Captain's Log

Archive for February, 2006

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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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Cape Town Arrival

It was as if the fog cleared especially for us to see our arrival into Cape Town yesterday. All morning it had been grey and misty, like being inside a rain drop. And then, there it was all cleared up except for the famous “table cloth” over Table Mountain- Cape Town, South Africa. Our first continent, very exciting! We anchored for the night and, as it was Sunday, had our usual Marlin Spike—a small punch and lots of popcorn—and celebrated Susannah and Danie’s completed first circumnavigation on the Picton Castle and my second. Joe made a great dinner of roast beef, mashed potatoes gravy and corn—yummy. After dinner Jean-Claude got out his accordion and Zimmer and Brent got out the guitars. Bruce was playing his drum and Jean-Claude taught us a French traditional dance. We listened to Morgan and Kjetil sing a few songs and watched the sun disappear over the horizon bathing Cape Town in a gorgeous pink light. All through the night we stood cold rainy anchor watches. This morning we awoke to fog and a slight chill in the air. This morning we wait. We wait for the port authorities to call us, send out a pilot and bring us in. While we wait we will clean the ship above and below decks, getting ready for visitors. I think I know who our first ones will be, other than the authorities; we can already see the Van Schalkwyks on the end of the jetty waiting to greet Danie. We did a massive wave to them a while ago but we don’t know if they could see us. Just now Bosun Julie from the 2nd world voyage and her husband are circling the ship with the Van Schalkwyks in a charter schooner, and we are waving back and forth. It is all very exciting! Where, oh where, is that thrice-sainted pilot?

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Preparing For Capetown

Cape Town is a massive stop for the Picton Castle. It is the longest port stay and this is for a number of reasons: First, South Africa is a really beautiful country with a lot to do and it’s huge; for the crew to be able to zip off and go on safari and travel around they need some time to do so. Second, Cape Town has some really excellent marine facilities and is a good place for us to work on upgrades, maintenance and or replacing things onboard. It is cost efficient, the weather is good, and we are there for at least three weeks, which enables us to take things apart that we couldn’t on a three-day port stay.

A long “ship yard stay” takes some planning. It starts in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia before we even set sail. There is always something that needs fixing or painting or rust busting on the Picton Castle. Anyone who owns a ship/boat will tell you that there is always something you can be doing to it. However, some things take priority over others; for example, you are not going to be concerned with cosmetics if your bilge needs maintenance. Some jobs are done once a year, and others need to be done every couple months no matter what; safety gear has to be officially surveyed and inspected every 12 months. So we know right away before leaving that when we get to Cape Town we will have our safety gear inspected. Sails will need mending, even though we work on these at sea all the time and in port when we get a large enough space, we know come Cape Town that we will be able to send down all sail, lay all of them out, and be able to inspect them, mend them, maybe even replace them. The rig will be tarred and painted and trimmed—good jobs to do when all sails are down. All the shroud eyes and turnbuckles will be continued to be overhauled as well as slushing the stays.

At Cape Town water tanks will be cleaned again and have special paint inside them, we can only do this when we have another water supply. The forward ladders to the foc’s’le head will be cut off and replaced by new ones, as will the engineer’s ladder to the port breezeway. The ladder to the captain’s cabin from the charthouse will be rust busted and overhauled. The floor covering inside the superstructure will be replaced. The main salon tables will be re-varnished, and the salon sole cleaned out in preparation for new canvas and rope. The starboard anchor break on the windlass needs to be overhauled, the taffrail on the quarterdeck is being refinished, and the waterways in the quarterdeck are having holes drilled in them for better drainage.


We need to have the outboards serviced, and to get rid of our horrid waste slops (easier said than done). There needs to be new cement in the port side head floor, and the salon head needs to be looked at, the inside head is being rust busted, insulated and paneled, the gangway needs welding, the main engine needs its oil changed, the shaft break on the engine needs new break pads, the water-maker needs new fixtures and filters, the main engine exhaust manifold needs an overhauling and a number of cylinders on the main engine need Danie to spend some time with them. The hold will be emptied and re-stowed, as there will be massive ordering of paint, rope, canvas, and, of course, food. Then there is shopping and acquiring to be done; we desperately need some new plastic mugs, new signs for the heads, a new galley matt and new sheets and pillow cases, and about a million other things!

ALSO, we have 11 new trainees joining at Cape Town, which is great; it’s always very nice to have new faces and histories on board. There are also schools to go to, receptions to host onboard, and TV shoots to help with. And all of this is to be fit in and around the above work schedule. Phew! It’s going to be busy, but to make up for the hard work we have a visit to Danie’s family’s farm to look forward to, Mitchell’s pub, great restaurants, great wines, good cheese, new movie releases, and we have a great place that we tie up to with a perfect view of Table Mountain! And, of course, clean laundry!

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Where in the World Is Barque Picton Castle?

Location: 31° 58.5’S / 29° 19.7’E
Ordered Course: Hove-to
Day’s Run: 117 nautical miles
Distance to Cape Town, South Africa: 677 nm

Okay, so the charts indicate that it is South Africa, but I am not convinced. The shoreline matches the chart’s outline and we’ve definitely been riding into and out of the Agulhas Current. My brain tells me that we are hove-to very few miles off the coast of South Africa, but if I just woke up today from a very long winter’s nap, my heart would be in my throat because I would be pretty certain that the panoramic coastline stretching beyond our bow is actually the coast of Nova Scotia! I think it looks like Cheticamp in northern Cape Breton. Alan Creaser (a Lunenburg resident sailing with us until Cape Town) says it looks like Rose Bay, near Lunenburg. I overheard Mike (trainee from Prince Edward Island) speaking to Kjetil on the Aloha Deck, “…Overcast grey sky, grey choppy water, cold wind—kind of makes me homesick!” Another look at the chart is a glaring reminder of Eastern Canada, there’s a port town called St. John’s and another called Hole in the Wall (puts me in mind of Blow Me Down and other funny-named places in Newfoundland).

It is late summer in South Africa and we are all wearing sweaters and toques (some are even wearing shoes and socks!). Perhaps it has a great deal to do with the wind in recent days because the water is still 73° Fahrenheit, but then again, we are South of the Tropics, so its bound to feel cooler now than in recent weeks. I still did not imagine that I would be wearing a sweater (over a tee-shirt and under my foulie jacket) to keep warm on night watch as we prepare to sail around the Cape of Good Hope. I’m guilty of allowing myself to have grown up with the image of sparse flatlands and thousands of giraffes, gazelles, elephants and hippopotami stomping around in the dust in search of a watering hole. These drizzling, green, rolling hills before me look like they are better suited to farming sheep and highland cattle!

Moments ago we fired up the main engine. We had a long night due to the weather and at 0535 this morning I was on helm and was ordered to put the wheel hard left. The Picton Castle was hove-to until further notice because of near- gale conditions. The logbook records the winds shifting to N x W and getting stronger after 0100. The 12–4 Watch braced sharp on a Starboard Tack, but when the wind shifted strength and direction again, all square sails were taken in and stowed. Around 0200 the wind was only a gentle breeze at Force 2. Between 0300 and 0400 the ship altered course from W x N and NW x W and we dumped the Inner Jib. When the 4-8 Watch took the deck at 0400, there was salt water in the air and the wind force was a steady Force 5. The gusts were strong—so strong that I learned that certain conditions trump what I think I know about my seafaring skills. The breeze climbed to a low Force 7 by 0700, with streaks of foam beginning to trail the whitecaps. This afternoon the breeze settled quite a bit and topsails were even set at one point. When I hear the Main Engine fire up I think of our Chief Engineer, Danie (from South Africa), and wonder how he feels about our balance between awesome progress and frustrating delays on our passage to Cape Town. Last night, for instance, before 8 PM we were making between 9.7–10.9 knots. Twenty five minutes ago when we were hove-to, we were traveling at a rate of 0.5 knots.

The crew is not getting shack-wacky or squirrelly just yet. We actually do really well at sea because we enjoy it so much, but pretty much everyone is anxious to get to Cape Town. We have plenty of reasons to be antsy to get there; we are still in the Indian Ocean in cyclone season, our friends and shipmates have family and friends coming to meet us, Danie is going to see his family on his farm and we will all visit them there, there will be plenty of opportunity to explore South Africa, and we are looking forward to seeing our friends at Christel House. One-third of all the educational materials that came aboard in Lunenburg are being donated in South Africa!

We are almost there! Just looking out the port hole at that coastline reminds me that once we have rounded the Cape of Good Hope, we will be in the Atlantic Ocean again and officially on our way home! It’s not time to give that too much thought just yet…

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Weather Frustration

Imagine the longest car trip of your life, when you honestly think you will never get to where you are going. That’s us right now. So close, yet so FAR!

I have to say that even your worst days onboard the Picton Castle are nearer to your greatest days on land. However just occasionally I think it is good to tell you that just sometimes you can’t wait to get to port. Today is one of them. It feels like we have been on this passage for at least three years. It is in fact closer to three weeks and actually record breaking, if you start counting from where we actually start making progress, and discount the circles we sailed in for the first week, to avoid the horrid cyclone, Boloetse. But now so close to Cape Town and very close to land (we can see it), we have had to heave to. There is a nasty headwind in the form of a SW gale and we again wait for it to pass.

After going lickety split for the last week, to be standing still is frustrating. This kind of turbulent and sudden weather is not unusual for the Cape of Good Hope, and it is what it is. But it has got me thinking about the days of sail and those who would have had to battle violently around Cape Horn (around South America) for days, weeks, and sometimes even months, waiting for a fair wind or for weather to pass before they can make progress—and enduring some pretty heavy storms while they were at it. If we have heave-to for a day and feel slightly grumpy and frustrated, how on earth did they feel after weeks of rolling in the constant heavy swell, waiting just waiting, and watching their water and food run short? I can’t imagine. It makes me glad we don’t go around Cape Horn! The Captain says the he has no interest in going there because they don’t have post cards with palm trees.

Right now we are doing what any other sailing ship in any day of sail does around the Cape of Good Hope. We wait. The weather is changeable, and will frequently just come from nowhere, or so it seems: Large fog banks, gales, big swelly seas and a fierce current. But even knowing that it will pass (quickly we hope), we are just too darn excited to be going to Cape Town to bear having the brakes put on us now.

On an interesting note: It is much cooler now. Almost overnight the weather has got us into long pants and fleeces. Kolin, Bart, and Brent all have on hats! My feet are cold in the water coming over the deck, and I even slept with a blanket last night. So I thought I would just check the temperature. If you are sitting curled up at home with your house surrounded by snow I apologize right now for these results. For we are chilly, and it is 71 F. degrees on deck. The water temperature has dropped in the last 12 hours from a kind of chilly 81 F. to a “My feet are cold” 73 degrees! Outrageous! But it feels so good! Joe made a delicious squash and ginger soup with hot molasses rolls and it felt great to be eating soup and warming ourselves up!

We don’t sound so hard core now, do we!

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Next Mail Call: Cape Town!

Just so you know, we are not yet in Cape Town. The Mail Call shown here was in Bali. We just want you to know what it MIGHT look like in Cape Town—IF you send us some mail! Oh, yes, and we will be there for three weeks, so if you send something we will get it!

This is what a mail call looks like. See how calmly we stare at the black bags on the hatch?

It is all mail in those bags.

Five minutes later you can’t take a picture, as it is just total carnage! Like 10-year-olds opening Christmas presents.

It is so exciting—truly exciting!

It doesn’t have to be a parcel; in most cases letters are better. We get to hear first-hand what’s happening with you guys. It is so nice to know someone took the time to sit down and write us a letter about all the stuff that we have not been present for. E-mail is fine but it’s just not the same thing. Believe it or not, we do miss the events you are telling us about, and we like hearing about them. Just because we are in Bali or Cape Town doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in Aunt Mabel’s birthday or what the dog did. We want to know about these things.

… And just because we like letters doesn’t mean to say we don’t like the parcels. We love the parcels! We do especially like parcels with sweets and magazines and new t-shirts and CDs. We don’t really like the ones with the bills all rubberbanded up in them. They aren’t so good. But the ones with the candy are numba one!!!!!!

So here it is. Look all these happy people looking at their mail in Bali, and then quick! Get yourself off to the post office and SEND US SOME MAIL!!!!!

We know you want to. Because you love us!

And because we are so far away … ho hum.

If you already have sent heaps of mail? Well, then, go forth with blessings!

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Sailing into a Good Current in the Mozambique Channel

Last night I am sure that as it got dark you could see flames coming off our stern, we were going 10 knots! 10 KNOTS! I’ll say it again, 10 KNOTS! We all went up to have a look at the speed on the GPS, it said 10 KNOTS! In fact we woke up our shipmates to tell them how fast we were going. Some of them didn’t believe us!

Okay, we were motor-sailing, but we had been going about 7, and then BANG! 10 KNOTS!

So this morning we set all sails and turned the engine off and guess what? 8 KNOTS! UNDER SAIL! And seas not too big.

The truth is we have hit a current below Madagascar called the South Equatorial Current. But we are still going fast—AND making great time. We are approximately 1600 nm away from Cape Town. If we keep this up, we might be in earlier than we thought. Or least on time.

Other news is:

Greg has been taking bearings of the sun morning and night in order to check the deviation on our compass. The riggers are continuing to overhaul the shrouds, Logan’s chest is finished and now sits proudly on the starboard side of the quarterdeck between two life rafts. And we have now nicknamed Amanda “Picasso,” as she is the painting queen!

Joe is making quiche for lunch, and with a little added Reunion touch of Boucan. Boucan (salty chunky bacon) is what the desperadoes who lived on the coasts of Cuba, Jamaica and Tortuga made from smoking pig meat and selling it to passing ships (while not busy robbing ships and committing crimes) in the 1500–1600s, thus giving rise to the name Boucanier or Buccaneer—that’s our history lesson for the day. And, of course, yummy bread.

All is well on the Picton Castle today.

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Distance to Cape Town, South Africa: 1430 Nautical Miles

Location: 28° 04.6’S / 42° 01.9’E
Time Zone: ZD-3
Ordered Course: W x N
Rate of Speed: 7.9 knots
Day’s Run: 154 nautical miles

Merrily we roll along in a near-calm ocean, with breezes so light it looks as though the Picton Castle is on the other side of a fun house mirror! We had slowed to 3 knots by 0700 and by 0735 we had clewed up and stowed Gants’ls, Courses and Royals and Chief Engineer Danie had fired up the main engine with a big puff of smoke and soot. Danie and his assistants were literally up to their armpits yesterday afternoon cleaning the exhaust manifold. It’s a dirty and important job, and it took a lot of group effort and a melted jar of GOJO to get them passably clean.

Chibley was in prime ship’s cat mode early this morning. During the 12–4 Watch, she bounded across the quarterdeck and pounced on a seabird that had landed on the starboard aft teak taffrail. With the bird sufficiently stunned and gripped securely in her jaws, Chibs ran forward, through the charthouse and down the aft companionway ladder and straight into the Captain’s cabin! It was her way of doing something nice for Captain Moreland, who she adores above all others (except maybe Ollie). The watch had to retrieve the bird and upon discovering it was just stunned and not really hurt, they decided it would be safest if they secured it from Chibley by putting it inside her kitty kennel until it was ready to fly. The bird remained in the carrier until about 6 this morning.

Joe, the cook, came onto the quarterdeck to look at the bird. I was on the helm and I warned the bird to keep an eye on Joe or it would find itself in the muffins, and sure enough, as soon as Joe leaned over to look into the open cage, the bird tucked and rolled and landed with a bloop! into the sea! There was no dramatic flapping of wings, no hopping or any indication it was about to liberate itself. It just tucked its head down to its chest and rolled off the veggie locker and into the sea! We all ran to the rail to see if it was alive, and watched as it contentedly floated along, stretching its wings from time to time. We stood there together in stunned silence as Chibley’s little seabird drifted away from us and into the rays of the rising sun as they pooled in the ocean astern of us. Chibley would not speak to any of us at breakfast and only now (at dinnertime) is she even pretending to be sociable at all. She is one cranky cat about this, and she can hold a grudge, too.

The daymen and the watches have been employed finishing up all sorts of important projects before we arrive in Cape Town. Amanda has been painting everything that has been patiently waiting its turn for attention. The riggers have been tarring the new ratlines and seizings and oiling blocks aloft and on deck. They have been overhauling the aft main shroud eye and are doing an amazing job of the work. The carpenters already have the second of two deck boxes roughly assembled; the first is already finished and installed on the quarterdeck. The sailmaking team has finished roping the head of the new mains’l and are continuing work on the wire leeches of the sail. They are working together to complete the bunt patches and mast lining on the new Upper Tops’l. There is always a great deal of work that goes into maintaining a sailing ship; it is ongoing and the list never actually gets shorter and is generally not too repetitive. The crew never stop learning!

Now that all of the DVD episodes of Ollie’s (Billy Campbell, a crew who stars in the show as Jordan Collier) “The 4400” have circulated and aired throughout the ship, all the buzz onboard the Picton Castle is about our arrival in Cape Town. We especially want to visit with our old friends at Christel House, a very special and unique school that provides meals, healthcare, and education to more than 400 children from throughout Cape Town and the Townships. I have been pumping previous world voyagers for information, and I’ve received the same answer time and again: No words can explain it. You will LOVE the school and you will fall in love with the children and you will cry very hard.

The Picton Castle‘s cargo hold currently contains 1/3 of our total donation of school supplies. All of these library books and textbooks, chalkboards, chalk, and countless heaps of games, sports equipment, and school supplies are destined for Christel House. There they will be divided among that school and several others in the surrounding area that are trying very hard to provide their students with an education. We still have a great number of hand-made teddy bears from some very loving women in the Lunenburg area and these bears will be accompanying our small contribution to Christel House. A very interesting twist on the Picton Castle‘s seven-year relation ship with Christel House is that its founder, Christel DeHaan, will be visiting the school in Cape Town around the same time that the Picton Castle is to arrive. She is an astounding woman who has opened several Christel Houses throughout the world. I hope our crew will have the opportunity to meet her!

If all goes exceedingly well, and King Neptune still loves us, we could be there in a little over a week!

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On the Way to Cape Town

Its muggy today on the Picton Castle, no burning sun scorching down but just a hot, sweaty stickiness that makes us feel like we are totally melting! We have nearly rounded the tip of Madagascar and the seas are lumpy and swelly. But conditions are good and we are making fine progress. The sky is a mixture of clouds and some misty blue but at least it isn’t as squally as yesterday!

We caught a 48-pound Wahoo this morning and Danie said it nearly broke his thumb hauling it in—a big one it was! Pania cut the eye out so we could see how big it was, disgusting! But tonight we feast like kings, as Joe makes us fresh fried Wahoo.

The riggers Rebecca, Ollie, and Jeff Hicks continue to overhaul the shroud eyes and turnbuckles. Amanda is in a painting frenzy, making the Picton Castle look pretty for our arrival at Cape Town. The sailmakers have a new addition: Margot has joined in as another dayman sailmaker and they are working on the new mainsail. The watches are either helping Amanda or overhauling the capstan bars.

Every day the closer the Picton Castle gets to Cape Town, the more excited we get. We are excited about seeing friends who live in South Africa. Many crew onboard are excited about seeing family and friends who will come especially to visit. Then there is Danie, our South African engineer, who will actually be seeing his family and his home. Quite frankly, he is so overexcited that I have no idea how he sleeps at night!

There is mail to get, too. Quick! Pop something in the mail to us if you haven’t already, because we already have bets on who will get the most mail. (That’s a big hint, by the way!) There is a new country to explore and elephants to see. There is Christel House, a school with which we have a special relationship and are dying to see again. Today we have heard from them, and they are excited too! We plan to have mountains of work done while we are there. Bosun Lynsey’s list is written on a piece of paper too big to fold up and put in her pocket!

AND the closer we get to Cape Town, the cooler it gets. Ah, yes, the blessed cool, cool breeze. We needed sweaters on the way around the Cape of Good Hope last time and quite frankly I can’t wait!

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Waiting Out a Cyclone in the Indian Ocean

22.3° South / 53.4° East

February third 2006 finds the Picton Castle sailing along in pleasant modest breezes with sunny skies, benign puffy clouds and not an apparent care in the world. All is lovely at sea today. Sails are being made up on the quarterdeck; a new jib is almost finished and a new upper topsail is on the home stretch. Danie has various bits and pieces of the engine-room up on a tarp on the well-deck grinding away on them to take paint; railings, ladders and the like. Logan’s beautiful new storage chest for boat gear is about to get a coat of varnish and the teak taffrail just got a nice coat of varnish too. Ollie, Rebecca and Jeff Hicks are doing a number of rigging jobs changing out old rope with new and making new ratlines. Ollie, John and Rebecca have just been renewing wire seizings on the lower-shroud standing rigging turnbacks after overhauling the 1-1/8-inch cables of these lower shrouds by wire brushing, greasing, parceling and re-serving them. The fragrant smell of Stockholm tar wafts about, as do whiffs of the bread the cook is baking up in the caboose. The steering is easy, as is the motion of the ship herself. A serene day at sea, as good as it gets.

But all is not quite as perfect as it seems. About 800 miles to the west in the Mozambique Channel, which is the body of water between Madagascar and the mainland of Africa, is our old friend Tropical Storm BOLOETSE�the same storm that kept us in port at Reunion a couple of extra days when it was rumbling around east of Madagascar. Now it is rekindled and is cooking up into a proper cyclone. This storm managed to cross Madagascar intact enough to re-form on the other side. Now it is building. All the predictions and all conventional tracks of such storms in that area have it barreling down the Mozambique Channel and eventually turning off in a southeasterly direction as the Coriolis effect kicks in, as it is prone to do at the higher latitudes. This storm is on a converging course with our route towards Cape Town.

So, what does the Picton Castle do? For one thing, we turn the ship about and sail on a course that is at a right angle to and away from the storm track. The second thing we do is head north, generally, as it is extremely unlikely that the storm after it starts to head south can or will head north again on the east side of Madagascar. The last thing we do is to stay near Reunion just in case we want to put in. We are about 120 miles southeast of Reunion sailing close-hauled on the port tack making slow easting. Just the ticket. There are no ports on the east coast of Madagascar that are even remotely useful in providing refuge from a cyclone. Reunion is it. Our good friend Captain Kevin Denning in Cape Town is keeping us well appraised on weather developments from the South African weather service. Weather prediction and monitoring is one of the areas where manifestly vast improvements have been made in modern times, contributing immensely to the safety of mariners. And this we are all for.

If all goes as predicted, this old Boloetse will blow on through well to our south and in a few days we can tack the Picton Castle around and get back on the road for the Cape of Good Hope and on to Cape Town, South Africa.

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