Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Bosun Scool' Category

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Heaving Line Throwing Practice

When vessels come alongside to dock, they need to get lines ashore in order to tie the vessel to the wharf. Big ships need big lines. It’s not possible to throw these lines because they’re so heavy, so a lighter weight line is tied to the mooring line. These lighter weight lines, called heaving lines, typically have something heavy on the thrown end of them in order to make them easier to throw. On Picton Castle, the heavy part is a monkey’s fist knot, but we’ve seen other heaving lines with bean bags tied to the end, so use whatever gets the job done.

As the vessel approaches the dock, it’s the job of the crew to throw the heaving line from the ship to the shore so it can be picked up by the line handler ashore. Throwing one of these is not as easy as it looks. And getting the proper distance and aim is vital, especially when manoeuvering the vessel in close quarters.

In order to get good at throwing heaving lines, practice is necessary. The Bosun School students practiced yesterday, throwing heaving lines down the wharf from a certain point, trying to get the monkey’s fist knot into an empty garbage can at the end of the wharf.

First the lines have to be coiled very carefully so they won’t tangle when they’re thrown. The fixed end needs to be tied down (in real application it would be tied to the mooring line, but for practice we just tie it to anything handy, often ourselves). Then the part of the line with the monkey’s fist and a few extra coils are held in the dominant hand, swung back to gain momentum, then released, followed immediately by releasing the rest of the line from the other hand. Then recover your line, coil and practice throwing again (and again and again and again…).


Heaving line practice, photo by Alexandra Pronovost

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Wire Splicing at Bosun School

Students at Picton Castle‘s Bosun School have been learning to splice wire this week.

Captain Moreland started by demonstrating the method, then the students paired up to work on splicing their own wires together.  After each pair had completed their splice, Captain Moreland did a second demonstration of the technique, now that the students had a frame of reference.  After that, they worked individually on practicing splicing.

The wire they are using is 5/8″ trawl winch wire that has been used on local fishing vessels.  The wire can’t continue to be used for that purpose because there are parts that are worn, but we can cut away the worn parts to find short lengths of good wire that are suitable for practice.  Because it has been stretched and pre-formed by going through the fishing winches, it’s particularly difficult to work with.  As Captain Moreland would say, this is a good thing.  If you learn using materials that are more difficult to handle, you’ll be better at it when you’re using smaller or more flexible wire.  The wire we’re using is 6×24 and has a fibre heart.

Students started by learning to measure the wire, how to bend it, how to seize it, and how much of a tail to leave to work with.  They have been making eye splices and each student will make at least five splices during their time at Bosun School.

Today, the Captain inspected each student’s splice individually, providing feedback on their work.  For many, the first tuck needs to start sooner so there is no gap at the start of the eye.

More practice is on order for next week.  Students will continue using the practice wire until their skill is determined to be good enough to work on a real project.  By applying their skills immediately to a real piece of rigging on board a working ship, they can not only see the practical purpose of the skill, but they also know that their work has to be good enough to be counted on as an integral part of the rigging.  

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A Beautiful Day To Work Aloft!

October is usually beautiful in Nova Scotia, with all the leaves changing colours. This year, October has also been warm, sunny and wonderful for being outdoors. Bosun School is taking advantage of the weather to spend some time aloft on Picton Castle. Students learned yesterday how to lead “up and overs”, the process of taking new crew aloft for the first time. Today they’re getting set up to make ratlines, which are like the steps of the ladder on the shrouds.

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Why Train Under Sail?

From the mid 19th century until the mid 20th century, sailing ships were the incubator and hatchery for almost all deep-sea steam-ship mariners be they naval or merchant marine. This is what came to be known as “trained in sail” or later, “sail training”. This training service came about due to the extraordinarily rich seamanship acquisition environment that was the deep water sailing ship. In the rapid-fire extreme requirements encountered during WWII for instant mates, lieutenants, commanders and captains, “90 day wonders” they were called, this chain was broken on national scales – but though this chain of traditional training has been worn thin, the skills of a sailing ship seafarer remain critical to the safe and cost effective running and management of modern motor vessels. A well run sailing ship is, now more than ever, the best place to prepare for and begin one’s career at sea.

Sailing to sea in ships is an amazing way of life and can be richly rewarding in countless ways. Not the least of these ways is that mariners can make a good living from ships and the sea. Often well in excess of what they could make ashore. Additionally, every job taken by a citizen going to sea leaves a job open in their country of origin. And successful mariners tend to contribute directly to their home economies and do so disproportionately to the cost and length of time of their educations. There is a great international demand for the next generation of seafarers.

But make no mistake, the sea is an extremely demanding environment not particularly forgiving to the inept, untrained or ill equipped. Good seafarers have to be excellent at a broad range of critical skills. It takes years at sea, working hard, learning at every turn, before one can call oneself a seasoned pro. Recently among flag state marine regulatory agencies there has been a welcome insistence on having a basic and advanced safety and marine emergency training for professional mariners resulting in the United Nations International Maritime Organisation (IMO) mandated STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for seafarers) Basic Safety Training (BST) and certification. Training in firefighting, PFDs, first aid, immersion suits, life rafts etc. This is all to the good and is to be applauded. It is important basic familiarisation with what a mariner is to be able to do when things go all wrong aboard a ship at sea. This training and these skills, however, are quite a bit different from the broad seamanship skills and training a mariner needs to be both useful aboard a ship and to also seriously contribute to the reduction of the likelihood of things going all wrong. BST is established to have a basic standard of what to do when things go wrong. Broad and deep seamanship skills are what contributes mightily to preventing things from going wrong in the first place. BST is how to bandage a cut. Seamanship is not getting the cut. This is where the Picton Castle and the Bosun School come in.

In addition to adventurous sailing and traveling to amazing islands and ports all over the world, the voyages of the Cook Islands Barque Picton Castle are about learning, teaching and passing along the required skills of seafaring. And by direct extension, the essential skills required of any resourceful mariner sailing in todays cargo ships, passenger ships, tugboats, supply boats, fishing vessels, yachts, the Navy and marine related shore positions. These include marinas, maritime schools, museums, sail lofts, rigging lofts, boat yards, ship yards, dry docks and sundry others.

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Second Layout of a Mizzen Staysail

On Monday, the Bosun School students went to the Lunenburg Community Centre to use the gym floor to lay out a sail. Actually, this is the second layout for this sail – it had its first layout back in 2015 when Picton Castle was in Cape Town, South Africa.

As Picton Castle sails to various ports around the world, we often look for suitable places to lay out sails. The area must be flat and open, big enough to stretch out the full sail. We’ve used gyms and lofts, but we’ve also used cement and wooden docks, grassy fields, parking lots, and pretty much anywhere else that has big open space.

We’re not the only ones who have used the Lunenburg Community Centre for laying out sails. Michele Stevens Sailloft has used this space when they were working on sails for the schooner Bluenose II and for the schooner Columbia. In fact, the mainsails for these vessels are too big to fit in gym so they could only lay out half at a time.

In comparison, our mizzen staysail looked quite small, taking up less than a quarter of the gym floor. By the time it’s ready for the second layout, the canvas cloths have already been seamed together. The purpose of a second layout is to sketch out the sail’s shape and cut off any excess fabric. Measurements are carefully made before the cutting begins, using both knives and scissors.

Once the trimming of the sail is complete, the second layout is done. Next up is putting on the corner patches, then putting the tabling around the edges of the sail, then making and sewing in all of the grommets.


Anders, Tyler and Annie trim the edges of the sail

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Bosun School Learns Sailmaking

For the past week or so, Bosun School students have been focused on learning sail making. Picton Castle is fairly unique in that we make all of our own sails on board the ship, so depending on which vessels our Bosun School students work aboard in the future, they may or may not have the opportunity to apply the skills of making a whole sail. But it’s important to learn the parts of a sail and how they’re constructed in order to better understand how they work, and also how to maintain and repair them as necessary.

Before working on any actual sails, the Bosun School students learned the basic hand skills of sail making by first making ditty bags. Ditty bags are canvas bags carried by sailors to keep their tools in. As a beginning sailmaker, a ditty bag is a great project because it contains all the fundamental skills required to make a sail, in a small, compact size. First the canvas is measured and cut, then edges are flattened and pressed, seams are sewn, the tabling on the top is folded over, grommets are made to fit and sewn in, and even the rope handle with its splices and servings replicate sail making skills.

Now that all of the students have ditty bags, they’ve moved on to learning repair techniques. They’ve learned different types of stitching, window patches, glue-on patches, replacing rope coverings, replacing seizings, and replacing grommets. They have put this knowledge to the test by making repairs on sails made of both natural fibres and synthetic fibres.

The students have also been working on some new sails. There is one we laid out in Cape Town back in 2015, a royal, that had the canvas cloths stitched together, but only with one seam. Using the big sailmakers’ sewing machine, the students have put additional rows of stitches on the seams, learning how to work together to get the big canvas sail through the machine in a coordinated way.


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Happy Thanksgiving!

One of the best things about sailing with an international crew, and having an international group of students at the Bosun School, is celebrating different national holidays.  This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada and the Bosun School students marked the occasion with a sit-down turkey dinner.

We have so much to be thankful for here.  We’ve had beautiful fall weather that has allowed us to get a lot of work and study done, a gorgeous and safe harbour here in Lunenburg, food to eat and a roof over our heads.  What we’re most thankful for is the people who make up our community; the students at the Bosun School, our professional crew and trainees past and present, friends and supporters of Picton Castle, and especially this year, the thousands of visitors who came to see our ship in the many ports we called at as part of the Rendez-vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta.

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Bosun School Launches and Rows A Dory

One of the main things we focus on at Bosun School is small boat handling. Students will practice handling boats of all kinds by rowing them, sailing them and driving them with motors. It’s one of the essential skills of a good mariner, being able to handle small boats. The best way to become proficient is to practice. A lot.

This past week, students at Picton Castle‘s Bosun School prepared and launched a Banks dory named Rocky. The boat was built at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia’s historic Dory Shop, which is celebrating 100 years in business in 2017. The students gave it a paint job and launched it from the beach at the Dory Shop.

Captain Moreland demonstrated how to row a dory. Students then had the chance to practice, followed by a more in-depth lesson.

Here are video clips of the launch and of Captain Moreland’s rowing demonstration.

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Tackle Tug of War

How can one person beat seven people in tug of war?  By using mechanical advantage!

Okay, maybe it’s not truly tug of war, but the Bosun School students staged a powerful experiment this morning to demonstrate how mechanical advantage works.  By rigging tackles properly, one person was able to pull seven others across the floor, despite their best efforts not to be moved.

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First Day of Bosun School

Although elementary and high school students in Lunenburg started school a couple of weeks ago, today is the first day of school for another group of students in Lunenburg. Picton Castle’s Bosun School begins today and we have a group of eager students ready to sharpen both their pencils and their knives.

The Bosun School is designed for young mariners who want to build their seamanship skills in a focused environment. As Captain Daniel Moreland, head instructor of the Bosun School, likes to say, emergency training is good to have, but it’s better to have training in skills that prevent emergencies from happening in the first place, and those skills are seamanship skills.

In order to attend Bosun School, students must have already spent some time at sea standing watches and participating in operating the vessel. By doing that, they already know that they like seafaring and they want to continue to do it. They also know about group living and that everyone must pitch in and do their part.

After an orientation with Captain Moreland this morning, the students dove into rope work. They started with cutting rope, then whipping the rope ends, tying knots, and splicing the rope together in different ways. For all of them, some parts of this was a review, but it’s good to start with the basics to be sure that everyone has a solid foundation on which to build.

We’re expecting wet weather here for the next few days so we’ll mostly be in the workshop, but we’re hoping to get small boats ready to launch later this week so the students can start practicing small boat handling under sail, oar and power.

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