Captain's Log

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Chibley of the Picton Castle – A Seagoing Cat From Lunenburg

Last night on a dark and stormy evening in Lunenburg, Chibley the Cat was hit by a car on Montague Street and died. She was walking from my house to the ship as was her wont. She had just had a fine dinner and a tussle, as well as a warning that it was a tempest a brewing. No doubt she was headed back to the ship to cage a second dinner, or just to check on things. She seemed to do that a lot. Some could easily say that she should not have been outside or walking around like that and should have been restrained to stay indoors or something, but, if so, they did not know Chibley – Chibley did as she wished – and so did you.

It is of course, very sad for us. It is also easy for us to attribute too many human qualities to a cat and suggest that she was more human than cat but I think that the reverse is more likely the truth – she was pure cat and her influence on her shipmates was that she turned them into more cat-like souls than her association with people might have performed the reverse function – nope, Chibley was pure 100% cat, but oh, what a cat! She certainly was some kinda person, a small furry one to be sure, but determined, keenly intelligent, resourceful, adaptable, wicked smart, soft, cuddly and very much of her ship and her shipmates – and this ain’t no anthropo-whatever. If you knew her, you knew this to be true, even those hostile, open or clandestinely, to such notions were quickly straightened out on this score once in her thrall. We have an encyclopedia of Chibley tales to support this point and she could get really cranky at you for your failings.

That Chibley was a sea cat and mariner without parallel has to be a remarkable understatement to say the least. When the I and 2nd Mate for our first world voyage went to SHAID animal shelter about 14 years ago this month she coyly managed to somehow select me – can’t remember quite how she did this but did it she did. Then Chibley went on to become the longest serving shipmate in the Barque Picton Castle. Now, let me be clear on something; should you read sea stories of long passages in boats and sailing ships that include one or two cute kitties at the beginning of the story you will soon note that some chapters further on either the cat fades from the story or the author takes the time to tell a short anecdote of the loss of said cat, either wandering off in port, never to be seen again in Zanzibar, Bali, Tahiti or elsewhere; or whilst lunging for a bird, perhaps a flying fish, make her way over the rail into the sea, and that was that – much of the time in these stories, well, that cat just walks out of the story. This would not be Chibley. Chibley the Cat has about 250,000 sea miles under her paws. She has licked more salt water off her tail than most sailors see in a lifetime. She sailed around the world five times, been all over Europe and West Africa. Bora Bora, Tahiti, Rarotonga have all had their fish markets raided by said cat. The docks of Cape Town, Reunion and Namibia are well know to her. Kiel Germany, Copenhagen, Ipswich England, all her stomping grounds. She kept her footing in a gale many a time and managed to stay dry when all others were getting soaked. A quarter of a million miles under sail, waterfronts and islands from the deep South Pacific to up the coast of Norway, Australia, gales and calms, tradewinds with stuns’ls set or motoring into head seas, and she loved her Lunenburg too, she loved walking the waterfront from Adams & Knickle all the way through to The Dory Shop, wherever there was something interesting going on you might find her (and Magnolia’s and The Scuttlebutt and The Salt Shaker and The Dockside and J-3; Lemme see, scallops, bacon, milk, pizza, hmmmm. The Grand Banker staff came outside to see to her desires…). This story is clearly incomplete to say the least, but enough for now.

A long time ago we had to decide whether we would treat Chibley like a cosseted pet or a shipmate – turned out to be not our decision – she made that choice herself and the decision was this; ain’t no one was gonna be the boss of Chibley, and so it was. Chibley has something over 1,000 shipmates in her years of voyages in the Picton Castle, and most of them have their Chibley stories, some funny, some cute, some astonishing. So after all her adventures at sea and in port over the last 15 years, it took a simple, even banal, car incident in her quiet homeport to end her life. Well, she lived as she chose and she sailed a course on the tack of her own making. Would that we all could say the same.

Mike Moreland wrote:

To Chibley,
Your last adventure ashore finally got the best of you. You always knew it was safer aboard your ship, whether tied snugly to the dock or out at sea, troubles were always on land. But like all sailors your thirst for the unknown was always there.

Over the years, the many voyages, the hundreds of thousands of sea miles, you gave endlessly your comfort and love to all the crew who passed through your ship. You never asked for much, maybe a small chunk of tuna from the fish just pulled aboard, or maybe your breakfast a little earlier, like 3 am, and just a small piece of the cargo hatch to stretch out on.
Carry on little sea cat, you will be missed.

Pania Warren wrote:

Chibs! I will miss you screamin’ like a banshee down the ladder into the cabin at 5:30am then climbing into my bunk and screamin’ in my face to feed you then start purring like a motor boat and cuddling close so you wouldn’t miss me getting up :) You were the coolest of cool cats and I will miss you a lot. I really like you.

Chibley and Dapper and fresh fish
Chibley at meal time
Chibley checks things out from the charthouse
Chibley helps Nadia with sailmaking
Chibley helps provision
Chibley helps provision the ship--fruit and veggies, Panama 2005
Chibley in a coil of rope
Chibley joins the dancers
Chibley naps on the sail Nadia is stitching
Chibley relaxes on deck
Chibley stretches out in a bunk
Chibley watches Shawn Anderson clean a fresh fish
Chibs is shy
Dave and Chibs
Even Chibley studies the weather!~0
John and Chibley
Lauren and Chibs
Robert and Chibs
Siri and Chibley
Tammy and Chibley

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Power Shower!

Friday June 4, 2010

A power shower, followed by part two of the splicing workshop, was the highlight of the afternoon for most of the crew. It’s really hot, hotter than usual at 33 degrees Celsius all day in the shade, and we’re all a bit on the sweaty side, so a power shower late in the afternoon was just the right thing. Logan and Meredith ran out the port fire hose, then rigged it up in the port shrouds so that it would spray down on deck. We use salt water in our fire hoses, so there’s no danger of running out of water and the shower can run until everyone has had their turn. Most people participated, putting on their bathing suits and bringing all sorts of different kinds of shampoos, soaps and scrubby things out on deck to bathe with. When we shower in our regular inboard showers on board we have to be careful about how much water we use because it’s fresh water and that we must conserve carefully. The way to do it is to turn on the water to rinse, then turn off the water while you lather up, then turn on the water again for a quick final rinse. The beauty of a power shower is that you can enjoy the almost endless sustained cool water battering down on you, as long as you make room for your shipmates every now and again.

The second part of the splicing workshop was on short splices today. Almost everyone had their homework done, having finished the two tapered eye splices in either end of their four fathoms of rope. After chopping their line apart, the next step was to splice the two parts together with a short splice. There are still more splices to learn, so there will most definitely be a part three to this workshop, and part four. We also had the first of several “Coconut-Nut Technology” demonstrations by the Captain, how to open a green drinking nut or crack a ripe eating nut. When sailing through the tropics it is important to know something about the almost ubiquitous and delightful coconut.

We’re still working on grommets on the mainsail for the Carriacou Sloop Mermaid, racing to be done this sail in time to deliver it to the boat and skipper John Smith in Panama. With an awning rigged up on the quarterdeck, there were as many as eight people sewing in grommets at the same time, including the chief engineer, medical officer and purser. The crew have really rallied around this project, and even now after supper I can hear someone tapping a brass liner into a freshly-sewn grommet. We usually finish ship’s work before supper, but some of the crew have asked if they can continue this evening.

There are plenty of other projects going on apart from sail-making. We’re slowly working our way through wire brushing all the shackles and turnbuckles on deck, then coating them with fresh black paint. The brackets which hold up the wooden steps from just outside the engine room to the quarterdeck were rustbusted and primed today. The ash capstan bars, which people have been working on scraping and sanding over the past few weeks, got a coat of varnish today. Everyone noticed the freshly-painted red trim around the sea sink – many folks have red stripes across their middles from leaning on the edge of the sink while they pre-washed their dishes (the sea sink attaches inboard of the rail on the aloha deck, it’s filled with salt water and dish soap before every meal so that each person can do a pre-wash of his or her own dish before stacking it up in the scullery for a proper full wash, rinse and dry).

Today’s menu included chocolate chip muffins, oatmeal and oranges for breakfast, pasta with tomato beef sauce and pineapple for lunch, and roast beef, roast potatoes, broccoli and cabbage and bean salad with pineapple and chocolate chip cake for supper.

Power Shower
Siri, Leonard, Georgie and Krista sew grommets

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Bonaire

Tuesday June 1, 2010

Picton Castle sailed in to Bonaire on Sunday, a last-minute surprise decision to pull into port and wait for better winds on our passage from Anguilla to Panama. Trade winds are usually consistent from the east in the Caribbean Sea, but we had been having very light winds and EVEN headwinds, causing us to have to motor for the whole way from Anguilla, which is unheard of! Winds have been forecast to be easterly again by today, so our plan is to sail out Wednesday morning, heading, once again, for Panama.

While stopping in Bonaire was a surprise, it was a pleasant surprise and well-received by the crew. Bonaire is known as one of the top scuba diving and snorkelling sites in the world, with the waters all around the island being part of a national marine park (which is why we were alongside a dock instead of at anchor – anchoring is prohibited here to protect the coral reefs). Liam took the initiative to find out who wanted to dive in Bonaire, certified or not, and to make arrangements with a local dive shop to get people geared up and ready to go. There were a number of our crew who had never been diving before who took advantage of the opportunity to try a “discover diving” introdution training program, and most of our certified divers (of which we have quite a few) did two dives in a day. Where the waters surrounding the island are all a marine park, there are dive sites everywhere. For the first dive of the day, the experienced divers only had to walk across the road from the dive shop and into the water to see an incredible display of coral, fish and eels.

Many of the crew also used their off-duty time to travel around and see the island. This was best done by renting a vehicle of some sort. At different points during our stay, there were rented scooters, 4-wheelers and Jeeps parked on the wharf where the ship was tied up. Fred even rented a bicycle and cycled around the south end of the island, which is quite an accomplishment given the incredible heat during our stay (34 degrees celsius in the shade!). At the south end of the island we saw salt ponds that looked like they were dyed green and pink (the colours are due to the algae and shrimp in the ponds, respectively) and giant pyramids of salt (one of Bonaire’s main exports). A number of our crew went kayaking in the mangroves on the southeast part of the island. Some headed north to the more hilly and forested part of the island, just exploring by taking every dirt road they found.

Bonaire is hot, sunny, flat and friendly. Just off the coast of Venzuela, the folks are a hodge-podge swirl of african, latin, dutch and indian all speaking four languages (Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu, a local language which is sort of a mix of the previous three languages), and enjoying life on this quiet island.

We have been making good progress on the mainsail for the Carriacou Sloop Mermaid, all the corner patches and reef patches are on and we will get the tabling on soon, then we have to sew in all the grommets, punch in brass liners and rope the edge of the sail – almost all the crew have been working on this sail on the hot, sunny cemment wharf we are tied up to. As dacron is harder for us to work than our usual cotton canvas, the gang has been working late every day on this sail, trying to get it done for delivery in Panama.

In addition to the Mermaid sail, the on duty watch have been busy with the main pin rails made of oak. After a winter in Lunenburg, they needed some attention in the way of scraping, sanding and a new coats of varnish. These wooden rails run the length of the main deck, from the foc’sle head to the forward edge of the quarterdeck. We took the lines that are usually made fast on this pin rail and led them inboard and doubled and tripled up the lines on the pins on the fife rail. Other ship’s work included scraping and priming topsides on the starboard side, plus a bit of rustbusting and priming the bulwarks.

The pier to which we’re tied up here is a commercial pier, so we’ve been sharing the space with a number of different vessels. First there was a small container-carrying ship which was here when we arrived, then left and came back Monday. The yard at the head of the pier has a number of containers on wheels, parked very close together. As some of the crew slept on deck, others were awoken by the sounds of metal containers grinding against each other – they were packed that tightly when the ship was unloaded and reloaded. The boat that arrived this morning is a pretty wooden vessel about 80 feet long, completely full of fresh fruits and veggies. About 15 vehicles were waiting for the boat on the wharf, and as they unloaded cases of bananas, watermelons, bags of oranges and assorted other fruits and veggies there was lots of shouting to see who would be able to fill their order from this boat first. Most fruits and veggies in stores and restaurants on Bonaire are imported from Venezuela. At a different pier, we also saw a similar style of boat unloading bales and bales of hay, must be for horses and cows.

The forecast is looking good for sailing most of the way, if not all of the way to Panama, so we’ll get going tomorrow. I think the crew would agree that Bonaire has been a pleasant surprise.

Alex works on the MERMAID sail
Nadia, Shawn, Jimmy and Brad discover diving
Paul scrapes the pin rail
PICTON CASTLE alongside in Bonaire
Working on the MERMAID sail in Bonaire

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Surprise Visit To Bonaire

Sunday May 30, 2010

We’ve been motoring since we left Anguilla, making our way south through the Caribbean Sea before turning west toward Panama. The Captain says that this is ridiculous. Normally this would be a passage done almost entirely under sail – the trade winds in the Caribbean Sea are usually so consistent at this time of year. However, due to the pesky low pressure system we’ve mentioned before over the Bahamas, conditions are not presently normal in the Caribbean Sea. We’ve been faced with either headwinds or winds too light to sail.

According to forecasts, which we follow closely, the pattern of winds which is normally expected in these waters at this time of year is predicted to return to normal sometime early this week. Until then, we’re stuck with a motorboat ride where we should be in some of the nicest sailing of the voyage.

Just before supper on Saturday, the Captain called a muster at which he announced that we would make an unscheduled stop at the island of Bonaire. The plan is to stop for a couple of days while the winds are not useful for us to sail, so that we can leave Bonaire and get some time under sail on the way to Panama once the wind patterns return to normal.

Bonaire is one of the Netherlands Antilles just off the coast of Venezuela. Together with Aruba and Curacao, they’re sometimes referred to as the ABC islands. Bonaire is ranked as one of the top three dive sites in the world, in fact the license plates on vehicles in Bonaire say “Diver’s Paradise.” Because the waters surrounding the island up to 60m deep are all a national marine park, anchoring is strictly prohibited. All vessels must either go on a mooring or go alongside a dock. Where none of the moorings are big enough to accommodate a ship like Picton Castle, we quickly made arrangements to go alongside the south commercial pier.

Approaching Bonaire, one can see the difference between the north part of the island which is hilly and green, and the south part of the island which is very low and dry. We motored toward Kralendijk, the main town on the island, where we would meet our pilot. Many harbours, including Kralendijk, have mandatory pilotage – every ship must take on a pilot who has outstanding local knowledge. We met our pilot and harbourmaster, Rob Santiago, and he hopped aboard as we made the last one hundred yards to get alongside the outside face of the south pier.

From there, the Captain and I set out to visit the Customs office and the police station in order to see to the necessary clearance and immigration formalities. All went well, and just after lunch the 12 to 4 watch took the deck and the other two watches were stood down. Suggestions for things to do while off duty here include diving, snorkelling, renting a car for the day to see the salt ponds and old slave huts on the south end of the island, checking out the flamingos that live there too, windsurfing in Lac Bay, and exploring the town of Kralendijk. The local currency is the Netherlands Antilles guilder, and while Dutch is the main language, most people speak English as well (for which our one Dutch crew member, Jan, is thankful, otherwise he may have to spend a lot of time translating).

Everyone seems quite happy about our surprise port visit while we wait for the wind. Picton Castle has never been here before, and only two of the crew, bosun WT and the Captain, have visited previously. We’re looking forward to exploring! It is very hot and sunny here, very hot….

Alongside in Bonaire
Bonaire over the taff rail
PICTON CASTLE through the market

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Sailmaking in Anguilla

Thursday May 27, 2010

After Picton Castle sailed into Anguilla on Monday, the Captain immediately ran into an old friend of his, Captain Kevin Gray who has been working and sailing around the Caribbean for decades. As the two of them were catching up, the idea came about that our crew could help to make a sail for the Mermaid, a Carriacou sloop owned by John Smith, currently stuck in Panama without a mainsail. Kevin got to work right away, ordering materials to fly into Anguilla from Doyles in Barbados. The sail would be made of dacron, a stiff synthetic sail cloth material that which most yachts use today instead of cotton canvas. While we waited for the dacron to arrive on Wednesday evening, we got the big old Singer sewing machine and all its parts assembled on deck and in working order.

First thing Thursday morning, we used the stay tackle to load the big heavy sewing machine into the skiff to take ashore. The sail cloth had arrived Wednesday evening as scheduled, customs had been cooperative “ship supplies in transit”, so the plan was to do the first layout, seam it together and do the second layout all in the same day. In order to lay out a sail, a large, clear, flat space is required. Thanks to Roy and Mandy Bossons of Roy’s Place in Sandy Ground (a very lovely Caribbean grill and pub) we had a perfectly good parking lot in which to lay things out, and a big room in their restaurant patio to do the stiching. The skiff made a beach landing in front of Roy’s to unload the sewing machine and the other required tools – weights, heaving lines, nails, sharp knives, pencils, markers and rulers.

Using the dimensions emailed to us by John, we started by measuring out the shape of the sail, which was outlined by heaving lines, hammered into the ground at the corners. Once we were satisfied that the size and shape was correct, we rolled out the dacron in panels, cutting each length just larger than the marks on the ground. Each panel overlapped the previous one by an inch, allowing space for the panels to be sewn together. Once all the panels were cut, they were labeled and carried into the building where the sewing machine was. Starting at the leech, the first two panels were laid out side by side and double sided tape was stuck first to one panel, then the second panel was pressed on top, overlapping the first by an inch. The tape holds the panels together while they are sewn, otherwise the dacron would slip and the seams would be uneven. We rolled both panels up lengthwise, toward each other, then a team of people positioned the rolled material with the seam in the middle behind the sewing machine. Mate Rebecca was in charge of operating the machine and regulating the stitches. Together, the ten or so people carrying the material had to respond to her orders to slow down or speed up, to move to one side or the other. At each panel joining point there are three seams within the one inch space that run the whole length of the sail. By this method we joined all six panels together, rolling the finished panels into a larger roll in order to be able to expose the seam that needed to be stitched while still controlling the rest of the material. Captain Sir Emile Gumbs former master of the famous schooner Warspite looked and approved as to the goings on saying, “This is how we used to make sails for the trading schooners”.

We started at about 0800, all of the panels were seamed together by about 1300. After a short break for lunch, it was time to do the second layout. Unfortunately it was raining lightly at this point, but with the dacron it is less important to keep it dry than if we were working with cotton canvas. We took the seamed-together panels out to the parking lot again and laid them over the original template of lines. Because the panels were cut a little bit longer than the pattern, we had to mark the corners of the sail. Because it was raining, we took the sail back inside and did the rest of the second layout under shelter. There wasn’t enough space to lay out the whole sail at once, so we worked on one side at a time. Laying out each side flat, we took a line and held it tight between the corners that we had marked outside. This created a straight line between the corners. Lining rulers up with the rope, we penciled in the straight line. However, the sides of a sail are rarely straight. For the leech, we worked in a hollow of two inches by finding the middle of our straight line and measuring two inches into the sail. The middle of the rope was held at that spot, then led out to the corners that were previously marked. In order to have the hollow be gradual instead of a sharp angle, the rope was adjusted until it made a nice curve. This was also marked in pencil, then marked over again in permanent marker. The same process was followed for the other three sides of the sail, except that instead of adding hollow, we added roach by measuring the prescribed amount out from the centre of the line on that particular side.

While the second layout was going on, other crew members were breaking down the sewing machine and getting it ready to transport back to the ship. We took one brief photograph in front of Roy’s, then got all of the people and all of the equipment back into the skiff to go back to the ship. The rest of the work on the sail, which will include finishing the edges, adding grommets, adding reef points and roping, will be done on board while the ship is underway as the sail doesn’t have to be laid out flat to do that work. This project will be a quick one as we intend to hand the sail over to John and the mighty and famous cariacou Sloop Mermaid in Panama.

laying out the sail in the parking lot
Logan, Nadja and Rebecca tape the seams
Rebecca sews with help from the team
starting a new seam

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Anguilla

Wednesday May 26, 2010

What a great time we have been having in sweet Anguilla. This tropical island port is a perfect first stop on a long voyage out to the Pacific and around the world – nice and relaxing after a North Atlantic passage. Ashore, nothing for the off-watch to do but swim, snorkel, sit on the beach, listen to reggae music and calypso and meet folks and play dominos. A lot of people from the bay here at Sandy Ground, Anguilla remember Picton Castle from her visit here just over a year ago, and the welcome back for the ship and her crew has been enchantingly warm.

The duty watch have also been having a good time, working on ship projects in the morning, maybe a swim call at lunch break, more projects in the afternoon, then wrapping up in time for another swim call and maybe some time on the rope swing off the fore yard-arm before supper. And we have been practicing in rowing as a team in the long-boat at the end of the days. The first day here the 8-12 watch got lots of rustbusting done, so each day since then we’ve been layering on coats of primer before final painting. Footropes aloft on the yards are getting tarred, the overhead in the breezeway is being painted tropical blue. It has rained briefly each evening during our stay, meaning that we’ve had to dry the cotton canvas sails. We do this by loosing them to let the canvas hang from the yards so the sun can do its work. This also means that we have to stow the sails at the end of the day, which takes a bit of time for one watch, which is one third of the crew, to do. But it is good practice aloft, too.

The currency in Anguilla is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, or EC for short. On the $10EC bill, there is a picture of a schooner called the Warspite, which was the last of Anguilla’s wooden schooners. Warspite was used to transport people and goods between islands in the Caribbean, including moving salt from Anguilla’s salt ponds to Trinidad. Unfortunately, Warspite was destroyed in a hurricane in 1984. We were very pleased to meet Sir Emile Gumbs in Anguilla, former Master of the Warspite and have him aboard. Our Captain remembers the Warspite well when he was a kid and the schooner was trading regularly to St. Thomas and Roadtown, Tortola. He says she was the prettiest and best sailing working schooner in the Caribbean when he was young.

We finally caught up with shipmate Deb, who sailed on the Atlantic Voyage, Wednesday evening. She now lives in Anguilla and, together with her partner Laurie, owns the Carriacou sloop Tradition. We thought we would miss seeing them as they were in Canada when we arrived, but they returned home just in time. Deb was telling us all about her latest adventures, including five weeks in Carriacou while Tradition was hauled out of the water for maintenance.

Next Monday is Anguilla Day, the biggest holiday of the year in Anguilla. Round the island boat races, carnival in the streets, Sandy Ground filled with people and music, even a reggae festival. We won’t be able to stay to celebrate this year, but perhaps we’ll be back for Anguilla Day next year…

Michael, Logan and Meredith relax on the beach at Sandy Ground
PICTON CASTLE at anchor in Anguilla
WARSPITE on the 10 EC bill

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Arrival in Anguilla

0730 – beautiful warm sultry tropical Caribbean morning – winds have backed into the ESE and blow steady and fresh, sky has plenty blue in it, still some squall clouds about – shoals of tiny flying fish shoot across the seas surface from time to time. One has graciously landed aboard overnight for Chibleys breakfast – we are coming up on Anguilla, our first land fall.

The 8-12 watch first spotted Anguilla this morning, but by about 1100 all hands were awake and looking out over the rail at land as we approached. Shortly after noon (ship’s time, which was 1100 local Anguilla time), we dropped the starboard anchor in about five fathoms of water in Road Bay, Anguilla’s main anchorage. The Captain, mate Rebecca, medical officer Dr. Krista and I went ashore to clear the ship in through immigration and customs, which went smoothly, the nice ladies at Customs/Immigration remembered us from our last – they even smiled when they mentioned this! Their office is right on the beach up from the small boat dock and it was air conditioned, not a bad feature today as it is unusually hot, sun beating down through a high haze and reflecting sharply back up from the creamy beach sand – also, the sun is virtually overhead. Back at the ship, after an all-hands swim call, the 8-12 took the watch for the day, leaving the other two watches free to go ashore and check out the island.

As it happens, today is WhitMonday, a national holiday. Next Monday is Anguilla Day, the biggest national holiday of them all. On both these days, there are races for local boats, each lovingly built and sailed by different owners and communities around the island. These 18 or so boats look sleek and smooth on the outside like fiberglass does, but they’re actually made of wood. And they are big, 35-40 and 45’ long evolved from the old time fishing sail boats they used to have. The sails on these boats are huge for the size of the hull, the boom extending far beyond the transom and the main sheet attached to the boom only about a third of the way along. And they’re packed with people – a few folks to handle lines (they only have a main and a jib, so there are just a handful of lines), a helmsman and a bunch of people as ballast/bailers. Depending on the strength of the wind they might have 20 crew. The race started and ended in Road Bay, so we were able to watch. I saw them on the horizon returning to finish the race, turned my back for just a few minutes and they had already crossed – these boats are fast. Designed, built, crewed and skippered by Anguillans, this may by one of the largest match regattas in the western hemisphere – it certainly is fun and exciting to be in amongst. By the way, The Sloop Real Deal won by a mile this time…

Where it’s a holiday and there’s a big boat race going on, Sandy Ground village is packed with people. We make regularly scheduled runs with our skiff from the ship to shore, and the skiff coxswains have to be very careful approaching the dinghy dock because of all the swimmers, children and adults, in the area. A good way to strike up a conversation with anyone from Anguilla is to ask them which boat is the best – apparently Anguillans feel the same way about these boats that many North Americans feel about their favourite NHL, NBA or NFL team.

The on watch have been working on some rust busting and painting projects, many of which are hard to do while the ship is underway. The white stripe at the top of the ladder to the quarterdeck was repainted, the rail around the ladder from the quarterdeck to the breezeway has been rustbusted and primed and the new hardwood floor in the charthouse has been treated. Under chief mate Michael’s direction, the on watch launched the long-boat and went rowing in this tropical bay. Just before supper the swing rope was rigged from the fore yardarm, which will surely bring hours of entertainment during swim calls.

While a stop in Anguilla was unplanned, it is certainly welcome. We anticipate being here until Thursday afternoon, so each watch will be on duty for one day and have two days off. If today is any indication, there’s lots of relaxing, exploring and unwinding to be done.

Anguilla beaches
Dan on the swing rope
REAL DEAL racing in Anguilla
The Picton Castle Anchored in Anguilla

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Anguilla Bound

Captain’s Log – Anguilla Bound

Sunday May 23. 2010

Yesterday morning the Captain posted this notice on the door to the main salon scuttle (where all important notices for Picton Castle crew are posted):

“Announcing -

In order to put some sand between our toes and have a little fun ashore

And after an excellent but none the less strenuous North Atlantic Passage to the tropics

And due to the expectation of poor and even contrary winds for the next few days in the Caribbean Sea Basin about the time the Picton Castle should be entering said sea

We are putting in to the island of Anguilla for a couple days

One watch on, two watches free, small boat handling, tropical anchor watches, etc

ETA Monday May 24, 2010 – AM”

Our intention on this passage was to go directly from Lunenburg to Panama, but stopping at a Caribbean island is never really a bad idea. We’ve had about as good a passage in the North Atlantic as one could ask for and I think the crew would all be just as happy to continue on for the remaining 1000nm to Panama, but once the announcement was made, this pleasant surprise seemed to put a smile on everyone’s faces and a spring in their step.

The announcement was posted at 1115 and by lunch time, it was the talk of the ship. The Lonely Planet guide book for the Caribbean Islands was in high demand, and anyone who has been to Anguilla before was quizzed completely. It makes me smile to know that regardless of the individuals aboard, the first things I’m always asked about are laundry, internet and bank machines. The Captain will hold a muster later today to fill everyone in on local culture and customs, what to do (greet everyone before doing business with them) and not do (don’t wear your bathing suit in town, spearfishing is illegal) to get along with the people who live there, and suggestions for places to go and things to see and do.

Part of the beauty of Anguilla is that there isn’t a lot to do besides relax on white sand beaches, maybe go scuba diving (Anguilla has some great wreck dives) and enjoy the numerous beachfront restaurants and beach bar-shacks (the kind to make Jimmy Buffet envious), many with live music. Picton Castle was most recently in Anguilla in March 2009, when our visit coincided with the Moonsplash Reggae Festival, an annual event hosted by renowned Anguillan reggae musician Bankie Banx at his restaurant/bar/live music venue the Dune Preserve. The place was packed when we were there last, and fantastic around the clock live music, but the multi-level almost treehouse-style wooden structure, roofed in many places by old boats, would be worth checking out again.

While we’re anchored off Sandy Ground at Road Bay, Anguilla, once the site of schooner and smuggling sloop building, each watch will have a day on duty on board the ship and two days off to explore the island. There will be plenty of opportunity to practice small boat handling as there will be regularly scheduled skiff runs back and forth between the ship and the dock. There are always projects to be done that are saved for times when the ship is not underway, and each crew member will stand their first night watch at anchor in the tropics.

At 0645 the winds came ahead after a squall from the south so we fired up the main engine to continue to push us on towards Anguilla. This off weather is all to do with the gales of the low east of the Bahamas twirlling out there causing mischief. The squalls we have been experiencing for the past two days have continued today, bringing with them rain and shifting wind. Lookouts are getting plenty of practice with spotting squalls on the horizon and helmsmen are becoming good at falling off quickly once the officer of the watch gives them the order.

With today being Sunday, Donald has the day off and there are, once again, guest chefs in the galley. Davey, Meredith and Michael put together chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled eggs and really yummy fruit salad for breakfast, then warm sandwiches with cheese and bacon on homemade bread for lunch – cheese and bacon, two of the four food groups… I haven’t yet wandered up to the galley to snoop on supper…

Lauren, Julie and Rebecca take up on braces
Squall!

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Blustery

Captain’s Log – Blustery

Saturday May 22, 2010

The Captain held a muster on the quarterdeck before supper yesterday to talk about our North Atlantic passage, south to the West Indies and Caribbean Sea from Nova Scotia. Using a white board, he illustrated our track so far, all has gone according to the passage plan we talked about in Lunenburg. The Picton Castle sailed a big S-curve out of Lunenburg that had us heading to the south west upon leaving Nova Scotia, then south, and south east crossing the Gulf Stream, then coming more east around Bermuda before heading due south again and south west as we aim for the Anegada Passage into the Caribbean Sea. While we’re about 1600nm from Lunenburg on a straight course, we’ve actually sailed about 1800nm or maybe more, given the curve of our route. Probably close to 2,000 miles by the time we are in the Caribbean Sea. Why sail such a curvy route if it’s going to add more distance? Well, the route we’ve taken has allowed us to take most advantage of the prevailing wind and weather conditions, allowing us in a sailing ship to make the most of them. Schooners and trading barks have been taking routes like this from New England and Nova Scotia bound for the Caribbean for hundreds of years.

We’re in fresh trade winds now, the consistent tropical winds that will carry us most of the way around the world. The trades are not as consistent in our current location as they usually are, given a low pressure system over the Bahamas that is having an effect and stirring up gales over there. As a result, we’re experiencing some bouncier swell, a partly overcast sky, occasional squalls and winds well south of east. The watches are getting practice with snappy sail handling, taking in outer jib, spanker, royals and sometimes t’gallants as squalls approach, and helmsmen are learning to fall off quickly in wind shifts.

From the Anegada Passage, our chosen route between the islands of the Lesser Antilles to the Caribbean Sea, where we’ll have the Virgin Islands on our starboard side and Anguilla and St. Martin on our port side, the passage to Panama will be another 1000nm. By that point, we hope to be in more conventional easterly trade winds, beyond the effects of the pesky low hovering off the Bahamas.

While sailing into the Caribbean Sea will mark a milestone, yesterday marked another milestone – our official entry into the tropics! We passed below 23 and a half degrees north, and we’ll stay in the tropics until we leave the Indian Ocean, sailing south around the Cape of Good Hope. It certainly feels tropical – crew are in t-shirts and shorts, and there’s lots of speculation about when the wind and swell might moderate enough for us to have our first swim call.

Captain shows our route
Siri singing in the rain on helm

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Sailin’ Along

Midday – May 20, 2010 – - 25-39n / 058-37w – - winds ESE – about 15 knots

Looks like we are in the famous easterly trade-winds. These winds that blow from the west coast of Africa from Senegal across the Atlantic finding their way to the wind swept and sun kissed isles of the West Indies. The Picton Castle is sailing along braced up sharp on the port tack, our good crew steering south with these trade winds on the port beam – all sail that is bent aloft on yard or stay is set and drawing – sky is a burning blue, seas are small with the occasional white cap but it is mostly just blue, royal blue, silver blue, turquoise blue maybe. All hands in shorts and short sleeve shirts (and hats and sun-glasses and SPF 2,000 goop) – the gang is filling in the deck log now – Time, compass course, course made good, log distance for the hour, wind force, wind direction, swell height, swell direction, visibility, barometer, weather in general and anything else of significance. The hard one really is true wind direction. And Latitude and longitude and any course changes, sail changes etc. This requires a good deal of observation and analysis to get it right. But that is the whole point, to learn to accurately observe and analyze conditions and then record them. Small jobs are getting done, painting here and there, little rigging jobs, cleaning odd corners, whippings on lines, end for ending lines for even wear, dishes-always dishes to do, galley and scullery to clean and clean again, folks up on the well deck making some new baggywrinkle. Name of the ship getting painted on the boats. Take your trick at the wheel, keep the Picton Castle on course, steering South by West or as we annotate, SxW, keep a good look out, one of the fundamentals of seafaring and good seamanship. Yes, that is all going on by each and everyone here in this small barque under full sail making her way into these tropics. First flying fish have been spied swooping to winward.

And then we have our off-watch gang. We see a few people spread out on the green canvas cargo hatch cover midships with books, knitting, making sheaths for knife and spike, napping, maybe with little music boxes with wires snaking towards the ears for some private music, pretty sweet. The temperature is perfect, the seas small, wind fresh and balmy, ship almost steering herself, Lunenburg is a thousand miles astern, many many sea miles ahead…and islands…no doubt thoughts of home too.

Chow onboard – Lunch – well, we had roast turkey yesterday so obviously we had turkey soup or maybe you might call it stew today and for supper – - drum roll…Adams & Knickle Scallops fresh off the F/V Chocklecap, Freedom 99 or Cachalot landed right in Lunenburg fresh from Georges Banks! And basmati rice, olive salad and chocolate cake.

Liam on lookout
Sophie paints letters on the boat

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