Captain's Log

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Captain’s Log – A Bosun’s Work

September 22, 2011

On August 30th, 2011, when the Picton Castle’s 3rd official Bosun School commenced, we welcomed eight eager students to the program. Almost a month has passed since that first introductory day and so we felt it was time for another Captain’s Log to allow some of our supporters, alumni and sailing enthusiasts a peek into our world while in port.

Unlike our at-sea sail training program on the Picton Castle, we do require some sailing experience from our Bosun School students. Naturally the best school for a sailor is a ship under sail, yet those of us who have sailed also know that life on the sea is hard work with extra time to learn a rare commodity. This varied course was designed with this in mind. It gives keen, young mariners and budding sailors a chance to learn and advance upon their seamanship skills in a focused and open environment.

Traditionally the Bosun was the foreman of the deck department and therefore needed to be skilled in all aspects of marlinspike seamanship, boat handling, sail handling and a myriad of other ship skills. In modern times the Bosun’s job differs from one ship to the next. On one ship the Bosun may oversee the jobs on deck or below. On another ship they may be also asked to oversee the rigging department as well. The Bosun School is not designed for those who wish to sail specifically on the Picton Castle. Nay, it is designed for those who wish to sail. Period. Indeed we have young mariners in our program who have spent some time in brigs, fully rigged ships, schooners, barques and even a steam wheeler.

The Bosun School students wake every morning at 7:30 am, much like a Bosun on a ship at sea would, and eat their breakfasts as the sun rises over Lunenburg harbour. They do domestics every morning. That means they clean the heads, tidy the living quarters and swab the decks. Every day a new scullery team cleans up after mealtimes and does routine ship checks. Thursday provides a break from this routine as several of the students walk to the Farmers market in town to buy local vegetables, fruits and breads for the week. At 9 am they muster with Captain Moreland and the lead instructors to discuss and prepare for the day.

Since the school began the students have engaged in a multitude of projects and workshops. The Captain has instructed them on the art of splicing, basic whippings and different seizings, even demonstrating their strength with a tug of war. It was 10 people against one of the Captain’s seizings and you can probably guess who won!

They have spent many sunny days –and some foggy days- in the Dory Shop yard working on the Symphony and Happiness. As Maggie mentioned in a previous Captain’s Log – Symphony is a 33’ Tahiti Ketch graciously donated by Richard and Sharon Orpin to be used as an educational sailing vessel for youth. The Bosun School Students have cleaned out the interior and scraped, sanded and painted the exterior – giving her some of the love that she needed. Maggie and four other locals recently bought a small plywood schooner – aptly named Happiness. The boat needed a few little repairs before they could sail her and so the crew have patched some holes and fibre-glassed the edges, making her seaworthy once more.

The first couple of weeks of Bosun School have also given many students their first introduction to small boat sailing and handling. They have taken the Monomoy out sailing and rowing. As they become more comfortable with the commands they will take turns acting as Coxswain. They have also taken for skiff out for practice runs around the harbour – learning the manoeuvres involved in handling the outboard. It is essentials for the qualified mariner to be quite proficient in small boats – a skill set, now not always easy to obtain.

Just this afternoon I went down to the ship to take a few photos and discovered that the Bosun Schoolers were busy rigging. Preparing to bend on the Inner Jib a couple of crew were in the bowsprit rigging the inner jib down-hall with a fairlead, while a couple others were high aloft rigging the halyard with a fairlead. Bending-on sail is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever done onboard a ship and I was so excited to see the students engaged in the project. I hear that later this week they may be bending on the fore-lower and fore-upper topsail!

Lunenburg is a Mecca for sailing and boat building enthusiasts alike. As such the students have found no shortage of opportunities outside of the Bosun School to apply and expand upon the skills they have learned. Agnes and Danielle have spent several week-ends working on and sailing on a local Catamaran; during Wednesday night hump-cup the students have their pick of the various boats in the harbour; and almost everyone has taken a Dory out on the harbour for a sunset row. There have been quite a few sailing events this summer and fall in which everyone participates. This week-end Lunenburg will host the September Classic. Eva, Samantha, Danielle and Aase have already found themselves coveted crew positions and Gabe, Agnes and Heather will have no trouble finding boats.

While the students do not always make meals during the week, they have taken it upon themselves to make meals during the week-ends. This has not only given them the chance to expand upon their culinary repertoire, but also to learn how to make good, hearty food for twelve people – on a budget. It seems all of our Bosun School students have a sweet tooth and consequently every night when I walk back to the ship the sweet smell of cakes and goodies hangs in the air above the scullery. Danielle celebrated her 22nd birthday yesterday and Gabe, Aase and Eva made a cake for her. This cake was a team effort, if there ever was one, and the three of them aptly described it as a ‘fusion cake’. Chocolate, coffee and raspberry decadence is how the rest of us would have described it. Just delicious.

As the evenings wear on you can hear giggling from the well deck and the scullery – as the students spin yarns and get to know one another. It makes me happy, for their bonding as students in this environment is similar to that of crew bonding while at sea…

rsz 1bosun students work on happiness
rsz eva and lauren rigging in the bowsprit
rsz gabe samantha and aase show off their market finds
rsz getting ready for hump cup
rsz preparing the inner jib
rsz sailing in the monomoy

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Danmark Crossing the Atlantic

Picton Castle‘s Chief Mate on the Atlantic Voyage and World Voyage 5, Michael Moreland, is now sailing aboard the Danmark, Denmark’s national sail training ship. He joined the vessel in Lisbon in July and the ship is bound across the Atlantic to Philadelphia with a full ship of cadets on a sail training voyage, before heading back across again to Europe.  Mike has been keeping us up to date on his current adventure, which we share with you here.

24 North
58 West

September 1st, 2011

The healthy trade winds which have carried this old girl more than half way across the Atlantic Ocean have begun to ease up a bit.  We found our southing end at about 25 north and have been making straight westing for the last 800nm or so.  Tropical waves, depressions, and storms seem to be sprouting up all around us but not in our way, and we watched a potentially historic hurricane rip up the eastern seaboard from the safety of our weather charts.  The only contact we have had so far is catching the top of a tropical wave a thousand miles ago. It was just as a surfer catches a wave, with the isobars building up right behind us which blessed us with steady 30 knots right on the starboard quarter for three days and 20-25 for another 3 days, with only grey skies and the occasional wave breaking on deck as a side effect.  Now the seas and seaweed seem to indicate calmer winds upon us, a nice respite for all 100 souls aboard this old full-rigger, as well as the bosun to catch up with the painting and varnishing. 

All sails are flying these days, with a devoted team of quartermasters and trainees bending the last of the kites and even throwing up the forgotten crossjack, which is just an old main topmast stay’sl, set like a triangle with the top down.  We all agree it completes the mast.  Lots of tarring aloft, splicing up new wire braces, knocking rust off here and there, scraping and sanding endless teak furniture and fixtures aboard, and the usual bracing, stowing and teaching all keeping this group of sailors content and happy.  We have also had a run of luck with fishing off the stern, with a number of mahi mahi and one wahoo thrown onboard and onto our plates.  The Danes say those names of fish are strange sounding, I tell them that the words they say sound strange too.  But none the less, a good opportunity to teach proper fish cleaning and filleting techniques.  

Seaman’s Sunday fell on a Monday this week, which meant no teaching or ship’s work, but instead time for the cadets to air out their hammocks, organize their lockers and a special treat this week, we inflated our training life raft and made a kiddie pool right on the main deck.  Nice to have a day with no knock-a-rust noise and a little extra time to sit on the foc’sle or poop deck and have a chat.  But the days are going by at a nice pace everyone agrees and this collection of cadets and crew keep learning and improving in all the countless tasks and jobs that keep this ship going forward. 

And forward we go now, maybe with a bit more urgency as the next hurricane in line, Katia, is nipping at our heels a bit.  Should be well ahead of it, as we are motor sailing west at good consistent clip, but a little close for comfort.  Seems like we are in the midst of an active hurricane season.  But all is well aboard the Skoleskibet, almost all aboard are serenely unaware of the potential maelstrom lurking over the horizon.  But that’s fine, no need for extra grief.  Just focus and attentiveness to our daily routine, classes, and ship’s work, and maybe enjoying the last light of day as the sun slips below the horizon just ahead off the starboard bow.

Picton mate Mike plays with a local kid
Skoleskibet DANMARK

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Aboard the Danmark

What do our crew do after signing off the Picton Castle at the end of a long voyage? Well, a great many things. But here is one story.

Chief Mate Michael J. Moreland was recruited by the S/V Danmark to become one of their petty officers. The Danmark is the state sailing school ship of the Kingdom of Denmark training seamen and officers for the huge Danish merchant marine. She is known as the Royal State Danish School Ship, and has been steadily at sea since 1933. During the Second World War after Denmark was invaded by Germany her captain turned his ship and her crew over to the US Coast Guard and gave basic sea training to about 5,000 young Americans. Having built ships for the express purpose before, and with an active small vessel program, after WWII the USCG decided that they had better get back into the business of training under sail again and put the big Barque Eagle into commission. Both ships sail today doing what they do better than any other method, preparing young mariners for a life at sea. The Danmark is about 260′ long, with a rig height of about 133′. She carries about 98 crew and trainees and she is a full rigged ship.

D. Moreland

From Michael Moreland at sea in the Danmark:

Here is final revised log. All is well here, riding the top of a tropical wave, strong trades 25-30, 200nm day yesterday, catching some fish, overhauling the malerum (paint locker), and the sun shone long enough today to spread some paint around. Looks like a nasty hurricane coming up the east coast, glad we’re not there.
That’s all from here for now.
Michael

Aboard the Full Rigged Danish State Training Ship Danmark
August 22, 2011,
700 nm SW of Canaries



Sailing along just perfectly since leaving Madeira 7 days ago, steady 20-25 kts right out of the NE, t’gallants and big courses pushing this race horse along at 8-9 knots with hardly a splash on deck. All of the cadets are over their sea sickness and self pity and the extensive orientations are all through now, letting us put them to work and handling the sails. The quartermasters essentially run the deck and get to do all the fun stuff, sail handling and deck work, chasing the cadets around and keeping them in line. A good lot of trainees though. Most keen and follow all the rules amazingly well. It is fun working with a bunch of goofy, young kids, easy to get them motivated. And some of them get a big kick out of trying to teach me Dansk. It’s coming very slowly, but coming none the less.

The transition to English as the working language onboard is interesting in many aspects. All the crew is behind it and I believe, all genuinely glad that I am here help it along, but most of the time the old crew will revert back to Danish amongst themselves when working on deck, which is understandable. However, I think they are all glad to expand their maritime English, as it is the universal language in the shipping industry. It is funny, sometimes, to hear all the trainees running around jabbering in Danish with English maritime words thrown in, as all of the marine teaching has been in English. Overall, I think the decision to switch to English will be viewed favourably at the end of this tour.

The ship lives up to her great reputation and is incredible in every respect. The design, layout, construction, and systems are all top notch and she really feels like a big ship. The rig is immensely stout and powerful, with design and scantlings coming straight from age of sail shipbuilders of the 1930s. It is interesting in that you can see where new things have been added and changed and where the original rig layout is still preserved. What is impressive is that over the years they have been switching to products that keeps reducing the maintenance and upkeep in the rig, which can be valuable for a training ship as it allows more time to teach and train the 80 cadets. Still, plenty of good work to be done up aloft, and we have been enjoying the work while the strong Atlantic trade winds blow.

The organization of the Danmark is very well compartmentalized and good communication is facilitated by the mate and captain. All the crew is given free-range to work in their own areas with little micromanagment. Very good to see new styles. I am getting inspired in a lot of ways, such as teaching and crew management, as well as ship organization. It is refreshing to be teaching hands-on again and I am sharpening the effectiveness of my communications as I am teaching to trainees who don’t speak the best English. Besides teaching, the Bosun and I run the deck work all day and discuss all the ongoing maintenance daily. A good ship’s Bosun, about my age and like minded on proper work and organization. The two other quartermasters have been focusing on work aloft with small groups of cadets, while we have been running the deck work. I have started overhauling all the wire ‘baendsler’ (standing rigging seizings) and will have them all perfectly painted by the time we get to the States. A lot of rust busting, varnishing, painting, cleaning, so on. Nice to have 20 trainees all afternoon. I have also been leading a lot of the sail maneuvers and the commands and tempo I brought from the Picton Castle have been working here nicely. I have been complemented on the fast pace and clarity with which I push the cadets around hauling on ropes, keep them moving. Didn’t try to push my way of sail handling onboard, but was asked several times by the Overstyremand (Chief Mate) to just do it like I am used to.

Keeping my mouth shut about Picton Castle as much as possible, but most crew want to know more. A few ideas thrown out here were to advertise the Bosun School and the next voyage to Georg Stage trainees (the other Danish full rigged training ship) as they will be signing off shortly before then. And some good crew here are wondering about the possibility of joining Picton Castle for the next voyage. All I tell them is to just apply and see. As for the next voyage around the Atlantic, it looks really good. Good route, lots of new places, less miles, more sailing. A good mix of northern latitude European coastwise sailing and sweet trade winds from the shores of Africa to the Caribbean. I am convinced that this kind of Atlantic voyage is the superior voyage for a square rig training ship, not that I am alone in this thought though.

Trying to be more social onboard, as she is a European ship, they like to talk a lot, but hard to join a conversation when you don’t understand what they are saying. All in all, I think it is going very well, and you were right when you said it was just fun, because I am having a blast, and feel beyond honored to work on this age-of-sail full-rigger.

Anyway, hope all is well back in Nova Scotia and you’re having a good summer. Give my best to everyone.



Michael

DANMARK
Picton DSC06106
Picton DSC07366

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Picton Castle Crew Member Ollie Campbell, aka Billy Campbell, Star of Stage and Silver Screen!

By Bronwen Livingston and Captain Daniel Moreland (not much by me – DM) and others

One of our steady crew in this world wandering square-rigger, the Barque Picton Castle is Ollie – a great shipmate, natural seaman, capable rigger, qualified helmsman, brace hauling fool and all around good sailor and seaman. Good man aloft at sea, good man in Bounty Bay, Pitcairn Island, in the jungles of Vanuatu, good man ashore exploring a remote village or big new city. Just too bad the ladies don’t like being around him much… Always turns to for any job, no matter how dirty or unpleasant, with a will, a strong back and a smile. Ollie is something of a Zen knucklehead too, nothing seems to bother him or get him cranky, kinda weird really, if you think about it. Ollie has sailed over 50,000 deep-sea miles in this ship alone and has also served in the stunning Norwegian full-rigger Sorlandet out of Kristiansand, Norway on voyages all around the North Sea and Europe.

And he is a TV and film star. I did not know this when he first came to the Picton Castle but it turns out that Ollie, aka Billy Campbell, is a very well known and successful film and TV actor with a resume as long as a gangster’s rap sheet. My friend who was Captain of the Sorlandet told me to take him on the world voyage coming up because “he was not that bad…” Good to know. Just now, as it turns out, Ollie is off in Vancouver, Canada, taking a break from this voyage and his main way of life, seafaring, to shoot a really awesome cool TV show in which he is starring. And we want you to know about it. Hey, acting is his day job and we want him to stay on top so he can keep sailing, no? And he has bills to pay, know what I mean? In fact, he is building a big schooner – see www.twinschooners.blogspot.com – and needs to pay for it. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. And sometimes we wonder how smart he is so we want him to keep his ‘day job’, acting that is, you know, just in case?

So, here is the crew chiming in on their shipmate and with some photos too. Ok, yeah, sure, maybe he likes acting too. But we think it is pretty funny to see our buddy up on the screen making out with Sela Ward or Jennifer Lopez. Or pulling a Clint Eastwood kinda ‘make my day, punk’ moment. They have to kick us out of the theatre because we are cracking up so much… But truth to tell we miss his sorry self and want him to finish his show and come back to rejoin this incredible voyage we are all on, and of which he is so much an indelible part.

The rest of this piece on Ollie, aka Billy Campbell, is more than a bit gushy, appalling really and frankly kind of gross and sentimental about the guy – I was very tempted to edit it into something not so full of cooties, but figured, what the heck, they can say what they want. However, the message is this: check out the stunning new murder mystery, cop/buddy, political thriller, intense family drama called The Killing, coming soon on AMC – it is going to be simply outstanding television, maybe the best you have ever seen – those guys at AMC make TV they want to watch themselves, and so will we… we cannot wait to see the first episode, to be sure.

D. Moreland

===========================================

Regarding Billy Campbell: square-rigger mariner, thespian, bon vivant and Picton Castle shipmate

Now, normally we would not highlight a shipmate so boldly – privacy and all that, but this crewmember is a public figure anyway and loves this kind of nonsense so we have no such qualms…

From Wikipedia:

“Billy Campbell is probably most famous for his portrayal of Rick Sammler on the ABC series Once and Again for which he received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series. Among his other well-known roles are a gay gynaecologist, Dr. Jon Philip Fielding, in all three of the television miniseries adaptations of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City novels, and as Carter Buckley in seven episodes of the second season of television series The O.C. He had a recurring role as Jordan Collier on the USA Network original series The 4400. His film credits include The Rocketeer, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Enough and Ghost Town. He was also known for his recurring role as Detective Joey Infelli on the 1986-88 NBC series Crime Story….” Dynasty, Star Trek, Shark, Ted Bundy and on and on…

Billy Campbell is also our shipmate and pal in the Barque Picton Castle. But everybody in the ship knows him as Ollie. Just before the Picton Castle set sail from Lunenburg on her fourth world voyage in 2005, the mates, deckhands and engineer were sitting in the focsle getting to know one another. Billy Campbell told us that he would like to be called Ollie. He explained that his namesake, his grandfather William Oliver Campbell, had gone by Ollie and that he would very much like to honour the name. Danie, our young South African engineer at the time, started to laugh, “Do you know that ‘ollie’ means marbles in Afrikaans?” he grinned mischievously. “No,” Ollie glared at him, maybe good naturedly and somewhat pleadingly, “You will not call me marbles.” And Billy (Marbles) Campbell got his way. Whether that was because he was charming or because he was so imposing a figure we will never know. Indeed he towers over the rest of us. He has to stoop to get in and out of the cabins, charthouse and scullery and makes our gigantic rig look tiny when he climbs aloft – like a giant on a jungle gym. The cat, Chibley, likes Ollie too (ed. note: due to shameless pandering and sucking up with kitty treats for her favour on his part no doubt).

He certainly never pulled the movie star card onboard however (ed. note: whatever that is? What is the ‘movie star card’? And, as if that would work onboard anyway? I don’t think so). He was just one of the crew from day one. He rust-busted, osphoed, primed, painted, scrubbed the heads, steered, washed the dishes, stood lookout, sail-handled, tarred rigging and cleaned just like the rest of us (ed. note: movie stars are people too and put on their knickers one leg at a time, not that big a deal, don’t know why she is making such a fuss over this). Although he was not against a little good-natured teasing about his celebrity – taking it all in stride and teasing the crew just as mercilessly back (ed. note: in fact he would get mopey if NO ONE ever recognised him in a port… claims he does not care but really…). On the fifth world voyage Ollie rejoined the ship for his second long deep-sea voyage to the South Seas and around this oceanic world, he also made his debut as documentary film maker aboard. He wore his camera as faithfully as he wore his knife and marlinespike rig – capturing the voyage through the medium of film. In a way Ollie is torn between two completely different worlds and yet he is equally at home and equally in love with both of them. While on land he is Billy Campbell the movie and television star and while at sea he will always be Ollie – the sailor, stud muffin, shipmate and tortured artist (ed. note: oh, please!).

As we were getting ready to sail Ollie was chosen for a pilot of a not yet ‘green-lighted’ (ed. note: dig the hip Hollywood lingo) drama at AMC, the folks who brought us the super cool Mad Men. Turns out this was to be an electrifying North American version of a Danish TV drama called Forbrydelsen or The Killing. It had not been picked up yet but he said the show was awesome.

When he first suggested to the crew that we watch a subtitled Danish television series Forbrydelsen he was met by a bit of scepticism. Seafarers don’t tend to watch a lot of television – preferring instead to spend those hours spinning yarns with their crewmates or working on ship’s projects or pitching in on deck or writing letters to friends and families on land (ed. note: believe that and I got some swampland in Florida for sale, the fools always staring at their dumb computers, watching stupid DVDs… how many times can you watch Ghostbusters? Jackass 3?).

We were a bit more intrigued when he told us that the show had been picked by AMC in the US and would be produced by the same talented crew that had brought the world Mad Men. We were sold when he said that he would, in fact, have a starring role in the new show. We knew that in a few short months Ollie would be leaving us to film and promote this show – and silently we all thought, ‘This had better be good’ (ed. note: not so silently too, accusing Ollie of dodging the hot like hell Torres Strait, avoiding ex-girlfriends in Bali, chasing a thrilling new one…).

After watching one episode of Forbrydelsen we were all undeniably and shamelessly hooked – even watching in Danish. At least a dozen of us gathered in the focsle every night before dinner to watch an hour of this compelling drama on someone’s computer. I mean, the show really is brilliant. A young girl is murdered, a family is torn apart, an obsessive detective goes over the line, a mayoral election is tainted, anyone could have done it and every one of the characters is suspiciously innocent or innocently guilty. And it looked perfect and real in every scene, just amazing. You might shed a few tears as I did – as you will be drawn into the plot on an emotional level – or you might feel the need to shout at the screen during a suspenseful or climactic moment. Nightly we crowded around a laptop perched precariously on a sea chest in the focsle, the ship rolling under sail at sea, our faces aglow. The haunting and adrenaline infused music filled the room as we raucously vocalized our mixed emotions – “No, there is no way that he could have…”, “Did you see the way that he looked at her…?!”, “She seems so nonchalant… is she responsible?!” Then the inevitable and collective, “Nooooooo!!!!” as the hour ended and left us hanging in anticipation for the next episode. Yes, we were unabashedly addicted to Forbrydelsen. Who done it? Why? Will they be caught? You really have to tune in to find out. Night after night after night… and WOW!!! And we will be again!

A few months ago Ollie did leave us (although we all hope not for long!) flying out of Vanuatu to return to the world of Hollywood glitz and glamour, red carpets and cameras (ed. note: what knows this writer of Hollywood ‘glitz and glamour’? He probably dumpster dives…). We honestly did our best to make him feel at home onboard, although it is tough to compete with Hollywood (ed. note: we have no idea about Hollywood but what Hollywood would have us know, and Ollie? We have no idea what he does there so, and more to the point, we made no more attempt at making this wastrel feel at home then we do for any other crew). On his birthday the crew rigged up a red carpet of sorts, acting like fans, screaming his name in the breezeway from behind a barrier of manila line. He obligingly signed his autograph for his admirers. I don’t think that Davey washed his chest for months (ed. note: this was pretty good – anyone need any ‘extras’ out there in Tinsel Town?).

When I told the crew that the Captain and I were writing this log they wanted to include their favourite memories of Ollie, but I am afraid most of them are not appropriate for publishing on our website. Although I will say that one thing we all agree on is that Billy Campbell should never have to use a bum double in any of his film or TV work (ed. note: TMI… hey, Bronwen, kids look at this website).

When I was first introduced to Ollie my brother Logan said, “Billy, this is my sister Bronwen. She has had a crush on you since she was 10.” I was mortified, but it was true. All of us, my brother and sister and I, must have watched The Rocketeer hundreds of times. However his real life personality is even more crush-worthy than his dashing on-screen alter ego in The Rocketeer (ed. note: apparently others are worse, enough to make you gag).

I moved into his bunk in the foc’sle when he left and and he left me two ‘bunk warming’ presents. One was the gaudiest, ugliest Christmas sweater you have ever seen, which I wore with pride on Christmas Day, and the other was a poem written on the ceiling of the bunk – a poem which he claims is a work in progress – and might be – but I read it every night and sleep inspired (ed. note: oh, boy…).

Let your doubts
To leeward go
Fill your sails
With what you know

What you know
Is who you are
Your only fear
The leeward shore

Inward sail
All sail set
You’ll never fail
To windward get.

He will always have a home in the barque Picton Castle because he is a sailor. Not a man apart, not acting a part, but truly, a fellow sailor. When The Killing does air on AMC you had better believe that all of us – no matter where we are – will be gathered around a glowing TV screen, watching.

(ed. note: the show will be awesome, it will knock Lost out of the park and Ollie needs the steady work. So watch the show, tell your friends! Get another season or two for our lad!)

Ollie
Ollie and Melbourne in Rarotonga
Ollie carves a pearl shell
Ollie Dayman rigger on the way to Cape Town
Ollie on the foc sle head
Ollie playing with the kids Vanuatu
Ollie presents achievement awards to students at Avatea School in Rarotonga
Ollie the filmmaker approaching Pitcairn
Ollie with students at Christel House

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“Stalking the Wild Breadfruit…”-Pitcairn Island Log #6

The Captain likes to have a good supply of coconuts on board and Nadja is always involved in food provisioning for the ship, so she asked Dave Brown about collecting coconuts, breadfruit and anything else that the island might be able to spare. After over a month out of Panama fresh provisions are pretty short, no, they are nonexistent. The hunting and gathering party met at Meralda’s and after about five servings of breakfast and ten cups of coffee each they set out. They took with them a ladder and a long reaching pole with a hook on the end. When growing close together breadfruit trees are quite tall, with no branches until the canopy at the top of the tree. The tall ladder was leaned up against the tree and held in place at the bottom. The crew then took turns climbing up the ladder, long pole in hand, to try to hook the stem above the breadfruit and pull the breadfruit down. This sounds easy, but the trees are really tall, the pole was very long and hard to control, it was tough to see around the tree from being so close to the trunk at the top of the ladder, and the breadfruit are spaced out quite widely in the treetop. While one person was up the tree with the pole and one other was holding the ladder, everyone else was under the tree, preparing to catch any breadfruit that may have been hooked and knocked down. Any time a breadfruit was successfully knocked down, the entire expedition let out a giant whoop, especially Georgie who was perhaps the most enthusiastic breadfruit hunter in the bunch. However, the breadfruit were elusive and difficult to capture, so the crew had to call in
reinforcements in the form of Dave and Meralda who had .22 rifles to shoot the stems of breadfruit and knock them out of the trees. This, by the way, is normal. The shooting may not have produced significantly more results than the ladder/pole picking method, but it was certainly equally entertaining and suspenseful, wondering with every shot whether a breadfruit would fall out of the tree, or if it would just be a leaf or nothing at all.

While on the breadfruit hunt, Donald was distracted by giant bunches of bananas. Apparently the better way to harvest a stalk of bananas is to chop down the entire tree, rather than cutting just the stalk. With a machete in hand, Donald commenced chopping down banana trees with great vigour. Again, the crew were standing below to catch the fruit, and often had to fight their way out from under a pile of banana leaves, having caught the stalks as the rest of the tree fell over on top of them. The breadfruit picking device became a
grapefruit picking device a bit further down the road, with more success. The pole was not quite long enough to reach from the
ground so a crew member climbed the tree partway and from there it worked like a dream, placing the hook just above the grapefruit and pulling it out of the tree. To complete the gathering part of the hunting and gathering morning, the crew went to Meralda’s garden to pick some spinach. The spinach was much more tame than the other fruits and veggies, having been planted in a garden for easy harvesting.

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Arrival at Pitcairn

Picton Castle sailed past Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairn Islands, on Sunday afternoon. There are actually four islands that make up the Pitcairn Islands – Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno. Pitcairn is the only one that is regularly inhabited, although the islanders make occasional expeditions to the other islands. Henderson is a raised atoll, one of only a few in the world. The Captain visited there on an expedition to collect wood on a previous visit to Pitcairn, while sailing around the world on the brigantine Romance in the 1970s. As we sailed past, he told us about landing the longboat on the beach on the north side of the island, chopping down trees and floating them out to the Romance, anchored off, to be loaded on deck. At that time, most of the wood for carvings came from Henderson, but now most of the wood is grown right on Pitcairn Island.

We had motored through the day to reach Henderson, but once we were there the engine was turned off and we set sail again, including stuns’ls. We sailed through the night, making between 5 and 6 knots to cover the last 120nm to Pitcairn Island. Paul sighted Pitcairn first on his 4-8 watch. By breakfast time we were just a few miles away, sailing in the direction of Bounty Bay, still with stuns’ls set on the port side of the foremast. As we approached land we took in the stuns’ls, and sailed along past Adamstown, around Matt’s Rocks and over to Tedside where we dropped the starboard anchor.

Shortly after 10am the Pitcairn longboat came out to meet us. The longboats are pretty incredible boats – very strong and sturdy, able to carry piles of cargo and people. The people of Pitcairn are great boat handlers, bringing the longboat alongside as gently as possible in the considerable swell. We had fenders all along the starboard side, and two heavy braided lines, one run from the bitt on the well deck and one from the bitt on the aloha deck, for the longboat to tie up to. There were all sorts of happy hellos as the Pitcairn Islanders came aboard – crew who hadn’t been to Pitcairn before introduced themselves eagerly and crew who were returning greeted old friends heartily. In between the chaos of meeting and reacquainting, Brenda took care of the immigration formalities by stamping our passports and Simon handed over some forms for each crew member to fill out. We got the lumber and barrels of gasoline, which had been stored on deck, unlashed and ready to load into the longboat. The next step was to open the hatch to the cargo hold so that we could pass things up. A previous log mentions a partial list of the cargo we carried to Pitcairn – all of it was passed up and over the rail, including lawn mowers, empty stainless steel drums, canned goods, bags of cement and more.

The first load of cargo went ashore with the starboard watch, who helped to unload it, then came back to the ship with the longboat for the second load. By the time we were done with the unloading, the cargo hold looked completely different – so empty, aside from the usual galley supplies and deck supplies. After the second load of cargo was loaded, the port watch loaded their personal bags and jumped into the longboat. Getting cargo into the longboat can be a bit of a challenge, with the longboat and the ship both moving in the swell, and getting people in and out takes waiting for the right moment when the longboat is an easy step/jump from the ship’s rail. The little turtles went ashore on the second long boat ride, getting sloshed around a bit in the bucket as the longboat beat through the seas toward the Landing. We got a good look at the steep, rocky edges of the island, and then saw the roofs of Adamstown as we motored past. To get into the harbour, the longboat crew look behind them, waiting for just the right moment between swells, to quickly scoot in and around the jetty, getting the boat tied up quickly alongside. It was an exciting ride and the port watch gave a cheer for the longboat crew once we were safely tied up.

As we got off the longboat, we started moving cargo and greeting again, getting the longboat unloaded for the second time and saying hello to the islanders who had come down the Landing. After all the cargo was ashore, crew found their bags, along with care packages for their hosts, then met their host families and threw their bags and themselves on the back of their hosts’ 4-wheel ATVs (referred to here as “bikes”) for a trip up the Hill of Difficulty and on to the homes where they would be staying for the next two days. Already changes were obvious to those of us who had been to Pitcairn before – the Hill of Difficulty was just being cemented on our most recent visit and now the paved road goes through Adamstown, past the square and all the way to Len’s house.

Within minutes of being ashore, some of the crew said to me that they were starting to understand why Picton Castle crew who have been to Pitcairn before speak so fondly of it. The atmosphere at the Landing, as crew and islanders met, was one of excitement and anticipation. It was hard to tell who was more pleased – we as guests or our hosts.

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Forward Lookout

Introduction by Maggie Ostler
Reflections by Billy Campbell

Maintaining a good lookout is a prime and fundamental tenent of good seamanship. Look-out is a condition. On the Picton Castle we assign a crew to be posted on the focslehead 24 hours a day in one hour shifts by watches. The Forward Look-out scans the seas and horizon for other vessels, shoals and odd things in the ocean that could damage our ship. Yet lookout is not only to protect our ship and crew but also to be on the look-out for anyone in distress. In 1986 the crew of the capsized Schooner Pride of Baltimore drifted in a liferaft off the Bahamas for four days and were passed several times -closely-by large passenger and cargo ships who did not see them for lack of a good lookout…in addition to being the forward eyes of the ship around the clock, Billy Campbell writes…

I love lookout. It blows my skirt up. When I’m assigned a trick on lookout, especially at night I’m thrilled. To bits. Lookout is the the quietest, most thought-provoking duty on this small, heavily populated square-rigger, and the fo’c’sle head at night is the only place in the open air one can feel almost entirely alone while-without fear of a hasty trip to deck-letting the mind wander and the eyes do the work.

It’s on lookout that things pop into my head (and I don’t mean flying fish across the rail); phrases or snatches of dialogue, ideas of poems, stories, letters to people I love (are there any other kind?), things I wish I’d done or said, should say or do. There, under the foot of the fores’l, I’ve been, not infrequently, as content as at any time in my life. More little ditties than I can shake a Chibley at, but here’s one:

There’s nothing like while at sea
To find with whom your heart agrees
For if, you see, your sight is true
If clear of eye and mind too
You a dearest friend may find:
And what a lucky one you’ll be!
To find your heart agrees with you

Wrote that on lookout last night, waxing moon, bright as hell, shining on the water. Balmy trade-wind breeze, stuns’ls set and drawing sweetly, all well with the world, this tiny floating corner of it anyway. Looked aft over the length of her, laughter bubbling up somewhere-probably the salon- (lot of laughter this time around); boats lashed in orderly fashion to her galley roof; countless stories being told (and formed) below deck; friendships growing, dividing, multiplying; the soft glow of light from the chart-house, the silhouette of the helmsman at the wheel; the ever vigilant watch officer nearby; and all bathed in the lustrous and otherworldly light of a sea-bourne moon, which to my eye was a giant wheel of yellow cheese set in black velvet, a handful of tiny diamonds flung over it by some insecure Hollywood billionaire. And then, wishing I could share the moment, it occurs to me that the last time I was standing here, I mean at this latitude and longitude, was five years ago, when my mom was still alive, and -at this hour-likely in a bathrobe sipping green tea up in her bed, dog at her feet, listening to the crickets outside, and just maybe wondering how her children were, or thinking about someone she could never bring back.

I love lookout. Especially night. Makes me feel close to things that are far away, and makes me so happy I sometimes cry.

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Getting Close to Pitcairn Island!

With only 375 miles to go for the Picton Castle to reach Pitcairn Island – we are all getting pretty excited!!! In order to look after the ship whether she is anchored or hove-to offshore and also not to put too many of our crew on the island at once (and thus not overwhelming island resources) our gang will go ashore half at a time. Dr. Gary will go ashore for the whole time so as to see if he can be helpful on the medical/dental front – as long as the weather holds we will do 48 hour shifts on the ship and the island, then we’ll do a crew
turnaround with one of the big powerful island launches. The crew have been coming up with, practising and rehearsing their acts for two island concerts, sort of ‘command performances’, a variety of acts for all hands, Picton Castle and Pitcairner, song and dance, mime, guitar, violin, comedy, we’ll see how bad it is. Of course, first we have to unload all the lawn-mowers, lumber, food and turtles (who have been growing by the way and as of today they are all alive and frisky)

Today is sweet and sunny with lighter winds than before but we are still sailing along nicely with stunsles set, counting the miles down we are…

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Halfway to Pitcairn

On a long ocean passage in the tradewinds in the Picton Castle, or any other deep sea sailing ship, life falls easily into a gentle routine. It feels like we left Galapagos ages ago, but then I think back to something that happened last week and it seems like yesterday. Being at sea causes a strange perception of time for me. In some ways, every day is much the same as the one before – wake up, eat a meal, stand watch, steer, lookout, eat again, have a nap or read a book or work on a project, eat again, stand watch, sleep. Look over the horizon, watch the sunset, feel the seas rolling beneath us. Repeat the next day and the day after and the day after that.

Then there are details of each day that distinguish it from the others – some details are environmental and some are of our own making. Sometimes there are squalls of varying intensity to make us look lively. Sometimes what stands out is a good conversation over a cup of tea after supper. Last Sunday was Julie’s birthday, it was also a partial solar eclipse. On Wednesday the sunlight shone just right to take beautiful photos of the ship under full sail. Thursday was filled with marine life – lots of flying fish scooting across the waves in whole schools, two sightings of a whale close to the ship and then, having caught absolutely zero fish since the day we left Panama, all three fishing lines hooked giant wahoo at the same time (110 pounds of fish in total!). Sometime Wednesday night, we passed the halfway point
on this almost 3,000 mile passage to Pitcairn Island. Steering southwest day after day the ship has been under sail alone since our first day out of Galapagos and we’ve hardly touched the braces of the square sails since then. The mates have conducted celestial navigation workshops to get those interested started on this arcane, challenging but delightful craft. There is no better chance to develop this skill than on a passage like this one. Now it is up to each crew member to get up on the quarterdeck, sextant in hand, at noon for the meridian passage of the sun to practice taking sights to determine latitude. You have to get up earlier for sun sights to get lines of position and of course there are also morning and evening star sights at dawn and dusk.

Sitting on his old sailmakers bench on the cargo hatch, the Captain led a 4-part workshop on sailmaking techniques through the making of canvas ditty bags (old fashioned sailor bags looking like canvas buckets, used to hold tools), leaving the crew to finish up their homework and complete their bags. The sailmaker daymen have patched the fore royal and the riggers bent it on the fore royal yard (time for
making a new one the Captain says), the carpenters are working on spars for a sailing rig and a new self stowing rudder for the long boat.

The quiet routine of life at sea will continue for another week or 10 days or so until we reach Pitcairn. Then it will be like the circus came to town!!!

rsz captain introduces sailmaking through making ditty bags - copy
rsz gorgeous day for taking photos under sail - copy
rsz leonard cuts the wooden bottom of his ditty bag - copy
rsz paul uses the gaff to haul in one of the wahoo - copy
rsz rebecca and bob consult over ditty bags

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Taking the 8-12 Watch

By Chief Mate Michael Moreland

After a late wakeup call, a quick glance out to weather from my porthole reveals our near perfect sailing breeze is still with us. She trots along the long Pacific swells with the clean, fresh wind on her port quarter. All sails set and drawing nicely, a pull on a jib sheet here and haul to weather on a brace and she is balanced, tracking true all by herself. Taking the watch from the second mate with a full cup of coffee ready to give me a jump start, we go over the conditions and sail handling done in the past 4 hours. His enthusiasm is usually
high, directly related to the amount of sails taken in or set and how much coffee he has had to drink. Helm and lookout are relieved by the oncoming watch fresh from breakfast and the remaining crew shuffle around into morning cleaning and domestics. I take the time alone on the bridge to review the plan of the day, taking into account sea state, weather, and any new priorities that may have accumulated over the night.

The sailmakers are back on the quarter deck wiping dry the freshly washed deck to lay the fore royal sail out on and I offer them
my short term rain and squall forecast, to help them plan their day. The Bosun is running around checking cleaning progress and has the Bosun’s Mate opening up the paint locker, as well as getting tools out and ready for the upcoming jobs. A quick glance from the bridge to the main deck sets our time to meet briefly in the morning and we confer on the bridge, fine tuning our plan for ships work that day. A mix of painting, localized cleaning, rigging, or scraping and sanding is usually on tap and the specific jobs are handed off to the watch as they finish domestics and report to the Bosun forward on the well deck. The daymen riggers have already started in on their project planned
the night before of sending down the large, heavy anchor tackle and pendant from aloft around the fore-topmast hounds, and I look up to monitor their execution and progress.

An increase in breeze makes me consider taking in our big flying jib, but I wait and enjoy the ride for a minute, watching her pick up speed. 7, 7.5, 8 knots, alright time to get it in. Take in the flying jib! And the crew on deck immediately drops their tools, running to the halyard and downhaul. Off comes the halyard and four people strain against the downhaul, fighting the pressure of the wind, pulling the sail down the stay onto the jib boom. A deckhand quickly scampers out to windward on the end of the headrig and passes a gasket. Lines are coiled and then right back to their respective jobs, without much of a fuss.

Back to the bridge and I notice the sun has risen high enough in the sky for one to catch an honest line of position and I grab my sturdy sextant, check my chronometer and walk aft to the stern, where the sun bears north. No clouds to worry about, I easily bring the sun down, have it kiss the horizon and log my time and sextant angle. After a few calculations I have a line of position that will cross nicely with the next sight at noon. That task complete, I come back to the ship and sea, a glance to weather for squalls, a look aloft for sail trim, and all is well as we sail onward towards the lonely island of Pitcairn.

rsz alex uses the draw knife to shape spars - copy
rsz jan and robert plane spars - copy
rsz lorraine on helm with sophie
rsz nadja covers a splice with leather chafe gear - copy

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