Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Gulf of Mexico' Category

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Day’s Run – March 29, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Beautiful sunset and night yesterday, as Captain Sikkema put it, “The ship sped along on silver seas under an almost full moon.” This morning and afternoon lots of rigging and painting going on. The galley house is starting to look really good with a fresh coat of paint and the work that the carpenter did. The 12-4 watch is working on bending on the flying jib to speed us along to our destination.

Date: 29 March 2018
Noon Position: 24°56.2’N- 086°06.8’W
Course + Speed: WxN1/2N, 5.3kts
Wind direction + Force: ESE, F5
Swell Height + Direction: 2.5m, SExE
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 122nm
Passage Log: 704.1nm
Distance to Port: 530nm
Voyage: 2803nm
Sail Set: inner jib,foresail, topsails, main t’gallant

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Day’s Run – March 28, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

We started our day with unbending and lowering the main t’gallant in order to fix a small tear in the sail. John, our Sailmaker, and the Captain have spent the day working on that as well as a new sail. It’s still beautiful weather, sunny and clear. We were aloft on the main bending on a new t’gallant and we could see a massive dolphin maybe about 6-8 feet long swimming along with the ship, we could just see him swimming under the water with sunspots shifting on his back. We also had a tiny little finch of some sort flying around the rigging last night that was still with us this morning. The 4-8 watch had a great time practicing knots last night and I caught this photo of them all trying to stand like their Lead Seaman, Anders.

Date: 28 March 2018
Noon Position: 24°41.3’N- 083°53.0’W
Course + Speed: NWxW1/2W, 6.1kts
Wind direction + Force: ExN, F5
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, ExN
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 150nm
Passage Log: 728.5nm
Distance to Port: 650nm
Voyage: 2675nm
Sail Set: topsails, courses, t’gallants, inner jib


Anders and the 4-8 watch pose on the quarterdeck

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Day’s Run – March 27, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Another beautiful night of clear sailing last night. The wind picked up in the early morning and now we are crossing the Gulf Stream which is causing a fair amount of roll, but we still have fair wind so the sailing is good. Yet another sunny day the color of the water seems more vivid today. Mid-morning a pod of dolphins appeared off the port bow! Can you find them jumping in this photo?

Date: 27 March 2018
Noon Position: 23°53.4’N-081°17.8’W
Course + Speed: WxN, 6kts
Wind direction + Force: ExN, F6
Swell Height + Direction: 3m, ExN
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 149nm
Passage Log: 575.7nm
Distance to Port: 798nm
Voyage: 2522nm
Sail Set: topsails, courses, inner jib, main topmast staysail

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Day’s Run – March 26, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Last night was just amazing, the moon was bright and the sailing smooth, clear skies and stars. I (the Purser) stayed on deck almost until midnight because it was so beautiful, and because the 8-12 watch had hot cocoa. This morning we sent up the main royal yard which was exciting, and currently the fore royal is being sent up. I went aloft on the fore and caught some beautiful photos of the process. We are sailing up the Old Bahama Channel at the moment. To starboard not far off is Reef running the length of the Channel and to port only about 15 nautical miles away is Cuba!

Date: 26 March 2018
Noon Position: 22°58.5’N-078°47.6W
Course + Speed: WNW, 5.5kts
Wind direction + Force: ExN, F4
Swell Height + Direction: 0.5m,ExN
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 133nm
Passage Log: 469.8nm
Distance to Port: 945nm
Voyage: 2471nm
Sail Set: All Bent Sail


We have a main royal yard and sail (the uppermost square sail on the main mast and the spar that supports it)!

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Day’s Run – March 25, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Yesterday afternoon we enjoyed a workshop from the Captain on sail theory and balance. Ship’s cat Fiji was very interested in the material! Woke this morning yet another beautiful wind with sunny skies. Its Sunday at Sea again, we are taking some time to clean things and have some rest. Caleb has opened the barber shop so everyone will look their finest by the evening. The crew is enjoying the sunshine and look forward to crossing a royal yard tomorrow.

Date: 25 March 2018
Noon Position: 21°54.5’N-076°40.9’W
Course + Speed: WxN, 5.3kts
Wind direction + Force: Email, F4
Swell Height + Direction: 1m, ExS
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 126nm
Passage Log: 335.8nm
Distance to Port: 1075nm
Voyage: 2337nm
Sail Set: All Bent Sail


Captain Sikkema leads a workshop

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Day’s Run – March 24, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Yet another beautiful sunny day out here! The 8-12 watch is currently dressing the royal yard to send it up in the next coming days. The new hands are sitting in the sunshine as they learn knots and whippings. Ship’s cat Fiji is as usual helping with the royal yard and being very cute. There seems to be a trend of setting fishing lines out in hope of catching something.

Date: 24 March 2018
Noon Position: 21°09,8’N- 074°33,9’W
Course + Speed: WNW, 6kts
Wind direction + Force: NNW, F5
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, NNE
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 130nm
Passage Log: 892.1nm
Distance to Port: 1205nm
Voyage: 2210nm
Sail Set: All Bent Sail

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Day’s Run – March 23, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

We were anchored yesterday in the Turks and Caicos. To our Port was wide open beaches, to our starboard wide open sea. Everybody had the chance to go ashore and enjoy the beaches and sunshine, to go swimming and golf cart riding. The island was small and interesting, beautiful in places, with a large contrast between the cruise ship parts and the local parts. There were some great old colonial buildings in the center of Cockburn Town, the biggest town on the island, which consisted of just a strip of colorful old houses intermingled with little souvenir kiosks running the length of the beach. It was nice to get ashore but I think everyone is happy to be at sea again today. We have good wind out of the north and all sail set, it’s still gorgeous and sunny. Lots of painting and rigging going on as the crew settles back into watches.

Date: 23 March 2018
Noon Position: 20°56.0’N- 072°17,3’W
Course + Speed: W1/2S, 4.7
Wind direction + Force: N, F4
Swell Height + Direction: <1/2m, NNW
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 76nm
Passage Log: 760.1nm
Distance to Port: 1320nm
Voyage: 2078nm
Sail Set: All Bent Sail

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Painting in Bermuda

By Cara Lauzon

Wednesday March 7, 2018

With the first sunny day this week there is a frenzy of painting, carpentry, and other work going on aboard Picton Castle here in St. George’s, Bermuda. Its been blowing so hard that the ship had what looked like a spider web of lines holding us to the wharf. The wind has been up to sixty knots for days, but even with the weather everyone has been busy getting the ship fitted out. It has been beautiful at night alongside the wharf hearing the wind howling around us. Even with the relentless wind there has been intermittent Bermuda sunshine. The crew enjoyed one glorious day off, where caves were explored and blue beaches swam in. We are docked at the small town of St George’s, full of colorful old limestone houses, with two-foot thick walls built to withstand just the sort of wind we have been experiencing.

We share Penno’s Wharf with two other tall ships, the Dutch barkentine Thalassa and Thor Heyerdahl, a German school ship full of very musical high school students. We had a boisterous jam in Picton Castle‘s salon last evening where they graced us with their company and the students sang haunting German choral music. We shared a few of our gypsy tunes on the fiddle and accordion, and we wrapped it all up with a few good old sea shanties.

The wind died down this morning and we are enjoying a bright and sunshiny day. Taking advantage of the weather we have managed to paint our topsides, hauling ourselves off the wharf with a kedge anchor. The Picton Castle is enjoying a makeover, sporting a new buff stripe along the rail. Our new carpenter, Kirk, who just joined us here in Bermuda is working on projects on the deck, he is lucky he arrived just in time for this weather!


Painting topsides, including a new buff stripe on the rail!

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Passage to Bermuda

There is nothing quite like a ship on a mission to get people focused. The mission: get Picton Castle to Bermuda, and at that this crew has done well. It’s no easy task to load a ship in the dead of winter and prepare for going to sea. Everything takes just that much longer, from having to wait to open the hatch when the freezing rain stops to pulling out the fire hoses and immersion suits for drills in the snow. While we certainly could have completed our fit-out in Lunenburg it will be far more effective to get her ready for the next year’s sailing here in Bermuda, she needs paint after a winter’s lay-up and attention to detail in the rigging is much easier to come by when one is not so concerned about how cold your fingers and toes are.

After the ship was in all aspects made ready for sea the crew spent some time at anchor doing drills and familiarizing themselves with the ship’s safety gear. This is very important at anytime before putting to sea but especially now as the consequences are much higher at this time of year.

We all knew from the outset that this would be a motor sailing trip, the North Atlantic is no place to mess around this time of year. Having some sail on the vessel though helps a lot, with both speed and steadying out her sea motion. The windows of opportunity for good weather can be narrow so when you get one there is no time to doddle. Fortunately we had a good weather window and made best use of it. Northerly winds pushing us with topsails set and the main engine thumping along, Picton Castle raced down the Nova Scotia coast at 8 to 9 knots. The biggest concern upon departure is to watch the low pressure systems coming off the mid Atlantic coast, these can bring very strong conditions and contrary winds. But once past, a northerly or northwesterly wind will fill in and provide a few days of fair conditions, as the coasters called it “a good chance along”.

The prevailing winds along the coast are from the usually from the southwest and once any northerly wind has gone you can expect the southwest to come in again after, and as such it almost always makes sense to head off in that direction. With our fair wind we ran along the edge of the George’s Bank and off toward southern New England, while it was quite cold it was at least sunny, a little bit of sun on your face goes a long way in the chill wind.

Even with what little sail handling we had to do, it gives you great appreciation for those who had to do these things for a living. As we skirt the edge of the George’s Bank, pulling on icy ropes and frozen sails it’s hard not to think about the fishermen and their schooners that plied these banks in the winter.

As forecasted, the wind veered to the west by the time we were about 120nm to the SSE of Cape Cod, and early in the morning the crew got the ship around on to the starboard tack and off we went to the south.

As the seas began to build with the fresh westerly winds, the crew kept busy making sure the ship, all of her gear and cargo, stayed sea stowed. Once anything starts to move it can be hard to get control of it again and the first sea conditions we experience after loading the ship is a good time to make sure nothing gets started. Before the seas built too much we also took the opportunity to rig up some of our extra safety gear, grab ropes to hang onto and extra lashings about the deck and on the boats. Bumpy as it was for a little while, we sped along a a good clip and late in the morning the wind and sea began to ease.

The concern to navigate is the Gulf Stream, the most remarkable current in the northern hemisphere. This massive volume of water flowing in places at a speed of up to 4 knots starts in the Straits of Florida and lesser Antilles continues up the east coast to north of the Carolinas (Cape Hatteras) and fans out into the North Atlantic bringing warm water to the Azores and as far away as Southern Europe. Coming down from the north, as we are, in the cold southerly flowing waters of the Labrador current, the Gulf Stream is a well defined change from dull green water to that of deep indigo blue, that beautiful and defining feature of ‘blue water sailing’. This ‘wall’ between warm and cold water has an effect on the weather, it can create squall lines and the strong flow of the current can cause seas to heap up and become quite steep. The best way to cross the Stream is far enough to the west that the current can be used to your advantage and with a fair wind or calm.

By late Saturday afternoon we crossed into the north wall of the Gulf Stream, quite suddenly the water temp jumped up to 23°C, the air became warm and moist, and the current took us racing off at speeds of up to 12 knots over the bottom. This of course was a welcome change to the crew, who quickly were in short sleeves and barefoot on deck with the warm water rushing around their feet.

Some mild rain and squalls persisted through the night and as we left the main part of the Stream behind the sea smoothed out and skies cleared. Sunday morning found the ship scooting along, still motor-sailing, in a calm sea and beautiful warm sunny day. We made good enough time that we were able shut the main engine down for the first time since leaving Lunenburg and enjoyed an afternoon of sailing. All hands came out to soak up the warmth and feel the easy sailing motion through the water as opposed to the charging along we had been doing under power.

But as the wind slacked off in the evening we fired up again, bound for Bermuda the following afternoon.

We could not have asked for a nicer afternoon for our arrival in Bermuda, a sunny day with a warm 12 knot breeze and small seas around the outside of the reef. As we were somewhat early for the pilot station we took a few hours to go sailing around the north side of the reefs that surround much of Bermuda. We called all hands and the crew put in a good effort getting cleaned up and ready for port.

The Schooner Spirit of Bermuda, under the command of Captain Michael Moreland (former Captain and Chief Mate in Picton Castle) came out sailing to escort us in. Always great to see a familiar face upon entering port.

At 1530 we boarded the pilots, fired up the main engine, took in sail and brought the ship’s head to wind and for the ‘town cut’. Twenty minutes later it was through the cut and into St George’s Harbour were we tied up behind the Norwegian full-rigger Christian Radich, also in for a stop over at Penno’s wharf. It created quite a classic sight with yards and masts of two square riggers springing up over the old town of St George’s with a Bermuda sloop sitting at anchor in the harbour.

With the ship all secure alongside the crew can take satisfaction in having made a good passage in the winter North Atlantic and turn to getting the ship painted and fully rigged. In two weeks time we’ll be ready to put to sea again, doing what we do best in the ship, sailing for the horizon.

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Hello Bermuda!

Picton Castle arrived in Bermuda on Monday afternoon! After meeting the pilot to bring the ship in to St. George’s harbour through the Town Cut, Picton Castle tied up at Penno’s Wharf in St. George’s.

Longtime friend and crew member of Picton Castle, Paulina Brooks, who is from Bermuda, took these photos of the ship’s arrival and shared them with us, so we’re sharing them with you.

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