Captain's Log

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Day’s Run – March 17, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

With the a continuing good weather there was a flurry of sailmaking all morning. While the Captain worked on a new mizzen staysail, Sailmaker John worked on manrope covers, and in the meantime gave a workshop on seaming for those just learning. The 8-12 watch spent the morning sending up gear in anticipation of bending on the upper staysails, while the normal everyday tasks went on giving the ship a busy feel.

Date: 17 March 2018
Noon Position: 27°25,9’N-062°35,0’W
Course + Speed: SW, 4.8kts
Wind direction + Force: WNW, F4
Swell Height + Direction: WNW, 2m
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 108.8nm
Passage Log: 351nm
Distance to Port: 785nm
Voyage: 1396.3nm
Sail Set: t’gallants, topsails, foresail, mainsail, fore and main topmast staysails, inner and outer jib and spanker

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Day’s Run – March 16, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Today we had the amazing opportunity to bend on the main sail while at sea. It is so sunny and beautiful, t-shirt weather even aloft! It was a really interesting as well cool experience and some of our new hands who had the chance to work aloft for the first time, for me (the Purser) it was the first time bending on a sail while underway which is not something that happens often. Now we are laying into the evening watches, and getting ready for the night.

Date: 16 March 2018
Course + Speed: S1/2W, 5kts
Wind direction + Force: WxS, F5
Swell Height + Direction: WNW, 3m
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 118.4 nm
Passage Log: 234.7 nm
Distance to Port: 787nm
Voyage: 1280 nm
Sail Set: t’gallants, topsails, foresail, fore and main topmast staysails, inner and outer jib and spanker

Bending on the main sail, photo by trainee Sarah Ensslin

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Day’s Run – March 15, 2018

Yesterday we said farewell to St George’s, Bermuda and got back to sea. The crew did an excellent job sailing the ship off the dock and out of the Town Cut showing off some good old fashioned square rig sail handling.

Now that we are at sea our little world has changed again, it’s easy to forget how much everything moves around when you have been sitting still for a few weeks. Conditions have been somewhat lumpy overnight and a few of the crew are feeling a little ‘under the weather’.

Today has been bright and sunny since just after dawn and the ship has been bouncing along at up to 6 knots when the wind picks up. It’s a unique feeling, a square rigger on the wind in a seaway. Since we don’t have a fair wind we are sailing south to find one, these westerly winds are forecast to persist a few more days and we’ll keep moving right along with them. Going further south this time of year is never a bad thing anyway.

For now we are remembering and getting used to the feeling of the ship leaping through the sea and keeping in mind the old Cape Horn sailor adage “One hand for the ship, one hand for yourself? Thats ridiculous! It’s both hands for the ship!”

Date: 15 March 2018
Noon Position: 31°09.7’N, 063°20.1’W
Course + Speed: SWxS 1/2S, 4.6kts
Wind direction + Force: W, Force 6
Swell Height + Direction: 3m, W
Weather: Sunny
Day’s Run: 99.7nm
Passage Log: 114.7nm
Distance to Port: 805nm
Voyage: 1160nm
Sail Set: topsails, toresail, fore and main topmast staysails, inner jib and spanker

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Painting in Bermuda

By Cara Lauzon

Wednesday March 7, 2018

With the first sunny day this week there is a frenzy of painting, carpentry, and other work going on aboard Picton Castle here in St. George’s, Bermuda. Its been blowing so hard that the ship had what looked like a spider web of lines holding us to the wharf. The wind has been up to sixty knots for days, but even with the weather everyone has been busy getting the ship fitted out. It has been beautiful at night alongside the wharf hearing the wind howling around us. Even with the relentless wind there has been intermittent Bermuda sunshine. The crew enjoyed one glorious day off, where caves were explored and blue beaches swam in. We are docked at the small town of St George’s, full of colorful old limestone houses, with two-foot thick walls built to withstand just the sort of wind we have been experiencing.

We share Penno’s Wharf with two other tall ships, the Dutch barkentine Thalassa and Thor Heyerdahl, a German school ship full of very musical high school students. We had a boisterous jam in Picton Castle‘s salon last evening where they graced us with their company and the students sang haunting German choral music. We shared a few of our gypsy tunes on the fiddle and accordion, and we wrapped it all up with a few good old sea shanties.

The wind died down this morning and we are enjoying a bright and sunshiny day. Taking advantage of the weather we have managed to paint our topsides, hauling ourselves off the wharf with a kedge anchor. The Picton Castle is enjoying a makeover, sporting a new buff stripe along the rail. Our new carpenter, Kirk, who just joined us here in Bermuda is working on projects on the deck, he is lucky he arrived just in time for this weather!

Painting topsides, including a new buff stripe on the rail!

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Passage to Bermuda

There is nothing quite like a ship on a mission to get people focused. The mission: get Picton Castle to Bermuda, and at that this crew has done well. It’s no easy task to load a ship in the dead of winter and prepare for going to sea. Everything takes just that much longer, from having to wait to open the hatch when the freezing rain stops to pulling out the fire hoses and immersion suits for drills in the snow. While we certainly could have completed our fit-out in Lunenburg it will be far more effective to get her ready for the next year’s sailing here in Bermuda, she needs paint after a winter’s lay-up and attention to detail in the rigging is much easier to come by when one is not so concerned about how cold your fingers and toes are.

After the ship was in all aspects made ready for sea the crew spent some time at anchor doing drills and familiarizing themselves with the ship’s safety gear. This is very important at anytime before putting to sea but especially now as the consequences are much higher at this time of year.

We all knew from the outset that this would be a motor sailing trip, the North Atlantic is no place to mess around this time of year. Having some sail on the vessel though helps a lot, with both speed and steadying out her sea motion. The windows of opportunity for good weather can be narrow so when you get one there is no time to doddle. Fortunately we had a good weather window and made best use of it. Northerly winds pushing us with topsails set and the main engine thumping along, Picton Castle raced down the Nova Scotia coast at 8 to 9 knots. The biggest concern upon departure is to watch the low pressure systems coming off the mid Atlantic coast, these can bring very strong conditions and contrary winds. But once past, a northerly or northwesterly wind will fill in and provide a few days of fair conditions, as the coasters called it “a good chance along”.

The prevailing winds along the coast are from the usually from the southwest and once any northerly wind has gone you can expect the southwest to come in again after, and as such it almost always makes sense to head off in that direction. With our fair wind we ran along the edge of the George’s Bank and off toward southern New England, while it was quite cold it was at least sunny, a little bit of sun on your face goes a long way in the chill wind.

Even with what little sail handling we had to do, it gives you great appreciation for those who had to do these things for a living. As we skirt the edge of the George’s Bank, pulling on icy ropes and frozen sails it’s hard not to think about the fishermen and their schooners that plied these banks in the winter.

As forecasted, the wind veered to the west by the time we were about 120nm to the SSE of Cape Cod, and early in the morning the crew got the ship around on to the starboard tack and off we went to the south.

As the seas began to build with the fresh westerly winds, the crew kept busy making sure the ship, all of her gear and cargo, stayed sea stowed. Once anything starts to move it can be hard to get control of it again and the first sea conditions we experience after loading the ship is a good time to make sure nothing gets started. Before the seas built too much we also took the opportunity to rig up some of our extra safety gear, grab ropes to hang onto and extra lashings about the deck and on the boats. Bumpy as it was for a little while, we sped along a a good clip and late in the morning the wind and sea began to ease.

The concern to navigate is the Gulf Stream, the most remarkable current in the northern hemisphere. This massive volume of water flowing in places at a speed of up to 4 knots starts in the Straits of Florida and lesser Antilles continues up the east coast to north of the Carolinas (Cape Hatteras) and fans out into the North Atlantic bringing warm water to the Azores and as far away as Southern Europe. Coming down from the north, as we are, in the cold southerly flowing waters of the Labrador current, the Gulf Stream is a well defined change from dull green water to that of deep indigo blue, that beautiful and defining feature of ‘blue water sailing’. This ‘wall’ between warm and cold water has an effect on the weather, it can create squall lines and the strong flow of the current can cause seas to heap up and become quite steep. The best way to cross the Stream is far enough to the west that the current can be used to your advantage and with a fair wind or calm.

By late Saturday afternoon we crossed into the north wall of the Gulf Stream, quite suddenly the water temp jumped up to 23°C, the air became warm and moist, and the current took us racing off at speeds of up to 12 knots over the bottom. This of course was a welcome change to the crew, who quickly were in short sleeves and barefoot on deck with the warm water rushing around their feet.

Some mild rain and squalls persisted through the night and as we left the main part of the Stream behind the sea smoothed out and skies cleared. Sunday morning found the ship scooting along, still motor-sailing, in a calm sea and beautiful warm sunny day. We made good enough time that we were able shut the main engine down for the first time since leaving Lunenburg and enjoyed an afternoon of sailing. All hands came out to soak up the warmth and feel the easy sailing motion through the water as opposed to the charging along we had been doing under power.

But as the wind slacked off in the evening we fired up again, bound for Bermuda the following afternoon.

We could not have asked for a nicer afternoon for our arrival in Bermuda, a sunny day with a warm 12 knot breeze and small seas around the outside of the reef. As we were somewhat early for the pilot station we took a few hours to go sailing around the north side of the reefs that surround much of Bermuda. We called all hands and the crew put in a good effort getting cleaned up and ready for port.

The Schooner Spirit of Bermuda, under the command of Captain Michael Moreland (former Captain and Chief Mate in Picton Castle) came out sailing to escort us in. Always great to see a familiar face upon entering port.

At 1530 we boarded the pilots, fired up the main engine, took in sail and brought the ship’s head to wind and for the ‘town cut’. Twenty minutes later it was through the cut and into St George’s Harbour were we tied up behind the Norwegian full-rigger Christian Radich, also in for a stop over at Penno’s wharf. It created quite a classic sight with yards and masts of two square riggers springing up over the old town of St George’s with a Bermuda sloop sitting at anchor in the harbour.

With the ship all secure alongside the crew can take satisfaction in having made a good passage in the winter North Atlantic and turn to getting the ship painted and fully rigged. In two weeks time we’ll be ready to put to sea again, doing what we do best in the ship, sailing for the horizon.

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Hello Bermuda!

Picton Castle arrived in Bermuda on Monday afternoon! After meeting the pilot to bring the ship in to St. George’s harbour through the Town Cut, Picton Castle tied up at Penno’s Wharf in St. George’s.

Longtime friend and crew member of Picton Castle, Paulina Brooks, who is from Bermuda, took these photos of the ship’s arrival and shared them with us, so we’re sharing them with you.

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Day’s Run – February 26, 2018

Land Ho! Sighted Gibb Hill, Bermuda just after noon today. Its been a good passage and we are all looking forward to seeing our friends in Bermuda. A beautiful star filled night at sea last night and another bright and sunny day today. We should be entering the Town Cut at St. George’s, Bermuda late this afternoon and be tied up shortly thereafter. Hello Bermuda.

Date: 26 February 2018
Noon Position: 32°41.0’N, 064°48.0’W
Course + Speed: SxE, 7.9kts
Wind direction + Force: WxS, F 4
Swell Height + Direction: 1m, WxS
Weather: Clear and Sunny
Day’s Run: 185nm
Passage Log: 873nm
Distance to Port: 23nm
Voyage: 1020nm

The Mate spots land

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Day’s Run – February 25, 2018

What a change! Yesterday afternoon came with our much anticipated crossing of the Gulf Stream. Even when you have crossed in and out of this current before it is always a surprise just how quickly the world around you can change. Very suddenly the water temp shot up to 24°C and the air turned warm and moist. At about the same time Picton Castle was caught by the current, we went from motor sailing at 8kts speed over ground to about 12kts over ground and gained a few more points of leeway as well! Though the afternoon was overcast and squally the change in climate was most welcome to all hands, including ship’s cat Fiji who has finally emerged from under the mass of covers she had been hiding under.

This morning the clouds cleared and the west wind picked up again and we really feel like we are back to blue water sailing, the first flying fish came onboard this morning and the crew are in short sleeves. Today is Sunday, so no ship’s work apart from the normal watch routine and ship’s cook Donald takes a much deserved break. The meals are being prepared by the watches and they are doing well at putting out some good food.

As good a passage as it has been it feels like it will be all too short in the end, Bermuda is just over the horizon and we will be making port in the next couple of days to continue our fit out work for the Gulf of Mexico. It will be a busy time but Bermuda is a great place that has always treated the ship well and we have many good friends there.

Being as we have made such good time on the passage we are going to be able to shut down the main engine for a while this afternoon and get to enjoy a little bit of sailing in the warm breeze and deep blue waters.

Date: 25 February 2018
Noon Position: 35°18.6’N, 066°45.0’W
Course + Speed: SxW, 9.0kts
Wind direction + Force: WxS, F 5
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, W
Weather: Clear and Sunny
Day’s Run: 217nm
Passage Log: 648nm
Distance to Port: 205nm
Voyage: 831nm

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Day’s Run – February 24, 2018

We had our wind shift overnight as expected and early this morning got the ship turned to the South with a fresh West wind. The crew did a good job in the early morning hours getting sail back on to speed us along in our passage and steady out the ship’s motion. Though the sun isn’t out today it’s a lot warmer than it has been, no longer icy water crossing the deck but a much more pleasant 15°C. The swell height being up with the fresh west winds, the crew have been spending most of the watches checking that the ship has remained sea-stowed and that no gear has become adrift. This sort of weather doesn’t deter ship’s cook Donald a bit, steak for dinner last night and plenty of hot food at every meal.
We anticipate crossing into the Gulf Stream this afternoon, which will bring even warmer temperatures, a welcome change for all hands. Until then we are still just getting into the ship’s routines and remembering what it’s like to be at sea again. Nothing around, no land, no other ships just Picton Castle and her crew in our own little world.

Date: 24 February 2018
Noon Position: 38°39.8’N, 068°25.3’W
Course + Speed: SxW, 7.8kts
Wind direction + Force: W, F 5
Swell Height + Direction: 3m, W
Weather: Overcast
Day’s Run: 156nm
Passage Log: 428nm
Distance to Port: 420nm
Voyage: 611nm

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Day’s Run – February 23, 2018

Another clear and cold morning dawned on the Eastern edge of the George’s Bank as Picton Castle makes her way to the southwest. Cold as it was this morning the day has warmed to about 8°C and the sun feels good as we are motorsailing along under topsails and the foresail. Many of the crew are up and about the rig on this beautiful day, moving buntline blocks into their proper position and finishing up some odds and ends in the rig to prepare for bending more sail in the near future. Also of importance on a day like today is to continue getting the ship cleaned up and the ‘land’ washed off of her after a winter’s lay-up. We are expecting the wind of veer to the west overnight and this will turn us back to the southeast to line up for crossing the Gulf Stream and on to Bermuda.

Date: 23 February 2018
Noon Position: 40°52.1’N, 066°44.9’W
Course + Speed: SWxS, 8.4kts
Wind direction + Force: NE, F 4
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, NNE
Weather: Clear and Sunny
Day’s Run: 198nm
Passage Log: 241nm
Distance to Port: 518nm
Voyage: 424nm

Sunrise on George’s Bank

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