Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Meet the Crew' Category

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Crew Changeover in Panama

In Panama we said goodbye to two crew members, Nicksa and Dr. Krista. Nicksa, a young South African, has been with Picton Castle since December 2008 and is leaving us for the amazing chance to become a cadet in the Full Rigged Ship Danmark for the summer. We’re all very excited for this incredible opportunity for Nicksa to advance his training, skills and experience as a seafarer in one of the finest ships in the world.

We managed to steal Krista away from her job as an ER doctor in Lunenburg to be our medical officer for almost six weeks and we now have to let her return to her regularly scheduled work and family life. This is by no means Krista’s first time at sea under sail, for a number of years she was a deck hand in the magnificent Schooner Bluenose II out of Lunenburg.

While we’ve said goodbye to two crew members in Panama, we’ve said hello to five more. Relieving Krista as medical officer is Gary, who sailed on the Atlantic Voyage with us as medical officer. Another familiar face is Billy Campbell, who circumnavigated on our fourth world voyage. Mike made a short passage with us last summer between Boston and Halifax (he has sailed on a number of other sailing vessels too, including the Brigantine Romance) and is now back to sail again for a longer period, seems he needs to see some South Pacific under sail. Robert was with us in Lunenburg but had to miss the first passage in order to take care of a few things at home in Germany, so he rejoined the ship in Panama, and Roselyne from Holland has joined us for the first time.

Dr Krista in the Panama Canal
NickSA discusses the windlass job

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Panama #1

Picton Castle’s stay in Panama was an absolute whirlwind. You’ll have to forgive the lack of Captain’s Logs for the duration of our visit, we’ve been so busy with sourcing, shopping, buying, delivering, organizing, stowing and sailmaking that there has been little time left for writing about it all. On Wednesday afternoon we finally sailed from Panama, bound for the Galapagos Islands on our first passage of this voyage in the Pacific Ocean. The receipts, calculators, shopping lists and inventories have been flying around our tiny shipboard office in the chart house for the past three days, making sure that everything has been accounted for and stowed away properly. Emerging from under a pile of papers and foreign coins, we can finally get back to business as usual (which means regular logs once again).

We had a very rapid and smooth transit through the Panama Canal; it will be a highlight of the voyage for many of the crew. It is quite a trip over the continental divide and through the tropical jungle. The institutional planning and organizing that goes into operating such a large waterway is mindboggling to me – there are so many details to take care of to ensure that ships can pass through quickly and easily. The only hold-up in our day was when we had to wait for our berth to open up at the dock upon arrival at Flamenco Marina. Another vessel, which was supposed to have left earlier in the day, was still at the dock due to some engine troubles. We anchored just inside the breakwater at the marina, making ourselves very obvious and letting them know that we were ready to move in as soon as they were able to get underway. The wait was just over an hour, but just as the wind shifted, causing us to have to get underway from our anchorage in the marina (it was kind of tight in there), the other vessel got going and we moved in and went alongside. We were greeted by our excellent agent Francis, with PANACO, who was extremely helpful throughout our stay in Panama. He arranged all of the necessary formalities, and by shortly after dark the off duty watches were able to leave the ship and start exploring this remarkable country, or at least the city.

Our shopping adventures began on Friday when the Captain, chief mate Mike, chief engineer Chris, Ollie and I headed out with Francis. We visited a few different hardware stores, then hit the jackpot in the giant lumber yard of Cochez. It’s always interesting to buy wood in different ports because of the variety of different kinds of local wood. We mostly took measurements that first day, but I was back at Cochez every day that they were open during our stay to order something else. Some of the lumber we were buying is for Pitcairn Island, some of it is for some upcoming carpentry projects on board. We also found a marine industrial hardware store with great shackles and blocks, as well as handheld VHF radios.

Nadja discovered the fruit and vegetable market on our first full day in Panama City. She had gone out shopping for a few fresh fruits and veggies for the crew to eat during our stay in Panama and found one of the most incredible markets she has ever seen. Nadja often assists with provisioning, so she has seen markets in many different ports around the world and was particularly impressed with the variety, quantity and price in the market in Panama. It helps here that she speaks Spanish perfectly. She brought Donald, Siri and I back to the market on our last full day in Panama to stock up on more fresh fruits and veggies for our passage to Galapagos. Even Donald couldn’t stop grinning – he was truly in his element. He kept exclaiming over how cheap the pineapple was (three for $1), how fresh the yucca was and the vast quantities of plantain available. Where many markets are made up of individual stalls selling a bit of everything, the market here is organized by item – all the different kinds of fruits are together, pineapples, cantaloupes, limes, mangoes, then there is one indoor section with assorted garden vegetables, then an aisle of root vegetables, an area for corn and so on. Bananas were the only thing on our list that we had a bit of trouble finding, but we were eventually successful with them too. Now the back deck is festooned with stalks of banana ripening.

Shopping was a big activity for most of the crew during our stay in Panama. Crew members left the ship on their off duty time in small groups, heading out to find the best bargains. Many of our crew found Avenida Central and its pedestrian-only section for inexpensive clothes and shoes, others discovered the craft market at the YMCA, some went to the incredibly giant Albrook Mall and second mate Paul found a big fishing supply store. Shopping isn’t the only thing to do in Panama, most of the crew spent at least part of a day in Casco Viejo, the old quarter of Panama City with its narrow streets, beautiful old stone buildings and churches, quaint squares, sidewalk cafes and local little establishments. Even Isla Flamenco, where the ship was tied up alongside, is an interesting place, the last of a series of islands connected to the mainland by a long causeway, and kind of a tourist spot for Panamanians with waterfront restaurants and bicycle rental shops.

chief mate Michael looks at wood at Cochez
Donald loves the market in Panama City
Donald, Siri and Nadja choose avocados at the market
piles of pineapples at the market

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Galapagos Bound

Well, Panama shopping for the ship and for Pitcairn Island too was quite a whirlwind of activity. Shop til you Drop and then get up and shop some more. But many of the gang did interesting things besides shop all the time although shopping in Panama is pretty interesting with all the big markets, back ally stores and much more – hopefully we will get to that shortly here…The Picton Castle has been sailing, or really steaming, from Panama for several days now in warm, headwinds with light rain. Bad winds in the Caribbean, no winds here… we were wondering what curse we were being plagued with when we got the following e-mail from His Crusty Highness King Neptune, well, really, his Scribe – see below – all has become clear. Old Neptune knows his stuff – our poor winds are due to the presence aboard of the dread ‘pollywog’ – for those who do not know, a ‘pollywog’ is a low life form that has not crossed the equator in the company of ‘Shellbacks’, noble souls that they are, tolerate them benignly in the same ship. But lucky for us, as we approach this equator, Neptune and his Royal Court will remedy the situation and set all to rights….soon – Neptune is a great guy, once you get to know him…

My Dear, Master of the Magnificent Deep Sea Sailing Ship, our own Shellback Barque Picton Castle

We see that you are underway and bound for the regions of My Realm in your fine Barque. Too few such ships pass by these days. We note with satisfaction and approval that you are` blessed in your ships company with a goodly number of My finest, loyal, faithful but clearly long suffering and thus infinitely patient Royal Shellbacks.

We also sadly detect that tragically you have in your otherwise exalted midst, an unacceptable number (that number being anything greater than zero) of hideous and abject ‘pollywogs’ the lowest form of Aquatic Life ever known, causing endless grief and embarrassment to the refined seagoing sensibilities of my Favoured Shellbacks. We are reliably informed by our Flying Fish, Tropic Bird, Gull, Dolphin and Whale that despite all possible sacred precaution and infinite care in such a well found ship even the dependable trade-winds have abandoned your noble selves due to dismay and revulsion at such a horrific and deplorable state onboard such a fine old friend of a ship. Well, Noble Sir, keep the faith and keep sailing hither and as you well know that on or about the Line, We will board the magnificent Picton Castle and set things aright once more with tender mercies, judicious judgments and cleansing love.

Please convey our Kindest Regards to Her Furry Highness, Chibley, Our most renowned seagoing Shellback Cat as well as to all My True Hearts of Salt Hardened Oak, our loyal Shellbacks who have been suffering woefully untold indignities without complaint in the Hateful Proximity to the teaming pestilentialy odiferous ‘pollywogs’. Please be as so kind as to make all ready.

The Royal Scribe

In the name of His Royalty of the Deep

Neptunas Rex

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Panama Canal #2

The pilot decided that our captain would keep the con, which is pretty unusual, and steering was entrusted to in-port helmsman, Nadja, who steered us through all of the locks at the captain’s direction, and we had some of our other more experienced helmsmen, including Logan, Meredith, Siri, Sophie, Julie and Brad, steering through Lake Gatun and through the Gaillard Cut to get some practice and experience in slightly intense and precise steering. The Galliard Cut is the channel which was cut out of rock and hard clay across the Continental Divide. The channel is narrow but deep and some of the land on either side is terraced to reduce erosion into the Canal. We passed two big dredging operations during our transit – one just before entering the first lock and the other at a bend in the channel in the Gaillard Cut. It’s vital to the Canal operation that the channel stays clear and deeper than the largest ships the Canal can accommodate. There are huge ships, known as Panamax ships, built with the dimensions of the Canal in mind – just a bit smaller than the locks so that they can fit in. The maximum size for a ship in the Panama Canal is 965 feet long, 106 feet wide with a maximum depth of 39.5 feet in tropical fresh water.

Just after we left Lake Gatun and entered the Gaillard Cut, we said goodbye to pilot Eric Hendricks and welcomed pilot Eduardo Correo. There are about 300 Panama Canal pilots in total, each of which has trained for three years for the job. They all started out as deep sea mates and masters having had attended Maritime Academies around the world. There are a few remaining American pilots who are now Panamaian citizens still working from the time when the Americans operated the Canal, but most of the pilots and other employees are now Panamanian. About 8,000 people in all work on the Panama Canal. The Canal operates 24 hours a day and there were about 35 other ships going through the Canal in the same direction as us on the day that we made the transit. The organization and logistical planning that it takes to operate the Canal is astounding – where Picton Castle has a daylight transit only restriction, there are other ships that have restrictions for one-way traffic only through the Gaillard Cut, plus all of the pilots, line handlers, lock operators and launch drivers must be scheduled, equipment must all be in top working order and in the right place, and so on. Some ships go through with four pilots and eight electric mules.

Currently work is underway to add locks that will accommodate ships twice as large but also conserve water, all of which is rain water caught in Gatun Lake. This project is to be complete by 2014.

At the end of the Gaillard Cut is the Pedro Miguel lock, a single chamber lock. As the line handlers at the Gatun locks had disembarked onto a service launch as soon as we were through the locks, we boarded a new group of line handlers just before the Pedro Miguel lock. We continued to share our lock with the same mid-size ship as before. The Pedro Miguel lock empties out into Miraflores Lake, a small lake, a mile long, that we motored across in order to get to the Miraflores locks. The Miraflores locks are the last locks before the Pacific, made up of two chambers. There is a visitors centre alongside the Miraflores locks and there was a big crowd of people on the observation decks, watching ships pass through. After the Miraflores locks, the line handlers disembarked, then shortly after, our pilot disembarked. We motored down channel past Balboa docks, under a huge bridge called the Bridge of the Americas, out toward the Pacific with dozens of ships anchored, then around Flamenco Island to the entrance to Flamenco Marina, where we are currently tied up alongside the wharf. We had to anchor and wait a bit for the other vessel which was at our dock to depart, but shortly after we were tied up securely. Our whole transit, from getting underway from the anchorage area on the Caribbean Sea side to being tied up alongside on the Pacific side took 11 hours and 20 minutes. It was a long day, but everything went very smoothly. The actual canal transit from first to last lock was about 8 hours and that is something of a record for us. Our excellent ship’s agent Francis was impressed anyway.

So, here we are, tied up at Flamenco Marina. The tides are quite high here, so we’re tied to a floating dock that goes up and down on big pillars. There are no other vessels that look anything like Picton Castle here, most of our neighbours are white fiberglass power yachts and sport fishing boats. We have huge plans for ship provisioning here, and shopping seems to be on the agenda for most of the crew. There’s lots of other things to do too – see old Panama City whose ruins date back to the early 1500s sacked by Henry Morgan; visit Casco Viejo, the old quarter of the city; check out the Miraflores visitor centre to learn more about the Canal. We plan to be here until Wednesday morning, shopping ‘til we drop until then.

Christian on engine controls as we re passed by a giant container ship
line handlers disembark from PICTON CASTLE
Nadja on helm going into the lock
Sophie on helm in the Panama Canal as a big container ship passes
terraced walls beside the canal

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Panama Canal #1

The Picton Castle crew had an early start on the morning of Wednesday June 9, with all hands waking up at 0345 in order to be ready for the scheduled arrival of our pilot at 0430 (they often arrive early). We had shifted within Anchorage Area F on Tuesday afternoon in preparation, getting to the edge of the anchorage area and away from the other vessels so we could get underway in the dark more easily on Wednesday morning. Our first pilot, Eric Hendricks, arrived around 0420, as expected.

Many harbours and seaways have pilots, all of them experienced and trained mariners who have specific local knowledge in the area where they work. In all places in the world except the Panama Canal, the captain of the ship retains command of the ship and the pilot is an advisor. In the Panama Canal, the pilot actually takes command of the ship. While Picton Castle looks small compared to the giant ships that regularly use the Canal, she handles more like a big ship than a small yacht. In the first few minutes that the pilot was on board, there was some discussion and questions between the pilot and the captain so that the pilot knew what to expect of the ship. A good pilot will tell that a ship like the Picton Castle is actually more difficult than a big ship in the Canal – and perhaps because of this our two pilots both had our captain handle the ship in and out of the locks.

We had started heaving up the anchor first thing Wednesday morning so that there was only one shot of chain remaining out. Once the pilot was on board, we had to wait a little bit for another ship, which we were scheduled to follow, to get underway. Once they did, we finished heaving up the anchor and motored out into the channel. Picton Castle has a restriction with the Panama Canal that we must transit during daylight hours, which suits us just fine – it’s an interesting thing to see and our daylight restriction allows the crew to take it all in. It was still dark when we started heading down the channel, but the sun was rising as we approached the first set of locks. Dramatic clouds were lit by the early morning sun and flocks of parrots flew overhead close by.

As Picton Castle slowly entered the Gatun locks, there was a rowboat with two Canal line-handlers in it, one of them rowing and one of them holding the ends of two lines. The pilot mentioned that they have tried everything else, outboards, rocket guns but what works best and safest is a decent row boat bringing the messenger lines out. The other ends of the lines were held by two other line-handlers on the edge of the lock. A few minutes before we approached the lock, a boat had dropped off ten line handlers aboard the ship, who are responsible for managing the wire lines that hold the ship in the locks. As we entered the lock, the guys in the boat rowed over and handed the ends of the line to the line handlers – one to the well deck and one to the aloha deck. The line handlers hauled in the heaving lines to bring the wire cables aboard. The wire cables are made fast around the bitts on deck, leading through the Panama chocks in the bulwarks. The wire cables lead to electric locomotives called “mules”, that run on tracks along the edge of the locks. Picton Castle had four mules with us, one forward and one aft on each side of the ship. The mule drivers pay out and pull in the cables as the ship moves up and down in the locks, they also keep the ship still in the locks and pull her forward into the next lock when it’s time to move.

The Gatun locks are made up of a series of three chambers which raise the ship up to the level of Lake Gatun, a man-made fresh water lake that supplies all of the water to the Canal. The technology for moving water through the chambers hasn’t changed since the Canal was built in 1914 – it depends on gravity moving the water from higher to lower. We shared the lock chamber with a medium sized cargo vessel which went in the front of the lock, while we were in the aft end of the lock.

From there we motored through Lake Gatun, following the traffic lanes which were well marked with buoys. This is a waterway through dense jungle – sometimes you can see alligators and more exotic birds. We took full advantage of being in a fresh water lake, using the deck wash hose which pumps water from overboard to give the ship a thorough fresh water rinse. We also rigged up the port fire hose for a fresh water power shower – a real treat for the crew on a very hot day. There were other vessels anchored in Lake Gatun waiting their turn in the schedule, but we were able to go straight through with no waiting. Leaving Lake Gatun marks about the halfway point in the Canal transit.

entering Gatun locks at first light
line handlers row lines to the ship
mules pull PICTON CASTLE through the locks
pilot Eric Hendricks and the Captain on the bridge

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Necessary Server Maintenance

By Bronwen Kathleen Livingston
Reporting from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

At approximately 6:30 am the server that hosts our lovely new website (and our e-mail) unexpectedly went down. I was in bed, having a dream about exploring Panama La Vieja (Panama’s old city) and was blissfully unaware of the problem. The issue was resolved sometime mid-morning – much to our relief. In order to ensure that it does not happen to us again our web support team will be doing some necessary server maintenance this evening. We do trust that this will not be a terribly long operation and that the e-mail and website will be up and fully functional in a few short hours. We apologize for any inconvenience.

I did get an e-mail from the Captain this morning. Everyone had a wonderful time exploring Panama-not dreaming of exploring Panama as I was! The shopping is done, the deliveries are arriving, the new purchases are being lashed and the temperature is ‘hot’. They are planning to depart Panama City today bound for the Galapagos Islands. Another Captain’s log (or two) will be sent to me soon to post and Maggie and/or the Captain will regale us with stories of the canal transit, Panama City and their first days sailing in the Pacific. I must say that I can hardly wait!

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Canal Preparations

Wednesday June 9, 2010

All hands worked yesterday to prepare the ship for transit through the Panama Canal. We were at anchor in Anchorage Area B, at the northwest corner of the harbour. We came through the giant breakwater on Monday afternoon to anchor, surrounded by lots of ships, some many times our size.

In order to go through the Canal, the ship must meet certain requirements – we must bring everything that stretches beyond the sides of the ship inboard, so that means bringing the boats which hang in the davits aboard the ship, turning the davits in and cockbilling the fore and main yards (that means bracing them up sharp and tipping them). We launched both the longboat and the skiff to use them both for cleaning and spot painting the topsides – we want the ship to be looking spiffy for her transit – before bringing them on board. More crew were working inboard, cleaning and painting the bulwarks. In the meantime, another watch was working on shifting things on top of the galley house, putting the gangway inside the wooden skiff, moving our dory, Sea Never Dry, into the middle to make space for the longboat on the port side. Another group of people were working on rigging up yard tackles for hoisting the longboat to the galley house roof. There are also requirements for a boarding station with the ladder over the side of the ship, hand rails and steps down to deck so that canal personnel can board the ship easily, plus awnings to provide shade for them. Yet another small group was working on the mainsail for the Mermaid, roping it and working to get it finished in time to meet the deadline.

It’s amazing how much work can get done and how good the ship can look when the full crew are working together. After lunch, we were ready to hoist the long boat on board, using two yard tackles, the stay tackle and the upper tops’l halyard. All hands participated in this, lifting the long boat out of the water and maneuvering it inboard and forward onto the strongbacks. It was then lashed tightly in place for the Canal transit. It has rained periodically since we arrived in Panama, so our daily routine has involved loosing sail in the morning to allow it to dry and stowing it again in the afternoon.

Once the last few things were finished up and sails were stowed, two watches were set free to check out the Shelter Bay Marina. The seedy yet funky old Cristobal Yacht Club, where we have gone ashore on previous world voyages, was bulldozed in order to make more space for container terminals. Shelter Bay is an old US Army base, turned into a marina four years ago. Seems like a lovely place, and we were glad to be welcomed ashore there. The last skiff was an early one as things close down at the marina at 9pm, and also because we had an early morning this morning.

Before any Canal transit, the ship must be inspected by the Canal authorities and we had to shift anchorages for our inspection. All hands were awoken about 0530 to get underway at 0600, bound for Anchorage Area F, closer to the entrance to the Canal. Anchorage Area F is for yachts and other smaller vessels, so we’re surrounded here by a bunch of coasters, similar in length to us. The inspection will take place here at Area F, so we’re finishing up the final few things and standing by for the boarding officer to arrive. Where we used the skiff for runs ashore yesterday, and to have it available while we were underway this morning, it has not yet been brought aboard. We will use the same system of tackles that we used yesterday for the long boat in order to lift the skiff and bring it onto the main hatch for the transit.

We have a great view of all the vessel traffic here, watching ships come and go through the main channel. As we motored from one anchorage to another this morning, we had to cross the channel, going astern of a giant container ship and well ahead of a car carrier. We’re closer now to the cargo terminals, with giant cranes sticking up into the sky for loading and unloading containers. It’s incredible to see the size of the ships and the operation that is required to move goods around the world.

This just in: the word is that Pilot will board the Picton Castle at 0430 tomorrow and we’re to be at the fist lock about 0600 to begin our climb over this continent bound for the Pacific Ocean.

coaster neighbours at Anchorage Area F
crossing astern of the container ship in the main channel
Katie touches up the paint on the hull
lifting the monomoy onto the galley house strongbacks

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Approaching Panama

Monday June 7, 2010

After the Seamanship Derby yesterday, the crew were rewarded with a power shower, cold juice and popcorn, Donald had been saving some ice in the freezer. It has been surprisingly hot and muggy since we arrived in the Caribbean Sea, hotter than any of us remember it being before. Hotter than many folks here are used to. For that reason, we had three days of power showers in a row – we usually don’t bathe daily, but in the heat it’s so refreshing to stand under the fire hose and have a moment’s relief. Kind of makes me think it’s the Picton Castle’s version of kids running through the sprinkler in the back yard.

Cold juice, or cold anything to drink is a special treat. We have five big chest freezers on board that store all of our meat and dairy products, as well as some frozen veggies, but we have no refrigerator. We use two coolers like fridges, replacing the ice packs in them daily to keep them cool. Because the freezers and coolers are used exclusively for keeping essential ship’s stores cold, to drink anything cold is a real luxury. We bought a few bags of ice in Anguilla that we’ve been saving to add to the containers of water and juice so we broke some out yesterday afternoon to celebrate the end of the Derby.

Following the power shower and the snack, the Captain held a muster to talk about Panama. He discussed that we would arrive at some point on Monday, going to anchor to make the necessary preparations to transit the Canal and then to wait our turn. We don’t yet know which day will be our day to make the transit, as we have to fit in wherever the Canal authority schedules us. He talked a bit about how the Canal works, that there will be a pilot and professional line handlers aboard for the transit, and that once we get settled on the Pacific side we have huge amounts of shopping to do in Panama. We’ll be buying a considerable amount of galley provisions as we won’t have the opportunity for full and complete grocery shopping for a while, not really until we get to Fiji, as well as some deck supplies and things to take with us to Pitcairn Island and other ports that we visit. The Captain talked a bit about some of the interesting things to see and do in Panama – visiting Old Panama City, the old quarter of the city and the Canal museum. You can do normal city things too, go to movies, wonderful architecture and museums, crafts, jungle treks, shop for the things you wish you had brought but forgot, etc.

We had a fantastic sailing passage from Bonaire, making 170-180 miles per day most of the time, under all square sail except the mains’l. As expected, we had to motor in calms the last 50 or so nautical miles to Panama. We fired up the main engine about 0600 for the final push towards Panama. Land was spotted by the 8-12 watch, and the lookouts were increasingly busy reporting ships and buoys as we approached the entrance to the canal zone. All jungle with very little signs of people living anywhere nearby. Just before 1500, as we were an hour outside of the breakwater under heavy over cast sky, it started to pour down rain and the rain kept up until just before we anchored. The traffic in the canal zone is highly regulated, with two entrances through the breakwater and different designated anchorage areas both inside and outside the breakwater for different sizes and kinds of vessels. We’re currently in anchorage area B, the northwest part, which is for all vessels with a deep salt water draft of less than 10 metres. Conveniently, it’s also close to a new marina at Shelter Bay with a dock where we hope to be able to take our small boat ashore. This marina is very nice and recreated out of an old US Army base and boat basin.

As we came through the breakwater, we could see the massive cargo terminals, storage areas and general infrastructure designed for the massive amounts of ships that come and go through these waters – and big and small ships anchored everywhere. After the sun went down and all the ships in the area turned on their lights, there are so many that it looks like a big town or small city, when it’s really just ships. And our little barque seems, well… little in comparison to some of the giant container ships and tankers anchored not that far away.

Once we got anchored, we spoke with our agent who told us that the crew members who will be joining us here in Panama would be arriving at the marina shortly for us to pick them up and bring them aboard. We’re pleased to have them join us. When the skiff came alongside with people and their luggage, most of the crew assembled amidships to greet the new joiners. There are a few familiar faces who have sailed with us before plus a few new folks. While they’ve been waiting for the ship to arrive, they’ve checked out Panama City, so they’ll be able to offer some advice on things to see and do.

Tomorrow will be an all-hands work day as we prepare the ship to go through the Canal. Nothing can stick out over the sides of the ship, so that means we have boats to bring inboard, davits to turn in, yards to cockbill and so on. We hope to go through the Canal on Thursday – once our transit time is confirmed it will be posted here so you can keep an eye on the Panama Canal website and see us on the webcams at the locks.

our neighbours in the anchorage area, waiting for the Canal
Paul navigates in the charthouse as we enter the breakwater

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Seamanship Derby

Sunday June 6, 2010

Late last week, a mysterious posting appeared on the door to the salon, something about the 512th annual seamanship competition. All hands were warned to study up on their knots, steering, ship nomenclature and general seamanship skills in anticipation. Watches held secret meetings and study sessions, planning not only their compass boxing and line coiling strategies, but also their team uniforms (or costumes) and to consider illicit ways to win favour with the judges.

The derby was scheduled for 1500 this afternoon, a competition of seamanship skills with a number of different events, pitting watch against watch. Mates Mike, Paul and Rebecca, with help from bosun WT and bosun’s mate Nicksa, were the judges, chief engineer Chris was the official scorekeeper and timer. Each watch started the competition with a presentation – something to intimidate the other watches, or tell everyone more about themselves and simply how wonderful they are. The 12-4 watch, all dressed in black with black grease war-paint stripes on their faces, arms and chests, first presented their bribes to the judges, including cold drinks, candy and potato chips. They then paraded onto the hatch with music and drumming, then sang a cheer, led by Meredith, talking about how they are on duty in the dark in the middle of the night, with a funny verse about each of the other watches and what they do. The 4-8 watch made their presentation next, bribing the judges with chocolate. They were all dressed in tie dye, aviators and bandanas and for their presentation they changed the lyrics to a popular song, describing the 4-8 responsibilities. The 8-12 then presented a skit about the “real housewives of the Picton Castle”, kind of a take-off on the Desperate Housewives or maybe Real Housewives of NY or New Jersey, whatever that show is, that talked a lot about domestics, the cleaning done to the heads and below, which the 8-12 watch do every morning.

The first event in the actual competition was a pin chase, which reinforces using proper names for parts of the ship. The three watches were lined up amidships, then the first person in each line was given the name of something somewhere on the deck that they had to race to touch first. Whoever touched it first was awarded a point for their team. Some of the things people had to chase after were lines, some were parts of the ship like the port fore upper tops’l brace block keeper plate or the fly rail. All watches did quite well in this event, although the 4-8 ended up in first place.

Next up was line coiling. The Captain demonstrated the proper way that a line should be coiled and hung – all turns even, no tail sticking out, hung close to the pin, and all coils on the rail of equal length. The mates cast off all coils on the main deck and each watch took their turn coiling and hanging them all again. This event was timed, plus points were also awarded for style. The times averaged between five and eight minutes, and the watch that took the longest had the nicest looking coils. The 4-8 watch had the best compromise of reasonably fast time and reasonably good looking coils, so they won this event as well.

From there, all hands moved up to the quarterdeck for the knot tying portion of the competition. Each person had a line, and when the mate called out the name of the knot, each person had to tie it. The watch was instructed to call out when each member of the watch had tied the knot correctly. The first watch to call out was then inspected by the judges to make sure the knots were all correct. Knots in the competition included the figure of eight, reef knot, bowline, buntline hitch, round turn and two half hitches, double sheet bend and for bonus points, a one-handed bowline behind the back (bonus points earned by Kate for her 8-12 watch, who ended up winning this round).

Staying on the quarterdeck, each watch then had to stand in a circle and box the compass, starting with north and moving clockwise. Each person had to give the next direction, in order, as it became their turn. We didn’t use quarter and half points, just the 32 points of the compass. This event was timed. The 8-12 watch completed this task in just over half the time it took the other two watches.

Each watch then had to choose their best trainee helmsman for the steering competition. The helmsman’s objective was to stay on course, within half a point and then within a whole point, for as long as possible, to a maximum of five minutes. In smooth water this is not so hard but in 6-8 foot following seas, this can be a challenge. Dan was up first for the 8-12 watch and he managed to hold his course well, but didn’t max out the time at five minutes. Julie was next for the 4-8 watch and, although there were a few tense moments for the spectators, she held it together and stayed within a half point for five minutes. Jimmy took the helm for the 12-4 and matched Julie, and was quite jubilant about his accomplishment. While Julie and Jimmy tied in skill, Jimmy got a few bonus points for style, so the 12-4 took this competition.

The final competition was the bucket race, where each watch was given an empty plastic tote and a bucket with a line on it. The buckets were tied to the ship (we always tie the bucket on when we pull up sea water), and each person had to take a turn retrieving a bucket of water from over the side, the filling the plastic tote. The first watch to fill their tote would win the race. This is harder than it sounds. This one was very close, but the 12-4 watch pulled ahead at the last second to win.

Each watch won two of the competitions, but with the secret scoring system of weighting the scores and bonus points, the 4-8 watch took the victory in the 2010 Seamanship Derby. While there certainly were parts of the competition that were on the silly side, there’s a very real and serious aspect of it as well – having a competition is motivation for everyone to review what they’ve already learned, fill in any gaps in their basic seamanship education to date and to be able to perform the required skill under the pressures of time and scrutiny. This event also heightens general awareness on many levels. It also gives the Captain and the mates an indication of crew skill levels that they may not all have the opportunity to observe every day. All hands did well in this competition and can be proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. For most of our crew, they didn’t know a buntline from baggywrinkle two months ago, so they’ve made great progress.

Chris the scorekeeper
Julie on helm with Rebecca and Nadja watching
the 8 to 12 ties bowlines behind their back

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Power Shower!

Friday June 4, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Power Shower
Siri, Leonard, Georgie and Krista sew grommets

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