Captain's Log

Archive for the 'South Seas Voyage 2013-2014' Category

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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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The Arrival of Good Winds

By Nolan Walker, Trainee

May 1st, 2014

It starts with a flicker of a breeze & builds with each passing moment like some great sighing body and then the wind arrives, filling the belly of the sails with a much needed anecdote as perhaps previously lazy staysails & headsails began to breathe ecstatically, flogging around in their surprise. You can almost feel the excitement of the ship as she hurtles herself forward under your feet, the deck sometimes shivering ever so slightly as she bounds through an eager swell. At times her rigging begins to strain with the new found pressure and the occasional call to take in t’gallants, royals, and fore and aft sails rings out as she makes her way headlong under topsails and courses (perhaps a staysail or headsail as accompaniment). Behind the helm you can almost feel the water moving across her rudder as the freshening breeze sends her along towards the vastness of that endless horizon. A faint sound of whistling can be heard intermittently amongst the rushing of the wind as it slides past your ears and you realize that it is within the rigging, as if the ship herself is whistling in her delight. There is nowhere else you can get such an immense and exciting feeling as snagging a good wind under sail surrounded by the edge of the world as, by and with your own hands, you make your ship dance along the ancient face of the ocean.

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Tongan Feast

By John Kinley, Apprentice

April 29th, 2014

Tongans are renowned for their musical prowess and for their unmatched sense of hospitality. During the Picton Castle‘s stay in Tonga, the crew was treated to both in abundance. A fellow member of the crew, Vai Latu, is a Tongan from the very islands we were visiting, the Vava’u Group. She had arranged for her family to come out to the ship and put on a feast. Tongan feasts are reputed through the South Pacific as a special event and if you get a chance to attend one, do it. Tongan feasts are used to celebrate national holidays, arrivals, farewells, funerals, birthdays and well, just about everything. From what I gather, it doesn’t look like these friendly people need much of an excuse to have a good time.

It was arranged through Vai’s grandmother, Betty, that we would be having the feast onboard the ship with both Vai’s family and the ship’s crew in attendance. Word spread through the crew and the excitement was sparked. Apparently, the last time Picton Castle was in Vava’u, a similar event occurred and it turned out to be a highlight of some people’s voyages.

The feast was scheduled to be at 5 o’clock on a Friday and everyone was on board. The galley prepared drink and popcorn for the ship’s guests and I prepared my camera. It took three skiff runs from a dock in Neiafu to bring the family out to the ship and all the food. Vai’s uncles and cousins and friends and family all arrived with big smiles on their faces and kindness in their hearts. The crew started to socialize and our guests got out their musical instruments and started to play and sing some local style music. The band consisted of a guitar, ukulele, a banjo and drums. The music was flawlessly played.

The deck was full of people by the time the feast had started. Vai’s family consisted of both young and old but with so much popcorn available, we all turned into kids. Finn grabbed some chalk and divided it out among the youth who promptly started to draw on the decks, stairs and in the galley on the cupboards. Simon dressed up as an officer with a captain’s hat and surprised everyone. He stuffed a pillow down his shirt and with shoulder clefts provided by our engineer, Alex, he looked the part. Everyone had a good laugh as Captain John Beebe-Center shook his hand with a smile on his face.

It was time to start eating and it was customary for the captain to say a few words followed by a blessing from Vai’s grandmother. The blessing was beautifully spoken in Tonga’s native tongue and then the crew followed our captain to line up for the food. The fare was stretched out over the port pin-rail and barely fit. Vai’s uncle stood by carving a pig and there was fruit on the starboard pin-rail. In addition to the pork and fruit there was also chicken done in a variety of styles and all were delicious. We feasted and listened to the live music right there on the main deck of the Picton Castle. The crew continued to play with the kids and socialize. Just when we thought the night couldn’t have gotten any better the hatch was cleared and the family displayed all sorts of local dance. The show started off with a hand dance with both boys and girls and then split up into different styles. The girls would dance and then the boys would follow and each would be different and entertaining. The musicians played the their songs accordingly and with steady precision. The dancing was capped off with the crew being invited to all jump up and boogie down on the hatch.

The night was perfect and we thanked our guests for providing such an amazing meal and entertainment. Because of the effort made by this family I will never forget Tonga. Their hospitality and kindness may be legendary throughout the Pacific but now it’s also known in the Atlantic. I’ll go home and have nothing but great things to say about Vai’s family and the Tongan nation as a whole. What an amazing experience.

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It’s Not Over Yet!

By Chelsea McBroom

April 30th, 2014

My bunk leapt and rolled beneath me and I tried to adjust my sleeping position to keep myself wedged and still. The wind howled through my porthole. I felt the slam of a wave against the side of the Picton Castle and water splashed up, through the porthole and into my bunk. I sat up, laughing at myself not having predicted this and rushed to close it, slamming my hand against it until it freed from where it sticks to the ceiling and screwing it shut.

I was having a nap, or trying to, but I looked outside at the seas, recalling when we crossed the Tasman Sea and got excited. The past few days we have been sailing to Fiji, our last port of this voyage before the ship goes into a shipyard period. We’ve had good winds for sailing, sometimes sailing with only the topsails and foresail, maybe t’gallants. Often the Captain will see the squalls coming towards us so we’ll take in the t’gallants and set them again when it passes. We’ve been eating our meals in the salon often, afraid of getting our food wet and soggy.

I can sense a change in vibe aboard, knowing that the crew will scatter and fly home soon after we reach our destination. As I sit in my bunk I kick myself for feeling tired at such an inappropriate time. I want to get to know the crew better. I’d like to set and take in sails over and over, going aloft to stow and loose. I’d like to watch Dirk, the Mate, tie a variety of knots again. I want to wrestle pieces of canvas through a giant sewing machine to make sails. I want to do another pin chase, an eye splice, bend on another sail. Let’s take out the monomoy for another overnight trip! How did we get down to such few days left!?

Now that we’re planning a day at anchor to give crew their sea certificates and celebrate our time together on board, I’ve found that many people are leaving soon after we arrive. I suppose people have to go home eventually. They can’t stay forever. The Captain was confused as to why there was a need for people to leave so soon and explained it never mattered where he sailed to, “I remember getting off my first ship and looking back confused, wondering why I was no longer on it.” But I insist, many will feel the same as he did when they go, and they’ll return to sail again.

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Ashore in Tonga

By Chelsea McBroom

April 27th, 2014

On my first day ashore with Picton Castle‘s port watch, I left the café, having finished my delicious fruit smoothie and walked down the street to the fresh market. This island, Vava’u, is where our shipmate Vai is from and her grandmother and aunt were selling their handmade baskets and carvings there. When her grandmother realized who we were and that we were from the ship, she offered Lily, Maria and I a handmade bracelet.

The market was selling bananas, papaya, apples, coconut, pineapple and the same leafy green bitter vegetable we had been buying- I think a relation to bok choi. There was a wholesale shop next to it selling everything from sugar to matches.

Then we went back up the hill away from the shore to Café Tropicana. The café has a room with two rows of computers for people who want internet, and the rest of the cafe has tables where they serve food or drink and a counter where you can order baked goods and homemade treats. I went to the back where Samantha, Nolan, Maria, Hugo, Lily and Denise sat. It was a covered patio with a loose stone floor and we could hear the marching band that passed through the town.

On one wall that was painted turquoise, joke phrases were written in black all over it and we took turns reading the aloud. I laughed very very hard and my friends all turned and looked at me funny. It’s killing me that I can’t recall any of the phrases now. Oh: “A man was drowning in a bowl of musili and was brought down by a currant” or something like that, I never deliver jokes as they should be. But they’re silly jokes that play on words and they made me giggle. You’ll have to go see them yourselves.

Most of us ate lunch there. Me, Lily and Maria ordered the open faced fish sandwich which was nice. I was very civilized and ate it with a knife and fork. Samantha ordered a fish wrap and Nolan ordered a house-made burger that came with cheese and a fried egg. I’ve noticed, since sometimes I crave milkshakes, that they’re never what I expect in the South Pacific. Sometimes you’ll get the literal flavored milk, shaken with ice – so it’s frothy and still good, but not quite the same as the thick ice-cream soup I’m used to. This happened at Café Tropicana but I still ordered two.

I decided after lunch I should stock up on snacks, so I walked down to the nearest Chinese store and ended up buying a box of ‘beng-bengs’ – these little chocolate/wafer/caramel bars – and chips. When I walked out of the store there were kids everywhere in school uniforms – blue shorts and white polo shirts – and they called out to me “Miss! Miss!” and every time I turned around, confused if they meant me, and they very quietly and shyly mumbled something I couldn’t quite make out. I was confused all the way to Café Tropicana when I sat down to use the internet and a boy who I think followed me all the way from the store, stuck his head through the window slats and asked me for money. I’m still confused as I think about it now – he was clean and adorable, looked healthy and all his buddies were doing it. They hung around the front of the store to see if Lisa, who ran the store, or Greg, the owner, would give them any treats. She may have slid them a thing or two. Teis and Alex joined the group and I went to catch the next skiff back while everyone else went for a hike.

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Near Tonga

By Chelsea McBroom

April 21st, 2014

Supposedly the Picton Castle has crossed the date line but the Captain decided we wouldn’t change our dates or times until we are anchored at Tonga. Perhaps by doing this he thought his birthday would be skipped but he couldn’t fool us. Lily cooked on her day off and worked in the galley with Simon and Avery who were cooking (a sort of sweet and sour chicken and friend rice) for the rest of the crew.

I tried to keep the Captain’s birthday dinner in the mess a secret until the last moment, but unfortunately the word got out. In addition to the Captain and the mate, the room was filled with Avery and John, their first time to the mess, and Samantha, Maria, Erin, and Lily. Laughing could be heard from the room’s portholes.

Later that night when I mustered for the 12am watch, we could see the golden moon rising just above the horizon between grey shadowed cloud. Our sails were in and we were motoring the rest of the way to Tonga. We heaved to at about 0200, then Finn and the Doc graciously took the deck while Gustav, Denise and I went back to bed.

All hands were called at 0800 for breakfast when Lily made the best hot-cross buns I’ve ever had. At around 1000 the anchor was dropped closer to the island. Being a Sunday we decided clearing in wouldn’t be possible and that it was the perfect day to celebrate Easter.

The Easter Committee organized it all: Vai, Hugo, Lily, John K, Erin, Maria and I. After lunch was a swim call. Then we had a trivia game, this time life raft #1 on the station bill against life raft #2. Life raft #1 had Gustav blowing a whistle if they had the answer, life raft #2 had Alex, the chief engineer, with a bike horn. While John asked the questions and Erin kept score, Lily and I hid bags of goodies on the deck of the ship. The winning team went further, each individual person then needing to answer questions and if they got it right, could choose someone to be removed from the group until one person was left. Denise won, winning herself a Mickey Mouse hat. Then everyone was sent to find their bag of treats including ring pops, hubba bubba, glow sticks and sheriff badges (inexpensive chocolate was hard to find in Rarotonga).

Soon after we had popcorn and punch with people dressing up to attend. I saw a lot of leopard print fur. After dinner when the sun went down at around 2000, the crew voted for a movie and watched Top Gun on the hatch. A cheesy 1980s finish to a wonderful day.

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On Our Way To Tonga

By Chelsea McBroom

April 20th, 2014

The Picton Castle couldn’t sit around waiting for the wind to pick up, so we motored for a couple of days, with fore and aft sails, until we found enough wind to carry us to Tonga. The day came and hands were called to go aloft and loose. The Mate’s 8-12 watch helped us set the upper topsails and fore course before ending their watch and we handled the rest, coiling down the mess. The motor was turned off so all we could hear was the splash of the waves against the side of the ship and the wind in our ears.

I may be the only one who noticed the breeze get cooler, especially at night. The nights have been brightly moonlit and covered in stars and I’ve been wearing my windbreaker at helm and lookout. Captain seems to think my blood temperature has changed and laughs seeing a Canadian wearing a coat in 20 degree weather. I realize my friends back at home would slap me, having had to endure the cold winter.

The breeze makes for lovely sunny days on board and although we miss our bosun terribly, many crew have spent their time on deck doing salty things she used to do like carving, splicing, tarring, replacing ratlines aloft and enjoying the comfortable weather. So far our workshops at 1630 on the hatch have included Doctor Peter Sharp telling us some of his practicing secrets, Captain John Beebe-Center teaching us the herringbone, double baseball and t-stitch using a plywood technique, and Chief Mate Dirk explaining the codes and use of international flag signals. Crew are especially keen, now that they realize how much time is passing, to learn as much as they can before the ship arrives in Fiji.

The Captain has given people the opportunity to try calling orders for setting and taking in sails, so during watches, the less experienced get to practice. It forces those who try it to think about things like, instead of what lines need to be pulled, how a royal should be braced while being hauled up or eased down, or how a fore or aft sail should be trimmed. Once again, like when we sailed from New Zealand, we find ourselves with a small but very strong crew and I’m very proud of everyone’s hard work and whole hearted participation.

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Leaving Palmerston

By Chelsea McBroom

April 19, 2014

Starboard watch was taken back to the Picton Castle and switched once more with port watch so they could be ashore on Palmerston another night. Because the ship had hove to, two people had to be watching the deck at all times, so we were put into pairs and given a two hour shift every eight hours. Finn and I took the first watch in the afternoon and another at midnight. As part of the night orders, when the ship had drifted five miles, we were to wake the Captain who would then ask us to wake the Engineer and we would fire up and motor back to the island again. By about 01:00 we did just that and I took the helm, still locked on hard right, waited for the ship to come around and took off the eight or so turns just before the given course. It was another clear moonlit night and surreal to be steering the ship with two for company. We were hove to again by the time our watch was over and Erin and Gustav took over. It was peaceful once more when the motor was turned off and we went back to bed. The next morning with all hands at 0800, it was cloudy and rainy. The ship motored back to the island and waited for an appropriate time in weather to receive port watch back (although we told Palmerston over the radio that they could keep them, they refused) and when the clouds parted they were returned. The ship’s company said goodbye to the few islanders aboard the skiffs that pulled alongside and we were off, motoring south west until we could reach the right winds to take us to Tonga.

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