Captain's Log

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Halfway to Pitcairn

On a long ocean passage in the tradewinds in the Picton Castle, or any other deep sea sailing ship, life falls easily into a gentle routine. It feels like we left Galapagos ages ago, but then I think back to something that happened last week and it seems like yesterday. Being at sea causes a strange perception of time for me. In some ways, every day is much the same as the one before – wake up, eat a meal, stand watch, steer, lookout, eat again, have a nap or read a book or work on a project, eat again, stand watch, sleep. Look over the horizon, watch the sunset, feel the seas rolling beneath us. Repeat the next day and the day after and the day after that.

Then there are details of each day that distinguish it from the others – some details are environmental and some are of our own making. Sometimes there are squalls of varying intensity to make us look lively. Sometimes what stands out is a good conversation over a cup of tea after supper. Last Sunday was Julie’s birthday, it was also a partial solar eclipse. On Wednesday the sunlight shone just right to take beautiful photos of the ship under full sail. Thursday was filled with marine life – lots of flying fish scooting across the waves in whole schools, two sightings of a whale close to the ship and then, having caught absolutely zero fish since the day we left Panama, all three fishing lines hooked giant wahoo at the same time (110 pounds of fish in total!). Sometime Wednesday night, we passed the halfway point
on this almost 3,000 mile passage to Pitcairn Island. Steering southwest day after day the ship has been under sail alone since our first day out of Galapagos and we’ve hardly touched the braces of the square sails since then. The mates have conducted celestial navigation workshops to get those interested started on this arcane, challenging but delightful craft. There is no better chance to develop this skill than on a passage like this one. Now it is up to each crew member to get up on the quarterdeck, sextant in hand, at noon for the meridian passage of the sun to practice taking sights to determine latitude. You have to get up earlier for sun sights to get lines of position and of course there are also morning and evening star sights at dawn and dusk.

Sitting on his old sailmakers bench on the cargo hatch, the Captain led a 4-part workshop on sailmaking techniques through the making of canvas ditty bags (old fashioned sailor bags looking like canvas buckets, used to hold tools), leaving the crew to finish up their homework and complete their bags. The sailmaker daymen have patched the fore royal and the riggers bent it on the fore royal yard (time for
making a new one the Captain says), the carpenters are working on spars for a sailing rig and a new self stowing rudder for the long boat.

The quiet routine of life at sea will continue for another week or 10 days or so until we reach Pitcairn. Then it will be like the circus came to town!!!

rsz captain introduces sailmaking through making ditty bags - copy
rsz gorgeous day for taking photos under sail - copy
rsz leonard cuts the wooden bottom of his ditty bag - copy
rsz paul uses the gaff to haul in one of the wahoo - copy
rsz rebecca and bob consult over ditty bags

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Taking the 8-12 Watch

By Chief Mate Michael Moreland

After a late wakeup call, a quick glance out to weather from my porthole reveals our near perfect sailing breeze is still with us. She trots along the long Pacific swells with the clean, fresh wind on her port quarter. All sails set and drawing nicely, a pull on a jib sheet here and haul to weather on a brace and she is balanced, tracking true all by herself. Taking the watch from the second mate with a full cup of coffee ready to give me a jump start, we go over the conditions and sail handling done in the past 4 hours. His enthusiasm is usually
high, directly related to the amount of sails taken in or set and how much coffee he has had to drink. Helm and lookout are relieved by the oncoming watch fresh from breakfast and the remaining crew shuffle around into morning cleaning and domestics. I take the time alone on the bridge to review the plan of the day, taking into account sea state, weather, and any new priorities that may have accumulated over the night.

The sailmakers are back on the quarter deck wiping dry the freshly washed deck to lay the fore royal sail out on and I offer them
my short term rain and squall forecast, to help them plan their day. The Bosun is running around checking cleaning progress and has the Bosun’s Mate opening up the paint locker, as well as getting tools out and ready for the upcoming jobs. A quick glance from the bridge to the main deck sets our time to meet briefly in the morning and we confer on the bridge, fine tuning our plan for ships work that day. A mix of painting, localized cleaning, rigging, or scraping and sanding is usually on tap and the specific jobs are handed off to the watch as they finish domestics and report to the Bosun forward on the well deck. The daymen riggers have already started in on their project planned
the night before of sending down the large, heavy anchor tackle and pendant from aloft around the fore-topmast hounds, and I look up to monitor their execution and progress.

An increase in breeze makes me consider taking in our big flying jib, but I wait and enjoy the ride for a minute, watching her pick up speed. 7, 7.5, 8 knots, alright time to get it in. Take in the flying jib! And the crew on deck immediately drops their tools, running to the halyard and downhaul. Off comes the halyard and four people strain against the downhaul, fighting the pressure of the wind, pulling the sail down the stay onto the jib boom. A deckhand quickly scampers out to windward on the end of the headrig and passes a gasket. Lines are coiled and then right back to their respective jobs, without much of a fuss.

Back to the bridge and I notice the sun has risen high enough in the sky for one to catch an honest line of position and I grab my sturdy sextant, check my chronometer and walk aft to the stern, where the sun bears north. No clouds to worry about, I easily bring the sun down, have it kiss the horizon and log my time and sextant angle. After a few calculations I have a line of position that will cross nicely with the next sight at noon. That task complete, I come back to the ship and sea, a glance to weather for squalls, a look aloft for sail trim, and all is well as we sail onward towards the lonely island of Pitcairn.

rsz alex uses the draw knife to shape spars - copy
rsz jan and robert plane spars - copy
rsz lorraine on helm with sophie
rsz nadja covers a splice with leather chafe gear - copy

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A South Pacific Trade-Winds Passage

A voyage around the world in the Barque Picton Castle is many things; a challenging adventure, a voyage of personal discovery, a chance to learn to be an accomplished deepwater seafarer, a
rare, perhaps unique way to access some remote islands and cultures as real crew in a sailing ship from the ‘Age of Sail’, and much else besides. But a major part of all this sailing 30,000+ miles around our watery globe in this square-rigged ship is simply the passage making under sail over miles and miles of bluewater sea miles for days and days, even weeks on end in steady tradewinds. And that is just what we are experiencing right now sailing ever deeper into the South Pacific Ocean, both buffeted and drawn along by the South East trade-winds on this almost 3,000 mile passage to little Pitcairn Island.

Dawn -The day comes in quickly in the tropics, the sun seemingly springing up over the horizon, taking the eastern sky from inky black, burnishing it to rose, orange and yellow smartly. The
stars blink out and the sun takes over. On their toes, the navigators up on the quarterdeck swing their sextants quickly to snag the stars they need for a nice morning fix while the sky is still dark enough to see the stars and yet also have a bright, sharp horizon to bring our star down to. Well before dawn our Cook, Donald has been in the galley, stirring about, boiling water, making coffee, fresh bread and then getting breakfast ready for the oncoming watch. At precisely 0600 our Swiss engineer fires up the generator to charge the batteries and provide the wash down hose with seawater under pressure for the 4 to 8 watch to scrub the oiled pine decks. Due to our system of batteries and charging we need run our generators only six hours a day to provide all the power we need for normal use. This not
only saves a great deal on fuel consumption but this system also helps keep the ship quiet without the noise of motors 3/4rs of the day. We think this is the way a sailing ship ought to be as much as possible. After scrubbing the deck the watch takes small buckets and wipes down and cleans off finger prints and smears that have accumulated here and there. The Mate of the 4-8 will
have the gang take a sway on braces and halyards to get the slack that may have come into them overnight. This also renews the nip where lines bear on sheaves and moves the point of chafe about making for more even wear. If the wind has laid down the mate might call for loosing and setting the flyin jib. If so a couple hands will scramble out on the jib-boom to cast off the gasket and soon it will be set and drawing. It’s a nice puller the flying jib. Every sail this barque can set, apart from stunsles, are set and drawing giving us eight knots much of the time. With washdown finished we have sunny skies, cool breezes on the port quarter, long blue white-capped seas rolling in from so far away – our canvas sails growing from gold into a cream colour as the sun rises higher and strengthens for the day. The helmsmen for this 4-8 watch have had a good run. Soon come the 8 to 12 watch to take over and start the days work at sea.

rsz 1rebecca teaches celestial nav
rsz mate mike introduces celestial nav
rsz nadja rebecca and joh adjust their sextants - copy
rsz the crew attentive in celestial nav class

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Daymen

Ever deeper into the South Pacific – Daymen on a Tradewind Passage in the Picton Castle.

Wednesday was the first full workday for our new daymen. Now that the crew really know their lines and are comfortable with sail handling steering, ship handling and can follow orders well, we have broken some of the gang off the watch schedule to turn to extra training in classic sailing ship’s work. This is an old deep-water sailing ship tradition, on long trade-wind passages, to break off a ship’s most experienced ABs to get rigging and sailmaking done on their ship when the weather is good while the less experienced crew sail the ship and gain in responsibility and skills doing that, although in our case they will simply take turns. For now Logan, Nadja, Julie and Liam are now daymen riggers under the direction of the Chief Mate; Nadia, Joani and Johanne are daymen sailmakers under the direction of the 3rd Mate Rebecca and the Captain; Jan is a dayman carpenter working with 2nd Mate Paul; Jon is a dayman engineer with Engineer Christian; and Meredith M is now bosun’s mate with Bosun WT. Having all of these people focus entirely on these areas means that the daymen can get lots of experience with these kind of skills and it’s good for the ship too with many projects getting done efficiently. Here’s what we’re working on: 2 new sailmaker benches, patching both old royals and gaff topsail, overhaul port aft head, serve and make leather covers for main yard cranelines, canvas covers around all turnbuckles, overhaul the inside of the longboat, assemble and overhaul all gear for setting studding sails, etc.

Conditions are just perfect with lovely warm trade-wind breezes and seas laying down, beautiful blue skies, flying fish and yesterday we saw a huge whale from up aloft. Not so bad…

rsz carpenter dayman jan makes two sailmakers benches - copy
rsz dayman sailmakers joani nadia and joh sew on a rope covering - copy
rsz julie aloft in the bosuns chair in shadow - copy
rsz julie in the bosuns chair removing baggywrinkle - copy
rsz siri and nadja replace a ratline

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Mail!

The crew really look forward to receiving mail in port. It is very exciting. Having something from family and friends that we can touch and hold on to when we’re on the other side of the world brings a smile to our faces. There is a lot of time at sea to think, and we’re often thinking of the people we left behind to take on this great adventure. Getting something in the mail from you lets us know you’re thinking of us too. And unlike an email or a phone call, a letter is something we can take to sea with us again. The next port where the crew can receive mail is Rarotonga, Cook Islands, coming up in late August. Right now is the time to send your letters and packages to ensure they arrive on time.

The second mail port of World Voyage 5 will be in Rarotonga. Please allow four weeks for regular mail to reach Rarotonga. All envelopes and packages should be outlined in heavy green waterproof marker and addressed like this:

[Crew member name]
Barque PICTON CASTLE
c/o TRADER JACKS
PO BOX 626
RAROTONGA
COOK ISLANDS
SOUTH PACIFIC
*Hold for arrival of Barque PICTON CASTLE on or about August 13, 2010

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July 4th!

Our multi-national (9 nations represented aboard) crew takes shipmately fun in celebrating everyone’s national day. The theme for this American Independence Day, just called the 4th of July, was a “Backyard BBQ”, with the main hatch being the “backyard”. Threads to the theme were “do your own thing” and “chillin like a villain” with an emphasis on not organizing anything really-just like a regular 4th in your back yard! No speeches.

Some of the crew came in costume too- we had the statue of liberty, Barbie and Ken, Marilyn Monroe, Barack Obama and a lot of people in red, white and blue. The main event of the afternoon was a “build your own bathing suit” competition – bathing suits could be made of anything other than standardbathing suit material. The eventual winners’ suits were made of duct tape and a shower curtain. Instead of softball or wiffle ball we had Turtle races…Yes, even the turtles we’re taking to Pitcairn got in on the fun-they are doing fine by the way. A track had been built, complete with starting gate, finish line, lanes and little canvas American flags. Anyone who bet on turtle #3 made a good choice because he won every race (turtle #2 slept through most of the event, coming out of his shell long enough to take a few steps backwards in his own lane). The big Dominican BBQ was pulled out of the hold and set up on the well-deck (on a platform, with water buckets standing by) and after the coals were glowing hot, the mates cooked up chicken and steaks all afternoon. As Sunday is Donald’s regular day off, Fred added to the BBQ with potato salad, bean salad and apple pie. Ollie shot all these goings on with his video camera and a beautiful curious little bird on a long voyage by air, maybe even to Russia, settled on the extended microphone of his camera when he wasn’t looking. Then she flew off.

The evening ended with shooting off some old flares while listening to Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock Star Spangled Banner virtuoso performance on guitar.

rsz jo in her 4th of july bbq outfit
rsz joh enjoys bbq on 4th of july
rsz paul grills chicken on the 4th of july - copy
rsz turtle races on the 4th of july
rsz turtle wrangler chris checks up on his charges

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Canada Day

July 1, Canada Day started by sailing off the hook from the harbour at Wreck Bay as we departed the Galapagos Islands, bound for Pitcairn Island, about 2800nm away. Shortly after Picton Castle got out to sea, the Canadians on board met to plan and organize an event to celebrate our national day. The crew are happy to have things to celebrate, so we hope to do something for the national day of each of the nine nationalities we have on board, and maybe a few nationalities we might not have…

The Canadian festivities began at 1630 with all of the crew dressed in Canadian outfits, which included lots of red and white, but also a few interesting costumes – we had Rick Mercer in attendance, along with Avril Lavigne, a couple of hockey players, a lumberjack or two and a Tim Hortons employee. We started with the singing of “O Canada” then moved on to a human bingo game where everyone had to go around to find out who has done the typically Canadian things on the bingo card. Once they found someone who had, that person signed the square. The first person to have their whole card filled won. It was funny to be asked if I had shot a moose, gone curling, lived in Nunavut, or driven a zamboni. Partway through the game, Tim Hortons opened up in the port breezeway. Meredith and Paula were giving out Timbits (donut holes, to you do not know Tim Hortons, the nationwide coffee shop chain, like Dunkin Donuts), coffee, hot chocolate and peach juice in exchange for answers to Canadian trivia questions. The next event on the main deck was a hockey game. Deck brushes were turned into hockey sticks, a crushed can was the puck and two crew members holding hands on each end were the goal posts. Goalies Davey and Jehle had pillows duct taped to their shins for padding. Rebecca refereed and the final score was 3-1.

The final event of the afternoon was curling. Like the hockey game, we had to make some small adjustments to play on the slanted deck of a moving ship in the tropics. The playing surface was marked with masking tape and wet down with salt water to be more slippery, the deck brushes stood in once again as curling brooms and we used little plastic jars of peanut butter and honey as stones. The celebration wrapped up with two Stan Rogers tunes – Northwest Passage and Barrett’s Privateers. With some help from the Canadians, dinner included poutine (a dish of french fries, cheese curds and gravy) along with beef, salad and Nanaimo bars for dessert.

rsz canada day dance party on the hatch - copy
rsz meredith and paula operate tim hortons in the breezeway - copy
rsz nadia and her moose hat on canada day
rsz playing hockey amidships on canada day - copy

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Galapagos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Panama #1

Picton Castle’s stay in Panama was an absolute whirlwind. You’ll have to forgive the lack of Captain’s Logs for the duration of our visit, we’ve been so busy with sourcing, shopping, buying, delivering, organizing, stowing and sailmaking that there has been little time left for writing about it all. On Wednesday afternoon we finally sailed from Panama, bound for the Galapagos Islands on our first passage of this voyage in the Pacific Ocean. The receipts, calculators, shopping lists and inventories have been flying around our tiny shipboard office in the chart house for the past three days, making sure that everything has been accounted for and stowed away properly. Emerging from under a pile of papers and foreign coins, we can finally get back to business as usual (which means regular logs once again).

We had a very rapid and smooth transit through the Panama Canal; it will be a highlight of the voyage for many of the crew. It is quite a trip over the continental divide and through the tropical jungle. The institutional planning and organizing that goes into operating such a large waterway is mindboggling to me – there are so many details to take care of to ensure that ships can pass through quickly and easily. The only hold-up in our day was when we had to wait for our berth to open up at the dock upon arrival at Flamenco Marina. Another vessel, which was supposed to have left earlier in the day, was still at the dock due to some engine troubles. We anchored just inside the breakwater at the marina, making ourselves very obvious and letting them know that we were ready to move in as soon as they were able to get underway. The wait was just over an hour, but just as the wind shifted, causing us to have to get underway from our anchorage in the marina (it was kind of tight in there), the other vessel got going and we moved in and went alongside. We were greeted by our excellent agent Francis, with PANACO, who was extremely helpful throughout our stay in Panama. He arranged all of the necessary formalities, and by shortly after dark the off duty watches were able to leave the ship and start exploring this remarkable country, or at least the city.

Our shopping adventures began on Friday when the Captain, chief mate Mike, chief engineer Chris, Ollie and I headed out with Francis. We visited a few different hardware stores, then hit the jackpot in the giant lumber yard of Cochez. It’s always interesting to buy wood in different ports because of the variety of different kinds of local wood. We mostly took measurements that first day, but I was back at Cochez every day that they were open during our stay to order something else. Some of the lumber we were buying is for Pitcairn Island, some of it is for some upcoming carpentry projects on board. We also found a marine industrial hardware store with great shackles and blocks, as well as handheld VHF radios.

Nadja discovered the fruit and vegetable market on our first full day in Panama City. She had gone out shopping for a few fresh fruits and veggies for the crew to eat during our stay in Panama and found one of the most incredible markets she has ever seen. Nadja often assists with provisioning, so she has seen markets in many different ports around the world and was particularly impressed with the variety, quantity and price in the market in Panama. It helps here that she speaks Spanish perfectly. She brought Donald, Siri and I back to the market on our last full day in Panama to stock up on more fresh fruits and veggies for our passage to Galapagos. Even Donald couldn’t stop grinning – he was truly in his element. He kept exclaiming over how cheap the pineapple was (three for $1), how fresh the yucca was and the vast quantities of plantain available. Where many markets are made up of individual stalls selling a bit of everything, the market here is organized by item – all the different kinds of fruits are together, pineapples, cantaloupes, limes, mangoes, then there is one indoor section with assorted garden vegetables, then an aisle of root vegetables, an area for corn and so on. Bananas were the only thing on our list that we had a bit of trouble finding, but we were eventually successful with them too. Now the back deck is festooned with stalks of banana ripening.

Shopping was a big activity for most of the crew during our stay in Panama. Crew members left the ship on their off duty time in small groups, heading out to find the best bargains. Many of our crew found Avenida Central and its pedestrian-only section for inexpensive clothes and shoes, others discovered the craft market at the YMCA, some went to the incredibly giant Albrook Mall and second mate Paul found a big fishing supply store. Shopping isn’t the only thing to do in Panama, most of the crew spent at least part of a day in Casco Viejo, the old quarter of Panama City with its narrow streets, beautiful old stone buildings and churches, quaint squares, sidewalk cafes and local little establishments. Even Isla Flamenco, where the ship was tied up alongside, is an interesting place, the last of a series of islands connected to the mainland by a long causeway, and kind of a tourist spot for Panamanians with waterfront restaurants and bicycle rental shops.

chief mate Michael looks at wood at Cochez
Donald loves the market in Panama City
Donald, Siri and Nadja choose avocados at the market
piles of pineapples at the market

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Galapagos Bound

Well, Panama shopping for the ship and for Pitcairn Island too was quite a whirlwind of activity. Shop til you Drop and then get up and shop some more. But many of the gang did interesting things besides shop all the time although shopping in Panama is pretty interesting with all the big markets, back ally stores and much more – hopefully we will get to that shortly here…The Picton Castle has been sailing, or really steaming, from Panama for several days now in warm, headwinds with light rain. Bad winds in the Caribbean, no winds here… we were wondering what curse we were being plagued with when we got the following e-mail from His Crusty Highness King Neptune, well, really, his Scribe – see below – all has become clear. Old Neptune knows his stuff – our poor winds are due to the presence aboard of the dread ‘pollywog’ – for those who do not know, a ‘pollywog’ is a low life form that has not crossed the equator in the company of ‘Shellbacks’, noble souls that they are, tolerate them benignly in the same ship. But lucky for us, as we approach this equator, Neptune and his Royal Court will remedy the situation and set all to rights….soon – Neptune is a great guy, once you get to know him…

My Dear, Master of the Magnificent Deep Sea Sailing Ship, our own Shellback Barque Picton Castle

We see that you are underway and bound for the regions of My Realm in your fine Barque. Too few such ships pass by these days. We note with satisfaction and approval that you are` blessed in your ships company with a goodly number of My finest, loyal, faithful but clearly long suffering and thus infinitely patient Royal Shellbacks.

We also sadly detect that tragically you have in your otherwise exalted midst, an unacceptable number (that number being anything greater than zero) of hideous and abject ‘pollywogs’ the lowest form of Aquatic Life ever known, causing endless grief and embarrassment to the refined seagoing sensibilities of my Favoured Shellbacks. We are reliably informed by our Flying Fish, Tropic Bird, Gull, Dolphin and Whale that despite all possible sacred precaution and infinite care in such a well found ship even the dependable trade-winds have abandoned your noble selves due to dismay and revulsion at such a horrific and deplorable state onboard such a fine old friend of a ship. Well, Noble Sir, keep the faith and keep sailing hither and as you well know that on or about the Line, We will board the magnificent Picton Castle and set things aright once more with tender mercies, judicious judgments and cleansing love.

Please convey our Kindest Regards to Her Furry Highness, Chibley, Our most renowned seagoing Shellback Cat as well as to all My True Hearts of Salt Hardened Oak, our loyal Shellbacks who have been suffering woefully untold indignities without complaint in the Hateful Proximity to the teaming pestilentialy odiferous ‘pollywogs’. Please be as so kind as to make all ready.

The Royal Scribe

In the name of His Royalty of the Deep

Neptunas Rex

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