Captain's Log

Archive for March, 2016

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Day’s Run – 30 March, 2016

The wind has eased off and faired a little so the Captain ordered more sail set: we rigged the studdingsail gear and set the topmast studdingsail, and then the sailmakers finished stitching making the new gaff topsail so we bent and set that too.  It’s satisfying watching the genesis of a new sail from rolls of canvas to finally flying aloft – this one was first laid out and seamed up in a hotel ball room on the tiny mid-Atlantic island of St Helena.

30 march New gaff topsail

SHIP’S WORK: Rig and set topmast studdingsail to starboard; complete, rig and set gaff topsail; sand and varnish t’gallant studdingsail boom; varnish (2 x coats) on the port quarterdeck box lid.

FROM: Marigot, St Martin

TOWARDS: St George, Bermuda

TIME ZONE: ZD+4

NOON POSITION: 21°59.5’N /063°42.1’W

DAYS RUN: 120nm

PASSAGE LOG: 561nm

DISTANCE REMAINING: 625nm

COURSE AND SPEED: North by East (CMGT 000°T)

WIND: Force 4, East by South

WEATHER: 4/8 cloud cover (cumulus, cirrus), air temp 80F (27°C), barometer reading 1022 millibars, visibility excellent

SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: approx 4 feet, East by South

SAILS SET: Square sails to the royals, fore, main and mizzen topmast staysails and inner jib, spanker, gaff topsail and topmast st’n’s’l braced up half way to sharp on a starboard tack.

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Captain’s Log – Caribbean Part I: Martinique to Dominica

Written by Purser Kate (Bob) Addison
23 March, 2016

The Caribbean feels like a sailor’s reward at the end of a long voyage.  It is difficult not to love these islands, scattered in a chain curving down from Puerto Rico almost to Trinidad, with their pristine turquoise waters and palm-fringed white sand beaches baking in the sun.  Each island and nation is so different, but they share good food, good music and a sort of irresistible zest for life that defines the Caribbean for me.

PICTON CASTLE made her landfall at Martinique, dropping the anchor in the afternoon of Thursday 25th February, just 18 days out of Cape Verde.  The transatlantic crossing started brisk with the trade winds blowing strong, and we made good time though with some swell and spray limiting ship’s work to mostly rigging and carpentry projects.  Then as the wind eased a little we piled on more sail: running out stu’n’s’l booms and setting kites, and the weather was finally settled enough to varnish – I’ve never seen the quarterdeck rail look so shiny and smart.

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It was almost a shame for this excellent passage to come to an end.  I could have happily kept sailing straight for another month, except for one thing: fresh food.

Sailors are apt to start thinking about food almost as soon as their anchor is hoisted and their course set for the open ocean – maybe it’s all the fresh air and exercise of hauling on lines and climbing aloft, or maybe it’s just that the food we have to eat for a passage is limited to what we stowed aboard in the last port.  So we do run out of things and especially fresh fruits and vegetables, most of which don’t keep too well after a week or two at sea anyway.

As a passage progresses, night watches are increasingly spent torturing each other with detailed descriptions of exactly what we would all most like to eat: juicy steak, bacon and avocado, ice-cream.  And as the days-since-last-lettuce increase, so does the longing for salad and fresh vegetables.  It sometimes surprises people that it’s possible to crave green leafy things, but mid-ocean it most definitely is.  It all makes the anticipation of port even greater.

So after two and a half weeks at sea, imagine that first slice of juicy melon and first taste of ice-cream – amazing.

fruitBeing French, Martinique, our first Caribbean port of call, also has the great advantage of proper bakeries selling good baguettes and coffee, and incidentally an astonishing range of pharmacies.  There is a fresh fruit and vegetable market right at the end of the town pier where we landed with our skiff, just a short run from our anchorage out in the bay.  There’s a supermarket selling ice-cream opposite the market, and a bakery just up the street. Town is set all along the water, with fine swimming beaches, lovely cafes and restaurants and further afield little fishing villages dotted around the island.

The town of St. Pierre here was once a significant French city, but almost the entire population was killed in 1902 when the active volcano Mt. Pelée erupted.  Apparently there was some advance warning from geologist types, but nobody wanted to panic the population by passing on the warning.  So, no panic but the city was completely wiped out.  The current town is much smaller and is built on the ruins of the original city. The museum at the top of town is a small but striking illustration of the devastation, with photographs, objects and descriptions of the disaster: boxes of nails that had melted together to make a solid lump and a huge bronze church bell, misshapen and cracked as if made of chocolate, slightly warmed and smooshed by the sticky hand of a giant child. Scary stuff.  Happily the volcano seems to be behaving itself these days, and we hope more notice would be taken of the early warning signs should there be another eruption.

We launched our Afro-Norwegian dory, SEA NEVER DRY, in the bay off St. Pierre at Martinique.  She is a great boat to learn to sail in: simple, small and tacks easily.  You’ll notice pretty quickly if she’s not trimmed right because the lee rail is underwater, so then you learn to bail pretty quickly too!  The off watch were welcome to take her out sailing anytime they wanted and at least one group took her out for a sail every day.

sea never dry

Meanwhile aboard ship the watch on duty was kept busy going after a variety of cleaning, painting and varnish projects.  Got to look after the ship so she continues to look after us.  There were some rigging jobs too: replacing a few braces and buntlines aloft, making a new pilot ladder, replacing ratlines, and rigging SEA NEVER DRY to sail.  But the best part of a day’s work aboard the ship is the 4pm swim call.  Tidy up your project for the day, change into a bathing suit and then jump off the rail or jib boom to splash about in the cool clear water.  We rigged the swing rope off the fore yard, so the more ambitious among us (Jack) could do crazy flips into the water.

After three days in Martinique, stretching our legs, sailing, swimming and eating a lot, we set sail for Dominica, just 34 miles and a gorgeous day sail away to the north.

Dominica is a truly amazing island with terrible anchorages: it’s a steep, lush, volcanic island, and the volcano drops away just as steeply under the water so it’s hard to find a place to drop your hook where you won’t drag off into deep water.  We get around the problem by running out hawsers from the stern and tying them to a stout tree ashore, letting the anchor go forward – we lay  like this ‘Med-moored’, our stern just a stone’s throw from the beach, snug as anything.

The lush, mountainous scenery makes this island a favourite for eco-tourism: our gang hiked to incredible waterfalls and through untouched rainforest to natural hot springs, went scuba diving and snorkelling off Champagne Beach named for the bubbles from ongoing seismic activity, and off some of the island’s pristine coral reef.  We were very well looked after by the Anchorage hotel, using their dock to land our skiff in exchange for buying plenty of meals and cool drinks on their cool patio by the pool.  Not that that was much of a hardship.

ruins rock cafe

Ruins Rock Cafe is another PICTON CASTLE favourite spot here, with an amazing spice shop in the back room selling all kinds of spices, hot sauce and about 70 varieties of flavoured rum with free samples. You’d be pretty brave to try all 70 at one sitting though.

The damage caused by last summer’s hurricane was less obvious than I expected.  It seems like the clean-up operation was fast and efficient.  Money came from the Chinese to rebuild infrastructure, one taxi driver told me.

Dominica has a cruise ship dock, and the town completely changes when a ship is in town: market stalls selling colourful clothes and sun hats, spices and sarongs pop up everywhere; reggae music plays, and it seems like every taxi in town wants to take you on a day trip around the island.  The cruise shippers do seem to mostly keep themselves to themselves though – local cafes and restaurants anywhere except the main waterfront seem to mostly cater for locals, and every one I went into was excellent.  My top tip for Dominica is the grapefruit juice: cool, sweet and incredibly refreshing in the sweltering, tropical heat.

 

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Day’s Run – 29 March 2016

Still sailing north in almost perfect weather – Donald says he brought the nice weather with him from the Caribbean and it’s going to stay with us the whole way, we hope so!

Katie working on KARL

Katie working on KARL

SHIP’S WORK: Replace starboard main t’gallant brace and starboard gaff vang, scrape t’gallant st’ns’l boom ready for varnish.  Sailmaking: roping new gaff topsail, seaming new main t’gallant staysail and repairs to a lower topsail. Carpentry: small jobs continue in project boat KARL, as Tim shapes up the new jibboom.

 

FROM: Marigot, St Martin

TOWARDS: St George, Bermuda

TIME ZONE: ZD+4

NOON POSITION: 19°57.3’N /063°40.8’W

DAYS RUN: 117nm

PASSAGE LOG: 441nm

DISTANCE REMAINING: 745nm

COURSE AND SPEED: North by East (CMGT 351°T)

WIND: Force 4, East by North

WEATHER: 3/8 cloud cover (cumulus), air temp 79F (26°C), barometer reading 1021 millibars, visibility good

SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: approx 5 feet, East

SAILS SET: Square sails to the royals, fore, main and mizzen topmast staysails and inner jib, braced up sharp on a starboard tack with some screw in the yards – the royals are braced up more square than the courses and t’gallants and topsails fanned out in between.

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Day’s Run – 28 March, 2016

PICTON CASTLE sailed off the dock at St. Martin this morning.

We hove-to just long enough to get the anchor on the rail and the skiff hoisted, and then set our course north towards Bermuda, sailing close to the easterly trade winds under bright blue skies.  We’re homeward bound now, just one more island call scheduled before Lunenburg and the end of this 6-month transatlantic voyage.

28 March

SHIP’S WORK: Bend main lower topsail, headrig seizings, paint chocks and bits, stow mooring lines in chain locker.

 

FROM: Marigot, St Martin

TOWARDS: St George, Bermuda

TIME ZONE: ZD+4

NOON POSITION: 18°06’N /063°07.5’W

DAYS RUN: nm

PASSAGE LOG: 324nm

DISTANCE REMAINING: nm

COURSE AND SPEED: North West by North (CMGT 326°T)

WIND: Force 4, North East by East

WEATHER: 2/8 cloud cover (cumulus), air temp 82F (28°C), barometer reading 1021 millibars, visibility good

SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: approx 2 feet, East North by East

SAILS SET: Square sails to the t’gallants, fore, main and mizzen topmast staysails, main t’gallant staysail and inner jib, braced up sharp on a starboard tack.

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Day’s Run – 23 March, 2016

Saw whales blow off the starboard bows this afternoon – we didn’t get close enough to identify them, but it seemed like there were more than one.  We sailed between the islands of St Kitts and St Eustatius mid-afternoon, they looked very pretty all green in the sunshine. Donald is happy we’re close enough to see the islands properly after a couple of days sailing further off when they were just faint blue smudges on the horizon.

Jamie at the helm

Jamie at the helm

SHIP’S WORK: Ratlines in mizzen topmast and fore lower shroud, paint wooden boat project KARL: two coats of topcoat on the hull; spot tar and oil at deck level, sailmaking.

 

FROM: St Georges, Grenada

TOWARDS: Sandy Ground Bay, Anguilla

TIME ZONE: ZD+4

NOON POSITION: 17°14.7’N /062°48.7’W

DAYS RUN: 109nm

PASSAGE LOG: 324nm

DISTANCE REMAINING: 75nm

COURSE AND SPEED: North West by North, 1/2 North(CMGT 326°T)

WIND: Force 4, East by North

WEATHER: 3/8 cloud cover (cumulus), air temp 80F (27°C), barometer reading 1021 millibars, visibility good

SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: approx 3 feet, East North East

SAILS SET: Square sails to the royals, fore topmast staysail, mizzen topmast staysail, main t’gallant staysail and inner jib, braced up on a starboard tack.

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Day’s Run – 22 March, 2016

The wind has been variable as we make our way between the islands, so there’s been heaps of sail handling, taking in and setting royals and upper staysail, even t’gallants and the mainsail at times as the wind built to a force 6. It was an excellent evening for taking star sight tonight: clear horizon and almost cloudless.  The moon is full so there’s lots of light for the night watches, it’s very pretty reflecting off the water. Sticky BBQ chicken for supper with potatoes and a crunch green salad.

22 March Setting the mains'l

Setting the mains’l

SHIP’S WORK: Grease royal poles, scrape and grease t’gallant masts, wooden boat KARL rebuild continues, replace spanker knock lashing and install new parals. Sail drill with fore royal.

 

FROM: St Georges, Grenada

TOWARDS: Sandy Ground Bay, Anguilla

TIME ZONE: ZD+4

NOON POSITION: 15°32.6’N /062°13.7’W

DAYS RUN: 96nm

PASSAGE LOG: 215nm

DISTANCE REMAINING: 176nm

COURSE AND SPEED: North half East(CMGT 332°T)

WIND: Force 4, East North East

WEATHER: 1/8 cloud cover (cumulus), air temp 80F (27°C), barometer reading 1020 millibars, visibility good

SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: approx 3 feet, East North East

SAILS SET: Square sails to the royals, fore topmast staysail, mizzen topmast staysail, main t’gallant staysail and inner jib, braced up sharp on a starboard tack.

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Day’s Run – 21 March, 2016

The rebuild of KARL, our wooden project boat from Palmerston Island in the Cook Islands, South Pacific, had twin objectives: to get the gang involved with some of the skills of traditional wooden boat building and repair – including making and using our own steam box – and also to give us another boat to sail in the Caribbean.  The first objective has been clearly met, so now it’s a race against time to see if she’ll be finished in time to sail.  All the new planks are in place, seams caulked and sails made, so now work has moved on to installing the mast step and Samson post, overhauling her original tiller and rudder, and finishing up her spars ready to rig.

KARL has final planks in place

KARL has final planks in place

SHIP’S WORK: Make and install new starboard main t’gallant sheet, wooden boat KARL restoration continues, oil blocks at deck level, tar headrig, end for end starboard fore royal sheet, end for end port main royal clew line.  Seaming and tabling on three different new sails. Sail drill in foresail and t’gallant, discussion of sail handling in MOB situations

FROM: St Georges, Grenada

TOWARDS: Sandy Ground Bay, Anguilla

TIME ZONE: ZD+4

NOON POSITION: 13°59.6’N /061°55.1’W

DAYS RUN: 113nm

PASSAGE LOG: 119nm

DISTANCE REMAINING: 271nm

COURSE AND SPEED: North East by North, half North(CMGT 339°T)

WIND: Force 4, East by South

WEATHER: 6/8 cloud cover (stratocumulus, altocumulus), air temp 80F (27°C), barometer reading 1019 millibars, visibility good

SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: approx 3 feet, East by South

SAILS SET: Square sails to the t’gallants, fore topmast staysail, inner jib, braced up sharp on a starboard tack.

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Day’s Run – 20 March, 2016

North bound in the Caribbean Sea, all sails set and the sun is shining.  Bound from Grenada for Anguilla, we’re sailing inside the curve of the Windward and then the Leeward Islands; keeping far enough offshore to avoid the wind shadows of the high islands, but close enough in to pick up the fair current that runs north a couple of leagues off.

After three weeks island time exploring Martinique, Dominica, Grenada and the Grenadines, it’s good to be at sea again.  We’re expecting a passage of around four days.

Work continues on KARL

Work continues on KARL

SHIP’S WORK: Bend main t’gallant staysail, KARL restoration continues, tighten and slush port davit guys, greasing round on deck. Fire drill, abandon ship drill, MOB drill. Drill in spanker and mainsail.

 

FROM: St Georges, Grenada

TOWARDS: Sandy Ground Bay, Anguilla

TIME ZONE: ZD+4

NOON POSITION: 12°07.3’N /061°48.5’W

DAYS RUN: 6nm

PASSAGE LOG: 6nm

DISTANCE REMAINING: 385nm

COURSE AND SPEED: West half North (CMGT 323°T)

WIND: Force 2, East by North

WEATHER: 4/8 cloud cover (cumulus), air temp 82F (28°C), barometer reading 1019 millibars, visibility good

SWELL HEIGHT & DIRECTION: approx 2 feet, East North East

SAILS SET: All square sails to the royals, fore, main and mizzen topmast staysails, inner jib, outer jib, braced up a point on the port tack.

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Day’s Run – 11 March, 2016

Sailing MONOMOY yesterday from Union Island over to Petite Martinique in company with PICTON CASTLE – we even had time for a swim at the most perfect little island on the way…

12 March grenadines 03 12 March grenadines 02 12 March grenadines 01

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Day’s Run – 8 March, 2016

Bequia is pretty much classic Caribbean…with its funky painted houses down to fine white sand beaches and crystal clear water, which pretty much begs you to jump in.  There’s reggae music, fried chicken, fresh coconuts to drink and heaps of sailing: from little kids learning to sail in optimist dinghys to FRIENDSHIP ROSE, the most recent wooden schooner to be built on the beach here – and still going strong, now earning a living doing daysails now instead of running cargo and passengers between here and the big island of St Vincent. And of course, our own PICTON CASTLE boats: SEA NEVER DRY and MONOMOY have been out every day too, learning small boat seamanship and having a time.  There’s no big cruise ship dock here, so tourists are limited to a steady stream of yachts and a few smaller cruise ships anchoring off.  It all makes for a less hectic vibe than some of the bigger islands.

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