Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Lunenburg' Category

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Captain’s Log – May 9 2017

Anchored in the beautiful old fishing port of Lunenburg Harbour, Nova Scotia, the Picton Castle crew woke up at 0715 to a cold drizzle and overcast day but spirits were high as we knew we were preparing to get underway and head to sea. We had left our dock and gone to anchor two days ago but high seas had kept us in port, 12 to 16 feet swells were the reports just off the coast and even the lobster boats were staying in the harbour. Kind of rough for starting out. The weather had finally turned more favourable with seas laying down and it was time to head south to Charleston, South Carolina. We had been stowing, lashing and drilling for days. Several crew members have sailed aboard the Picton Castle before, but for others, this is their first time at sea. Assistant Engineer Liz has been working and living aboard the ship for almost nine months now and nothing could beat her smile as we heaved up the anchor and headed for warmer weather!

At 1100 the crew was set to haul up the 1,500 lb port anchor. For some vessels, this is done with the press of a button but on our ship, it is the press of sweat and strong backs using a big iron 100A1 “Norwegian Steam” hand powered anchor windlass. The Picton Castle is steeped in tradition including the fact that “many hands make light work”. With 4-5 people on each side of the windlass, sailors “see-saw” on big iron bars until the anchor breaks off the bottom then comes to the surface of the water and can be stowed. Each up and down motion lifts one link of our very large chain, so with two and a half shots or 230 feet of very heavy chain lifting a very heavy anchor, I’m sure you can imagine the strength required. Often chants break out to help keep momentum but our spirits don’t need for much as a secured anchor means we are heading back out to sea. But as one wiseguy said, “can you imagine how hard it would be without the windlass?”

Today the seas are a bit sloppy after the large seas of yesterday, making for cautious footing but we are starting to get into the ebb and flow of the ship. Soon it will be second nature. Getting used to the new and unfamiliar movement, especially in choppy weather can sometimes take a bit. During our aloft training we learn the importance of three points of contact between yourself and the ship. This also rings true when navigating the decks while she rides over the 4 to 8 foot swells!

To some, this may sound like a lot of work and you are right. But when you stand at the bow of the ship, looking back at the tight-knit unit we’ve become in such a short span of time, every time we have scrubbed the deck or stood at the helm, we are reminded that we are a part of something much greater than just ourselves. We are sailors in a great sailing ship.



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New Mizzen Topmast

Most of the crew have now arrived aboard Picton Castle in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada for the Rendezvous 2017 voyage. It’s always an exciting time when a voyage begins. There is a flurry of activity around the ship as people move aboard and get settled, ship’s work picks up speed as the number of hands increases. Training and orientation is a big part of what’s going on as well, learning the ship and how everything works.

One of the projects we’ve been working on is replacing the mizzen topmast. Each of Picton Castle’s three masts have multiple parts, they’re not each just one solid piece. The mizzen mast, the mast farthest aft (closest to the back of the ship), is made up of two parts. The lower part is made of steel and the upper part, which is called the topmast, is made of wood.

Picton Castle carries a number of spare timbers so that we have materials to use if we ever need to replace any of the spars. We’ve been carrying a telephone pole from Saint Maarten in the Caribbean for a while now. We’re saving it from a life of mediocrity, just staying in one place and holding up wires. Instead, this long straight timber has been crafted into a new mizzen topmast by local all-around-boat-guy Mike Gray and the crew put it into place yesterday, high above the steel lower mast, where it will support sails and rigging while Picton Castle sails the world.



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10 January, 2017

Lunenburg photographer Peter Zwicker ( captured this amazing photograph this morning of Picton Castle surrounded by snow, ice and sea smoke. Thanks, Peter, for letting us share it!

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Bosun School Graduation

After three months of studying and hands-on practice in Lunenburg, the Bosun School students officially graduated last night.

Picton Castle’s Bosun School is designed for young mariners who want to gain skills to add to their resumes and advance their careers.  We have found, in receiving applications from some professional mariners to work aboard Picton Castle, that despite having significant sea time their skill levels are below what we might expect.  By taking time to focus on developing these skills in an environment ashore without the natural distractions of sailing the ship, students can see a project through from start to finish and learn the entire process.

Not only do they observe and learn through lecture and demonstrations, they learn primarily through hands-on practice.  Using the example of wire splicing, Captain Moreland did a brief introductory lecture, then a demonstration.  From there, students made two or three splices of their own, under the supervision of Bosun Gabe.  After that, the Captain did a second, more in-depth lesson on wire splicing that they were able to absorb more easily because they had some context of doing the work themselves.  Since then, they’ve done many more splices, some on practice wires and some in actual practical applications where their splices will be used aboard Picton Castle.

This session of the Bosun School had a major focus on rigging.  Bosun School students sent yards down back in September when the school began and they worked on overhauling them through October and November, taking off all the standing rigging and blocks, inspecting and repairing or replacing portions as necessary, and overhauling the yards themselves.  Some of Picton Castle’s yards are steel (the course yards, lower topsail yards and upper topsail yards) so students learned how to deal with rust, removing it and putting coatings on to prevent rust and seal the steel.  Some of Picton Castle’s yards are wooden (the t’gallant yards and royal yards) so students have done some work with wood preparation and varnishing (on a few other projects like deck boxes as well).

Sailmaking has been one of the other main areas of study at this Bosun School.  Students have learned a variety of repair methods depending on what’s called for in each situation.  Some repairs need to be quick and not-so-pretty, others need to be meticulously well done when there is time and space to do it.  Students also worked on sail construction projects, laying out a new outer jib, seaming it together, then adding the tabling, corner patches, grommets, roping and all other finishing.  By being part of constructing a sail from start to finish, they have a greater understanding of all of the components of a sail, how they work together and how and why to look after them.

This past week, as we have been wrapping up a number of projects, students have been meeting individually with Captain Moreland for career counselling sessions.  They’ve been talking about short-term plans as well as longer term plans.  At the graduation ceremony last night, each student received a certificate of completion that outlines the skills they’ve practised that they’ll be able to use when they apply for jobs in the future.

Join us in sending congratulations to all of the Bosun School students on successful completion of the course!img_2338

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Snowy Day in Lunenburg

We’re not used to seeing the decks of our mostly tropical-sailing barque covered in snow, but that they are today. It’s not a good day to be working outdoors so Bosun School students are indoors, working on wrapping up a number of projects as they begin their last full week of classes.


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Crossing Yards

Thursday December 8, 2016

What comes down out of the rig must go back up! Bosun School students sent down yards back in September, they have overhauled all the standing rigging attached to the yards, overhauled the yards themselves, and are now crossing the topsail yards again. The first one to go up was the main upper topsail yard, which was crossed this morning. Gabe and Kimba guided it up from the wharf, Anne Laure was aloft to receive it, while Ashling, Liz, Niko, Jason, Aaron and Polina worked the capstan to do the heavy lifting, all under Captain Moreland’s watchful eye.






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Bosun School Does the Holidays!

It’s been an incredibly busy week here in Lunenburg. Captain Moreland and Maggie travelled to Sweden for a Sail Training International conference and Gabe has been busy doing workshops with the Bosun School in Captain Moreland’s absence. I had to interrupt, though, for something slightly different … this weekend is the first huge big weekend in the build-up to the Holiday Season here in Lunenburg. Tonight there is the lighting of the vessels down at the harbour which includes lighting up some ships, a bunch of Christmas trees and the Holiday Buoy (of course!). One of the Christmas trees is ours. Normally Maggie and I decorate it, but this year I left it up to Gabe and the Bosun School (and Purser Bob who is visiting from the UK) and together they have created a beautiful tree decorated with nautical knots, mini ditty bags and candy canes.



Tomorrow Santa Clause is coming to town in style and will be the star of the annual Christmas Parade through town. We will have a float in the parade so if you happen to be here keep your eyes open for the thoroughly decorated Dory Shop dory with the lovely Christmassy sails – the Bosun School will be handing out chocolate, suckers and candy canes to all kids young & old. After the parade, there will be markets throughout town, a live nativity (complete with donkey) and then Christmas carols by the bandstand as they light the trees on the hill. If you ever feel like you’ve lost the magic of Christmas, come and spend the last weekend of November in Lunenburg and recharge your magical spirit with a great old fashioned Christmas weekend. It feels like you’re stepping back it time.

Captain Moreland and Maggie will return on Monday, but until then we’ll celebrate a little bit of Christmas here in this beautiful old town.


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HMS Picton Castle

With a hull form derived from the famous Brixham sailing trawlers, our Picton Castle started her life as a fishing vessel after she was launched back in 1928, fishing from the ports of Milford Haven and Swansea in Wales.  The actual castle for which she is named is quite close to Milford Haven.  When World War II came, many fishing trawlers vessels were pressed into service in Britain’s Royal Navy including our Picton Castle.  She became HMS Picton Castle, was fitted with minesweeping equipment and became a minesweeper and convoy escort.  Her crew were usually made up of fishermen who knew that type of gear so well and a few regular navy ratings to handle the guns and mines she carried, all in the command of a fairly junior Naval Reserve officer. These small former fishing vessels and their rough and ready crews made up a flotilla known as “Harry Tate’s Navy” after a dishevelled vaudeville entertainer of the times. Maybe a bit similar to “McHale’s Navy”.

Picton Castle as a minesweeper in WWII

Picton Castle as a minesweeper in WWII

In 1942, HMS Picton Castle took part in the Saint Nazaire Raid.  The object was to destroy the drydock facilities in German-occupied Saint Nazaire.  This was the only large drydock on the Atlantic coast that the Germans could use to drydock their vessels.  If this facility was unavailable, the large German ships would have to go up the heavily guarded English Channel and all around Denmark to get to the north coast of Germany in order to drydock.  This was a very vulnerable passage for a German naval vessel. The raid was successful, with the former US WWI Lend-Lease destroyer HMS Campbeltown  smashing into the lock gates and later exploding with such force to take out the drydock for the remainder of the war.  This also resulted in Hitler calling for shooting such commandos upon capture and skipping the prisoner-of-war scenario.

RN veteran and telegraph operator Tom Gamble who sailed in the HMS Picton Castle throughout the war tells of a time that his ship was blown clear out of the water by a mine. They steamed to port and drydocked her but found no damage. Back to sea she went.

Later in WWII, while sweeping for mines in the North Sea, HMS Picton Castle developed a problem and had to put in to the nearest port, which happened to be Bergen, Norway.  The Germans had just decided to abandon Norway rather than fight and so decamped.   The next day the HMS Picton Castle appeared in the desolate empty harbour flying the Union Jack, was greeted by some two officials and has since been hailed as the “Liberator of Norway.” From the VE Day May 8, 1945 until December of that same year our ship swept the waters of the recent hostilities for mines. We can be confident that she found many. Mines pop up to this day in the North Sea and coastal waters of Europe.

On this Remembrance Day, we laid a wreath at the ceremony in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in memory of one of Picton Castle’s early supporters (early as a sailing ship), Lunenburg’s Martin Eisenhauer and all, like him, who served in the Royal Navy and took part in some of the most grueling convoys of the Battle of the Atlantic.  He may have seen the little Picton Castle sweeping for mines or escorting a convoy on its last miles into safe harbour.

Remembrance Day ceremony in Lunenburg, 2016

Remembrance Day ceremony in Lunenburg, 2016

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Bosun School Learns Sailmaking

For the past few weeks, Bosun School students have been focused on sailmaking.  It’s a good skill for a bosun to have – by making a sail, you understand how it works, why each part is the way it is, how to use it and how to look after it.  There aren’t very many sailing ships making their own sails aboard anymore (Picton Castle is one of the only ones), but the understanding of how it’s done makes you a better mariner.

Captain Moreland demonstrates patching techniques

Captain Moreland demonstrates patching techniques

Repairing sails is a skill a mariner is much more likely to use on a sailing ship.  From time to time, sails rip.  Catching it early and repairing it properly extends the life of the sail.  As Captain Moreland explained when he was introducing sailmaking to the students, there are times when different kinds of repairs need to be done.  Sometimes you need the perfect repair, done so well you’d hardly know it wasn’t part of the original sail.  Sometimes you need a quick and dirty five-minute job that will hold for a few hours or a few days so the sail can be set again immediately.  Sometimes you need something in between. Ashling sews in a window patch

Ashling sews in a window patch

Throughout this unit of study, Bosun School students have had the chance to practice all kinds of repairs.  They have sewn in lovely window patches, they have also done ugly-but-effective rubber cement patches on a synthetic fabric sail.

Anne-Laure working on the sewing machine

Anne-Laure working on the sewing machine

Bosun School students have also been involved in making some new sails.  They did some hand seaming on a new main topmast staysail to prepare it for a second layout.  We also have a main deck awning that was ready for a second layout.  And we wanted to do a first layout of a sail with the Bosun School, so we chose to lay out an outer jib.

Kimga put a corner patch on the new outer jib

Kimba put a corner patch on the new outer jib

For two afternoons last week, we used the gym floor at the Lunenburg Community Centre for laying out sails.  We’re not the first people to use the community centre gym for this purpose – Michele Stevens Sailloft laid out the sails for the schooner Columbia there.  The space is so large that we were able to lay all three out at once.

Liz and the main topmast staysail

Liz and the main topmast staysail

laying out sails at the Lunenburg Community Centre

laying out sails at the Lunenburg Community Centre

Both the main deck awning and the main topmast staysail were laid out for the second time.  On the second layout, we even out the edges of the canvas, cut off the outside edge to be used as the material for the tabling (which we accounted for on the first layout) and make sure the shape of the sail is as we want it.

To do the first layout of the outer jib, we marked the dimensions of the sail plus the part we would later cut away in green masking tape on the floor, then rolled out the canvas over top of the shape and cut the cloths to the appropriate lengths, then marked them in the correct order.  To give the Bosun School students some experience with machine sewing, we did the seaming for this sail with our big industrial Singer sewing machine.

Ashling, Polina, Liz & Kimba seam the outer jib

Ashling, Polina, Liz & Kimba seam the outer jib

Kimba, Anne Laure, Ashling, Fiji & Aaron seam sails on the Singer

Kimba, Anne Laure, Ashling, Fiji & Aaron seam sails on the Singer

Once a sail is sewn together, there is still a lot of work to do, and most of it is by hand.  The tabling, which is an extra layer of canvas that sandwiches the outside edge of the sail, is sewn on by hand, as are corner patches and any other patches the sail needs (bunt patches, reef patches, sun patches, etc).  Canvas sails are then roped, meaning a rope is sewn around the outside of the sail to help strengthen it and ropes are often covered with canvas or leather rope coverings.  Grommets need to be sewn in to any point where the sail needs to be attached to the yard, the stay or any running rigging.

Sewing grommets into the luff of the new outer jib

Sewing grommets into the luff of the new outer jib


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Captain’s Log: Introduction to Sailmaking – Ditty Bags

One of the best first projects for any beginner sailmaker is a ditty bag.  What is a ditty bag and why would one want to make one, you ask?

Well, a ditty bag is a canvas bag, typically shaped like a cylinder, that’s used to hold a sailor’s tools.  We have no idea why it’s called a ditty bag, it just always has been.  On Picton Castle, we typically make the bottom of the bag out of wood cut into a circle to help give the bag some structure and durability, but the bottom could just as easily be canvas or leather.

By making a ditty bag, a sailor not only get a practical bag in which to keep their tools, they also get an introduction to a variety of concepts and skills required for making sails.

The first step is to measure and cut the canvas.  What eventually becomes a cylinder starts as a rectangle, with extra width and height added for amount of canvas that will be folded over for the seam and the tabling.  Next, the short edges are folded under and rubbed to make a crease.  The canvas is then made into a cylinder and the two ends are seamed together.

This is, for many sailors, the first time they use a needle and a palm.  A palm is like a thimble for the palm of your hand, worn around your hand, with a metal surface that can push the end of the needle through the canvas.  Palms come in right- and left-handed versions and varying grades of sturdiness.


On a sail, the tabling, which is an extra layer of canvas around the perimeter of the sail, is a separate piece of canvas sewn on.  When making a ditty bag, the tabling is made by simply folding over the top of the bag and sewing it down.

The next step is to add two small grommets where the becket (the handle) will be attached.  We make the grommets ourselves out of waxed marline, wrapping strands of it together in a circle then using a fid (a cone-shaped tool) to shape them into a circle.  The grommets are then stitched into the tabling on opposite sides.

Then it’s time to make a big grommet for the top of the bag.  This grommet is usually made of manila rope and must be made to fit exactly.  Canvas sails typically have roping around the outside of the sail to help give the sail strength and structure.  The large grommet around the opening of the top of the cylindrical bag does the same.  Once the grommet fits exactly, it gets sewn on.


The last step before attaching the bottom is to make the becket, or the handle of the bag.  It’s typically made of manila rope as well, and the length is chosen by the individual depending on how they want to use their bag.  Some choose a long becket so they can wear their bag across their body and take it aloft into the rigging, others prefer a shorter becket so their bag can be carried by hand or possibly looped over one shoulder.  The becket needs to go through both grommets, then has an eye spliced in each end.  We like to use the sailmaker’s splice, a splice that goes with the lay, on beckets so that sailors can learn another splice that’s useful in sailmaking.  The splices are then served to strengthen and protect them, and to make the bag look more finished.



As I mentioned earlier, we typically make the bottom out of wood cut into a circle.  There’s more measuring and cutting involved, a bit of sanding and applying something to protect the wood, then the canvas is turned under at the bottom, the wood circle is placed into the bag and the canvas is nailed to the wood.

Bosun School students started their ditty bags on Saturday morning and finished them on Monday as part of their current focus on sailmaking.







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