Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

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Helping Dominica Recover After Tropical Storm Erika

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

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

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

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

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


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Coming Down From Drydock

Tuesday June 10th, 2014

After 11 days ‘up on the hard’ the Picton Castle was ready to relaunch from the marine railway at Suva, Fiji. It would have been maybe only seven days but for the four days of torrential tropical rain that put a halt to some projects. But this had been a good dry-docking at a good yard. But that came as no surprise.

What work have we done to our ship?

Well, mostly the usual; high pressure water blasting the bottom for removing growth after two years in the water. Then, of course, spot painting epoxy primer followed a full coat of nasty anti-corrosive and then a full coat of fresh antifouling paint; new zincs that prevent electrolysis to the steel hull underwater. It works just fine too, no evidence of any electrolysis on any part of the ship since last dry-docking. We also removed all the bronze through-hull fittings for inspection and any rehabbing as needed. Some of them needed some lapping and re-seating. Through-hull fittings let water into the ship as cooling water for the main engine and generators, as well as the water maker which converts salt water to fresh and also seawater for the heads.

We also pulled the main engine propeller shaft and propeller. This must be done from time to time to inspect for wear on bearings, seals and the shaft itself. This is quite a big job too. First the rudder must be removed, then the sternpost cut away, that’s right, cut away, that’s the only way. Then of course, the long, 6 inch (150mm) steel shaft must be unbolted from the gearbox deep down in the engine room and it and the 6 foot (almost 2 meter) three bladed controllable pitch propeller all slide out. Well, it doesn’t really slide out; it takes a good deal of effort and chain come-alongs to get it out into the slings of the waiting crane. From there it is trundled over to the machine shop for examination and whatever work might be needed. We found that the bearings were fine but that the seals needed a bit of reworking. This was done after a few days and the shaft went back awaiting adjustments – it needs adjustment as it is not simply a solid steel shaft with a prop on one end, which, once back in, would not need adjustment – but it is a CPP or “controllable pitch propeller” indicating that the individual blades of the propeller move to provide forward and astern pitch and therefore, thrust and has moving parts in the shaft and propeller. It is a very good system installed in this ship in 1965, works just great to this day. But as it all had come apart, it needs readjustment after going back together.

We also attended getting a generator dynamo cleaned and back to perfect and sundry jobs in the engine room. After a thorough shell thickness survey we inserted a couple bits of new steel plate where it was needed. All the work was done under not only our supervision but that of an independent marine surveyor. This is a big help to have a qualified expert to look over my shoulder. It is also a requirement of our annual re-certification process.

While all this important stuff is going on below the waterline, plenty of work going on up on deck too. Crew were working away getting all the standing rigging chain plates chipped and coated with five or more coats of primer before the finish coat, various carpentry jobs here and there on deck. The anchor windlass got completely overhauled and coated and greased up. We renewed the steel part of the taff rail around the quarterdeck too. Lifted the teak capping and replaced almost all the steel it rested on. This had been installed in 1996, but apparently without much bedding compound so it had corroded significantly in the last 18 years. Other new steel installations from the same time that were treated properly are holding up fine.

The original steel from when she was built seems to last forever. The shipyard manager told me that the Picton Castle was one of the strongest ships in the best condition he had “ever seen, regardless of age”. He has seen a lot of steel ships up on his shipyard over the last few decades. I was quite impressed and satisfied with the quality and standard of both the steel work and the engineering work done for us on the grand Picton Castle at Suva Shipyard.

And… a new non-skid deck covering for the scullery and galley to give a better grip when we are at sea. All new and renewed safety gear as required by regulations. Yards all got painted (nice job!). New INMARSAT computer. And soon-to-return cook Donald’s cabin and the galley getting a nice paint job too.

But that’s not all. Going into shipyard is a bit like going into surgery at the hospital. Must be done, is good and needed to be done, but you don’t always come out of the hospital looking your best. We have all sorts of paint blow-over to remove. The engine room needs a big old cleaning, I mean a big one. The decks did not get scrubbed for about two weeks, accumulating any amount of crud, grime and welding detritus pretty much everywhere and anywhere – so the ship is getting a massive cleaning this week after coming off the dock.

On Sunday past, after a couple days alongside the quay at the shipyard next to a couple Chinese fishing boats who looked like they were keen to get up on the lift, we backed away from the wharf and headed out to anchor in the harbor. At long last and once again, fresh air, cool breezes and the quiet of the anchorage after almost two weeks of banging, clanging, mud, blasting, spraying and all kinds of dirt and crud of the ship-yard. But all good to get the shipyard done too.

Picton Castle on the hard

Picton Castle before going up on the slip

neighbours at the shipyard

Flip flops strictly prohibited

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Shipyard in Fiji, Day One

May 22nd, 2014

The day came in calm with light rain, we got the anchor up and, motored the mile to the shipyard through anchored vessels and some cruising yachts and nosed the Picton Castle into a bunch of Oriental Fishing boats, from their rust stains and sea-slime well above their waterline they’re clearly waiting their turn for the dry dock. The vessels that were in our spot were still up, one a beautiful old and now short rigged 90 foot wooden schooner and a smaller fishing vessel now looking pretty snappy in her new white topsides and bottom paint. They started down while we watched, but didn’t seem like were going to get up today to me. They still had to haul the flat up again and re-block for this ship. All of a sudden the noise began and all were aflutter that up we would go. When? Right now! To make a long story short, after much pulling and tugging, lines this way and that, boats zipping about taking lines here and there, divers bobbing in the water or sending bubbles as they attended their craft unseen below, we missed the tide an had to head back to our berth with the other old fish boats. Tomorrow would be another day to try.

The next day. Day 2. At 1430, with an increased amount of frenzied activity, jostling and pulling, the gang got the Picton Castle centered over the lift dock – from there, and three hours later the ship was making her way out of the water to be, as they say, “on the hard” – and so we are.

*Photos by apprentice watch officer Anne-Laure Barberis



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Fiji Days

May 20th, 2014

Captain John Beebe-Center and his salty crew sailed the Picton Castle into Suva Harbour from Tonga a couple weeks ago, set her big starboard anchor, furled and then sent down all her sail. Then after some celebrations most crew from our amazing voyages throughout the South Pacific then packed their sea-bags to head home or set off on new adventures. The voyage was done. That will do the watches.

With a small crew we have been at anchor here in this big bay working on the ship and also getting ready for dry-docking. As do most ships, we dry-dock every two years. Both regulation and good practice follow this cycle. Dry-docking consists of hauling the ship out of the water, in this case on a marine railway, pressure cleaning the hull from all weeds and barnacles that have made a home on her in recent months in warm tropical waters, and doing various inspections of the hull, the anti- electrolysis zincs, through-hull fittings, the rudder, the propeller and then carry out any maintenance or repairs required. Also the hull will get painted with both anti-corrosive paint and then antifouling paint to prevent or reduce the growth on the hull over the next two years. The zincs will be replaced, tolerances on the propeller shaft and the rudder bearings will be checked and the big bronze through-hull fittings thoroughly inspected. If anything is found wanting in them they will be removed and taken to the machine shop for overhaul. We haul tomorrow, is the plan.

For the last few days at anchor we have been under a long extended front which has been drenching us in torrential tropical rain all day and all night. Today is all nice and clear though and we can proceed with other projects slated for this period. We are replacing the steel bed under the nice teak taff rail that passes around the quarterdeck. We want a few new planks in the quarterdeck too and we have a good gang working on that as well. We are looking after some rustbusting that is unpleasant to do at sea as it is so noisy, but nice to get done. And we have various rigging and sailmaking jobs we want to get after too. Time to wire brush and slush the wire stays, paint the yards, tar the rigging, overhaul blocks, clean and paint living compartments – much easier to do with no one living in them, no? And we renew or reinspect much of our safety gear under the supervision of our Marine Authorities. And plenty else besides. All is calm at anchor. The calm before the storm. This stands to change character wildly as we haul out in our hot tropical shipyard in bustling downtown Suva tomorrow. The harbour pilot is scheduled for 0830. The carpenters said they will come early and help with the anchor. Should be a long day.

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In Fiji

May 12th, 2014

The Picton Castle swings at anchor placidly here in the northern end of Suva Harbour. The ship sailed in from Tonga ten days ago, and so ends an amazing voyage through much of the South Pacific Ocean and putting in at many storied islands. Tales to be told by this crew for years to come. My relief for a few months, Captain John Beebe-Center and Chief Mate Dirk Lorenzen left the ship clean and in excellent order. In the early mornings, mists cover the lower regions of the distant mountains making for a beautiful and serene tableau, the waters of the bay are still with many white, 100 foot long-liner oriental fishing vessels at anchor in rafts of five or ten on moorings nearby as well. Pretty big ships come and go from the main piers from time to time. On the VHF radio we hear occasional chatter in what we believe to be Korean or Chinese. Around about dawn we see the occasional dugout canoe with a lone fisherman quietly paddling.

Our skiff landing takes place at the Royal Suva Yacht Club just at the north side of the city of Suva. This yacht club has transitioned from formidable gated bastion of imperial supremacy of the English ruling class and Empire from colonial days to a delightful, open and entertaining gathering spot for yachties, visiting vessels, and locals of all sorts and ages; very much a fun and active nautical community centre evidently open to one and all. A lovely grassy area by the water with a fine playground for little kids behind a fence. We expect to be doing some serious sailmaking at the yacht club soon.

A walk into town reveals that Suva is still that bustling, loud, crowded Indian/Fijian metropolis full of tropical noises and smells, all of which are welcome. Plenty Bollywood movies are on the cinema’s marquee downtown and well attended, soon we will see one or two. They really are quite fun and entertaining. After our last couple of visits and “Dabangg”, I am a fan now of Bollywood flicks. A couple ones that look pretty good with a some of the most stunningly gorgeous and handsome leading men and women. Just now between long voyages and now headed into shipyard mode we have about six crew aboard. Sails are sent down, bunk areas have been cleaned up and work lists organized. Soon carpenters will be clambering aboard to start replacing some quarterdeck planks and a few other things. The crew have been scraping and painting the yards with the sails off. Soon they will be slushing all the wire stays. New trainees show up by July 1st, we sail July 15th.

Anyway, we are doing pretty well, content enough to be back in the ship after the short work-packed, period ashore, but here we are and all is as it should be. Looking forward to getting on with the ships work for the next month and a half and to report in regularly on events as they transpire…

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Aloha Polynesia!

Announcing the new and improved Aloha Polynesia voyage! We are thrilled to have been offered the exciting opportunity to carry cargo and people amongst the islands of the Cook Islands. While making passages and visiting islands, we’ll be offering the same top-notch sail training program for which we’re known. Experience the real South Pacific in the unspoiled beauty of the Cook Islands, true Polynesian hospitality, and deep-water sailing passages. No experience is necessary to become a trainee crew member, just a strong back and a willing heart.

Join us as a trainee crew member this June, July and August. Visit the Aloha Polynesia voyage page for all the details and to apply!

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Holiday Greetings From Lunenburg

Our beloved little barque is snugly tied to the wharf, there’s fresh snow on the ground and work has stopped for a few days while we take time to relax, enjoy the company of those around us and celebrate the holidays.

We can’t help but think of Christmases past, many of which, including last year, have been spent at sea. The roll of the ocean, white canvas sails overhead pushing us ever forward, the little divi-divi tree strapped securely to the cargo hatch, delicious aromas wafting from the galley all day and all night, shipmates covertly working on secret projects, holiday decor pulled from the dark recesses of storage areas and hung festively from any available surface and never-ending Christmas music floating from the well deck. Those Christmases, spent in the company of shipmates, where the thought counts more than the gift and the best present is a giant meal with more food than the whole crew can eat, have a very special place in our hearts and memories.

To all of our shipmates and friends, we wish you warmest Christmas greetings and continued adventures in 2012.

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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.

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.


Picton DSC06106
Picton DSC07366

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Name That Newfoundland Tune

I’m always better at remembering something when I can sing it. Learning the alphabet? Much easier with the alphabet song than to remember a long string of letters. Canadian provinces? The tune started with “the provinces of Canada are fun to remember, fun to remember…” and it still helps me get them in the right order from east to west.

Studying Newfoundland charts has caused me to pause at times, uncertain of why the name of a community or body of water sounds familiar. And then I realize it’s from a song.

Imagine my delight when a councillor of the town of Harbour Grace phoned to invite Picton Castle for a visit this summer. My mind immediately went to “Excursion Around the Bay” in which the man whose wife becomes ill on board a vessel seeks something to give her to make her better.

I tried every place in Harbour Grace, tried every store and shop…

In researching icebergs and where we’re most likely to encounter them, Iceberg Alley and the town of Twillingate are mentioned in all of the tourism brochures and websites. Sure enough, like in the song “I’se the B’y”, Fogo and Moreton’s Harbour are right nearby, or “all around the circle.”

While we’re not planning to stop, we will sail past the ecological reserve at Cape St. Mary’s, a famous point of land on the south coast of the Avalon Peninsula that inspired the hauntingly beautiful song of the same name.

But when we sail to old St. John’s, will all the girls be dancing? Guess we’ll have to wait and see, or take it upon ourselves to make it true.


Spaces are still available on Picton Castle‘s Newfoundland voyage this summer. Sail for two, four, six or eight weeks in July and August 2011.

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