Captain's Log

Archive for March, 2006

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Approaches to Luderitz:Blowing a Holy Hooley!

Holy Moley! It is blowing a gale, no joke! Last night the watches took in royals. This morning t’gallants came in. I woke up this morning and we were blazing along at 9 knots. Since then the wind has picked up even more and we have taken in more sail; now the Picton Castle is under just upper and lower topsails and we are still making over 8 knots!

Namibia is on our starboard side, very flat and due to the swells sometimes goes out of view entirely. The sea state is incredible: sea lions are jumping up out of the waves, and even the penguins are paddling along and loving it! However, it is terribly cold. We are all wrapped up in whatever we can find to layer onto us—foulie gear, foulie boots, hats, scarves, sweaters, fleeces, you name it! Oh, how I wish I had some socks!

Right now the Captain is on the radio to the Luderitz harbour authorities trying to figure out the state of the harbour. The big question is, Can we even get in there right now? Soon find out.

[Later] Well, as it turns out, it really IS blowing too hard—35–40 knots. It is blowing too hard for us to get into the harbour, too hard for us to heave-to, and it�s impossible to anchor. So we will go with the wind and are setting course to St. Helena, 1,326 miles away to the WNW. At least it should start to get warmer soon. Surprise!

Erin on the helm on the way to Namibia
Going 8.1 under lowers and uppers!
Namibia on the starboard side
Wrapped up warm--Susannah, Andrea M, Johnk K., and Sam stand by on the quarterdeck

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In the Atlantic Ocean Again — at Last!

It doesn’t seem possible but we were in Cape Town for more than a month! The time flew by in a haze of contractors, dirt, dust, school children, family, receptions, sightseeing, visits to Christel house, wine-tastings, and way, way too much food! The crew have been busy comparing what we have started to refer to as our “Cape Town Belly”; it wobbles and moves with a mind of its own and we have no control over it, our trousers don’t want to do up, and we can’t wear shorts because we have no tan left after wearing pants for 4 weeks. Besides, it is still a little chilly!

Cape Town is an amazing city with more to do than you can fit in, in one month. South Africa as a country could keep you going for at least 5–6 months, and you still wouldn’t be done exploring. But we had 4 weeks and we gave it all a good shot. Jack, Rebecca, John K., Zimmer, Andrea Deyling and her sister, Papa Jack, and Bruce all went shark diving, and most of the crew made it up to the Van Schalkwyk farm in the Free State where they were kept busy driving tractors and herding sheep. Many of us went on safaris. We spotted the Big Five munching grass and petted cheetahs (you can actually do that at the reserve were they raise this endangered species). We drove the garden route, and we tried to go whale-watching in Hermanis, where—believe it or not—they get over a hundred whales at a time in their harbour. They also have the only town whale crier in the world.

Most of us went up Table Mountain a couple times. At the top is a lovely little café where you can sit and watch the sun go down with a truly breathtaking view of Cape Town, Table Bay, Robben Island, and miles of shimmering Atlantic Ocean. We had braii after braii, which is a South African barbeque—usually no vegetables, just meat and lots of it, including Springbok, Kudo and Ostrich as well as beef and chicken. Sometimes you will even get crocodile! And of course, we had the whole Christel House School come for visits, as well as Trinity school. It was great!

The Picton Castle also hosted a reception for the Cape Horners Windjammers Society, the sailors who sailed on the big four-masted barques like the Passat and Lawhill. Those were the guys who sailed around the Horn. We ate and listened as they told stories—very cool!

I said when we left Cape Town the ship would look like “da bomb. ” Well, she looks pretty good. We did tons and tons of work. The crew has done a lot of rigging and overhauling, as well as the obvious things like painting and the less-obvious things like helping overhaul the water tanks. Brett and Danie have been hugely busy down in the Engine Room where we did a lot of engineering work. Joe has provisioned us almost all the way home. All in all, I think we had a great stay—productive and fun. We laid out lots of sails including an upper-topsail we made for the last sailing whale ship, the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport Museum at Mystic, Connecticut. This sail we will sew completely by hand on the upcoming ocean passage.

It is always sad to leave a place where there is so much you still want to do and where you have enjoyed being, but there is also always the pull to get going, to get back to sea, to start your next passage. We are, as ever, sad to say goodbye to our friends and family we leave behind. All 500 kids of the Christel House School came to bid us farewell yesterday and give us one final dance on the quayside. They shouted and cheered as we cast off our lines, and we shouted and cheered back as well, honking our horn. This leg has us running up toward the tropics and closer to home now. It feels great to be out at sea! Goodbye Indian Ocean. Hellllooo, South Atlantic!

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Cape Town III: The Table Cloth is Filling In

The dominant and signature feature of the city of Cape Town, South Africa is, without doubt, Table Mountain. This huge flat-topped mound of ancient stone looms high over the bright lights, office buildings and neighborhoods of Cape Town. A soaring wall of stratified rock behind Cape Town, it seems more like a massive primordial fortress created eons ago before the ice ages by a race of giants now long gone than any possible natural formation. London has Big Ben. Paris has the Eiffel Tower and L’Arc de Triomphe. San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. Cape Town has Table Mountain. A day spent at the top of Table Mountain is well worth it. You can hike up and down if you have the legs for it or you can take a completely state-of-the-art cable car to the top. From the “Table Top” the vista is truly stunning. The panorama of the city and the harbour appear far below—a shimmering sea stretching to the horizon, Robben Island (university to today’s leaders of this amazing country), ships from many nations at anchor in Table Bay awaiting their turn to come in to discharge or load at the wharves of this busy port—all give the mountain-top gazer a sense of god-like outlook on the small world below. The wily rock dassie will be lurking in wait for you as you serenely cast your eyes from this top of the world.

But this exquisite view is not always possible. Sometimes it is lost to us small mortals. In fact, at times even the very mountain itself disappears from view. The Table Cloth is responsible for this Olympic conjuring trick. What is this “Table Cloth”? What does the arrival of this old rag portend?

Our Table Cloth is a layer of cloud that builds up on the southeastern side of Table Mountain, the side away from the city, created by moist sea breezes blowing in off the warm Indian Ocean. This layer builds and builds and finally pushes over the perimeter of our Mountain forming a snow-white cap to Taffel-Berg and then a fringe spilling over the edge tumbling down the shear face seemingly towards the city, like a slow-motion waterfall of wispy cotton. It gives every indication that this white miasma will absorb the city and make it disappear. But this does not happen. The clouds tumble over the side and evaporate like so much opaque mist burning in the white-gold sunlight baking against the hot rocks.

What does the Table Cloth mean? It means is that it is going “to blow like holy hooly!,” to quote one Miss Kimberly Helms. It is going to blow a stiff gale out of the southeast or what they call hereabouts a “South East Buster.” Gales; ships at anchor let go a second hook and let out more chain or try to get into the harbour. White caps will form in the short fetch of inner basins of the port. Ship maneuverings inside the breakwaters may be put on hold for a day or two lest a tanker or container ship get out of control even with the aid of powerful tugs. Our little ship will list in the gales right at our snug berth at the Victoria & Alfred Basin, dry dust blowing hard across her decks. And then in a day or so the winds will become breezes, even gentle ones. The Picton Castle will rest at her moorings, ships will arrive and sail again, and the sharp, flat edge of Table Mountain will once again become the skyline of Cape Town, South Africa. The African sun never left us as the blasting wind scoured this southern tip of the continent.

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Cape Town II

Wow! I said it would be busy on the Picton Castle in Cape Town, but I’m not certain even where to start on just how busy. Right now as I write this, I can hear several drills, see sparks from a welder, hear unbearably loud banging, hear shouts from aloft, and smell paint. There is so much going on that is loud, messy, smelly, and dirty. It is not our prettiest. We have the cargo hatch wide open re-loading the food and rearranging the supplies down there; there are bits being painted here or chipped there; some ladders are no longer there and some rigging work here and dirt everywhere.I have had to explain to visitors, friends, and parents that this is not what is called “ship-shape,” this is called “ship yard visit.” I don’t know if they believe me, but it’s true—heads are torn apart to be overhauled and painted and insulated. People’s bunks literally look like someone burgled them. Either crew left in a hurry of digging for shore clothes or they have been digging for goods to give to family and friends or to send home from here. The ship itself is not looking so hot! But when we are done in Cape Town, even those who don’t like ships are going to say we are “Da bomb!”

The weather has been lovely and cool the last couple of days, only to have a sudden heat wave attack us today. It is warm and dry with no breeze, but it makes for good paint drying weather! And no matter how you look at it, it is still much cooler than Reunion.

We have had 6 out of our 10 new people arrive, and it is fun getting to know them and showing them life on the ship. For the first few days they always kind of look a little shell-shocked, but it’ll be okay! Mums and Dads of the newbies: Don’t worry, we are looking after them!

Also on the news front is that the crew finally got to visit and meet the teachers and students of Christel House, South Africa ( It was a brilliant day and the kids still so amazing that I feel so lucky to visit their magical and wonderful school. They had a special assembly for us with lots of singing, dancing, and musical instruments, and their talent never ceases to astound me and others who were there. The only problem? They expect a return assembly! We do have a semi-band onboard at the moment and they do know one song. We can sort of do the dance they taught us in Palmerston, and we can sing to our discmans and ipods. But after seeing their shining faces do so many talented acts, we are just plain embarrassed to show them our stuff! However, what we can show them is our ship and their ship and actually we are pretty talented at that. So starting next week we will have approximately 120 children visit the ship every day until all have wandered around and patted Chibley to their hearts’ content. I can’t wait. It always so much fun to have kids on board and these kids are special to us. (I would like to say much more about this but will wait to write a log solely on Christel House and what they do).

Also on the schedule: Some have already gone to visit Danie and his family on their farm, most have taken winery tours, trips to Cape Point and Simonstown to see the penguins, over and down to the East to Knysa to eat oysters, motorcycle touring on Harleys, over to Robben Island— where those in the Freedom and Democracy movement spent so many years incarcerated—and looks around the District 6 Museum, which documents urban renewal old-Apartheid style, kind of rough.

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