Captain's Log

Archive for the 'World Voyage 4' Category

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Ascension Island, South Atlantic

The Picton Castle is still under full sail and sailing along nicely at about 5 knots. The weather today is gorgeous and a moderate/light breeze keeps the sun from feeling like it is scorching us. I feel particularly thankful for it, especially when I have just heard from our voyage coordinator that it is snowing today in Lunenburg! Yikes, it’s nearly May! We get so spoiled with our weather for the most part.

Today Lynsey continues her work on the Mizzen stay with the help of Jack. Ryan is in the bosun’s chair slushing down the maintop-mast-stay; he shouts down what he wants the line handler to do. The line handler right now is Amanda who is standing right outside my chart-house office window repeating the commands: “EASE AWAY!” “EASE THE GANT LINE!” and “THAT’S WELL!” Before her it was Rebecca repeating them. It’s becoming one of those mantra things and I find myself waiting for the next shout! Oh, there it is, “THAT’S WELL! GANTLINE’S FAST.” Right. Phew.

Anyway, the watch are sprucing up the paint job on the breezeway overhead. I don’t know what the carpenters are doing, but I did note that their mess was not as bad as it usually is—and my window in the office seems to have gone missing, so maybe that is their work for today. Joe made soup and fresh rolls for lunch, which was very nice. This afternoon we have a power shower at 1600 hrs and then the AB workshops and studying will continue afterwards.

We did our second island drive-by yesterday, sailing by Ascension Island five miles off the port side. We had no intentions of stopping, and I don’t think anyone really wanted to; we seem only now to have got back to the easy at-sea routine. I do not know that much about Ascension apart from the fact that it has a military base on it and an airport. But it looked very barren and dry. It is owned by the UK and really only visited by passing yachts crossing the Atlantic. It has a long air strip that can accommodate the space shuttle should it need to land somewhere besides the US. During World War II, Ascension was a major refueling spot for bombers flying to Africa. No GPS navigation back then. So the saying was, “If you don’t find Ascension, you wife gets a pension.” The whole island looked dry and barren, and anyway we are off for greener islands, and we have lots to do at sea—too busy for islands.

Amanda is Ryan s Line handler while he is in the Bosun s chair
Ascension Island visible on the way to Fernando
Easter dinner on the way to Fernando
J.D. on helm and Andrea D., Kolin, Andy, and Joelle take a noon sight
Kolin on helm on the way to Fernando
Sails on the way to Fernando

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South Atlantic Easter Weekend

Happy Easter to all those folks at home; enjoy that chocolate and the long weekend!

The Picton Castle is under full sail including stun’s’ls. It’s a sunny day out here—not too hot, not cold, and gorgeous blue skies. The Picton Castle is making just more than 5 knots and that’s a nice speed—not lumpy, just a graceful roll here and there. It’s Saturday, and when at noon the watch is finished tarring, oiling, sanding, and painting there are plenty of workshops to look forward to: Susannah and Rebecca are showing how to make seabags and tote bags, but only for those who have finished their ditty bags!

A ditty bag is a small, cylindrical canvas bag with a rope handle. We fill them with “ditty,” which can be a sail palm, a fid, twine—basically it is a sailor’s tool bag. Making a ditty bag is an excellent exercise in sail-making. You learn to make grommets, how to stitch, how to measure canvas and how to do different types of rope work. For those who have not finished their ditty bags there will also be a help workshop on ditty bag making. For some crew their ditty bag has become their nemesis (I am not naming any names)!

For those with stars in their eyes, First Mate Sam is starting to teach celestial navigation. She will start from the beginning again for those who are new and for those who either did not attend the last workshops or who, like me, just never quite get it. It is a very useful skill to have and interesting, too. The South Atlantic is a very good place to practice doing noon sights, twilight, and generally getting the hang of using a sextant. For the more advanced, Sam is also doing star sights.

There are AB workshops for those who want to study for their Able-Bodied Seaman exams on our return. The AB exam covers a wide range of subjects—safety at sea (including first aid), rules of the road, navigation, and laws and regulations of being at sea. These guys can easily pass it with a little bit of preparation and a heads-up on what to expect! Second Mate Greg is leading workshops in studies for learning to pass the Coast Guard AB test and will at some point he will also do a rope-mat workshop.

So it is a busy time on board and every one should have something that they are up to!

I am hoping that all my pestering has paid off and Joe will spend some time making hot cross buns. We will hope and wait!

2nd Ditty Bag Workshop on way to Pitcairn 214
Catharine tarring on the way to Fernando
Drew on helm on the way to Fernanndo
Ivan and Laura on the way to Fernando
Joelle on galley duty on the way to Fernando
Mike sanding, Bruce oiling hinges, and Andrea, dayman rigger
Under sail at sunset on the way to Fernando

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Leaving St. Helena

We need wind. Not too much. Not a gale. But more than a puff would be useful. A nice Force 4/5 would do the trick.

There are many superstitions that sailors of old and sailors of now still believe, if not overtly vocally, then definitely in their minds. For example, on board you never whistle. The only shipmates who are allowed to whistle are the youngest and the oldest. Whistling brings up the wind, but how much wind? One must be very careful with this. Knock on wood—but not if it is a chair—after you say something that may jinx you.

We have found ourselves under full sail going just over 2 knots. Well, we need to go a little bit faster if we want to get to Fernando de Noronha in under a month! So we sent Pania, who is the youngest (it has to be the youngest), to scratch the main mast and aloft as high as she can go to sweep the air with a broom. This ritual is supposed to sweep the wind towards us. While she was there we also had her stick the tip of her knife in the mast—gently, not stabbing. No more gales, thank you!

Amanda paid the toll to Neptune, and maybe that will bring some wind. We even threw in a Canadian dime with the schooner Bluenose on it. We think that must be lucky! We asked the Captain nicely for just a little whistle, not a full bar of a song just a few notes.

Now we wait and see if any of this gets Neptune’s notice!

In the meantime the 8–12 watch and the riggers—Rebecca, Amanda, Ollie, Jack, Vicki, and Andrea M.—get ready the stun’s’ls. These sails can give us up to another knot of speed and the wind is plenty light enough for them right now.

The carpenters—Logan, Bart, and Bruce—are working on being efficient daymen! Lynsey is laying new tiles in the inside head, which Ivan concreted yesterday. John Kemper is assisting being a watch officer on the 8–12 watch, and engineers Danie and David are working on the fresh water pump on the port Lister.

Joe is making chicken salad, tomato soup, and pasta salad for lunch. All is well on the Picton Castle.

PS: Just an hour later, maybe our superstitions paid off. We now are going just over three knots!

Amanda pays Neptune for some wind
Amanda with coins to pay Neptune
Captain whistling up some wind on the way to Fernando
Pania sweeps the sky on the way to Fernando
Pania, the youngest, scratches the main mast on the way to Fernando

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St. Helena

The Island of St. Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic, besides being a striking piece of volcanic rock in the middle an ocean far from anywhere, is quite the cross-roads, literally. St. Helena is best known probably for the incarceration of Napoleon Bonaparte but on a larger scale of thinking that would have to stand as some sort of footnote. This island is one of the last remnants of the British Empire, an empire that was largely gracefully surrendered over the last 60 years.It is only accessed by sea and although the talk of building an airport has been going since the last time we were here, it will not happen for at least another five or six years, with a bill of about 400 million pounds. Wow! There is only really one town and that is Jamestown, built up along the valley. It is one long, steep main street consisting of some great little stores that sell everything from cat toys and Easter eggs to carpenters’ tools. There are a few guest houses and a hotel, which very nicely put up with us for several nights of dancing in their bar! The main street is a mixture of the old and new, with pleasant colonial architecture. It’s a very interesting little spot. The buildings are all very old; most date back to early 1800s, and some from the early 1700s. Many have solid teak floors and timbering to keep termites away. Jamestown looks a bit like some little town in Cornwall. As in England, it rains off and on for most of the day in St. Helena also!

The crew spent time going up to see Longwood where Napoleon was kept, a nice cottage, even by today’s standards, with superb gardens. They even still have his jello molds up there! I would say three-quarters of the crew climbed Jacob’s ladder, all 700 steps, although Kjetil swears blind there are only 698! We ate at Donny’s, down on the waterfront, where we could see all the action of the mail ship, and in Ann’s café, where, if I do say so myself, they make rather a smashing bacon sandwich.

One of the most exciting events in the annual St. Helena calendar happened while we were there—the arrival of the mail and supply ship. The HMS St. Helena is the last of the royal mail ships. It comes from the UK twice a year, and on it this time were the returning Commonwealth Games team, returning islanders, and a LOT of mail (it was bigger by far than any mail call we have ever had!) Also on board were 70 cars and a bus, as well as all the supplies for the supermarkets and shops. When I went to clear out the Picton Castle , the customs warehouse was crazy; they had islanders coming to pick up their mail in trucks. I happily said it was like Christmas. The customs officers laughed and said that at Christmas it was five times worse! Holy moley!

The Saga Rose Cruise ship also came in for an afternoon while we were there. We had an engineering question, so Danie, our chief engineer, went over to ask for some help and advice. Danie came back to the Picton Castle wide eyed, exclaiming that their engine room was “Wild—three stories high, with its own cafeteria and everything!” I think it was the best birthday present Danie had ever had, visiting their enormous engine room. Dave, the engineer on the Saga Rose, helped us out, and many thanks to him and the engineers onboard the HMS St. Helena, as well as to all those Islanders who helped us with our port Lister generator. It was more than greatly appreciated!

But time was escaping us and soon it was time to go. The wind had been blowing us off the island for the previous five days, and we were going to make the most of it and sail off the hook. We did, but just as we were leaving the wind died down a little. Ho hum. It would come back, we hoped!

Ann s Place for lunch, and Jacob s 700 steps behind, St. Helena.
Jamestown, nestled in the valley. St. Helena
Main Street in Jamestown, St. Helena
Picton Castle at anchor in James Bay, St. Helena
Saga Rose leaving St. Helena
Sailing off the hook, St. Helena
Unloading containers from the mail ship, St. Helena

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Steaming Towards St. Helena

Maybe we used up our allotted wind for the week during the gale on Monday, because right now there really isn’t too much of it! The main engine is on and we are motoring towards St. Helena, about 750 nm away. Yesterday the weather was beautifully warm, and shockingly enough most of us had our shorts on with our lily white legs exposed to the sun. This morning the clouds and rain are back and so are the long pants.

This week life has started to take on the regular routine of being at sea. Tracy is now a Dayman sailmaker, as are Margot and Ivan—oh, yes, and Chibbley. Logan and Bart, the daymen carpenters, are still busy putting back together our new and posh-looking inside head. Becky and Andrea M. have been busy in the Bosun’s chair high up in the rig, slushing the stays. Logan finished another deck box for the quarterdeck, on the port side this time. John Kemper has been busy finishing the varnish in the new and improved after-cabin passageway. Ollie, Rebecca, and Amanda continue to do rigging with the help of their new rigger, Jack Hubbard. David Matthews and Andrea Deyling are still being diesel dorks, helping Danie in the Engine Room. Kjetil, Kolin and Zimmer are all lead seamen now, which means that they help liaise between what the Watch Officer needs the watch to do and making it happen.

The new crew who joined us at Cape Town—Laura Gainey, Joelle Plouffe, Steve Nash, Mike Wolfe, John Williamson, Andy Cook, Drew Greenlaw (and, of course, returning crew Papa Jack and Vicki Sullivan)—are all doing well and learning fast, fitting in quickly. But having so many pollywogs onboard may just have something to do with the weather Neptune is sending us eh? Hmmm…

Andrea Moore in the bosun s chair, Namibia to St Helena
Andy Cook priming, Namibia to St. H.
Erin on helm, squally skies behind, Namibia to St. Helena
John Williamson, Namibia to St. H.
Laura Gainey on the helm, Namibia to St. H.
Mike Wolfe on galley, Namibia to St H.

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Approaches to Luderitz:Blowing a Holy Hooley!

Holy Moley! It is blowing a gale, no joke! Last night the watches took in royals. This morning t’gallants came in. I woke up this morning and we were blazing along at 9 knots. Since then the wind has picked up even more and we have taken in more sail; now the Picton Castle is under just upper and lower topsails and we are still making over 8 knots!

Namibia is on our starboard side, very flat and due to the swells sometimes goes out of view entirely. The sea state is incredible: sea lions are jumping up out of the waves, and even the penguins are paddling along and loving it! However, it is terribly cold. We are all wrapped up in whatever we can find to layer onto us—foulie gear, foulie boots, hats, scarves, sweaters, fleeces, you name it! Oh, how I wish I had some socks!

Right now the Captain is on the radio to the Luderitz harbour authorities trying to figure out the state of the harbour. The big question is, Can we even get in there right now? Soon find out.

[Later] Well, as it turns out, it really IS blowing too hard—35–40 knots. It is blowing too hard for us to get into the harbour, too hard for us to heave-to, and it�s impossible to anchor. So we will go with the wind and are setting course to St. Helena, 1,326 miles away to the WNW. At least it should start to get warmer soon. Surprise!

Erin on the helm on the way to Namibia
Going 8.1 under lowers and uppers!
Namibia on the starboard side
Wrapped up warm--Susannah, Andrea M, Johnk K., and Sam stand by on the quarterdeck

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In the Atlantic Ocean Again — at Last!

It doesn’t seem possible but we were in Cape Town for more than a month! The time flew by in a haze of contractors, dirt, dust, school children, family, receptions, sightseeing, visits to Christel house, wine-tastings, and way, way too much food! The crew have been busy comparing what we have started to refer to as our “Cape Town Belly”; it wobbles and moves with a mind of its own and we have no control over it, our trousers don’t want to do up, and we can’t wear shorts because we have no tan left after wearing pants for 4 weeks. Besides, it is still a little chilly!

Cape Town is an amazing city with more to do than you can fit in, in one month. South Africa as a country could keep you going for at least 5–6 months, and you still wouldn’t be done exploring. But we had 4 weeks and we gave it all a good shot. Jack, Rebecca, John K., Zimmer, Andrea Deyling and her sister, Papa Jack, and Bruce all went shark diving, and most of the crew made it up to the Van Schalkwyk farm in the Free State where they were kept busy driving tractors and herding sheep. Many of us went on safaris. We spotted the Big Five munching grass and petted cheetahs (you can actually do that at the reserve were they raise this endangered species). We drove the garden route, and we tried to go whale-watching in Hermanis, where—believe it or not—they get over a hundred whales at a time in their harbour. They also have the only town whale crier in the world.

Most of us went up Table Mountain a couple times. At the top is a lovely little café where you can sit and watch the sun go down with a truly breathtaking view of Cape Town, Table Bay, Robben Island, and miles of shimmering Atlantic Ocean. We had braii after braii, which is a South African barbeque—usually no vegetables, just meat and lots of it, including Springbok, Kudo and Ostrich as well as beef and chicken. Sometimes you will even get crocodile! And of course, we had the whole Christel House School come for visits, as well as Trinity school. It was great!

The Picton Castle also hosted a reception for the Cape Horners Windjammers Society, the sailors who sailed on the big four-masted barques like the Passat and Lawhill. Those were the guys who sailed around the Horn. We ate and listened as they told stories—very cool!

I said when we left Cape Town the ship would look like “da bomb. ” Well, she looks pretty good. We did tons and tons of work. The crew has done a lot of rigging and overhauling, as well as the obvious things like painting and the less-obvious things like helping overhaul the water tanks. Brett and Danie have been hugely busy down in the Engine Room where we did a lot of engineering work. Joe has provisioned us almost all the way home. All in all, I think we had a great stay—productive and fun. We laid out lots of sails including an upper-topsail we made for the last sailing whale ship, the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport Museum at Mystic, Connecticut. This sail we will sew completely by hand on the upcoming ocean passage.

It is always sad to leave a place where there is so much you still want to do and where you have enjoyed being, but there is also always the pull to get going, to get back to sea, to start your next passage. We are, as ever, sad to say goodbye to our friends and family we leave behind. All 500 kids of the Christel House School came to bid us farewell yesterday and give us one final dance on the quayside. They shouted and cheered as we cast off our lines, and we shouted and cheered back as well, honking our horn. This leg has us running up toward the tropics and closer to home now. It feels great to be out at sea! Goodbye Indian Ocean. Hellllooo, South Atlantic!

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Cape Town III: The Table Cloth is Filling In

The dominant and signature feature of the city of Cape Town, South Africa is, without doubt, Table Mountain. This huge flat-topped mound of ancient stone looms high over the bright lights, office buildings and neighborhoods of Cape Town. A soaring wall of stratified rock behind Cape Town, it seems more like a massive primordial fortress created eons ago before the ice ages by a race of giants now long gone than any possible natural formation. London has Big Ben. Paris has the Eiffel Tower and L’Arc de Triomphe. San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. Cape Town has Table Mountain. A day spent at the top of Table Mountain is well worth it. You can hike up and down if you have the legs for it or you can take a completely state-of-the-art cable car to the top. From the “Table Top” the vista is truly stunning. The panorama of the city and the harbour appear far below—a shimmering sea stretching to the horizon, Robben Island (university to today’s leaders of this amazing country), ships from many nations at anchor in Table Bay awaiting their turn to come in to discharge or load at the wharves of this busy port—all give the mountain-top gazer a sense of god-like outlook on the small world below. The wily rock dassie will be lurking in wait for you as you serenely cast your eyes from this top of the world.

But this exquisite view is not always possible. Sometimes it is lost to us small mortals. In fact, at times even the very mountain itself disappears from view. The Table Cloth is responsible for this Olympic conjuring trick. What is this “Table Cloth”? What does the arrival of this old rag portend?

Our Table Cloth is a layer of cloud that builds up on the southeastern side of Table Mountain, the side away from the city, created by moist sea breezes blowing in off the warm Indian Ocean. This layer builds and builds and finally pushes over the perimeter of our Mountain forming a snow-white cap to Taffel-Berg and then a fringe spilling over the edge tumbling down the shear face seemingly towards the city, like a slow-motion waterfall of wispy cotton. It gives every indication that this white miasma will absorb the city and make it disappear. But this does not happen. The clouds tumble over the side and evaporate like so much opaque mist burning in the white-gold sunlight baking against the hot rocks.

What does the Table Cloth mean? It means is that it is going “to blow like holy hooly!,” to quote one Miss Kimberly Helms. It is going to blow a stiff gale out of the southeast or what they call hereabouts a “South East Buster.” Gales; ships at anchor let go a second hook and let out more chain or try to get into the harbour. White caps will form in the short fetch of inner basins of the port. Ship maneuverings inside the breakwaters may be put on hold for a day or two lest a tanker or container ship get out of control even with the aid of powerful tugs. Our little ship will list in the gales right at our snug berth at the Victoria & Alfred Basin, dry dust blowing hard across her decks. And then in a day or so the winds will become breezes, even gentle ones. The Picton Castle will rest at her moorings, ships will arrive and sail again, and the sharp, flat edge of Table Mountain will once again become the skyline of Cape Town, South Africa. The African sun never left us as the blasting wind scoured this southern tip of the continent.

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Cape Town II

Wow! I said it would be busy on the Picton Castle in Cape Town, but I’m not certain even where to start on just how busy. Right now as I write this, I can hear several drills, see sparks from a welder, hear unbearably loud banging, hear shouts from aloft, and smell paint. There is so much going on that is loud, messy, smelly, and dirty. It is not our prettiest. We have the cargo hatch wide open re-loading the food and rearranging the supplies down there; there are bits being painted here or chipped there; some ladders are no longer there and some rigging work here and dirt everywhere.I have had to explain to visitors, friends, and parents that this is not what is called “ship-shape,” this is called “ship yard visit.” I don’t know if they believe me, but it’s true—heads are torn apart to be overhauled and painted and insulated. People’s bunks literally look like someone burgled them. Either crew left in a hurry of digging for shore clothes or they have been digging for goods to give to family and friends or to send home from here. The ship itself is not looking so hot! But when we are done in Cape Town, even those who don’t like ships are going to say we are “Da bomb!”

The weather has been lovely and cool the last couple of days, only to have a sudden heat wave attack us today. It is warm and dry with no breeze, but it makes for good paint drying weather! And no matter how you look at it, it is still much cooler than Reunion.

We have had 6 out of our 10 new people arrive, and it is fun getting to know them and showing them life on the ship. For the first few days they always kind of look a little shell-shocked, but it’ll be okay! Mums and Dads of the newbies: Don’t worry, we are looking after them!

Also on the news front is that the crew finally got to visit and meet the teachers and students of Christel House, South Africa ( It was a brilliant day and the kids still so amazing that I feel so lucky to visit their magical and wonderful school. They had a special assembly for us with lots of singing, dancing, and musical instruments, and their talent never ceases to astound me and others who were there. The only problem? They expect a return assembly! We do have a semi-band onboard at the moment and they do know one song. We can sort of do the dance they taught us in Palmerston, and we can sing to our discmans and ipods. But after seeing their shining faces do so many talented acts, we are just plain embarrassed to show them our stuff! However, what we can show them is our ship and their ship and actually we are pretty talented at that. So starting next week we will have approximately 120 children visit the ship every day until all have wandered around and patted Chibley to their hearts’ content. I can’t wait. It always so much fun to have kids on board and these kids are special to us. (I would like to say much more about this but will wait to write a log solely on Christel House and what they do).

Also on the schedule: Some have already gone to visit Danie and his family on their farm, most have taken winery tours, trips to Cape Point and Simonstown to see the penguins, over and down to the East to Knysa to eat oysters, motorcycle touring on Harleys, over to Robben Island— where those in the Freedom and Democracy movement spent so many years incarcerated—and looks around the District 6 Museum, which documents urban renewal old-Apartheid style, kind of rough.

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Cape Town Chaos I

Okay, first things first. Thank you, everyone, for all the mail and the letters that you sent to us. It really is so exciting to receive mail, and it is still coming! Maybe we will have 3 weeks of mail! Ohhhhh! Ahhhh!

We are not the only Tall Ship in Cape Town at this time. The very pretty Swedish East Indiaman replica, the Gotheborg is up alongside near us. She is a replica of the original ship, which was wrecked here in Green Point, South Africa, in 1796. There is much mystery surrounding her sinking and no one ever knew for sure what caused it. Today she is a ship promoting Swedish business interests and is on a voyage to China. Millions of dollars are involved.

The chaos and busy-ness started early on Tuesday morning by unloading the hold of everything you can imagine. Totes lined the dock next to us filled with food, there was a chain of crew, and it really didn’t take us long. We also had the help of Danie’s two younger sisters, Carina and Alry. We couldn’t have done it without them!

There was paint, chalkboards, manilla line, old clothing and books for Christel House to distribute around to the different needy schools in and around Cape Town. AND then after lining everything up, we realized we were going to have to find a home for it elsewhere—YIKES! There was to be a reception on the dock as part of the celebration for having the Gotheborg in Cape Town. So we did a quick hooley around all our friends to get someone with a truck and a driver so that we could take the books to Christel House and create some space on the dock. IOC, our chandlers in Cape Town, very kindly offered donated a truck and driver to take the supplies, and we honestly could not have done it without their lending a hand. Ollie, Rebecca, and Mike were chosen as the lucky to crew to go deliver the supplies to Christel House. The rest of us were very jealous!

The crew are making themselves at home here, and many family and friends have turned up in the last couple of days. So, they have been off doing the sights: visiting Robben Island, taking the cable car up to Table Mountain, eating and drinking wine, going to Simonstown to see the penguins, and going to Cape Point. They are all already on it! And, of course, making friends. We invited the crew of Gotheborg over the night before last to be able to share our ship with them. Well, we made lots of friends… there was lots of music… and maybe one or two beers! Just like us they have many talented musicians onboard, and so we put together an impromptu little concert. It was a blast.

More updates will come as I have them!

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