ‘rum shops’ by the side of the road. Rum shops are so called as they also sell rum but they sell other nice cool drinks, snacks and often BBQ chicken (to die for).

We were in town for Palm Sunday, and it seemed like half the island turned out with their palm fronds to walk in procession through the streets singing familiar hymns in joyful call and response. And looking good – Carriacouans (aka; Kayacks) know how to dress!

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Picton Castle at anchor in Carriacou, photo by Molly Bolster

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Sailing Sydney in Carriacou, photo by Molly Bolster

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A Month At Sea

By Amy Barlow, Lead Seaman

To explain a month ocean passage to a non-sailor is pretty tough. Daily life is keeping the ship running, looking after her so she looks after you. Relying on your fellow shipmates to take care of things on deck while you sleep. knowing it will be your turn soon. Being hyper-aware of the weather, in a sailing vessel weather is both our fuel and sometimes our enemy. We watch upwind for ominous clouds that lead to squalls – locally known as squirrels. Being ready to shorten sail and fall off the wind to run with any wind shifts. We rush to help the sailmakers cover their work with tarpaulins, as the squalls often come with rain.

Each person has their job, a cog in the whole machine, dayman carpenters making new spars for our small boats, that we look forward to sailing in the Caribbean. Sailmakers repairing sails as well as making new ones. Cook keeping us fed. Almost like a school with the headmaster and deputies at the top. Each job necessary and important. The watch standers keeping the ship sailing through the night, rotating turns on the helm, keeping lookout, cleaning the galley and handling sail as necessary. The only 7 people up, dodging squalls or stargazing.

A month in our own world, our small self-sufficient village of 37 people currently. Is there anywhere else in the western world where people spend a month or more without any communication with the wider world? No letters, no emails, no newspapers or TV. Just what we brought with us or acquired in the last port. Of course the Captain has access to the outside world, useful in emergencies and for obtaining weather forecasts. But once upon a time that didn’t exist. No wonder in the age of sail a cry of ‘sail ho!’ gave a rush of anticipation. Heave to, row over, swap last known news, perhaps swap letters to deliver, and see new faces for an hour or so.

With no shops available to us at sea we trade our supplies – maybe swap a bar of chocolate for a can of coke and share and swap our entertainment – digital music and movies today. But we also create our own fun playing cards and backgammon. Life settles into a rhythm. Simple things become exciting – cake for a birthday, the satisfaction of completing a project. Seeing the ship and its small boats looking clean and ready for Caribbean Island hopping and small-boat fun. In the meantime we sway with the swell, enjoy the sunset and sleep cosy in our bunks, safe in the knowledge that our shipmates are taking care of things on deck.

Amy Barlow
Amy Barlow, Lead Seaman

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