Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Pacific Ocean' Category

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Galapagos

From Panama the Picton Castle had mostly headwinds and we thus motored plenty more than we would have liked – must have been due to all the pollywogs aboard, now thankfully all gone – we did manage to sail across the Equator under full sail anyway.

Being in the Galapagos is a multileveled treat. First, we are in the “Enchanted Isles”, legendary islands of the Equator and Darwin, that’s pretty good; then being in Galapagos puts us at the jumping off point for a classic trade wind passage. At the edge of the South Pacific Ocean the delightful South East trade winds will draw us along for many thousands of miles to come.

But back to Galapagos. In addition to wandering among the many natural wonders for which these islands are so justly famous, our port, Baquerizo Moreno (aka-Wreck Bay), is also simply a delightful small, friendly and accommodating Latin American, Ecuadorian seaport town. Here we found lovely little hole-in-the-wall eateries, a remarkably well stocked hardware store, excellent inexpensive laundries, fruterias and pensiones for staying ashore – and any number of friendly guides and helpers willing to help us or show us around.

Of course, there are sea lions everywhere. I really mean ‘everywhere’. This is their town. They nap on the pier, or in your skiff, or anywhere else they have a mind to but they are just as likely to wander a bit into town if they find a reason. And marine iguanas have free reign of the rocks along the shore. If you get too close in their opinion, maybe 5 feet, they amble a bit away. Inland and in other bays and coves we found turtles to swim with, whales, big land tortoises and all that National Geographic stuff you would expect. We could shop for fresh provisions, top up our fuel and pick up last minute items for
Pitcairn as well. All in all, a very satisfying visit to the “Las Islas Encantadas”.

Each crew member had two days off and one day on duty, as we have done in every port. The on duty watches were busy with bending on more sail – we now have a flying jib, main t’gallant stays’l
and mizzen stays’l. We expect that these new sails will add some speed to our upcoming trade wind passage.

During their time off duty, the crew have been exploring San Cristobal and discovered for themselves the reasons these islands are famous – sea turtles, frigate birds, marine iguanas, giant tortoises, blue footed boobies and sea lions. The crew have toured the island by bike, scooter and truck taxi, going diving, snorkelling and surfing. One of the more interesting spots some of our crew found was a farm where we bought bamboo -they also grow all kinds of fruit (we provisioned the ship there for fruit) and are the official supplier of food to the Galapagos tortoise breeding sanctuary.

rsz lauren checks out a papaya in galapagos - copy
rsz loading fruit and bamboo aboard the ship in galapagos - copy
rsz lunchtime for tortoises in galapagos
rsz sea lions seek shade in leonards shadow
rsz skiff loading at the wharf behind sleeping sea lions

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Crossing the Line

Picton Castle sailed across the Equator on Wednesday, entering the southern hemisphere in the Pacific Ocean. As expected, King Neptune and his royal court boarded the ship to address the pollywog issue. With kind serene senisitivities and all-knowing wisdom all pollywogs were solomly raised from their base state to a higher plane. Picton Castle is now crewed entirely by shellbacks. The tale of the transformation shall remain untold (but some of our crew are sporting really short haircuts). ‘Nuff said. its all good…

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Pitiful Pollywogs

Picton Castle sailed from Panama almost a week ago. Bound for Galapagos we are. In many ways, this is a regular passage for us with the routine of watchstanding, workshops, meals and day-to-day life aboard. We changed the watches on leaving Panama, mixing the groups up so that everyone has a chance to be on watch with different people in different times. Crew are settling into their new watches well, getting to know and spend time with different shipmates and learning new routines and subtleties of each watch and how to accomplish that watch’s assigned tasks. Bosun WT and bosun’s mate Paula continue to assign ship’s maintenance projects, focusing this passage on holystoning the main deck and getting some rust busting, priming and painting done on the overhead of the aloha deck. Both of these projects are appropriate for this passage as they can be done even when it’s raining. We’re in the intertropical convergence zone, resulting in light winds, overcast skies and fairly frequent drizzle. We’ve been mostly motoring with intermittent periods of sailing when the wind cooperates. The Captain’s multi-part splicing workshop continues today with part 5 with a sailmakers eye-splice. Yesterday was the chain splice, with the long splice the day before. Prior to Panama, we had already done the eye splice and short splice. Each crew member has a practice rope where they’ve been doing their daily homework – a practice on their own of whatever splice was covered in the workshop that day.

In some ways, this passage is not regular for us. The ship seems to have developed a foul, noxious, malodorous stench due to the number of pollywogs aboard. A pollywog, for those who don’t know, is someone who has never sailed across the Equator before. To a shellback, someone who has sailed across the Equator, there are few things as undesireable as the smell of pollywogs. For the sake of our loyal shellbacks’ sensitive noses, I certainly hope that King Neptune and his royal court will come soon to take care of this embarassing faux pas. And the adverse winds? Can only be due to the presence of the dreaded pollywog. Messages have been arriving almost daily, in the form of emails, a canvas bag caught on one of our fishing lines and even notes scrawled on mirrors in all the heads, warning the pollywogs of the court’s impending arrival and of King Neptune’s penchant for cutting hair. We were visited by representatives of Neptune himself in the form of two booby birds – one on the jibboom and one on the quarterdeck. These mighty sea birds made themselves at home while they observed the behaviour of our putrid pollywogs. Also black fish or pilot whales and porpoise have been swimming by to take a gander and inspect it seems. The reports can’t be good… We’re currently less than 10 nautical miles from the Equator and we’ll have to cross before we reach Galapagos, so one way or another, the pollywog problem will be solved.

booby on the taff rail
Meredith helps Niko with his splice
Robert, Katie and Michael at the splicing workshop
Shawn reads the note fished from Neptune

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Panama #2-Turtles, Lumber and Sugar

Chief Engineer Christian has become the Picton Castle turtle wrangler. On the list of requests from Pitcairn Island, one of the things that was asked for was pet turtles, the little kind you have in aquariums. Just had to have pet turtles. In order to have a reasonable number of turtles make it to Pitcairn Island alive a month away, we bought 35 in Panama. I think the pet store owner was a bit shocked. They’re currently all living, quite happily it seems, swimming around in a plastic tote with fresh water and rocks in the skiff on top of the galley house. They don’t seem to be fond of having the main topmast staysail set over their temporary home, but other than that they are quite happy, energetic and almost frisky, swimming around in the tote and hiding under the rocks. All are OK so far. They’re pretty feisty, or feistier than you might expect turtles to be anyway. We are bringing these turtles with full knowledge and approval of the island council and due deliberation given to environmental concerns…turtles to Pitcairn? Sure, why not…we are also bringing 14 lawn mowers to the island – we said we should bring goats instead as they fertilize as they mow but that idea didn’t catch on…besides Pitcairn already has some goats.

Even though we might be the only sailing ship today with a big cargo hold for storage, storage space aboard any ship is finite, so that makes stowing all the things we bought a bit of a challenge and always a job once we start getting full. In addition to the lumber and food provisions I’ve already mentioned, we also had two major food orders that will see us through until Bali on dry goods, plenty of deck supplies like paint brushes and wire wheels, and an assortment of household goods to bring to Pitcairn. You can get pretty much anything in Panama. When the trucks bringing these things arrived at the ship, the crew unloaded the trucks, laying everything out on the dock to see what we had, inventory and to put similar things together, before finding a spot for it on board. The 4-8 watch loaded most of the food order into the hold, taking everything out of cardboard boxes on the dock before bringing it aboard.

The hold is organized so that the port side is mostly galley supplies and the starboard side is mostly deck supplies, with shelves built to fit and hold plastic totes in place. A great deal of organization goes into stowing the hold, making sure that similar things are packed together so that later on, when someone is looking for something, it can be easily found and accessed. Most of the dry goods are stored in the hold, the freezers were packed completely full, and the veggie lockers on the aloha deck are topped up. The aloha deck itself currently looks like a bit of a jungle with four stalks of bananas, a net full of mangoes, and a net of pineapples and papayas suspended from the overhead. Some of the lumber has been stored on deck, along with big metal drums, so the crew have had to learn their way around deck again without stubbing their toes on the new arrangement. Conveniently, these wood stacks also make handy places to sit on deck.

With the ship completely stowed, the last step was to lash everything down for sea. On Wednesday morning we had all hands busy with loading the last of the lumber on to the deck and lashing it below the pin rails, making sure that plastic totes were secure in their shelves in the hold, lashing down the bags of flour and sugar in the hold and tying down the 55 gallon drums in the port breezeway. Until we manage to eat a significant amount of food and discharge cargo at Pitcairn Island, the ship will be quite full. We could potentially still fit more things, it’s all a matter of using the available space wisely.

assembling provisions on the dock before stowing
Christian, chief engineer and chief turtle wrangler
lashing a load of wood on deck
Siri and Clark load bags of sugar into the hold

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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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