Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Summer Voyage 2012' Category

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Home in Lunenburg

By Kate “Bob” Addison

August 8, 2012

And so our 2012 summer voyage has come to an end. We’ve sailed to Bermuda and back and explored the East Coast of the USA and Canada as far south as Savannah, Georgia and all the way back up to Halifax. We’ve had city adventures in New York and chilled out in some tiny villages and gorgeous bays. We’ve been a part of festivals and tall ship races, participated in parades of sail and crew parades, pancake breakfasts and crew suppers. We’ve been to parties and dances and blessings of the fleet, watched fireworks, live music, stilt-walkers, and open air movies. We’ve welcomed thousands of visitors on board and made friends across the fleet. If nothing else, this summer was certainly memorable.

An Oscar moment is coming now, so hankies at the ready. Apart from my mum and dad and God I need to thank everyone who made this summer not just possible but a great success. So here goes: thank you to the people behind each of the festivals: Savannah, Greeport, Norfolk, Newport, Halifax, Port Hawkesbury and Pugwash, and the wonderful gang at Tall Ships America for making the whole thing happen, races and festivals and all. Enormous thanks to our brilliant liaison officers in each port who did a thousand small things to make everything run smoothly, and to our fabulous army of former shipmates, parents, friends of the ship and strangers: for every laundry run, provisioning trip, use of a vehicle, edible gift, free admission to a museum and every other kindness. To the harbourmasters and dockmasters, security guards, pilots, push boat drivers and line handlers, thank you for looking after our ship and our crew. To the girl called Laura and the pet rescue centre in Savannah, thank you for introducing us to George, and George to a life as ship’s cat. Thank you to the photographers and press for capturing the spirit of the events, and helping to spread the word. Thank you to every single member of the public who came out to see the ships and in doing so helped support sail training and some of the most beautiful ships in North America and beyond. To the captains and crews of the other ships in the fleet, it was a privilege and a joy to sail with you this summer; I hope our tracks cross again before too long. And finally, to Captain Moreland, Captain Bercaw, the crew of the Picton Castle and our fabulous shore crew Maggie and Susan: thank you so much for your incredible hard work, dedication, skill and good spirit this summer. You guys are some of the best people I’ve ever met, and collectively the reason that the Picton Castle is such a great ship. Ok, I’m all done so hankies away and finish your champagne. Sorry if I missed anyone.

Our last day was spent at anchor in Rose Bay, buzzing about getting the ship all pretty for her homecoming. That evening was one of the nicest of the voyage: a peaceful sunny evening anchored in flat calm in a beautiful spot. People were tired and happy after a productive day’s work. Donald cooked steak for supper and we opened the Starboard Side Swimming Pool so people could splash about, dive off the bow or lounge about in towels on the cargo hatch. We rigged up the swing-rope on the fore course yard, and practiced back flips and belly flops swinging off the rope.

The next morning the fog had settled back in, but we hoisted our anchor and nosed our way into Lunenburg Harbour. There were plenty of people standing on the dock to welcome us home as we emerged like a ghost ship from the fog, quietly backed into our berth and threw the first line ashore. In no time we were safely tied up and with “Mr Mate, that will do the watches” the voyage was finished.

The crew have already started going their separate ways, some staying for Bosun School, and all the projects and fun of Lunenburg in the summer. Another gang has flown out to Istanbul to help rig up Fullriggeren Sorlandet, another exciting project with heaps to do and heaps to learn. Others are heading home to see family and friends, some heading back to school, or to join other ships.

Here in Lunenburg yesterday we helped to launch the beautiful schooner Martha Seabury from the Dory Shop where she’s been being built over the last couple of years. Hundreds of people came out to watch and the press was well represented too. There were speeches from Captain Moreland, dignitaries and her proud new owner Billy Campbell. She was christened Martha Seabury by Maggie breaking a rum bottle on her stem, and her decks were decorated with some of the better looking Picton Castle crew, Danish mostly, before being launched as the crowd cheered. She was floated off her cradle with help of a tow boat and some muscle from Picton Castle, Amistad and the Dory Shop heaving away with block and tackle. It was a truly wonderful day for all involved, and for the Martha Seabury just the start of many wonderful adventures to come. And then, in October the ship’s company will reconvene. New trainee crew will sign on, and old crew will return to begin the exciting preparations for the start of the next voyage. We’ll send up sails, provision and bunker, load cargo for the islands and get the ship all stowed and ready for sea. Get the crew trained, drilled and ready for sea too. And then one fine day this autumn, we’ll take in the gangway, cast off our dock lines and set sail again. But this time for the magical islands of the South Pacific.

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Sailing for Lunenburg in the Fog

By Kate “Bob” Addison

3 August 2012

It’s 8:30pm Atlantic time and Picton Castle is sailing toward Rose Bay, Nova Scotia under lower topsails, main and fore topmast stay sails, inner jib and spanker. It’s foggy out, and damp though not actually raining at the moment. The wind is maybe a Force 5 but seems stronger as the thickening fog and falling night add drama to the scene.

The Captain was explaining to us how this type of fog forms when relatively warm, moist air meets cold seawater and the air is cooled by the water reducing the amount of moisture it can hold. The excess moisture in the air has to go somewhere so it condenses out into tiny droplets that deflect the light into a soft, grey mist and jump into my hair making it into a big red frizz. Meh.

We’ve had some mal-de-mer on board the last couple of days as the ship has been pitching and rolling a bit in the swell. A chief mate I sailed with once used to say there are two stages to sea sickness: the first is when you are worried that you might die, the second is when you are more concerned you won’t die quickly enough. Well nobody’s died yet, and with help of crackers and warm clothes most people are even smiling again. There was definitely less in the way of leftovers after dinner than after lunch, so either the sickies are feeling better or the rest are getting greedier. The people who are feeling fine are probably working a little extra to help out their shipmates, but they get to feel smug instead of sick, so I think that’s a pretty fair deal.

A gang of us just ran up aloft to stow upper topsails for the night – we’re going to have to motor a bit later to get home on time, so better to stow sail before it gets dark. Was exhilarating being aloft looking out into the nothingness of the fog, the only thing in sight our ship and her crew: people fluorescent in their waterproofs lined up all along the yard as we stowed the heavy damp sail. Looking down and around, nothing but grey sea merging with grey sky, grey haze where the horizon should be and below us our beautiful barque, rolling merrily over the seas with her miniature crew scurrying about on deck and the main upper topsail bellying out contentedly behind us.

It took six of us to stow an upper topsail, it was wet admittedly and blowing a bit, and some of the hands pretty new to the game. But crazy to think of the Cape Horners stowing much, much bigger sails, not just wet but frozen stiff, in winds that would blow you off the yard in an instant. A tougher breed. And what if one of those sailors was transported by some trick of physics onto the Picton Castle, and found themselves not battling endless hurricanes but adjusting studdingsails as they sailed in the sweet trade winds of the South Pacific, hopping between beautiful palm fringed islands? And eating plenty of fresh and delicious Donald food instead of rations of salt meat and biscuit, working 4 hours out of 12 instead of 6 or more? Dancing on the beach instead of backbreaking work unloading cargo when they finally made landfall? My guess is they would think that they’d died and gone to heaven.

The mate just walked into the charthouse in his foul weather gear to say that it’s cold and wet outside, and to pet the kitten. I expect he had some chart work to do as well.

8-12 muster, fog (1)
Raphaela on lookout in the fog
Stowing fore upper topsail in fog (2)

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Homeward Bound

By Kate “Bob” Addison

1 August 2012

It’s mid-morning on the first of August and Picton Castle is homeward bound, our position 45º44.3’N 061º32.2’W, as we motor sail into a light headwind towards Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Lunenburg is our Canadian home, and a very special place for the ship and her crew. It is also set to be the site of much exciting nautical activity over the next few months. With Picton Castle alongside, her crew will have plenty of interesting projects to keep them engaged and growing as mariners before we set sail for the South Pacific on our next blue water voyage in a couple of months. The South Pacific is also our home in a very real sense, and even as we head to Lunenburg there’s a sense of anticipation on board for the tropical waters and fabulous islands which we are lucky enough to expect in our near future.

Bosun School will kick off almost as soon as we’re back in Lunenburg on August 6th, and the pace of the summer will be set right away with the lovely Lunenburg Schooner Martha Seabury due to be launched the very next day. Then the summer continues with a whole number of exciting rigging and sail making projects as well as the usual Lunenburg summer fun of small boat sailing rowing and driving, barbeques, hump cup races and the music, dancing and fun times that Picton Castle seems to bring with her everywhere she goes. There’s going to be a big cargo sale too, much exotic treasure from our adventures around the world. Watch this space for more details.

For now we are very much enjoying the charms of Nova Scotia. It is terribly beautiful in the Scottish style, all mists and deep muted colours, the shoreline of rolling hills is dark with forests that reach right down to the water’s edge, making beautiful reflections on calm days. We’re heading closer to the land now as we prepare to transit the Canso Strait. We could have gone the long way around Cape Breton, but with southwesterlies forecast for the next few days it would have been a long and lumpy ride into headwinds, so we’re going for the gentler option and heading back through the lock. Seems like just a day or two ago we were transiting in the other direction heading for Pugwash.

We had a nice time at Pugwash, it’s a pretty village with an excellent coffee shop and lots of art and antiques. There was live music by the water during the festival, and little stands all along the high street selling foods and all manner of assorted things. There were a whole raft of organised events too, from canoe jousting to a volleyball tournament, soap-box car racing and helicopter rides. It felt like the ships were a side show rather than the main event, off to the side physically over at the salt dock too. It was refreshing for us to be a smaller part of the whole festival, we’ve gotten very used to feeling like the circus come to town this summer so it’s nice to be spectator as well as attraction. Plenty of visitors aboard too, but a steady stream rather than a rush.

We left Pugwash yesterday morning, following the big salt-ship Amelia out. Yesterday was sunny as we made our way west along the coast, and we took advantage of the calm weather to practice all our safety drills as well as some sail handling. A good, productive day. We anchored off last night at Livingstone Cove on the west side of Cape George. It was stunningly beautiful. A flat calm, the water all around us glistening smooth. The sun set over our port quarter, a perfect circle an inch across, glowing deep red. The moon was up early, a translucent white orb high in the sky off the starboard beam long before the sun had gone down. The light was clear and everything peaceful, almost silent The huddle of people sleeping on the cargo hatch all snuggled up in their sleeping bags were the real proof that the night was much too lovely to go below decks.

Coming to anchor at Livingstone Cove, NS
Monomoy rowing practice
Stowing sail in Pugwash (3)

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Port Hawkesbury to Pugwash

27 July 2012

By Kate “Bob” Addison

9pm on Friday evening, and Picton Castle is at 45º54.0’N, 062º40.8’W in the Northumberland Strait between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We’ve been at or near the same position for a couple of hours now, our 1 knot speed of advance entirely due to the current and nothing at all to do with the sails which, though set, are about as much use at this moment as the proverbial chocolate teapot. There isn’t any wind. The forecast that said the winds would go light was right. It’s barely a Force 1 out there. The sea is flat, gently rippled, smooth and glassy, reflecting the sunset of pink and blue. The sails are also flat, hanging from their yards, they look lifeless and strangely statuesque. Something about the sails reminds me of a rather dignified old man – you can tell that they used to be full of energy, full of life, but now they are calm and still.

Now all is quiet aboard the ship. The 8-12 watch has the deck, lead by Chief Mate Sam Sikkema. They are going about their business quietly so as not to wake the off watch, or disturb the peace of this beautiful evening. Hands are aloft stowing the royals for the night. A few of the off-watch are on deck too, lying on the hawsers up on the galley house with a book, or snoozing on the cargo hatch. There’s some whispered rope splicing practicing happening on the hatch too. Some of our trainee crew are just sailing with us for two weeks so they’re keen to make every moment count and learn as much as they can from our ship and her crew. It’s great to sail with people who are so keen to learn and get stuck in with what we do. Wonderful to sail with people who love our way of life.

It’s very quiet. Usually when we are underway there are the sounds of the ship to muffle the sounds of the crew walking, talking and working the ship. There’s usually the sound of the ocean slapping against the hull as it cuts through the water, and the whistle of the wind as it blows through the rig. Usually there’s the creak of timbers and lines and canvas. All pleasant gentle noises that help lull a tired sailor to sleep. But tonight it’s more like the silence of being at anchor. No water moving past the hull right now; we’re drifting wherever the water is going. No wind making the rigging sing. No ocean swell here in Northumberland Strait. The quiet makes my fingers tapping at the keyboard sound obnoxiously loud.

Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton Island, and on the Strait of Canso, was another successful event for us, and a very pleasant time. Peacemaker, Bounty, Gazela, Sorca, Appledore IV and Appledore V all alongside the same big pier as Picton Castle. Theodore Tugboat was just on the other side of the marina. He’s pretty awesome, that little tug with his bright red base-ball cap and big fixed smile. We were wondering if his expression becomes less cheerful when he’s battling into a headwind or big seas, or towing a heavy ship? Either way Theodore was a big hit with the youngsters in Port Hawkesbury. They like the sailing ships and all, but a tug boat with a smiley face and a red hat? Whoah! That’s even cooler than the pony rides, and foam lobsters on sticks, which were also trending amongst the smaller residents of Nova Scotia. There was a big tent set up at the end of the dock right in front of the yacht club, and here there was music and dancing and delicious foods. All together a very lovely time for all. The Picton Castle was well remembered from previous visits and called the event’s “Signature Ship”.

Tomorrow we’ll arrive into Pugwash for our last summer festival. It’s only about 40 miles from here where we drift, so we’ll start steaming at some point tonight to pick up our pilot early in the morning. But for now we’re just enjoying the peace of a sunset on the ocean.

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Gloucester

By Kate “Bob” Addison

16 July 2012

Monday morning and it’s cool and foggy here on the Picton Castle as we sail up from Gloucester, Massechusetts towards Nova Scotia at the beginning of the end of our summer of Tall Ships. The fog’s been with us almost since we left and it’s chilly enough to need a sweater. I’m even contemplating shoes…

We spent a long weekend at Gloucester, Massachusetts the ship moored up parallel to the shore across the head of three wharfs like they were dolphin posts. We were the guests of the Gloucester Marine Railway in Gloucester. We are told it’s the oldest continuously working marine railway in the USA and still hauling schooners and all sorts of other boats out of the water for maintenance today. A pretty old fishing vessel, the 1925 Phyllis A was on one of the slips having her hull re-caulked. The bright orange stripes of the red-lead putty along her hull looked like a 1970s style statement.

A stop in Gloucester wasn’t on our original plan but it worked well with our schedule and it really is a lovely place. I think everyone enjoyed having a couple of days ashore to trawl the book stores and junk shops for treasure, and look at the pretty Gloucester schooners. Two of these fine vessels, the Ardelle and the Thomas E Lannon sailed out to meet us, Canadian flags flying from mainmast spreaders to make us feel welcome.

Gloucester was famous as a fishing port once, their schooners fast and seaworthy. Gloucestermen they called them, the ships and the men. Tough, brave and salty. The pretty wooden row boats: Gloucester dories are famous too, and they rather bring to mind the Lunenburg dory. There’s a general sense of kinship with Lunenburg; both pretty fishing ports once bustling with ship building, engineering and all of the other industry supporting the fishing and supported by it. Now, more and more, both towns are selling their charms to the hospitality and tourism industries and art and crafts are flourishing. The nautical jobs are still there, but a niche now, perhaps a little nostalgia mixed with the commercial imperative. But sister towns nevertheless.

Ten of our crew, always up for a challenge, took on the Cape Ann rowing race, thae Blackburn Challenge it is called for a Newfoundland fisherman who rowed ashore in his dory lost from his schooner, hands frozen about his oars. While we were in Gloucester, around the cape they went, more than 6 hours of rowing over a course some 20 miles long. We heard incredulous talk from the locals that anyone would be mad enough to take such a big heavy boat around the course, but the gang did good, rowed all the way without asking for a tow and still smiling by the end. Mate Sean Bercaw raced in a dory and won first place in his section, receiving a big shiny medal and bragging rights for his efforts. But I’ll leave our rowers to tell their own story – tales of courage and endurance coming soon!

Whale ship style, we launched the monomoy at sea as we sailed in with Picton Castle the day before: hove to so the ship stopped in the water for a minute, launched the boat, and then braced the yards round so we continued on our way. Under Siri’s command the boat sailed in behind us and came back alongside Picton Castle once the ship was snug at anchor for the night before we came into dock in the morning.

We had a gang from the Mystic Seaport Museum aboard Picton Castle for a few days to come sailing with us. Mystic is a fabulous place and one of their projects is the restoration of the last of the wooden New England whale ships, the Charles W. Morgan. The plan is to sail her once she’s all fixed up so we figured if they’re going to sail a whale ship it would be good practice for them to launch a whale boat at sea just like the New England whalers of the 1800s did.

There have been a few whales around for the past few days too, but they were safe enough from our gang in the monomoy. Mineral oil has replaced just about everything the whale oil was used for and whalebone corsets are thankfully no longer in fashion. All we wanted from the whales was the thrill of the sight of them and some photographs for the album.

And now we’re sailing sedately along with most everything set, there’s a quiet calm about the place as the crew take their turn at the helm, lookout or doing ship’s work, the watch below snoozing or reading. We have double lookouts posted because of the fog, one at each rail on the forecastle head and all around is wintery white.

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Halifax

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Tuesday morning finds Picton Castle sailing northeast along the coast from Halifax which was the hub of the Nova Scotia tall ship festivals. From there the fleet has divided into two to visit the Nova Scotia outports. Picton Castle along with Bounty, Gazela, Peacemaker and company are heading north towards Port Hawkesbury and Pugwash for the last two festivals of our summer, while the other half of the fleet including Pride of Baltimore II, Lynx and Amistad are heading South for the festivals at Shelburne and Lunenburg.

There were sad goodbyes between the crews of the ships as the fleet starts to break up. Friendships have been building in every port, and it’s sad that we won’t all meet up again at the next festival. We’ll miss the rest of the fleet next year too when we’ll be in the South Pacific hopping between islands and they will be in the Great Lakes hopping between festivals. It was just like it’s always been with sailors waving goodbye to friends and sweethearts as they sail off to sea, the only difference now is that now the girl is as likely to be the sailor, and the one standing on the dock a boy.

It’s been a spectacular summer at all the ports and Halifax was a great event. Conspicuously well organised with brilliant work from our Liason Officers who, we are pretty sure, would have fetched us the moon on a stick if we’d asked for it.

There were the usual events: open ship with visitors touring the decks and taking each others’ photos at the wheel, a crew party at the Citadel (a big stine fort from the days of Halifax being the Gibraltar of the North) on top of the hill above the city, a blessing of the fleet with sailors singing ‘for those in peril on the sea’, enthusiastic more than tuneful. There were games for the younger crew and a crew parade with our gang looking great in tropical pareaus and goofy finery. They carried musics for their dancing, a huge Cook Islands flag from Avatiu in Rarotonga and the national flags of some of our motley crew (Danish, Grenadian, American, Canadian, Pitcairn Island, Norwegian, German, South African). Right now our crew includes citizens of eight nations and almost all were represented in the parade.

For evening activities there was plenty of live music and dancing, delicious seafood, outdoor films showing on the dock right next to our ship. I found a café open late that made me Turkish coffee and a spectacular chocolate brownie sundae. The diet starts tomorrow.

Right now we’re enjoying a fabulous sail up the coast. Storming along at seven knots with a nice fresh Force 5 on the starboard quarter, square sails are set to the topgallants and the sails all full of wind and looking fine. Headsail sheets are quivering gently under the pressure of the sails and the ship is racing along with an easy movement as she skips along over the small seas. The North Atlantic, so often grey and unfriendly, is a lovely shade of turquoise and scattered here and there with white foam. George is snoozing in the office, Donald is making lunch. The sun is shining making everything sparkle and all is well aboard Picton Castle.

Crew Parade 1
crew parade 2
Liason Officer J C and our fabulous Maggie
Pride of Baltimore II emerges from George Island

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Newport

By Kate “Bob” Addison

I’m sitting here amidships on the cargo hatch of the Barque Picton Castle under the awning, running the ship’s shop and using the moments of calm in between sales to type away on my laptop. It is a beautiful breezy summer day with SW winds blowing in off the sea. The hatch all around me is adorned with the hats and shirts that make up our shop, sailor tools and treasure from the South Seas too. Just one Bali sea chest left and it makes an excellent desk. We have some beautiful woven fabrics as well. The decks around the hatch are busy with dozens of visitors; they are milling about smartly, negotiating the ladders up and down to the quarterdeck and stopping here and there to ask questions of the crew or to coo over the cat. All types of people aboard: families with wide eyed children, young couples dressed up like they’re on a date, retired folks and the festival crowd in shorts and straw hats. The queues of people go way back along the dock, being directed and entertained by a delightful gang of volunteers. All signs indicate that we’re at another Tall Ships festival.

Tall Ships indeed. We’re alongside in Newport, Rhode Island for the Ocean State Tall Ships festival, the fourth big public event for the Picton Castle this summer. The fleet of Bounty, Pride of Baltimore II, Lynx, Summerwind, Gazela, Unicorn, Peacemaker, Mystic Whaler, Providence and Sir Martin II are spread out along the long, bustling waterfront, colourful bunting flying from their rigging, their masts standing out from the sea of yachts.

Newport is very, very yachty. It has ten yacht clubs based here in the harbour and the moorings out in the harbour and piers all along the town are chock-a-block with varnished wood beauties and sleek carbon fiber sailing machines. Just the shiny white gel coats on some of these boats look like they would cost as much as a small house. Ashore there are plenty of restaurants and bars catering for the shore-side yachtsman, and heaps of shops selling stuff for your yacht, yachting clothes and things for your house with pictures of yachts on them. These things are generally labeled ‘objet’ and priced accordingly.

Newport is justifiably proud of its sailing heritage, and local and international regattas are regular events here. The America’s Cup boats were in town last week: a fleet of 45-foot catamarans with 70-foot fixed wing sails. The boats (if you can even call them ‘boats’?) look more like windsurfers and fly as much as they sail. They were based over by Fort Adams on the other side of the harbour from Newport; their crews using cranes to take the masts and sails out of the boats for shipping when we arrived. Very different to the 145 foot mono-hull J-boats built for the America’s Cup in the 1930s, and 65ish 12 metre class sloops, several of which are still moored up in Newport Harbour. A world away from our lovely sea-going square-rigged sailing ship.

Picton Castle is docked in a really tight berth here at Bannister’s Wharf: right in the middle of town, with the famous Black Pearl and Clarke Cooke House both offering hospitality and refreshment less than a minute’s walk away, and our bowsprit reaching meters from an excellent coffee shop. It was tight enough to get in, but the Captain has had some experience at parking this barque and we got in sweet enough. Bannister’s Wharf has been a perfect place for our ship at this event and they have been very good to us. It helps being so close to all of these fantastic restaurants, cafes and ice cream shops!

The big private yachts all around us are mostly occupied by crew rather than owners, hard at work and they look very snappy in their matching white shirts and khaki shorts, all clean and ironed and smart. They are a nice bunch too, hard working, friendly and polite. But I’d much rather be one of our grubby gang than working on a shiny boat. Probably I’m biased, but I do think we have more fun. Although of course they get to sail to some amazing places too, and probably have the use of washing machines.

One of the awesome things we did over the weekend was to visit to the Surface Warfare Officer School, or SWOS. U. S. Naval Officers train here in big simulators to practice taking command of warships. Less hazardous to experience your first hurricane or enemy attack in a simulator than in real life, and any errors less expensive too. We were very well looked after by all at SWOS, who really couldn’t have been more accommodating, and it was fascinating for the gang to see the other end of the maritime training spectrum.

Then there was a Captains’ toast at the New York Yacht Club, very fancy. Though we were dressed up in our best uniforms of black and white aloha shirts, matching skirts or trousers and shoes(!), they wouldn’t let us in for the want of jackets and ties. But the necessary articles were procured and the view from the front lawn was spectacular once we were appropriately atired. This place is so famous that the seamanship textbook we study onboard defers to the NYYC in matters of dress and decorum. Our dress code on board is somewhat more relaxed, with ties strictly optional, so it was fun to see some of our gang scrub up for the occasion. We had no idea…

And then the festival was finished, just some precision manouvering to get off the dock, a parade of sail out of the harbour, and we call Newport job well done. Time for us to get offshore and spend some time on sail training, which is, after all our real purpose in life. At least until the next festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the 19th…. see you there?

Open ship
Parade o sail
Undocking from a tight spot
Victor, Gabe, Signe and Elisabeth stow the spanker

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Bristol Bosun School

4 July 2012

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Picton Castle is heading south from Bristol, Rhode Island towards Newport, RI for the Ocean State Tall Ships event starting tomorrow. The sun’s come out after a greyish start to the day and hands are aloft right now loosing sail. Donald’s making lunch, looks amazing – fried chicken, salad and watermelon.

We’ve been alongside in Bristol for the last ten days, running an introductory Bosun School there; a short version of our main Bosun School that will run from August 6 – October 1 this summer in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.

So what is Bosun School? The bosun (boat’s swain) on a ship is the most senior seaman, and has responsibility for maintenance and repair of the deck and rig. So Bosun School is a land based school to teach these skills to young sailors. A chance for the young mariner to learn and advance rigging, sailmaking and all manner of ship maintenance skills away from the routine and distractions of life at sea, our Bosun School is run when the ship is alongside a dock so we have more time for bigger projects, and an emphasis on learning and practicing different things to when we’re at sea. We basically teach much the professional sailor should know that you won’t learn at officer school and is actually hard to learn at sea, believe it or not.

We had three main projects on the go during our Bristol Bosun School with three watches rotating around each morning so everyone got to spend some time on each project. We were concentrating on sailmaking, overhauling the capstan and carpentry work on the spanker boom.

Third mate Siri Botnen was leading the sailmaking in our temporary sail loft. We got the whole suit of schooner sails laid out and seamed, and the mainsail also has all the tabling, reefing bands and corner patches sewn on too. The gang did a great job and enjoyed the work – lots done, lots more to do!

The second project was a mechanical one, lead by first mate Michael Moreland and chief engineer David Brown: the capstan up on the forecastle head hadn’t been taken apart and overhauled for years, so we stripped it down and everyone got a turn helping to clear it of rust and grub and goop. It was interesting to see how it fits together and understand how it all works with the gears giving you mechnical advantage and pawls to stop it from slipping backwards. We use the capstan for mooring up the ship sometimes – with up to eight people leaning into their capstan bars and walking round and round we can get enough force on the mooring line to haul the ship in to the dock. We use it to tack down the foresail too. “Board the tack” is the order and with the capstan heaving down on the clew we really can get the leading edge of the sail board tight.

Lastly, we had a carpentry workshop running aft with second mate Sam Sikkema and his gang. They fixed up one fo our Bali sea chests for sale, practiced sharpening and caring for tools and did lots of work on the spanker boom. The spanker boom needed a dutchman inset to replace an area of soft wood. I’ve heard the name came about because Dutchmen were thought too mean to replace a whole plank or spar if it could possibly be patched up instead. Well, the Dutch people I’ve met have all been perfectly generous so I couldn’t possibly comment. Sam and his team did a lovely job, and the boom is now back on the mizzen mast with the sail bent back on – it all looks great. We discovered some real carpentry talent among the crew too.

The afternoons were mostly taken up with sailing and rowing the small boats, trips to local nautical museums, and a bit of time off for everyone. We also had instuctional sessions with the Captain teaching us about sail theory, and chief engineer David Brown taking small groups into the engine room to learn the basics of our mechanical systems: starting and stopping the main engine and the fire pumps. We did lots of provisioning too – lots of new rope and new house batteries gearing up for our upcoming South Pacific Voyage, and plenty of food for the next couple of weeks.

When we get to Lunenburg later in the summer there will be another exciting project to add to the Bosun School mix too: we’ll be rigging up the brand new 50’ Lunenburg schooner and helping to launch her, a very exciting project for the students!

All very busy, everybody worked very hard and learned plenty. We enjoyed Bristol too. It’s a pretty small place, which boasts the longest running 4th of July parade anywhere in the country – it will be the 227th parade this year, so there was a serious of open air concerts by the water, fireworks and all sorts of festivities. The houses are all decorated with stars and stripes flags, bunting, even red white and blue bedding plants. And along the parade route even the line painted on the middle of the road is red white and blue! All together alot of fun. Happy fourth of July!

Drying sails at the dock
Hammer and DB loading batteries
operation seachest
Working on the capstan

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Sailmaking and Aase’s Birthday

28 June, 2012

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Firstly, Happy Birthday to AB Aase and thanks to Dr Jen and her gang for making the cream and berry layered cakes – yum!

I am sitting in the gymnasium of an old empty granite military barrack in Bristol, Rhode Island, USA. It’s a sunny summer’s day outside so the cool of this high-ceilinged hall is very pleasant. The Picton Castle is alongside the pier behind me, just a two minute walk along the water past the fishermen all lined up in the hot sun with their rods and chairs. Her sails are drying in the morning sun.

Five of my shipmates are here too – they’ve set up the huge Singer sewing machine in this big clean space and they’re busy stitching together the cloths of a new sail that we laid out this week. When they pause their stitching for a minute to move the heavy canvas to a new seam, the sound of the machine’s quick clunk is replaced by the mellow sound of Siri’s music drifting from her computer.

Seaming the cloths is one of the first stages in making a sail. The clothes or big strips of cotton canvas are rolled out onto the floor of the ‘sail loft’, cut a bit longer than the right length and sewn together with long seams the length of the fabric to make the strips into a big sheet of canvas roughly the size and shape of a sail, but with stepped edges where the clothes are cut off square at the ends. The next stage is to trim it all to a smooth sail shape. And then the sails are finished by hand with tabling, patches, grommets, roping and reefing points all sewn in. Finishing by hand takes a good deal longer than seaming with a machine, maybe we should re-name it middling and finishing.

These sails are made of a tan cloth called Duradon, contrasting with Picton Castle‘s sails of white cotton canvas. They are destined for a brand new wooden schooner being built right now in Lunenburg, Nova Scoia and due to be launched this August. The soon-to-be owner of this fine vessel? None other than Picton Castle shipmate extrordinaire, returning crew and star of stage and screen: heart throb Ollie Campbell! Swoon! (Editors note: you can tell a girl is writing this, yuck.) Ollie really wanted us to make them so there we go. We’re enjoying making these schooner sails – great learning experience for the Bosun School gang to be able to see how this kind of sails are made and satisfying to see the project to the finish.

The sail is designed on paper first with triangles and geometry and sharpened pencils and the shape marked out on the floor so it fits the vessel. We’re using masking tape on this floor so it comes off again afterwards – we don’t leave a permanent reminder we were here! In a real sail loft they use pins rather than tape, and sometimes just draw the sail on the loft floor.

For a fore-and-aft sail the straight edges of the sail are not straight lines, but curved slightly out at the luff and in at the leech to help give the finished sail its 3-dimentional shape. Ideally a cross section of the sail isn’t flat like a sheet of paper but moulded like an aeroplane wing with a flat leech (that’s the forward edge attached to mast or stay) and then has a belly about 1/3 of the way out towards the luff (that’s the aft edge that goes flappy if you sail too close to the wind). I find it fascinating that sails work like just like aeroplane wings: the difference in length between the long side and the short side of the curve affect the air pressure either side of the sail so it’s sucked forwards towards the side with lower pressure. If the sail is attached to a boat or a ship then it pulls the vessel along with it. Physics says so. In fact the only time that the wind pushes rather than pulls us along is heading dead downwind with the wind coming straight from behind.

This sailmaking is a fascinating skill to learn, too. I think it’s good for any sailor to understand more deeply how their beautiful, silent engines are built and how they do their work. The hand skills of stitching by machine and hand are pretty handy too – don’t have to sail too many miles offshore before being able to mend or reinforce an old or damaged sail become very useful. And in the unlikely event that you don’t carry on sailing after your trip on the Picton Castle at least you’ll know how to stitch your own curtains. And, of course, no one is better than a sailmaker for patching ones jeans.

Birthday Aase!
Cutting the cloth
Siri, Drea and Abbey seaming
The first cloth

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Block Island

By Kate “Bob” Addison

June 22, 2012

It’s Friday morning and there’s an air of quiet industry here aboard Picton Castle, at anchor off Old Harbour, Block Island. We sailed in yesterday, dropped the hook just before midday.

We sailed up the lee (east) side of Block Island in the early morning sun and light westerly breezes. As the morning wore on more small sportfishing boats came out to their favorite spots just off the island, just in time for us to sail through them! Styling we were, tacking the ship and sailing onto the hook with just Siri’s watch plus idlers, no more than ten at the lines – Donald looking after the foresheets just as the cook would have done in a commercial sailing ship back when ships like ours were commonplace. Let go the lee sheet, haul away the weather! The sheets are right by the galley of course, and Donald is terribly talented. The ship would have had about the same crew as just one watch in those days too: the big salon full of cargo not bunks for trainee crew, so it’s nice that we’re getting good enough to sail her well, just as they would have done.

We looked very pretty there in the sunshine, squares set to the royals as we skirted the island to make our anchorage. People out fishing from small boats seemed very surprised to see us, maybe because we’re so quiet slipping along under sail, look up from your fishing rod and bam! Square rigger! White sails held aloft in a great pyramid, crew bustling around – climbing up things and hauling on lines. It’s almost like they don’t get ships sailing up to anchor much in these parts anymore. We sailed right up to the breakwater at the harbour’s entrance.

But it’s all in a day’s work aboard Picton Castle. And now, here at anchor, all hands are doing ship’s work in the mornings, one watch peeling off to stretch their legs ashore each afternoon. It’s good conditions to practice driving the skiff for the runs ashore too. Lots of projects going on: Drea and Siri are up on the quarterdeck mending the old foresail; Niko, Alex and Gabe in the Monomoy cleaning and prepping for painting; Aase and Elisabeth giving the decks a nice drink of oil – a matched pair of Danish sailor-girls working away in each breezeway. Sam is varnishing the sailmaking benches up on the foc’sle head. Donald cooking something delicious in his galley, with his team of assistants cleaning and sorting Tupperware in the scullery. Captain and I are busily tapping away at computers in the office.

In fact the only soul aboard not busy with something is young ship’s cat George. Sprawled out in the office, head lolling and paws akimbo. His life is one of luxurious idleness. The only sign he’s still alive is the furry tiger belly rising and falling and the occasional whisker twitch as he takes relaxing to the extreme.

Aase oiling
Gabe sanding the monomoy
George relaxing
George still relaxing

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