Captain's Log

Archive for April, 2006

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Picton Castle / NOAA Weather Observation

The Picton Castle‘s crew makes observations about the weather, wind, and swell, and records this information in an hourly weather log; this job is assigned to each off-going helmsman. In addition to the ship’s weather log, there is a special weather log that requires a bit more detail. The latter weather observations are voluntarily collected and forwarded several times a day from the Picton Castle to a group of scientists (meteorologists) at the department of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This information is specific to the location that we are currently sailing in and is used to help meteorologists make better marine weather forecasts, and the information is also made available to all crafts bound for this vicinity.

Weather warning systems and the associated technology have advanced by leaps and bounds since the age of sail (when present weather observations were all a Captain and crew had to go by), and it is information distributed by these systems that enables Captain Moreland and his Mates to review weather faxes and forecasts and avoid any weather systems that might not be so great to be caught in (ships in the age of sail often found themselves in the middle of gales and sometimes severe storms because there was no weather warning technology in existence). Aside from enabling us to prepare for or entirely avoid weather systems, another bonus of detailed marine forecasting is that it makes it possible for the Captain and Mates to be aware of any probable shifts in wind trends that might affect our ability to sail or to continue on our present course. This technology has become an essential tool for sea-going vessels, because weather avoidance is the best way to prevent ships and their crew from being vulnerable to storms and from being at risk of damage or loss due to heavy weather.

The weather observations requested by NOAA are quite specific and one or two people from each Watch are assigned to collect and record the observations properly. How our crew goes about observing the weather around us is outlined below. Perhaps you can keep a weather log at home, and make similar observations from your own backyard!

Ship’s Course
This is the ordered (compass) course that the helmsman has been instructed to steer.
Average 24 hour Speed
This information is recorded every day at noon and appears in the ship’s logbook in what is known as the “noon log.” This particular log also indicates our day’s run, that is, the distance covered; the distance to our next port of call; how many hours the main engine and generator have been running; and how many nautical miles the Picton Castle has logged on her fourth world voyage.
Latitude and Longitude
The ship’s position is logged on the hour, every hour, and we get this information from the Global Positioning System mounted on the wall in the chart house.
Date / Time
This is obvious, but just in case, there is a calendar and a clock in the Chart House
Barometric Pressure
There is a barometer mounted on the wall in the Chart House and in the Captain’s office. The barometer indicates whether atmospheric pressure is going up or down; a change in atmospheric pressure is an indication that there is going to be a change in weather. We record the barometric pressure every hour
We have a thermometer that hangs from a hook in the Chart House that gives measurements in both Celsius and Fahrenheit
Wind Direction and Speed
We record wind speed and direction each hour in our weather log. We determine the wind speed based on the Beaufort Wind/ Wave Scale and it is an approximation of wind speed based on the conditions of the surface of the water. We have two tattle-tale pennants that we can use to help us determine wind direction, but typically we just need to feel the wind on our faces from the Port or Starboard quarter and can then consult the compass to get the direction (it is important to take into account that there is apparent wind caused by the ship herself, and that the apparent wind is not the same direction as the actual wind)
Wind Wave Height
There are ripples, scales or waves that appear on the top of the ocean’s swell, depending on the force of the wind. The wind wave height is measured in feet and is the estimated average distance between the highest point of the wave’s crest and the surface of the swell it appears on.
Sea Water Temperature
There are two ways that we can determine the salt water temperature; we can fetch a pail of water from over the rail and submerge the chart house thermometer in it, or we can turn on the Picton Castle‘s depth sounder, which is a piece of equipment that includes a feature that measures the temperature of the water that the ship is in.
Cloud Cover
The cloud cover is observed in eighths, as if the sky were divided up into eight parts. We indicate the type cloud and how much of the sky is covered by cloud. This observation is more specific than saying “partly cloudy,” and the scientists have their reasons for requesting that we use eighths.
Present Weather
We take a good look at what is happening around us, consult a large chart that has specifically worded options, and select the best fit for what we are experiencing presently.
Past Weather
We can consult past weather logs in the ship’s log book, or if we’ve been on deck for a while, we have an indication of what the weather has been doing since the last NOAA observation has been taken. As with the present weather, the past weather observation selected is a “best fit” from the options provided by NOAA. These generalizations provide only the key information that the NOAA scientists are looking for.
This is an approximation of how many miles away the horizon appears to be; whether visibility is limited by fog, squalls, or is improved by clear skies and sunshine. On an average day, the horizon appears to be anywhere from 11 to 27 nautical miles away.
Ice or Icing
This does not apply to the Picton Castle as she voyages in tropical waters
Humidity and Dew Point
These measurements are obtained using a sling psychrometer. Obtaining this measurement can be fun because the crew gets to wet the tip of a cloth in what looks like a giant thermometer, and then gets to sling it around in rapid circles for the count of one minute. There are mathematical charts provided to determine the humidity and dew point based on the reading from the instrument.
General Observations and Assessments of Weather, Conditions, and Trends
This request allows for you to add any information that you would have liked to have made available under the Present or Past Weather headings, but the conditions are specific to the ship’s exact location, and experiences and are not included in the list of options provided by NOAA (such as rain clouds forming to the lee side or winds gusting and shifting at times)

When you are outside next, take a good look at the weather around you. Has there been a warming trend and has the snow melted away for good? Has it rained in the past few hours? Are the skies clear or partly cloudy? Can you look at a cloud and tell whether it is a rain cloud or just a regular cloud? Is it calm or windy today? From what direction is the wind coming? Keep these questions in mind and you will be doing one of the most important duties that we tend to on the Picton Castle.

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Ascension Island, South Atlantic

The Picton Castle is still under full sail and sailing along nicely at about 5 knots. The weather today is gorgeous and a moderate/light breeze keeps the sun from feeling like it is scorching us. I feel particularly thankful for it, especially when I have just heard from our voyage coordinator that it is snowing today in Lunenburg! Yikes, it’s nearly May! We get so spoiled with our weather for the most part.

Today Lynsey continues her work on the Mizzen stay with the help of Jack. Ryan is in the bosun’s chair slushing down the maintop-mast-stay; he shouts down what he wants the line handler to do. The line handler right now is Amanda who is standing right outside my chart-house office window repeating the commands: “EASE AWAY!” “EASE THE GANT LINE!” and “THAT’S WELL!” Before her it was Rebecca repeating them. It’s becoming one of those mantra things and I find myself waiting for the next shout! Oh, there it is, “THAT’S WELL! GANTLINE’S FAST.” Right. Phew.

Anyway, the watch are sprucing up the paint job on the breezeway overhead. I don’t know what the carpenters are doing, but I did note that their mess was not as bad as it usually is—and my window in the office seems to have gone missing, so maybe that is their work for today. Joe made soup and fresh rolls for lunch, which was very nice. This afternoon we have a power shower at 1600 hrs and then the AB workshops and studying will continue afterwards.

We did our second island drive-by yesterday, sailing by Ascension Island five miles off the port side. We had no intentions of stopping, and I don’t think anyone really wanted to; we seem only now to have got back to the easy at-sea routine. I do not know that much about Ascension apart from the fact that it has a military base on it and an airport. But it looked very barren and dry. It is owned by the UK and really only visited by passing yachts crossing the Atlantic. It has a long air strip that can accommodate the space shuttle should it need to land somewhere besides the US. During World War II, Ascension was a major refueling spot for bombers flying to Africa. No GPS navigation back then. So the saying was, “If you don’t find Ascension, you wife gets a pension.” The whole island looked dry and barren, and anyway we are off for greener islands, and we have lots to do at sea—too busy for islands.

Amanda is Ryan s Line handler while he is in the Bosun s chair
Ascension Island visible on the way to Fernando
Easter dinner on the way to Fernando
J.D. on helm and Andrea D., Kolin, Andy, and Joelle take a noon sight
Kolin on helm on the way to Fernando
Sails on the way to Fernando

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South Atlantic Easter Weekend

Happy Easter to all those folks at home; enjoy that chocolate and the long weekend!

The Picton Castle is under full sail including stun’s’ls. It’s a sunny day out here—not too hot, not cold, and gorgeous blue skies. The Picton Castle is making just more than 5 knots and that’s a nice speed—not lumpy, just a graceful roll here and there. It’s Saturday, and when at noon the watch is finished tarring, oiling, sanding, and painting there are plenty of workshops to look forward to: Susannah and Rebecca are showing how to make seabags and tote bags, but only for those who have finished their ditty bags!

A ditty bag is a small, cylindrical canvas bag with a rope handle. We fill them with “ditty,” which can be a sail palm, a fid, twine—basically it is a sailor’s tool bag. Making a ditty bag is an excellent exercise in sail-making. You learn to make grommets, how to stitch, how to measure canvas and how to do different types of rope work. For those who have not finished their ditty bags there will also be a help workshop on ditty bag making. For some crew their ditty bag has become their nemesis (I am not naming any names)!

For those with stars in their eyes, First Mate Sam is starting to teach celestial navigation. She will start from the beginning again for those who are new and for those who either did not attend the last workshops or who, like me, just never quite get it. It is a very useful skill to have and interesting, too. The South Atlantic is a very good place to practice doing noon sights, twilight, and generally getting the hang of using a sextant. For the more advanced, Sam is also doing star sights.

There are AB workshops for those who want to study for their Able-Bodied Seaman exams on our return. The AB exam covers a wide range of subjects—safety at sea (including first aid), rules of the road, navigation, and laws and regulations of being at sea. These guys can easily pass it with a little bit of preparation and a heads-up on what to expect! Second Mate Greg is leading workshops in studies for learning to pass the Coast Guard AB test and will at some point he will also do a rope-mat workshop.

So it is a busy time on board and every one should have something that they are up to!

I am hoping that all my pestering has paid off and Joe will spend some time making hot cross buns. We will hope and wait!

2nd Ditty Bag Workshop on way to Pitcairn 214
Catharine tarring on the way to Fernando
Drew on helm on the way to Fernanndo
Ivan and Laura on the way to Fernando
Joelle on galley duty on the way to Fernando
Mike sanding, Bruce oiling hinges, and Andrea, dayman rigger
Under sail at sunset on the way to Fernando

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Leaving St. Helena

We need wind. Not too much. Not a gale. But more than a puff would be useful. A nice Force 4/5 would do the trick.

There are many superstitions that sailors of old and sailors of now still believe, if not overtly vocally, then definitely in their minds. For example, on board you never whistle. The only shipmates who are allowed to whistle are the youngest and the oldest. Whistling brings up the wind, but how much wind? One must be very careful with this. Knock on wood—but not if it is a chair—after you say something that may jinx you.

We have found ourselves under full sail going just over 2 knots. Well, we need to go a little bit faster if we want to get to Fernando de Noronha in under a month! So we sent Pania, who is the youngest (it has to be the youngest), to scratch the main mast and aloft as high as she can go to sweep the air with a broom. This ritual is supposed to sweep the wind towards us. While she was there we also had her stick the tip of her knife in the mast—gently, not stabbing. No more gales, thank you!

Amanda paid the toll to Neptune, and maybe that will bring some wind. We even threw in a Canadian dime with the schooner Bluenose on it. We think that must be lucky! We asked the Captain nicely for just a little whistle, not a full bar of a song just a few notes.

Now we wait and see if any of this gets Neptune’s notice!

In the meantime the 8–12 watch and the riggers—Rebecca, Amanda, Ollie, Jack, Vicki, and Andrea M.—get ready the stun’s’ls. These sails can give us up to another knot of speed and the wind is plenty light enough for them right now.

The carpenters—Logan, Bart, and Bruce—are working on being efficient daymen! Lynsey is laying new tiles in the inside head, which Ivan concreted yesterday. John Kemper is assisting being a watch officer on the 8–12 watch, and engineers Danie and David are working on the fresh water pump on the port Lister.

Joe is making chicken salad, tomato soup, and pasta salad for lunch. All is well on the Picton Castle.

PS: Just an hour later, maybe our superstitions paid off. We now are going just over three knots!

Amanda pays Neptune for some wind
Amanda with coins to pay Neptune
Captain whistling up some wind on the way to Fernando
Pania sweeps the sky on the way to Fernando
Pania, the youngest, scratches the main mast on the way to Fernando

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St. Helena

The Island of St. Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic, besides being a striking piece of volcanic rock in the middle an ocean far from anywhere, is quite the cross-roads, literally. St. Helena is best known probably for the incarceration of Napoleon Bonaparte but on a larger scale of thinking that would have to stand as some sort of footnote. This island is one of the last remnants of the British Empire, an empire that was largely gracefully surrendered over the last 60 years.It is only accessed by sea and although the talk of building an airport has been going since the last time we were here, it will not happen for at least another five or six years, with a bill of about 400 million pounds. Wow! There is only really one town and that is Jamestown, built up along the valley. It is one long, steep main street consisting of some great little stores that sell everything from cat toys and Easter eggs to carpenters’ tools. There are a few guest houses and a hotel, which very nicely put up with us for several nights of dancing in their bar! The main street is a mixture of the old and new, with pleasant colonial architecture. It’s a very interesting little spot. The buildings are all very old; most date back to early 1800s, and some from the early 1700s. Many have solid teak floors and timbering to keep termites away. Jamestown looks a bit like some little town in Cornwall. As in England, it rains off and on for most of the day in St. Helena also!

The crew spent time going up to see Longwood where Napoleon was kept, a nice cottage, even by today’s standards, with superb gardens. They even still have his jello molds up there! I would say three-quarters of the crew climbed Jacob’s ladder, all 700 steps, although Kjetil swears blind there are only 698! We ate at Donny’s, down on the waterfront, where we could see all the action of the mail ship, and in Ann’s café, where, if I do say so myself, they make rather a smashing bacon sandwich.

One of the most exciting events in the annual St. Helena calendar happened while we were there—the arrival of the mail and supply ship. The HMS St. Helena is the last of the royal mail ships. It comes from the UK twice a year, and on it this time were the returning Commonwealth Games team, returning islanders, and a LOT of mail (it was bigger by far than any mail call we have ever had!) Also on board were 70 cars and a bus, as well as all the supplies for the supermarkets and shops. When I went to clear out the Picton Castle , the customs warehouse was crazy; they had islanders coming to pick up their mail in trucks. I happily said it was like Christmas. The customs officers laughed and said that at Christmas it was five times worse! Holy moley!

The Saga Rose Cruise ship also came in for an afternoon while we were there. We had an engineering question, so Danie, our chief engineer, went over to ask for some help and advice. Danie came back to the Picton Castle wide eyed, exclaiming that their engine room was “Wild—three stories high, with its own cafeteria and everything!” I think it was the best birthday present Danie had ever had, visiting their enormous engine room. Dave, the engineer on the Saga Rose, helped us out, and many thanks to him and the engineers onboard the HMS St. Helena, as well as to all those Islanders who helped us with our port Lister generator. It was more than greatly appreciated!

But time was escaping us and soon it was time to go. The wind had been blowing us off the island for the previous five days, and we were going to make the most of it and sail off the hook. We did, but just as we were leaving the wind died down a little. Ho hum. It would come back, we hoped!

Ann s Place for lunch, and Jacob s 700 steps behind, St. Helena.
Jamestown, nestled in the valley. St. Helena
Main Street in Jamestown, St. Helena
Picton Castle at anchor in James Bay, St. Helena
Saga Rose leaving St. Helena
Sailing off the hook, St. Helena
Unloading containers from the mail ship, St. Helena

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Steaming Towards St. Helena

Maybe we used up our allotted wind for the week during the gale on Monday, because right now there really isn’t too much of it! The main engine is on and we are motoring towards St. Helena, about 750 nm away. Yesterday the weather was beautifully warm, and shockingly enough most of us had our shorts on with our lily white legs exposed to the sun. This morning the clouds and rain are back and so are the long pants.

This week life has started to take on the regular routine of being at sea. Tracy is now a Dayman sailmaker, as are Margot and Ivan—oh, yes, and Chibbley. Logan and Bart, the daymen carpenters, are still busy putting back together our new and posh-looking inside head. Becky and Andrea M. have been busy in the Bosun’s chair high up in the rig, slushing the stays. Logan finished another deck box for the quarterdeck, on the port side this time. John Kemper has been busy finishing the varnish in the new and improved after-cabin passageway. Ollie, Rebecca, and Amanda continue to do rigging with the help of their new rigger, Jack Hubbard. David Matthews and Andrea Deyling are still being diesel dorks, helping Danie in the Engine Room. Kjetil, Kolin and Zimmer are all lead seamen now, which means that they help liaise between what the Watch Officer needs the watch to do and making it happen.

The new crew who joined us at Cape Town—Laura Gainey, Joelle Plouffe, Steve Nash, Mike Wolfe, John Williamson, Andy Cook, Drew Greenlaw (and, of course, returning crew Papa Jack and Vicki Sullivan)—are all doing well and learning fast, fitting in quickly. But having so many pollywogs onboard may just have something to do with the weather Neptune is sending us eh? Hmmm…

Andrea Moore in the bosun s chair, Namibia to St Helena
Andy Cook priming, Namibia to St. H.
Erin on helm, squally skies behind, Namibia to St. Helena
John Williamson, Namibia to St. H.
Laura Gainey on the helm, Namibia to St. H.
Mike Wolfe on galley, Namibia to St H.

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