Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Lunenburg' Category

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How to Rust Bust Steel Yards

While Picton Castle is in drydock, Bosun School students have been carrying on with projects related to Picton Castle’s yards. All yards except the course yards were sent down last week.

Picton Castle’s royal and t’gallant yards (the top two yards on both the foremast and mainmast) are made of wood. The upper and lower topsail yards, as well as the course yards, are made of steel.

The steel yards need to have the rust removed, first by chipping hammer, then by wire brush, then possibly by powered wire wheel or sanding disc. Alternately, sandblasting would do the same thing (and probably even a better job of it) but on a ship at sea, sandblasting is not an option.

Captain Moreland gave the Bosun School a lesson this morning on how to properly use a chipping hammer.

 

 

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Picton Castle Goes Into Drydock

With the high tide on the morning of Monday October 3, 2016, Picton Castle was hauled out of the water on the marine railway at the Lunenburg Foundry.  We take the ship out of the water every two years so we can clean, inspect and repaint the hull.  The last time Picton Castle drydocked was in Fiji in the summer of 2014, so it’s time to do it again.

Most of the drydockings we have done have been in Lunenburg at the Lunenburg Foundry.  There are different methods used at different shipyards to get ships out of the water, at the Lunenburg Foundry they use a marine railway.  There is a set of tracks on an inclined plane that goes from the shore into the water and a cradle that goes up and down the tracks.  To prepare for the ship’s arrival, the shipyard sent the cradle down the track into the water.20161003_114630

At high tide, we brought Picton Castle to the cradle and positioned the ship in the middle of the cradle.  Because we’ve worked with this shipyard so many times, they know the shape of Picton Castle’s hull and had already set up blocks on the deck of the cradle.  With the help of scuba divers, the shipyard makes sure the ship is properly aligned over the keel blocks.  Once the ship is in the exact right spot, the cradle starts to move up the track on the inclined plane.  Just as the weight of the ship starts to sit on the keel blocks, the cradle is stopped and the shipyard workers use pulleys to move the bilge blocks in towards the hull so they’re supporting the ship at the turn of the bilge.  With bilge blocks in place, the cradle moves up the track again, being pulled by a very large chain.  Eventually the cradle, holding the ship, is fully out of the water at the top of the track.

Picton Castle out of the water is an impressive sight to see.  I’m always amazed at how much ship there is below the waterline.  As Captain Moreland explained to the Bosun School yesterday, Picton Castle has the lines of a medium clipper.  Although she began her life as a motor vessel, it was her lines that attracted him to her because the shape of the hull is that of a sailing ship.20161003_120212-reduced

On a tour of the ship’s hull with the Bosun School, Captain Moreland pointed out a few features of the hull that aren’t visible from above the water.  The first thing he noted is that Picton Castle’s hull is made of steel that has been riveted together.  Riveting was the accepted way of fastening a steel hull until about the 1940s, when welding was found to be far quicker.  Picton Castle’s hull is about 99% original steel from 1928 and in that time, only about 12 rivets have ha d to be welded over to repair them.  We will gauge the thickness of the steel in various places around the hull in order to make sure it continues to be in good condition.

There are zinc anodes that are bolted to the hull.  The zinc protects the rest of the hull by attracting any corrosion, so they’re basically installed in order to be sacrificed.  As we expected, most of the zinc anodes will have to be replaced.  We use bolted-on anodes rather than welded-on anodes so they could be replaced while the ship is in the water, if necessary.

On both sides of the hull, there are long narrow strips of steel that run along the length of the hull.  They would have been used to protect the hull when the ship was hauling fishing and minesweeping gear.  There are a few places where you can see marks in the steel that look like long gouges made by equipment being dragged up.  The rails would have been added to help prevent the gear from scraping up the side of the hull.20161003_155006

Picton Castle has a number of through-hull fittings.  There are places where water needs to come in and out through the hull.  Water comes in to cool the main engine and goes back out again, water comes in to go through our watermaker which desalinates it and makes it drinkable.  The fittings where the water comes in and out will all be removed, cleaned, inspected and reinstalled while the ship is out of the water.

The propeller on Picton Castle is about five and a half feet in diameter and has three blades.  By the construction of the place where the propeller fits, it’s easy to see that the ship had a larger propeller at one time.  Our current propeller is a controllable pitch propeller, which means that each blade on the propeller turns in order to control the direction the propeller is pushing the ship while the propeller continues to spin in the same direction (as opposed to the blades being fixed and the whole propeller stopping and spinning in the other direction in order to change the direction of the ship’s movement).  While having the propeller blades sticking out slows us down when sailing, having the option to turn on the engine to move the ship is very helpful in some situations.

The rudder post is straight up and down, so when the wheel turns, the rudder turns from side to side.  In addition to the post, as a safety backup, there are chains that connect the rudder to the hull, although Captain Moreland says he can’t imagine a situation where the rudder would come off the post.

Every time we haul Picton Castle out of the water, there is always some growth of marine life on the hull.  Since our last drydocking, we have had the hull cleaned twice by divers using underwater pressure washers.  We’ve also recently been in fresh water in the Great Lakes, which kills off a lot of the salt water organisms.  Even with that, there is some growth on the hull, but not much.  The first job the shipyard workers will do is pressure wash the hull to clean it entirely so we can inspect it and then prepare to paint it.  The first coat will be epoxy primer, followed by two coats of anti-fouling bottom paint which will help prevent marine organisms from growing again.20161003_121012-reduced

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Sending Down Yards

Bosun School students have been working on sending down yards. On some other ships, this is done with the assistance of a crane. On Picton Castle, we use the lifting power and mechanical advantage in the ship’s rig to lower the yards down to deck.
 
Although sending down yards sounds like it may look dramatic, it’s a slow, methodical process. Before yards can come down, there is a lot of preparation work. All running rigging must be sent down or nipped aloft, the yard must be free of anything that will keep it in place, and the mastrope (the line on which the yard is lowered) and the tag line (the line which helps manoeuvre the yard) must be rigged.
 
Once all of those things are in place, the mastrope takes up the strain with help from the capstan while the bolt and any last bits of rigging are removed. At that point, all of the weight of the yard is being held by the mastrope. The mastrope is slowly and carefully eased around the capstan while a strain is taken on the tag line and the yard is gently eased down to deck (or in our case, down to dock).
 
The fore t’gallant yard was sent down this morning, then this afternoon the fore lower top’sl yard came down. As we speak, the last project on this lovely sunny Friday afternoon is to send down the fore upper top’sl yard. We’re hoping to do the same on the main mast tomorrow.
 
By being involved hands-on in projects like this, Bosun School students are learning how to handle lines, including lines under enormous strain, how to work aloft and on deck, how to work safely, and the various steps that are involved in this project. By doing it multiple times with the different yards, they get to move around to different areas and complete different tasks each time.

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Captain’s Log – Bosun School Begins

Bosun School is officially in session!

Monday September 19 was the first day of classes for this session of the Bosun School.  We have a small class this time, which makes for lots of individual attention for each student.  Bosun School is designed for young mariners who want to learn skills to advance their careers.

While actually sailing is the best way to gain experience, we have often found amongst Picton Castle professional crew applicants that the amount of sea time they have doesn’t always line up with the skills they have.  We’ve noticed that they simply don’t have the skills we might have expected based on their seagoing experience.

Bosun School is our effort to remedy that situation.  By taking away the distractions of being at sea, where work projects are naturally put on hold to tend to the immediate needs of the vessel, students have the opportunity to delve into those skills with focus.  They’ll start and finish projects, seeing them the whole way through.  But it’s not just seeing, Bosun School is based on Captain Moreland’s belief that “practice makes permanent.”  By not just seeing it, or seeing it and doing it once, but seeing it and doing it multiple times, students are able to learn, understand and apply those skills.

So, what is a bosun?  As Captain Moreland describes in this video, the word bosun comes from boat swain, which basically means the boat’s boyfriend.  The bosun usually reports directly to the chief mate and is responsible for the ship’s maintenance.  That doesn’t mean the bosun does all the work him or herself, the bosun coordinates the deckhands and works along with them.  As Captain Moreland points out, many people think of the bosun as being a rigger.  There certainly is some rigging work involved, but that’s only a part of looking after the ship.  It’s also vital that the bosun can keep the ship clean, tidy and in good nick.

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A Ship’s Cat’s Life Ashore

Since returning to Picton Castle’s home base in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada two weeks ago, ship’s cat Fiji has made herself at home in this UNESCO World Heritage town.

We’re often asked who owns Fiji.  She really owns herself, as most cats do.  However, she does not have one single owner, she goes with the ship wherever Picton Castle goes.  Sure, she has crew members who she prefers (she especially likes whoever is assigned to feed her).

Our little cat is stretching her legs in Lunenburg, getting ashore and exploring the town.  She didn’t have a collar for the first few days after the ship arrived in port, so we got her a black collar with a reflective silver design and a tag with her name on one side and Picton Castle written on the other along with the ship’s office phone number.

Since getting her tag, we have had multiple phone calls about Fiji.  She was picked up by a concerned family on King Street outside the Bank of Montreal, she was spotted sneaking into an inn on Montague Street after hours, she visited the Bluenose II wharf, and was lying on the table amongst the books and notecards for sale at Lunenburg Bound.  Although we haven’t seen it ourselves yet, rumour has it that she is being fed treats of scallops at the back door of at least one local restaurant.

Fiji has even made her way up to our shore office, resting for the afternoon in one of our armchairs and finding a comfy (?) spot amongst the office supplies the next morning.

 

Fiji - turning even the most jaded among us into cat people

Fiji – turning even the most jaded among us into cat people

Questionable Comfort at the office

Questionable Comfort at the office

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Turning old armchairs into things unbearably cute

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Captain’s Log – Early September in Lunenburg

12 September, 2016

Early September in Lunenburg

On the morning of the last day of August, Picton Castle sailed quietly in to Lunenburg Harbour.  As Captain Sam Sikkema explained in the last Captain’s Log, royal yards, the mainsail, t’gallants and all upper staysails had all been sent down before the ship made her entrance, so although there was less canvas to set, the ship came in under what sail she had and looked good doing it.    20160831_092107_resized

The crew wasted no time once alongside the wharf in Lunenburg.  We knew that many crew members had to sign off the ship very shortly after their arrival in Lunenburg, so we wanted to get sails sent down right away while we still had many hands.  It’s possible to send down sails with a smaller gang, but the sails were good and dry so we wanted to take advantage of the conditions and get it all done in a few hours.

Picton Castle’s sails are made of cotton canvas.  This means that when they get wet, and particularly when they’re stowed wet, they start to mildew which causes them to rot.  In order to prevent this, we have to dry the sails.  When the sails are bent on and we have a big crew, it’s easy.  We just go aloft, loose the sails from the gaskets that secure them to the yards, shake them out and let them hang in their gear, then the sun and wind do their work to dry the canvas.  At the end of the day, we stow the dry sails again.  When the ship will be in port for an extended stay and we have a small crew, rather than constantly drying sails we simply send them down and stow them away in a dry storage place.  It’s one less thing for the crew to look after, and allows us to turn our attention to other projects aboard.  It has the added benefit of allowing us to do proper inspections and inventory of our sail collection, making note of the condition of each sail and any repairs that may be required.

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By mid afternoon, all sails were stowed away properly below decks.  We had a ceremony aboard where everyone officially signed off, receiving their sea service certificates.  Particularly for the cadets who sailed with us this summer from the Nova Scotia Community College’s Nautical Institute, these certificates are valuable.  To earn certifications as a mariner, classroom work is important but documented hands-on practice aboard ships is also essential.  These cadets will return to class this September with a significant portion of their required sea time earned.

Over the next few days, crew packed their sea bags and dispersed by car, plane and train, on to their next adventures.  We have a small crew still aboard, working away at various projects including preparations for the Bosun School which begins next week.  We’re looking forward to welcoming a number of young aspiring mariners who are coming to spend three months in Lunenburg in a land-based skills development program.  They’ll do a combination of classroom learning and hands-on practice (with heavy emphasis on hands-on practice), covering a wide variety of seamanship topics.  We’ll bring you more updates on Bosun School and what the students are doing throughout the next three months while they’re here studying in Lunenburg.

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Picton Castle Itinerary Update

For those of you who keep up with our website regularly, you’ll notice a change to our voyaging plans for 2016-2017.

Sometimes an opportunity comes along that is worth changing plans for. This is the case this time. This summer, we’ll be involved in a special project that will see Picton Castle make two back-to-back transatlantic crossings. We can’t say too much about this project yet, except that it involves a re-enactment, but we hope you’ll trust us when we say we’re excited to be a part of it and we’re working with some great people on it.

We are actively seeking crew for this voyage, which begins April 18 and runs until July 31. Voyage crew should have some related seagoing experience. With so much time at sea, it’s a great way to gain some ocean-going sea time. While English is the working language of Picton Castle, on this voyage, the ability to also speak French is an asset. And there’s a very attractive reduced price for this voyage only. If you’re interested, please fill in the online application form.

We’re also looking for professional crew on deck and in the engine room for this April – July voyage. All professional crew must have, at a minimum, STCW Basic Safety Training, plus additional experience and qualifications as required for each position. On this voyage, the ability to speak both English and French is an asset, as is being Canadian. Professional crew applicants are welcome to apply by sending your resume/CV and a cover letter by email to info@picton-castle.com.

A ship’s doctor is also needed for this voyage. Training and/or experience in remote or wilderness medicine is an asset, is as the ability to speak both English and French. If you’re interested, please send an email to info@picton-castle.com.

Once Picton Castle returns to Lunenburg at the end of July this year, we’ll begin a session of the Bosun School, running from August until December 2016. The Bosun School is a land-based skills development program for mariners who already have some seagoing experience. The Bosun School will help you to gain hands-on experience in rigging, carpentry, sailmaking, small boat handling and general ship’s maintenance and upkeep. Lunenburg is the ideal spot for the Bosun School, with an active small boat sailing community and a variety of marine-related industries. To apply, please send your resume/CV and a cover letter to info@picton-castle.com. Exact dates and costs will be announced soon.

By January 2017, Picton Castle will be in Bermuda, ready for a new voyage. The Bermuda & The Real West Indies voyage will begin on January 4, 2017 in beautiful Bermuda. After a couple of weeks of preparation, training and orientation in port, the ship and crew will set sail heading south to the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. The first leg of this voyage includes visits to many of our favourite islands in the Windward and Leeward Isles. With steady tradewinds blowing, the sailing between and amongst islands is sure to be spectacular. The second leg of the voyage will see Picton Castle make a loop around the coastline of the Caribbean Sea, visiting Bonaire, Colombia, Panama and Cuba before sailing to the Bahamas and back to Bermuda at the end of May 2017. No sailing experience is necessary to join this voyage (those with experience are equally welcome).

That puts us in the perfect place to meet up with an international fleet of majestic tall ships on the Rendezvous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta. We’ll sail in company, sometimes racing, from Bermuda to Boston to Quebec City, with a few other Canadian ports along the way. Quebec City will be the highlight of the Rendezvous because the event is in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation. Along with the organizers of the Regatta, we’re still working out some of the details of the itinerary for this voyage. We expect to be able to offer short voyage legs, about two or three weeks each, but dates and ports have not yet been confirmed. Please continue to keep an eye on the website for details. No experience is needed to sign aboard for this voyage. In the meantime, if you’re interested in joining us on the voyage and would like us to send you the itinerary when it’s ready, please send us an email at info@picton-castle.com.

We’re quite excited about our voyaging plans for the next year and a half. If any of our upcoming voyages pique your interest, drop us a line!

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The Former HMS PICTON CASTLE Remembers on Remembrance Day

Our lovely barque rigged sailing ship, now at sea approaching the Azores with a great gang of young mariners sailing on a voyage across the free Atlantic was once know as HMS Picton Castle. Just before open hostilities commenced in the second World War in 1939 our ship was conscripted into the British Royal Navy and fitted out as an Armed Mine-Sweeper Trawler and Convoy Escort. Throughout the war she swept for mines, was strafed by fighter planes, blown clear of the water by a mine and was deployed as part of the task force that effected the first land assault on Hitler’s Europe in the Raid on St Nazaire.

This commando raid took out the largest drydock in western Europe capable of docking Germany’s largest battle ships. The raid was a success but a great cost and a followed by a dictate issued by Hitler that all future ‘commandos’ would be simply shot if captured and were not to be treated as POWs.

The Picton Castle, like her sister trawlers were about the most prosaic naval vessels one could imagine, yet they did their work steadily and on and on clearing mines and escorting convoys in the Western Approaches of the English Channel and North Sea. Many times German fighters and bomber flying low while returning to bases in Germany, Holland and France would attempt to use up their extra bombs and bullets on these tough little warships, really just fish boats. These little vessels were a proud and motley lot, manned mostly by fishermen with a RNR skipper and a couple navy crew to look after the 3” gun on the bow and the depth charges. Well protected armoured navy ships they were not. We have read that the loss rate of HM Trawlers was second only to the astonishing loss rate of German U-Boats. Winter and summer, fair weather or foul, these little ships would head to sea and do their business.

In May of 1945 the war ended. But not for PICTON CASTLE. There were mines everywhere which had no notion that the war was over. They needed to be swept and removed. Mines still pop up in these old battled waters from time to time. The ‘CASTLE’ swept for mines until December 1945 when she was mustered out of the Royal Navy and returned to Consolidated Fishing, her owners, re-rigged for trawling and went back to fishing.

On this day we think of those brave souls who went to sea on the great waters in these little ships to do their bit. We think of their families ashore in vulnerable ports who suffered along with these seafarers, many of whom never returned home. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest battle of WWII lasting the entire duration of that almost 6 year war. We dedicate our wreath at today’s Remembrance Day memorial in Lunenburg to all who sailed in the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy and put to sea in this conflict on the Atlantic and may it never happen again.

Capt. D. Moreland, November 2015

HMS Picton Castle

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Helping Dominica Recover After Tropical Storm Erika

One of our favourite islands, Dominica, was hit hard by Tropical Storm Erika at the end of August. We’re planning to visit there this coming winter as part of our Transatlantic Voyage and, with your help, want to do something to assist.

Why is Dominica so special to us, you ask? Well, Picton Castle made an extended visit to Dominica in the winter of 2007, while filming Mark Burnett’s reality TV series “Pirate Master”. During the three months we spent sailing up and down the coast in the lee of the island, we became familiar with many of the coastal communities and the capital city, Roseau. Captain Moreland jokes about now being able to write the Dominica cruising guide, given the amount of time and travel we’ve done there.

Our crew became fast friends with many of the people from the island who were working on the production with us, as well as other Dominicans. We’ve enjoyed the beauty of the island – soaking in hot springs, hiking to the boiling lake, swimming in the many rivers and under waterfalls, snorkeling, watching sea turtles lay their eggs, and relaxing on the many beaches. Dominica is truly a hidden gem.

Because we’re so fond of this island, we want to assist in whatever small way we can with the recovery effort, which will be a long one.

We already have a very generous donation of school textbooks for grades 10-12 thanks to Park View Education Centre in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. We would like to bring school supplies and elementary school textbooks with us as well. We have lots of space in our cargo hold to bring donations, which we’ll unload and distribute to various schools on the island when we arrive in early 2016. If you’re able to assist with a donation of books or pens, pencils, paper, rulers, pencil crayons, calculators, rolls of newsprint, backpacks, or any other school supplies, please let us know. You can email us at trudi@picton-castle.com or call our office at +1 902 634 9984 to donate or find out more information.

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Pre-departure Task List

By Kate “Bob” Addison

As our Picton Castle is about to set off on another epic voyage, this time bound for and throughout the amazing South Pacific in the trade winds, we thought our readers might be interested to read about some of the detail of our preparations. Sailing to the South Seas might seem like a romantic thing to do and so it is, but there’s a whole heap of work, orientation and training in a sailing ship to be done before we cast off the first line. A lot of this work isn’t very romantic at all… it’s just work.

Senior staff meet on at least a daily basis just before a voyage. The Captain and his officers, together with our fabulous shore-based staff, meet to check on progress, make sure nothing is falling through the cracks, and make plans to deal with anything that could delay our departure or impact the conduct of voyage. As well as the reviews we have a long check-off list to get through, Captain Moreland just gave me his copy to help write this, and it’s ten pages long.

Broadly the things that must be done break down into regulatory requirements imposed by various authorities, and our own internal requirements that the Captain, officers and shore staff have built up over many years of successfully planning and carrying out long voyages.

Picton Castle is registered in, certified and inspected by the Cook Islands, where we will put in many times on this next South Pacific voyage, and naturally we are required to comply with the inspection, maintenance and certification requirements of our maritime authority, as well as all applicable international marine laws. These are very similar to US or Canadian requirements, in case you were wondering. One part of the flag state requirement is that the ship is fully surveyed every year. The survey covers everything from the ship’s hull and machinery to her radio transmission equipment, firefighting systems, ship security systems, all safety equipment such as life rafts and other emergency gear. The list goes on… and on.

There are other ongoing requirements from the Cook Islands Maritime Authorities too, such as our minimum safe manning certificate that specifies the minimum number of professional crew and what minimum qualifications they must hold, and the load line certificate that establishes a certain standard of care and arrangements for the vessel. There are international health certificates, and of course personal travel and medical documents for everyone on board, even for the ship’s cat! Life at sea was certainly more randomly hazardous before much this legislation, especially in the 19th century when sailors were at the mercy of the ship’s owners who may or may not have had scruples about sending an over-stuffed ship out to sea in the hope of making a little extra margin on the cargo. Just one reason that a modern day voyage aboard the Picton Castle might well have seemed like paradise to your average ordinary seaman in the great age of sail.

Part of the ship’s inspection includes being hauled out of the water every two years. This we did in the spring right here at Lunenburg Slipways. While out of the water she has her bottom freshwater blasted clean so it can also be inspected visually, and then repainted with fresh anti-fouling paint. At this time there is also a thorough inspection of all through-hull fittings, prop shaft and propeller, rudder and rudder bearings and zinc anodes, which are all overhauled or replaced as necessary, as well as whatever else the surveyor and prudent seamanship requires. The massive anchors and fathoms of chain are run out so they can be inspected too, and oiled to help maintain them. It’s pretty cool watching her come out of the water – she really does have lovely lines. And she seems ever so big.

Once she’s back in the water, a thorough testing of every system and piece of gear commences. Everything from testing and changing the batteries in all of the fire alarms to making sure we have all of the charts and publications we might need for the places we’re planning to go, and the ports we could possibly run to if the weather should have different plans. We check all of our communications and navigation gear; our two satellite phone and email systems, VHF radios and emergency beacons and radios. The anchors and windlass are tested, as is the steering gear which, along with the freeing ports, gets a good dose of grease to keep it nice and free.

The Engineer has lots to do making sure generators, main engine, water maker and tanks, battery bank, bilge manifold, freezers, pumps, and black and grey water systems, running lights and electricity are all online and working sweetly. He also has to make sure we have spares of everything, all inventoried and stowed away for when we need them, and lastly that the fuel and water tanks are topped up before we go.

The Cook comes next, he has the important job of making sure we have enough provisions to keep a hungry crew fed and happy, and the stoves, galley and provisions are his responsibility. The medical officer, in this case our Doctor, makes an inventory of the drugs and medical supplies we have onboard and orders anything additional we may need. He also has copies of everyone’s medical information and prescriptions. Copies of all of these are kept in the office in Lunenburg, along with emergency contact details for all aboard, and copies of all of the personal and ship’s documents that are onboard. We also orient those with any medical and first aid training to act as his assistants, should that be needed.

Meanwhile the deck officers and crew are plenty busy too. Most of us think sending up rigging, yards and sails is a fun job, working aloft, and it’s certainly a great learning experience for the new crew! Our ship’s boats are overhauled, exercised plenty, then stowed aboard; standing rigging surveyed and repairs made as required. Everything is tarred or painted or slushed, depending on whether or not it’s supposed to move. There are supplies to order and stow aboard for the deck department too – from copper fastenings to miles of manila rope, paint, tar, and timber. We have lots of timber aboard, including a couple of big logs that will be turned into spars on the voyage. A spare compass and spare suits of sails too as well as much canvas and thread to make new sails when we get to the tropics. School books and supplies kindly donated are wrapped in plastic, labelled and stowed. These will be distributed to island schools on our path. Any cargo or supplies for the islands is safely stowed away too.

There is the safety equipment; an astonishing amount and quality of kit, that must be all inspected and carefully stowed for easy access if we ever need it. All hands train and get used to the safety gear. We have enough life rafts for everyone on board on each side of the vessel, so double the capacity of the ship in total. They each have hydrostatic releases and supplies of food, water and flares inside, which must all be kept within their expiration date. We have containers of extra food, flares and water to grab if we need them. There are fire extinguishers and alarms in every compartment as well as three fixed fire fighting systems in the high risk areas – again the dates are all checked regularly at sea, and as part of our pre-departure check-list. We have breathing apparatus and firefighting outfits, which we sincerely hope we never have to use except in a drill. We have man overboard rescue gear that’s always kept in the rescue boat, a stand-alone fire pump that can pump water out of the ship or onto a fire depending on the situation. There’s emergency steering gear and a manual bilge pump too. Then there are flares, EPIRB, SARTs, emergency flashlights, waterproof radios and satellite phones, hailer, intercom, foghorn, climbing harnesses, personal floatation devices and cold-water immersion suits for everybody on board. Everything is taken out, checked, overhauled, batteries replaced and re-stowed before every voyage. And all this must be familiar to the crew and trainees. Then there is drilling, drilling, drilling in all our emergency procedures as well as in bracing the yards, setting, taking and furling sail, small boat training and so on.

But the most important thing for our safety is the skill and judgement of our crew. And ‘judgement’ as it were, has yet to be ‘regulated’ or put in a book. Kit stored in a locker doesn’t often save lives. So we drill for all of the emergencies that we can think of (fire, flood, abandon ship, man overboard, damage control, launching and recovering boats underway, heavy weather), spending time talking through other people’s roles as well as each person’s own station according to the station bills posted throughout the ship. We are working to build a general awareness in the crew of what action we might take in any given situation, what kit we have on board and how to use it. Our everyday life aboard is focused on safety too: working aloft, moving heavy loads, handling paint and other chemicals – the whole time we are working to build a crew who are aware of their surroundings and able to keep themselves, their shipmates and their ship out of unnecessary danger. So we start with a general and then a more detailed orientation so every crew member knows where every piece of safety kit is stored and how to use it. Then we have safety aloft training, and a review of the standing orders of the ship as well as the crew handbook, which itself includes all of the safety policies and procedures. And then detailed instruction and supervision of every task until people are deemed competent to carry them out unsupervised. It is important to bear in mind that emergency duties only come into their own if there is an emergency, better not to have a fire than have to put one out.

Everything’s documented too, from our Safety Management Plan to the safety policies and operating procedures. So these documents are reviewed and refreshed before the start of every voyage. And they are reviewed and refreshed during a voyage too.

Weeks before we’re ready to sail, the Captain and mates start following the weather religiously, checking different sources on the internet (the US Navy has some great ones) to try to get the best possible information so they can make a passage plan that makes the most of the weather we’re likely to get. This plan always has contingencies and options built in because weather forecasting is inherently uncertain, and gets less certain the further ahead you look. Once at sea we get regular updates from something called GRIB files. If the weather looks too nasty then we wait on a departure until it’s favourable. We have a schedule like everyone else, but the weather is one thing that you can’t control, so if we’re late we’re late. Once deep sea, you do the best you can taking best advantage of the weather and the up to date forecasts we get.

So, this is what we have been up to the last few weeks.

Then comes the day where the forecasts are promising, and finally, thoroughly drilled, stowed and inspected, we clear out through customs and immigration, muster all hands, do a final headcount to check we have everyone on board (and no stowaways!) and we’re ready to cast off our lines and set sail for our next adventure.

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