Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Reunion Island' Category

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Legs 3 & 4

“It feels like I belong here, like this is home” one of our gang aboard said the other day. Over the past three months, the crew have come to know the ship and each other well, increasingly becoming more than friends or coworkers as we all depend on each other and on the ship to carry us safely on our voyage. There is a word that describes this relationship-shipmates. To be considered a good shipmate is the highest praise for a mariner.

Picton Castle’s deep-sea voyages provide an adventurous seafaring opportunity that is rare and difficult to obtain by any other means. By being a crew member, you are very much an integral part of sailing the ship from port to port. Arriving somewhere having sailed there, having earned your way there, is much different than stepping off an airplane. Long deep ocean passages give you the chance to learn and practice seamanship skills, while short island-hopping passages test your snappy sail handling and ship handling skills. Add in visits to exotic ports and remote islands and a group of people from very different backgrounds who share a common love of their ship, and the result is a truly unique experience.

Crew members work hard and require a certain level of physical fitness in order to haul on lines, climb ladders and walk around a moving deck. While you have your own bunk, it will be in a compartment with a number of other bunks, so you must be able to get along well with other people. And most importantly, you have to make the commitment that other crew members before you have made, to always think of what is best for the ship and to act accordingly. Sailing aboard our beautiful barque is not for everyone but, for those who sign on, it can enrich your life.

All crew spaces on Leg 1 and Leg 2 of this voyage are full, but a few spaces will become available for Legs 3 and 4. Maybe you’ve been following along with the ship’s journeys from your home-now is your chance to step aboard and experience life as a square-rig sailor.

Begin your adventure by joining the ship in exotic Bali in November, then head out to sea for a long tradewind passage across the Indian Ocean. On this passage you will learn the names and functions of all 205 lines of running rigging that come down to deck, learn to steer the ship and keep lookout, and become familiar with the sails, parts of the ship and how things work. Put in at the French island of Reunion and explore this strikingly scenic volcanic isle. We also are looking into putting in to Madagascar and Mozambique. Set sail again for Cape Town, flying around the Cape of Good Hope with the strength of the Agulhas current. Take in South Africa, with off-duty pursuits ranging from shark cage diving to visiting vast game preserves to wine tasting. After a stay at Namibia we will have some of the most consistently perfect trade-wind sailing weather of the whole voyage crossing the South Atlantic, interrupted only for a brief stop at the remote island of St. Helena, site of Napoleon’s final exile. Carry on to Grenada and island-hop through the enchanting Lesser Antilles of the Eastern Caribbean, getting lots of practice with anchoring, sail manoeuvres and small boat handling. Ashore, enjoy local music – reggae, calypso, soca and steel pan- snorkelling, markets and much more. Then sail north next June, pausing at Bermuda, through the North Atlantic to Lunenburg to complete the voyage.

With a full 7 months of certified time at sea, you’ll be eligible to qualify for a first professional seafarer’s certification in most countries. Even if you don’t plan to go to sea again, you’ll find that the skills you’ve developed on board -resourcefulness, teamwork, responsibility-will serve you well. Your shipmates will become lifelong friends and you’ll have a trove of adventure stories to one day tell your grandkids. If the full 7 months is too long, consider joining for either Leg 3 (Bali to Cape Town) or Leg 4 (Cape Town to Lunenburg).

Think you have what it takes to be a good shipmate? Check out additional information on World Voyage 5 or contact our office for more details.

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Leaving Reunion Island

The time finally came yesterday for the Picton Castle to leave Reunion Island. The cyclone that had pestered us had blown itself out and gone safely over land, and the day was bright and gorgeous, a good day to leave. We fueled in the morning and finished our last-minute chores and it was time to go. As we prepared to leave, a fresh breeze picked up as it did most days on Reunion just after lunch, but today it was especially fresh. A tug was called to pull us off the fuel dock, which is very exciting as tugs are, of course, and then off we went.

I can not tell you how good it feels to be back at sea. A quiet routine, the watches resumed, and daymen getting on with their projects—how sweet it is. After our delay we have found ourselves out of time for stopping in Madagascar, so we will push on towards Cape Town. The passage to Cape Town should take us 17-20 days if the weather is good to us! If not, of course, it could take much longer. We have about 2,500 miles to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and into Table Bay. But right now we have a fair wind on the port quarter, all sail is set, and the helmsman is having an easy time of it.

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Waiting out a Cyclone

Reunion Island, Southwest Indian Ocean

The Picton Castle is alongside a wharf in the artificial harbour of Port Ouest on the northwest end of this roundish French island of Reunion deep in the southwest Indian Ocean. It is now coming up thick in the cyclone season in the Indian Ocean. Being at Reunion we are almost out of the Indian Ocean, but not quite. When we sailed from Rodriques 17 days ago, we had an area of “disturbed weather” off the northeast corner of Madagascar. This is a hot squally area and basically a kind of incubator for low-pressure systems that can turn into cyclones.

A week or so ago a not-very-impressive shallow low spun out of this area and started to make its way southwest into the waters between Reunion and Madagascar. All the predictions were saying that this was no big thing. All the computer models that the prognosticators use indicated a diminishing system. We expected to get under way a couple of days ago—get some fuel at the fuel station here in the basin, and sail off bound for Toliara in southwest Madagascar. Reunion had been good but we were all excited about getting to sea and Madagascar.

The night before sailing the wind picked up pretty strong in this little protected basin. The weather forecasts still predicted a diminishing system but the sky did not look like this to me. I decided to sit tight. Then a new report came in saying that this low had been upgraded to a tropical storm. Over the next few days this storm got upgraded to “severe” and then down to a “moderate” storm again. This could change back. Now it has stalled right in our way—”quasi-stationary” they call it. It continues to defy the predictors, and 50+ knots is a lot of wind. If you get stuck in like that you get to deal with it, but if you can dodge it that’s all for the good. And when sea-room is diminished by having the east coast of Madagascar downwind, which is like a wall without any meaningful harbours along its shore, it’s better to sit tight in a sweet place like Reunion Island. There is plenty to do here. Everybody’s French is improving, as are their friendships.

The sky is grey. There is a curious surge in the landlocked harbour that makes the Picton Castle tug at her mooring lines in a small jerking motion. The ship is secure, however. The watches continue with meaningful jobs getting done: a new hatch cover is finished and getting waterproofed, the main fife-rail is getting stripped, as are the teak ladders up to the quarter-deck, and a new lower-topsail is getting roped. The free watches are deepening their experience here in Reunion.

Soon we will be gone. Soon we will be leaving the Indian Ocean cyclone season behind as we head for the famous Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of the great continent of Africa. We will pass the Cape in high summer, the best time of year to make such a passage. The South Atlantic has no circular tropical storms. The water is too cold.

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Still in Reunion

A Severe tropical storm, called TS Boloetse, has formed between us and Madagascar. This storm is hanging just outside Reunion and off the Malagasy coast with high winds and high seas; the Captain has decided that we will wait for it to carry on by. The storm is dodging and weaving right in our way. So we are still in Le Reunion, not that we mind that much—fresh baguettes, great wine, and still so much to do here (it is so cool in the mountains!) that there weren’t too many complaints! We will wait until Monday morning and hopefully then it will be clear for us to go sailing.

So we’ve been up to all sorts. Sightseeing, as I mentioned in my last log, hiring cars and driving all around this beautiful place, eating till we can’t stand how round our bellies are, and hanging out. Onboard the watches are getting the ship ready and double-checking the rig for our turn around the Cape of Good Hope. It is important to make sure and then sure again that the rig is strong. Going around the Cape of Good Hope can be very dangerous, weird weather, large four-knot currents, and at times big seas. So we are preparing, as always, for the worst.

Ollie, Rebecca, Lynsey and Greg have been doing a lot of work on one of the port main shrouds—overhauling the turnbuckles and re-seizing—and the sailmakers are busy laying out a new main sail while we have all this room right beside the ship. The ship has been cleaned several times with our really high-pressure hose that the dock provides, and there is rust chipping and painting galore, as well as great weather for oiling the decks.

Joe has been buying up all the fresh veggies and cutting them up and freezing them. We love this, as we then have fresh vegetables much longer than usual when we are at sea. I honestly don’t think that there is anything they can’t grow here; they have beautiful sunshine and in the hills plenty of rain. The markets are chock a block full with every kind of fruit, vegetable and spice that you want.

With the extra days off in port that we now have, the crew have gone to check out the fresh water swimming holes, usually found at the bottom of the waterfalls. Picnics are prepared in the morning and there’s chatter of maybe the beach later in the day. The hire cars are back and the local bar is overjoyed that we are still here, as you can imagine!

We’ll keep you posted on the storm, but for now, we are sitting tight tied up alongside.

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Visiting the Furnace—Reunion Island

When the Picton Castle put into Reunion, I don’t think we realized where we were going. A small island in the Indian Ocean with more things to do than you can possibly imagine. The ship is alongside in Le Port, which is on the northwest corner of Reunion just west of Saint Denis, the island’s capital. As the crew soon learned, it is much easier to get around and do what you want to do in Reunion in a car. There is a line of white (because most of the cars are) rental cars alongside the ship, of various shapes and sizes. Most of the radios don’t work and very few have air conditioning, and not one of them has any hubcaps, but it feels good to have some freedom and mobility!

To drive around Reunion would take a while and though it has a quick coastal road, most of the most beautiful sights are inland. The coastal road has not only heavy traffic during rush hour but also has steep cliffs on the side, which are covered in heavy steel netting to stop the rocks falling on the road. They sometimes shut off the inside lane for months at a time. Yikes! You don’t want a sunroof around here!

As you start to go inland, what you may expect and what you get are quite different. A drive into the mountains or “La Cirques” as they are called—basically canyons left over from the volcanoes—you think it will be pretty but it is jaw-dropping gorgeous. You start the drive into the La Cirques by driving along the dried-up riverbed with some very steep cliffs on either side. Lush vegetation covers each cliff, with the dark volcanic rock poking out here and there. As you get higher there are definite Yikes! moments. To get to Cilaos, at the top, you must go up and through more than 200 switchbacks, a tiny windy road going off through dark tunnels only one-lane wide and carved literally out of the hills. Rocks litter the road all the way up and sometimes no wall borders the side of the narrow road as you keep going up and up. Sometimes the roadside wall has a nice car-shaped hole in it! YIKES! But oh, my! Was it worth it! The view was so amazing looking down into the valley with small villages nestling into the canyons. The colors seemed so vibrant. Flowers cover this whole island, and up in the mountains it was no different. We saw purple hydrangeas, roses, and loads of tropical flowers that I didn’t recognize that smelled amazing. Rainbows were covering the peaks as we drove up, and the cloud cover gradually got heavier and it got cold. Gloriously cold!

Entering Cilaos, you might think you had driven a high road through the Alps and ended up somewhere like Chamonix. The highest peak in the Cirques is about 11,500 feet. You can see this from the village and with mist rolling over it like a table cloth. Cilaos was a little French village with a spattering of shops, hotels, and restaurants, and covered from one end to the other in flowers. It was so beautiful I didn’t want to leave. I was happy chowing down on the fresh-grown lentils and drinking local wine. Yummy. But time goes so fast when in port and you feel like you must see it all. There were volcanoes to see yet, and active ones at that!

Going back down through the switchbacks is not quite as scary, as you aren’t on the edge of the road anymore! But you go down much faster than you go up! Then back along the coast to the southern tip of St. Pierre and then straight back inland and up and up again. “The Furnace” they call this still-active volcano, and yesterday they reported in the paper that it had stabilized after starting to erupt again before the holidays. We stopped at the first lookout as you go up. I honestly didn’t expect to see much as it had been so misty on the way up. Looking over the rail I found myself staring into an old lava flow, now a glorious valley filled with tiny hills and leading straight into the ocean. It was so beautiful. How, I wonder, can every view I see be better than the last? And still we go farther up. The switchbacks are not quite so scary and the road is much better maintained here. I am just starting to relax and put my feet up on the dashboard (I am not driving here!) when around the corner we go and there right in front of us is a moonscape. It’s part of the crater of the volcano and just a strange but pretty sight. A dirt road runs along the bottom of the crater to get you the rest of the way up. What a crazy sight!

The rest of the drive up I spend wondering if it is worth climbing the 4.5-hour hike to the farthest peak of the furnace, with the chance of seeing real lava. The verdict is definitely yes, but unfortunately I had only flip flops on and it just didn’t seem right to hike up a mountain in them! I sat drinking coffee and wondering if the mist—so heavy that I couldn’t see the little kiosk which was 20 feet in front of the car—was causing the hikers any drama. After a couple of hours I began to wonder if my French was good enough to cover an explanation that still my friends hadn’t come back. I needn’t have worried. Through the mist and sweating profusely they arrived, smiling and talking nonstop about the little volcanoes and the steam. I was jealous and hated my flip flops right then!

We finished the day off by coming back around the island by the east side through the sugar cane and vanilla, where the air smells so fragrant and the waterfalls are so large you cannot imagine! It is a good thing I wasn’t driving or there would have been a danger of driving straight off the road as I stared at the great plunging waterfalls.

Back on the ship, the watch looked as if someone had tried to melt them. Lordy! Was it ever hot down here! There was a hose hooked up to the shore water, and the watch took turns hosing themselves off. Today it is still ungodly hot down here and we have also taken turns hosing ourselves. Everything is hot. The decks are so hot don’t even imagine taking my flip-flops off, and we keep imagining one of our lovely shipmates might come up the gangway with a bag of something really cold to drink!

PS: I just took the temperature. Now I know why it so hot—it is 44 degrees! Hot, hot, really hot.

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Reunion Island Arrival

Yesterday in the Picton Castle was one of those perfect days, on sea or on land. Except, of course, we weren’t on land. Nothing much going on except what you wanted to have going on. Joe opened Chibbley’s Café—very exciting. We had a enormous breakfast and then a late lunch and then our Sunday at sea Marlinspike. The weather was gorgeous, good temperature and sunny. A great day for reading on the hatch and generally not doing much just sailing along on blue seas. Can’t be bad and it wasn’t.

Then as the sun was going down and it went from startlingly bright sunshine to—Wait! Is that Reunion? It had been visible for probably hours, about 45–50 miles away and towering right up into the clouds. The sunshine had been so bright and the clouds so low that we hadn’t really noticed it, but then it was just there. Two towering peaks on either side of the island and high! We could see it from a very, very, very long way off. And no wonder. The highest peak rises nearly 11,500 feet from sea level!

This morning we took in all sail and slowed ourselves down until we could contact the authorities at a more civilized time. Waking up and coming up on deck to see a massive soaring island to our port side is always exciting, but one we haven’t been to before is even more exciting!

Reunion is a large Island. It has over 645,000 people and every outdoor sport you can think of—canyoning, paragliding, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, and my particular favorite, people watching while sitting on a nice, white, sandy beach with maybe some red wine, a baguette, and some cheese!

Before coming in, we first clean the ship so we look even more pretty. Bruce has become the Brasso King, making all the brass work sparkly. All the living spaces get a good tidy and we make ourselves presentable. Then we negotiate our way into the port, tie ourselves up, and wait until the authorities come down and clear us in. But first the Captain is lucky enough to have to squeeze us into a narrow little gap that acts as a throughway into the inner harbour where we will dock. With Danie at the engine controls going slowly slowly, and Lynsey in the skiff with some line handlers to drop lines on the dock and sometimes pushing the bow around with boat, the Captain maneuvers his way past the narrow entrance into the inner harbor, then spins us around and backs us around into the little space for us. Sounds easy, and the Captain always makes it look easy, too; but methinks it may not be that easy. I can barely parallel park a car let alone back a Barque!

When all is done, then we will break into shore watches, and those off watch will depart quickly to internet cafés, laundromats, ATMs, hotels, restaurants and any roadside stand that sells cool drinks! We’ll let you know how much fun we’re having in a couple of days!

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