Captain's Log

Archive for May, 2018

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Panama Canal Transit Photo Essay

Photos by Tammy Moreland

On Wednesday May 31, 2018, the sail training ship Picton Castle transited the Panama Canal from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The crew awoke before dawn to await the arrival of the Panama Canal pilot, then heaved up the anchor shortly after sunrise.


Entering the first lock, one of the Gatun Locks


Lock doors close behind us, leaving behind the Caribbean Sea


After passing through the Gatun Locks, we entered Lake Gatun, a large man-made fresh water lake that feeds the Panama Canal


Line handlers came on board to handle the lines through the locks, then disembarked after the Gatun Locks – the next group of line handlers will board just before the next locks


Halfway through Lake Gatun, we switched pilots at this pilot station


Here come the new line handlers, boarding just before the Pedro Miguel Locks


El Puente Centenario, just before the Pedro Miguel Locks


This is one of the new post-Panamax ships designed to fit in the bigger Panama Canal locks, at 951 feet long and 151 feet wide – to put it in perspective, Picton Castle is 179 feet long, so this ship is almost as wide as Picton Castle is long


Waiting to follow Floriana into the next lock


Vai and John on the helm – in close quarters, we put our best helmsmen at the wheel


Lock gates closing behind us at the first of the Pedro Miguel Locks as we start our journey down from the level of Lake Gatun to the Pacific


Down 31 feet in the Pedro Miguel Locks, now on to the Miraflores Locks


Close to the lock wall in the Miraflores Locks where you can see the locomotive “donkeys” that pull the ships through the locks as they run on tracks alongside


More room on the other side of the lock


Lock wall as the water empties from the lock at Miraflores


And we’re through, leaving the Miraflores Locks behind us as we head into the Pacific!


Motoring away from the Miraflores Locks, bound toward Balboa Yacht Club where we’ll stay for a few days in Panama City


Lastly, the Bridge of the Americas, which officially connects the continents

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Anchorage Area F, Port of Colon, Panama – May 29, 2018

After sailing the 18 miles from enchanting and ancient Portobelo the Picton Castle came to anchor yesterday after swinging ship and adjusting compass at the entrance to the Panama Canal area. Then we did the work (below) resulting in being prepared for Canal transit. The gang did an excellent job in the heat.

Early this morning some huge ships steamed in line southbound down the channel slowly towards the first locks. One ship, the Hoeg Giant has a beam of 151 feet. As the width of the original locks can take a vessel of a bit under 110 feet wide this ship must have been heading for the new locks designed to take much bigger ships. Each of the older locks are 330 meters long by 33.5 meters wide. Up until these new locks were built by the Panamanians a ship that filled but not bigger than these locks was known as a ‘Panmax’ ship. Bigger than that had to go around. I am not sure what the new ‘Panamax’ is yet. Big enough.

At anchor we are surrounded by all the signs of major marine industrial activity. Ships – tankers, car carriers, chemical tankers, bulkers, even the occasional cruise ship, steaming north and south, many ships at anchor, very up to date tug boats attending some of these ships, pilot boats and crew boats tooling around and one small barque with her yards cockbilled waiting to head to the Pacific.

We had the Boarding Officer board last night about 1830 for initial inspection – he was done about 2020. This morning a Port Captain came aboard to inspect again. He checked that all is inboard, that the chocks and bitts are clear, heads for the 8 line handlers are in order and a few other things. The ship is prepared for Canal transit at this time. Yards are braced and inboard. Both anchors are clear, bumpkins and boat davits are swung in. Boats are all hoisted onto the deck. Nothing that can be moved is sticking outboard. Communications equipment has been checked. Steering gear inspected and greased. Engine controls inspected and greased. Awnings established for pilots and helmsman. Toilets prepared for line handlers and pilots.

Standing by for instructions for time on Canal Transit. We have been notified to expect Pilot board tomorrow at dawn. Engine up, anchor at short stay.
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To watch Picton Castle transit the Panama Canal on webcam, try these links (we found not all cameras one one site are working, so you may have to try a few different sites, depending on which part of the Canal you want to see).

Going from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side, Picton Castle will first pass through the Gatun Locks, then Lake Gatun, then the Pedro Miguel Locks, then the Miraflores Locks. The pilot will board at dawn and the whole transit should be complete by about 1730.

Our Panama Canal transit is scheduled for Wednesday May 30, 2018.

http://www.cruisin.me/cruise-port-webcams/central-america/gatun-locks-panama.php

http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html
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Boats stacked together on the hatch so everything is kept inboard of the rail


Sailmaker John puts the finishing stitches in the awning for the helmsman

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May 24, 2018 – Portobelo

Quietly at anchor the Picton Castle is surrounded by still waters and the dense jungles of the Isthmus of Panama. Thick abiding jungle. Early this morning while enjoying a cup of yesterday’s (and most excellent) coffee sitting by the teak wheel box all the way aft on the quarterdeck in the cool dawn, all was not silence. Howler monkeys were having their morning exercises or what ever they do while they howl just around break of day. Quite loud they are. Maybe they are just grumpy when they wake up. I know the feeling. After a spell they seem to stop howling for some reason. From time to time a long line of white birds fly in single file across the bay, rising and swooping much like an easy roller coaster. Elegant and graceful. Three or four wooden dugout canoes, called cayucas, paddle out into the middle of the harbour – for fishing it seems. Early morning mists linger and lay wafting between the patches of jungle, giving dimension to what otherwise seems just dense impeneratable green everywhere.

The gang is up aloft loosing sail to dry, to dry at least a little, before it needs to be stowed in advance of the afternoon downpours. Then one of the watches will head out for practice in the long boat. Some folks are ashore and more to follow. After explaining that Colon was one rough town, possibly on the to-be-avoided list a couple of us went off to check it out anyway – the fascination with such things cane be overwhelming. Those returning agreed that Colon was one rough town. Not that far away by sea, only 16 miles or so, it takes about an hour to get there by surface transport. This being best exemplified by the local buses. These buses are very colourful affairs. They seem to start out as what was intended to be a school bus, maybe retired, maybe new, cannot tell, but all or most all in good shape. But then they are tricked out in all sorts of wild embellishments. Crazy paint schemes. Outrageous extra lights, blinking and otherwise. Some look like the space ship landing in “Close Encounters”. Loud pulsing music pours out as they barrel down the narrow ‘highway’ through the jungle towards the delights of the big city.

In addition to our world wandering barque in this harbour we have about 30 yachts in Portobelo. At least ten of which are certified derelict. You can see that this is so due to their being aground and tilted on their bilges, sunk or otherwise wrecked. Another ten look as if their owners went ashore for a loaf of bread but caught a plane instead. Maybe the remaining ten are active cruising vessels. Also, just this morning a huge 190′ long ketch rigged yacht (named Twizzle) came to anchor. With 200 foot high masts, that’s a Tall Ship. And a cool looking local built coastal trader came to anchor as well. Built of heavy wood and about 60′ long and in active trade.

We are told that the fishing is good where we are.


The crew are learning to row


Rowing practice in the monomoy, our double ended longboat


Locals paddling a canoe as the morning mist rises


Many different kinds of vessels in the harbour at Portobelo

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May 23, 2018 in Portobelo, Panama

The day came in surprisingly clear. Mists hung over the jungles either side of the Picton Castle, weaving in among the trees like living things. The lapping of tiny waves along the waterline is about the only sound breaking the tropical early morning silence. A man in his dugout canoe came by selling bunches of bananas.

It rained a good deal last night. The local folks at the small covered hacienda at the end of the town wharf welcomed in the Picton Castle crew to wait out the rain and the last evening skiff. The rain stopped and the skiff motored into view. We boarded and headed back to the ship anchored about 500 hundred yards off – today we will try to dry sail. The cotton canvas sails will rot right off the yards in hot humid conditions if we do not dry them enough. They will last 10-15 years of we look after them.

Today is a good day for the gang to get started in their training in our 23′ lapstrake monomoy longboat. Great seamanship training a pulling boat is. What else? Spot painting topsides. Finishing up the very nice #1 Quality overhaul of the breezeway head. Making it nice we are. Boy, does this crowd like their snacks, always raiding the snack locker. Really? Noodles right before supper? Or just before breakfast? Couldn’t wait a half hour? Doing laundry aboard these days does not work so well. Getting the clothes washed is fine, getting clothes dry, not working so well. But ashore there is a laundry shop all excited for our business and so all is well with the world again. Donald made a fantastic egg dish this morning, all are wondering at his recipe. Ashore on their days off duty, people are finding their way in this, our first tropical port in a fascinating storied land. We are surrounded by tumbled down old forts strewn with huge iron cannon, put to ruin by pirates of old.

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Day’s Run – May 21, 2018 and Arriving in Panama

On Monday May 21, with much excitement among the crew, we arrived in Portobelo, Panama around 1000, set the starboard anchor and went in to clear in around 11am. In every port Picton Castle visits, the ship needs to “clear in”, meaning that we check in with customs and immigration officials to make our official entry into the country, complete any necessary paperwork, and pay any necessary fees. Customs and immigration in Portobelo were very cordial and accommodating, and it took no time before we were finished and we could send the off-duty watch ashore after a refreshing and cooling all hands’ swim call. For the on-watch it was domestics and then hanging up the main deck awning, which helps keep off the hot sun, and, in Monday’s case, the rain.

In the early afternoon a heavy rain storm broke out, complete with very close thunder and lightning. It made the air nice and cool, but knocked out power to the town. That didn’t stop the crew from exploring the local ruins of the forts built here back as early as the 1500’s, complete with cannons that were just too heavy to move; or seeing the big Cathedral here, which houses the famous statue of the “Black Christ”, which was found on the shores of the town’s harbor. There are a few legends as to how it arrived there, but no one knows for certain and so it remains a mystery to this day. Every year in October, there is the Festival of the Black Christ, which draws in thousands of people to witness the changing of the robes that the statue wears.

The crew also found cool coconuts to drink along with fresh, sweet mangoes and pineapple to snack on, sold by friendly vendors on the street. The rain didn’t last long, though, and the afternoon faded into a nice, comfortable evening. Hammocks were strung up on the aloha deck, blankets and mattresses covered the hatch and the crew fell asleep with the distant glow of the lights from the city of Colon, a short 18 miles away, in the background.

Tuesday May 22 dawned cool but beautiful, with scattered morning clouds, and exotic birds skimming across the water as mist arose from the surrounding jungle. After a breakfast of oatmeal, pears, muffins and chocolate chip muffins for our gluten-free people, the captain mustered all hands on the quarterdeck to prepare the crew for moving the ship to a better anchorage. After heaving up 200 feet of chain, the ship was moved a bit closer to town and once again the starboard anchor was set, with the port anchor on standby in case of dragging. So far with 300 ft of chain out we are holding beautifully.

After the anchor was set it was time for the day’s off-duty watch to go ashore and light ship’s work to continue from the day before. There is spot painting of the topsides, overhauling of the port breezeway head, painting links on the anchor chain and general cleaning, which seems to be never ending. Such is life on a ship such as ours. So far the rain has held off for now, although more is expected in the forecast – it is the beginning of the rainy season, after all – but with the rains come welcome cooling breezes, and it keeps the bugs at bay. For the time being, all is well in this little corner of paradise.

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Day’s Run – May 20, 2018

Our third Sunday at sea! Work is laid to rest allowing for hand blisters and muscles to heal for a day. Engine on, full steam ahead we made headway towards Porterbelo, Panama. The ship’s cook, Donald, of Grenada, has Sundays off. To fill in for him, two trainees spend their day from 0530 – 1800 cooking for the 45 other crew members on board. This Sunday Annie, of Ontario, Canada and Rune, of Norway, teamed up and kept the crew well fed throughout the day. The on duty watches were able to practice stowing and loosing sail – an important ability for any sailing ship sailor. Stowing sail refers to climbing the ships rigging, laying out onto the yard and folding the sail in a particular fashion so that it sits on top of the yard, then securing it with gasket lines. When the trainees came down from aloft they were greeted with popcorn! A traditional Sunday treat aboard the Picton Castle. Lots of buzz in the air as we’re 76 nautical miles from land. The excitement is building up amongst the crew, tomorrow’s view over the rail will be quiet different from the miles and miles of ocean blue we’ve seen for the past 18 days.

From: New Orleans
Towards: Panama
Date: May 20 2018
Noon Position: 10 38,2′ N – 080 10, 6′ W
Course + Speed: S x W + 5.8kts
Wind direction + Force: SExE + 3
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m + ENE
Weather: Bright + Sunny
Day’s Run: 127 nm
Passage Log: 139.7nm
Distance to Port: 76 nm
Voyage: 1849.2nm
Sail Set: main t’gallant staysail, inner jib

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Day’s Run – May 19, 2018

Picton Castle is making her way into the Gulf of Panama and we are feeling the hot muggy tropical heat for which this area is well known. It will be cooler once we get well into the South Pacific, meantime, at least we’re not shoveling snow…..

Ship’s Work: This morning’s wind was light and variable, the 4 – 8 watch scrubbed the decks as the oncoming watch stretched out of their bunks. A number of light squalls passed over us. Rain periodically came and went throughout the morning, causing John, the ship’s sailmaker, to work on the royal sail in the main salon. The port side breezeway head received another coating of primer and maintenance on the teak door continued. All ship’s work was put to a halt when a squall came in. Orders to take in the fore t’gallant and main t’gallant were given, as well as the upper staysails. The winds settled and as the rain came and went the on duty watch walked around the deck putting slack into the manila running rigging. This is an important task aboard Picton Castle as we have all natural manila lines that tighten up when they become wet. The weather has settled for now and hopefully will remain calm as this afternoon’s agenda includes a ‘power shower’ at 1500, where we rig up a fire hose to spray down onto the deck (a great way to cool the crew and the decks on a hot day) followed by a rope splicing workshop led by the Captain.

From: New Orleans
Towards: Panama
Date: May 19 2018
Noon Position: 12 37,9’N – 080 57,1’W
Course + Speed: S 1/2 E + 4.2 kts
Wind direction + Force: ExS + 3
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m + E
Weather: Overcast
Day’s Run: 99.6 nm
Passage Log: 101.7 nm
Distance to Port: 203 nm
Voyage: 1709.5nm


Lead seaman, Vai, from Tonga, makes a little tiny wire splice

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Day’s Run – May 18, 2018

Day comes in warm and high overcast. Sailing around the lee of Serrano Reef with the chart showing many shipwrecks on it.

Ships work: This mornings 8-12 on watch had two crew on look out, one at the top of the foremast and one on the foc’sle head. They were instructed to keep their eyes open for rocks and two large reefs that were near our track. On deck, our ship’s bosun dealt out tasks for the on duty watches and crew members who were keen to lay in. On today’s agenda our engineer Deyan, of Swizterland, ground and welded the steel frame of the port breezeway head. Varnishing continued on the head’s wooden toilet seats, and capstan bars. Our ship’s medical officer Walter dove into doing an inventory of the ship’s medical supplies, as we will be able to stock up on anything we need in Panama. We have another celebration today, Tad, of Washington, is having his birthday aboard – the crew are always pleased when there’s a birthday, it means there will be cake for desert. Tad sailed with Captain Moreland in the Brigantine Romance out this way before the beginning of time (aka the 1970s).

From: New Orleans
Towards: Panama
Date: May 18 2018
Noon Position: 14 14,4’N – 089 29, 2′ W
Course + Speed: S 1/4 W + 5.0kts
Wind direction + Force: ExS + 4
Swell Height + Direction: 2m + ESE
Weather: Overcast
Day’s Run: 114.2 nm
Passage Log: 120.3 nm
Distance to Port: 291 nm
Voyage: 1607.8 nm
Sail Set: Outer jib, inner jib, fore topmast staysail, foresail, lower topsail, upper topsail, fore t’gallant, mainsail, main lower topsail, main upper topsail, main t’gallant

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Day’s Run – May 17, 2018

The day came in mostly cloudy but, while still hazy, it has cleared up. The Picton Castle is romping along in fresh tradewinds just ahead of the beam.

Ships work: The Bosun and his assistants continue work on the port breezeway head. The teak door is being scraped and sanded and the hardware has been removed to be overhauled. Another coating of varnish was brushed onto the wooden toilet seats and the capstan bars were scuffed and sanded. To ensure that these items are not hit by salt spray or speckled with dust from a shipmate sanding near by, these items are being varnished below decks in the hold of the ship. It simply won’t do to have crew member carefully varnishing as another shipmate scrapes and sands up wind.

In between the ship’s work we manage to find time to have fun. Today we have two occasions to celebrate. First is that it’s our 2nd mate Anne-Laure’s birthday (of France) and second it’s Norway’s Constitutional Day, like Canada Day or the 4th of July. Captain Moreland found the Picton Castle in Norway back in the 1990s and brought her to Canada to retrofit her into the barque she is today, so the ship has a tie to Norway, and we have two Norwegian crew aboard, lead seaman Lars and trainee Rune.

From: Panama
Towards: New Orleans
Date: May 17 2018
Noon Position: 16 07,9’N – 080 12,0’W
Course + Speed: Full & By + 3.7kts
Wind direction + Force: ESE + 5
Swell Height + Direction: 2m + SE
Weather: Slightly overcast + sunny
Day’s Run: 87.7nm
Passage Log: 89.9 nm
Distance to Port: 403 nm
Voyage: 1487.5 nm
Sail Set: Outer jib, inner jib, fore topmast staysail, foresail, fore lower topsail, fore upper topsail, fore t’gallant, main sail, main lower topsail, main upper topsail, main t’gallant, main topmast staysail, main t’gallant staysail, mizzen topmast staysail, mizzen staysail, spanker

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Skirting Rosalind Banks

May 17, 208
16-31N / 080-11W

The day comes in mostly cloudy, warm and humid. Winds pretty steady Force 5 at ESE. Sea moderate to 6 or 7 feet. The Picton Castle is 400 miles due north of Panama sailing close hauled by-the-wind, yards hard on the backstays and skirting Rosalind Banks to our West. The new gang getting the hang of things, like when to sleep, when to wash clothes, went to avoid the weather rail, even when to use the heads. As we are overhauling each head in turn to make them nicer we are down to two heads just now.

Our esteemed bosun has been perhaps a wee bit ambitious in his work plans. He seemed to be thinking that we wanted to make the ship shiny and perfect before Panama. There is plenty of time, and, yes, she calls for some shining up, but there is time enough and we want to spread all that fun out, no?

The new hands are learning how to steer quite well, as steering by the wind is trickier than wandering downwind. And getting better at bracing, setting and taking sails in and getting generally handier on deck. Just learning to walk around a heeling and rolling deck requires a reassessment of many land bound assumptions. Yet, we are warm and making good time right on course. Dawson is pretty happy playing in these warm Caribbean waters in a small plastic pool in the lee scuppers.

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