Three days out of Luderitz the barque Picton Castle is sailing along with all sail set in a modest Force 3 breeze on the port quarter. We are a few miles south of the Tropic of Capricorn in the South Atlantic bound northwest from Namibia towards St Helena some 1,000 miles over the horizon ahead. Almost back in the tropics once again. Sea temperatures have been rising from 13C to now 21C in only a few days. It is getting warmer. After complaining about the cold, soon we will be able to complain about the heat.
Sailing pretty nice just now, just after dawn, with Luderitz 350 miles astern, that delightful and curious little diamond mining and fishing town on that treacherous coast. The South Atlantic run from Africa to the Caribbean is predictably the loveliest passage of the voyage. Long one too but we do not seem to notice. Apart from our new crew who joined in Cape Town, the gang is mostly old seafaring hands by now. Smaller and more regular seas, more reliable trade winds are our lot, and squalls are rare here in the South Atlantic. Best of all, almost no circular storms, not in these tropical regions anyway. Plenty flying fish though, and we caught a 45-pound big-eyed tuna yesterday much to six-year-old Dawson’s excitement. Bending some more sail after the hairy howling winds around southern Africa. No need for kites such as upper staysails, flying jibs and royals in that part of the blustery ocean. Varnishing up the stuns’l booms to send up and run out soon. Dawson just came into the charthouse office with a piece of hot bread fresh out of the oven from Donald’s galley. A nice flaky croissant no less.
Today we start shaping a new royal yard from a 6×6 piece of black spruce we brought from Lunenburg. The yard to be replaced was not old and upon inspection, had no evident inherent internal defects, no knots and it wasn’t rotten, just had a worked crack. Developed a hairline crack that worked open and closed but was difficult to see by visual inspection, then just cracked more one day. Not really too dangerous as there is so much holding the yard together, yokes and jackstays and canvas but such a crack renders it no good and must come down for replacement or repair if possible. So, we get to make a new yard. Very instructional, good self-reliant seagoing stuff, good for the mates to be in on this as well as the gang, glad we have all the bits and the spare timber to make one. A crew does not get to make yard for a square-rigger every day. In Cape Town we sent the fore royal yard down and sent it back up and crossed on the main mast. The ship looks better that way.
Along these lines, in order to give the gang a chance to learn something of wooden boat building, we are going to rebuild the 16 foot long Palmerston Atoll cutter ANN here on the hatch on the way to the West Indies. We have 5,000 miles and perhaps 40+ days to do this, or it turns into a Bosun School project. The idea is to have her done, rigged, sparred and sails made so we can sail her in the Caribbees in among some nice islands. Sweet boat. Rebuilding old schooners is what taught some us shipwright work – even how to build new ones. This project will give our gang a shot at learning a lot about wooden boat building.
This boat was just going to compost or kindling at Palmerston Atoll in the Cook Islands, rotting away under a palm tree, no good to anyone anymore. Big strong aluminum motorboats do the job now in most of the South Pacific atolls. Thus we get the interesting project of saving a piece of South Pacific heritage called ANN. If a museum wanted her when she is done, they have but to ask. We will be trying to do a meticulous and worthy restoration, not just a repair job. Big difference between the two approaches. The island guys, Simon Marsters and company, also cut out local timbers, tamanu (great stuff), for reframing and we got some fine planking stock in Fiji. Forget its name but it’s light, bendy and fine grain. The boat isn’t actually rotten, it is fully intact, just dried out, cracked and worn out and fastening sick. Been refastened too many times so each plank is ready to break right at the frame. Pretty much at every frame, ‘snap off along the dotted line’ sort of thing. Five or six nail holes where there should be no more than two, what with repairs over the years. The pretty bronze tapered squared nails lose their grip as the wood dries out and just fall out. Planks spring off. Good stuff otherwise. Sitting 20 years on the beach, she be some dried out.
So we start by wedging her quarters back into shape, then replace half the sawn frames, then all the planks, alternating as we go. Then the rest of the frames that need to go. Stem, keel, transom and knees are good-ish. New boat, but still the old boat. All bronze metal including cut up stair treads for chainplates and the like, all salvaged from sailing ships wrecked on the weather side of that atoll. Even bits of the HMS BOUNTY ended up on Palmerston Atoll. Certainly, this fine boat will be sailed at Wednesday night Hump Cup races in Lunenburg Harbour, and in Bosun School. Pics are on the website of getting it off the beach and onto the ship. Interesting job in itself getting her aboard. Soon Dirk will lead the keen in the mysteries of celestial sextant navigation. Figuring out ‘time of noon’, noon sight meridian passage for latitude, morning and afternoon sights for lines of position, stars at dawn and dusk for the serious wielders of sextants. Learn to bring the sun down like a beach ball on the horizon. Tables, celestial sphere, calculations, chronometer time, height of eye, zenith distance, lower limb correction and more to chew on and digest to become a sextant navigator. A long trade wind passage like this is the perfect classroom to enter into and perhaps master this arcane art. Sailmaking, rigging and even engine room daymen to go into their areas of concentration for a time as the rest of the gang sails the ship day in and day out.
All the auguries are for a fine passage towards St Helena and the West Indies. Somewhere along this road, maybe over 2,000 miles in the future, the Picton Castle will cross the equator again, into the northern hemisphere. But that is a long way off yet, we have some passage making to carry out.