Captain's Log

Archive for May, 2006

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Jost Van Dyke, BVI

After a pleasant three-day passage from Bequia the Picton Castle made land-fall in the British Virgin Islands early in the morning, sailing between Dead Chest Island off Peter Island and Salt Island. Then we sailed down the smooth Caribbean blue waters of Sir Francis Drake Channel between Tortola, Norman Island, and St. John before ducking through West End and the last few miles to Jost Van Dyke. The Captain sailed our ship right up to the anchorage, which was fun and interesting for the crew. It might have scared the few yachts already anchored in that little bay. Soon we were surrounded by more yachts there for Foxy’s Famous Wooden Boat Regatta.

While the voyage is not complete until we tie up in Lunenburg, Jost Van Dyke marks the circumnavigation point for those crew who have sailed on the Picton Castle for the whole of her fourth voyage around the world. Yipppeeee! Woo hoo! Congratulations!

Jost Van Dyke is a perfect Caribbean playground. It’s got all the pre-requisites, such as hammocks gently swaying in the shade of two palm trees alongside a beautiful, white, sandy beach bordering clear, turquoise waters. No joke, it really does. And really cool, cool drinks—some in the form of the best Piña Colada you will ever taste! Great snorkeling, games like dominoes and checkers in the shade of tin-roofed shacks to fill your time, good food, calypso singing by an old rum barrel, and nowhere would you ever have to think about wearing shoes. It’s perfect for us Picton Castle crew who never remember to put our shoes in the skiff to go ashore anyway! All this, AND we went during Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta, which meant we got to go sailing on some very, very pretty boats and some very fast ones, too.

As soon as we had anchored and cleared in at Great Harbour, the crew were ashore getting themselves lined up as spare hands for all the old wooden and classic boats in case anyone needed extra crew. It turned out that Picton Castle crew just in from a global circumnavigation were quite in demand. By the next morning we had dinghies coming by frequently to ask for crew and soon there were only four people onboard. It is a lot of fun to suddenly find yourself aboard a much smaller boat, and quite different. The crew sailed on everything from hand-built trimarans, old schooners, JVD sloops, small double-enders, and ketches. The crew had lots of fun! And we all made new friends, as well as getting to check out some pretty little boats.

Just to top off a good weekend, we called it a long one and had holiday Monday over on a small sandy little secret island for a last tropical anchorage in the warm trade winds. There is absolutely nothing there, and it’s only around the corner from Jost Van Dyke. It took us all of 30 minutes to get there and there wasn’t another vessel in sight. We piled the crew into the Monomoy and the skiff and sent them all ashore to play Frisbee, swim in the gorgeous shallows, build a bonfire, have a barbeque, and generally have fun and frolics on the beach. Foxy joined us and led us in having a great time. Then the next morning we all went back for some more.

But finally the time came when it was time to push on towards Bermuda. Getting the crew out of the blue water was similar to trying to get five-year-olds out of the water—it took awhile. Then trying to get all the sand off the ship! Holy Moley! I myself had a small sand dune in the bottom of my bunk and I think I swept up a good-sized beach from the companionway! It took two long washdowns of the deck to get even some of the sand off.

Last night in true “post Jost” fashion there was no one on deck except the watch. Those who could be were asleep by 1930 hrs! And as soon as they could, those who had been on watch too were cuddled up in their private sand dunes—aka their bunks. It probably didn’t help that Joe made turkey for dinner, so not only did we have “post Jost” sleepiness but a lot of full turkey bellies also!

We have about 720 nm left to go to Bermuda—almost a week of being at sea. Right now we have all sails set and are gently heading North at 5 knots. Before long the temperature will start to drop again. We’ll cross the Gulf Stream and not long after we will pull up to our own dock in lovely Lunenburg. Has it really been over a year?

About to go play on Sandy Cay, JVD
Bruce, Keith and Becky eat lunch at Foxy s, JVD
David and Kolin get ice at the supermarket
Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke
JVD beach
JVD beach and hammock
Kathleen on the wheel on way to JVD
Mike, Ivan, Drew, Jeff and Brian, JVD
PC at anchor, JVD

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Bequia is part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and is well known with yachts as they stop here frequently before or after an Atlantic crossing; or even just as a stop. Bequia is beautiful and laid back with distant sounds of calypso drums and reggae music no matter where you are on the island. Pretty white beaches surround a surprisingly hilly island. Bequia also has a fascinating history with whaling, and to this day are part of an international exception allowing the islanders to engage in limited whaling. They use sailing/pulling boats almost identical to the whale boats that hang from the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport. Generally they don’t kill one every year, maybe every three or four years.

One of the nicest things about Bequia is that really there isn’t much to do but enjoy the company you are with and relax—go for a swim, go diving, read a book, or enjoy a long drawn-out lunch. Maybe you go to the dock and dangle your feet in the water and watch the fish dart about, sit on the beach, go snorkeling. Maybe you just find a comfy chair and a cool drink at the Frangipani and watch the world of Bequia go by slowly.

There is no need to rush about trying to do the 10 things on your sight-seeing list, because there isn’t much sight-seeing. An Island tour is nice to do, the whaling museum is very interesting, but it is only a small island and you can do these things in a morning! In the meantime, put up your feet and take a nap. The Captain sailed the old Pride of Baltimore to Bequia years ago; put out a stern anchor and nudged the bow right up on the beach just like the old inter-island schooners they built and sailed here. There is one such schooner left—the Friendship Rose. Now making long day sails, this 80-foot schooner was once the only island ferry and so the only way to get goods to Bequia. Now there is a small airport and a few Norwegian motor vessels keep busy going back and forth.

There is lots of talk aboard of coming back for next winter’s Caribbean cruising, which will be tons of great sailing and fun ashore!

It’s easy to see why you would never want to leave Bequia. Life here is languid and leisurely. No hurry, no rush. Just be careful not to expect things to happen quickly: it can take an hour and half to get your grilled cheese sandwich. So make sure you shift your mind from full speed ahead to “whenever.”

Danie and Kathleen, Bequia
Friendship Rose and the Picton Castle, Bequia
Lynsey, Kolin and Pania sitting outside the Frangiapani, Bequia
Picton Castle at anchor, Bequia

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Grenada! Oh, sweet smells of land, and cool, cool drinks, hamburgers, piña coladas, the smiling faces of people on the street (whom you don’t know, and that is actually kind of nice!). It has only been 17 days since Fernando but somehow it feels like longer. It has been small islands and quick island stops since Cape Town, which was almost eight weeks and 5,600 miles ago, maybe that’s why. I can tell you that it feels so good to be back in the Caribbean, not far away from home but some of my favourite stops are down here.

Grenada is how I imagine the Caribbean used to be. Not too touristy but enough to be of comfort, fried chicken straight off the street barbeque, grilled corn on the cob right there on a grill at the corner of the post office, school kids in their pristine uniforms loitering, as kids do, at the shack selling cold drinks. It’s hot and humid and it just thundered and rained for 5 minutes. Now it’s dry and the sunshine is bright bright.

St. George’s Carenage is a horseshoe-like harbour, with little fishing boats moored right up to the edge of the street, the houses and buildings are tiered up the hill painted in an array of colours; pinks, blues, red and orange—very pretty. Up and over the hill is a bustling market selling everything you can imagine—spices galore, fresh fruit, and lots of crafts like baskets. The people on the street all say hello and smile. Some want to chat and find out where you are from. All of them are proud of the way the have restored themselves and their town after hurricane Ivan struck and devastated Grenada two years ago. It looks great to me!

The crew are busy arranging tours to visit chocolate factories where they grow the cocoa right there, visits to waterfalls and hikes through the jungle, stops at nutmeg factories and spice plantations—and ,of course, there is always talk of food and which little village they should stop in for chicken roti and lambi (conk). Already there have been visits to Grand Anse beach, a striking white sand beach with perfect clear water. Women wander up and down offering to braid your hair and sell you sarongs, and of course the men are selling drinking coconuts; they are so good!

The on watch made their own treats tonight: grilled hamburgers, fresh salad, and real French fries. That was after they dried and furled all sail, made the topsides look all pretty and of course the usual coming-into-port-things like putting chafe gear on the mooring lines. Sails are getting laid out on the wharf at St. Georges as vessels sail in and out of the harbour. An old iron sugar cane boiling pot from slave days is now a planter on the beach at Grande Anse.

Today was a great day onboard the Picton Castle and off board, too!

Getting a cool drink, Picton Castle at the far dock.
Grenada Sunset
Looking across at the houses, Grenada.
Looking around the harbor.
Old sugar cane boiling pot on the beach, Grenada
Schoolchildren loiter on the quay.

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At Sea on the Way to Grenada

An hour after dawn. A sea bird has found a perch on the jack-stay of the main royal yard. The 4–8 watch has just reset the stuns’ls on starboard. The topmast stuns’l yard broke a day ago, now it’s fixed and back aloft spreading canvas. Lead Seaman Pania is snapping off instructions and orders with clear professional dispatch to get the morning duties under way. Hands are set to nipping the buntlines that have come slack over night. After bracing in a little, the watch coils all the manila lines down before getting the deck brushes and hose out for the early morning wash-down. The cook pokes his head out from his caboose and brings a fresh cup of strong coffee up to the quarter-deck. Carpenter, rigger, and sailmaker daymen bestir themselves with tooth brushings and coffees before breakfasts and the beginning of the work day. Becky at the wheel keeps a competent, practiced, steady course. The generator churns to life to power the wash-down pump and charge the batteries. The skies have been largely overcast for the last 1,200 miles but it appears that a little blue sky is trying to squeeze through this morning. Occasionally a squadron of flying fish breaks the surface of the sea and takes to wing for a couple of hundred yards. The Picton Castle is making close to six knots in modest quartering seas.

Today at 07-58 North and 053-03 West the Picton Castle has sailed into the huge mass of water that flows out of the Amazon River. Our ocean waters have become much darker, a sort of blackish green. We have also picked up speed due to a freshening breeze and a little fair current. At night we can now see both the Southern Cross and the North Star. A small red bird has joined us for a spell. Turns are being taken to keep Chibley away.

This excellent gang in the Picton Castle have come a long way. This has been an amazing voyage and still is. There is a fair amount of discussion these days as to the Big Question: What Next? Years ago the crew in sailing ships, loaded down with cargo, months and years behind them as crew in a ship would spend many an off watch discussing this very thing.

Fair skies are finally ours
Red bird on the way to Grenada
Sunset at sea

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From all the crew of the Barque Picton Castle to all our very much cherished Mothers—HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! We appreciate everything you do for us even though we are far away.

We are all thinking of you and wishing you a very happy day.

Look we sent you flowers! Happy Mother s Day!

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Here Comes the Rain Again!

Guess what? It is still raining.

Day 11 out of Fernando: It doesn’t rain continuously but in pockets. It could be really nice all morning and then, BAM! there’s a squall. Then an hour later, again, usually it is just when we are either about to do something like eat dinner, or when Rebecca and Amanda have finally decided okay maybe they will paint something or, God help us, varnish.

I grew up in England, so I generally don’t mind the rain too much, but this is A LOT of rain. Everyone is half dry, half wet, and that starts to lose its appeal quite quickly. As a whole we did not mind the rain too much in the beginning; it was refreshing and brought wind with it. Then one soaking and another and now this morning’s has, I admit, tipped us over from the not minding it to feeling that this is now very aggravating. The crew begs the engineers to let them hang their jeans over the rails in the Main Engine Room. Foulie coats hang from anywhere where they might dry, even a little bit. People even stand in the galley with a little hope that maybe their tee-shirt will dry from the heat of the stove. Clothes hang on the laundry line for a long time. You think you’ll be clever—as it’s been sunny for a few hours—so you throw your towel up there on the line, and Bingo! a squall. Your towel is now a lot more wet than it was. Three days later you look longingly at it, wishing it would eventually dry.

But, honestly—like anything Mother Nature brings, what can you really do about it? We make alternative arrangements. The sailmakers stitch in the salon, and it does get steamy down there with hatches closed, and the light isn’t so great because there are still people sleeping. The galley staff make do the best they can. Their biggest problem is to predict where to eat: Aloha deck, outside, or lug everything down below to the Salon? Most of us enjoy eating dinner in the salon, it gives us a chance to chat and hang about and, of course, eat on a table. Lunch and breakfast are eaten so quickly anyway, it doesn’t really matter where you eat it.

The rain changes where everyone hangs around during their off times. Usually there is a mass of people reading on the hatch or on the aloha deck, or working on projects like ditty bags and practicing celestial navigation. After dinner many people will watch the sunset or just chat on deck. With the rain we lose a bit of our socializing. Many of us, including myself, simply go hibernate. We go down below to where it’s dry (or less damp) to read or listen to music, or write letters. The Salon dwellers are card sharks, and generally a game or two of cards is being played, poker at the moment being their favourite. Kjetil openly admits he loves taking all Sam’s money off her. The Bat Cave dwellers generally have a movie of some sort playing, and last night the theme song from Indiana Jones was ringing all over the aft quarters! Sometimes computer batteries last the whole movie and sometimes they don’t, so you watch in installments!

About 800 nm from Grenada, we had a unexpected visitor. A beautiful red bird stopped by to have a rest. He was only little, but so gloriously red. Amanda fed him some crackers and Chibbley actually behaved—if you call skulking on the hatch twittering her whiskers behaving. The bird rested and then he was gone to find the rest of his friends.

Beautiful red bird having a rest on the way to Grenada
Erin standing next to a pile of trying to dry foulies on the way to Grenada
Rain, rain, rain on the way to Grenada
Susannah and Morgan sailmaking in the Salon on the way to Grenada

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Sans Pollywogs, Ship Work Continues

On board the Barque Picton Castle, we have no Pollywogs. The crew of this ship is made up of excellent Shellbacks only. King Neptune and court visited the Picton Castle and ministered his gentle indulgences as per longstanding tradition.

BUT it is still raining! Eight days and almost 1,000 miles out of Fernando, and not only does it rain, it pours—frequently.

Squalls with big, dark clouds darken our horizon, making us wait in anticipation as to exactly how much rain is coming. Sunday teased us out onto the deck with our books and sun cream to lie back and enjoy the sunny skies. Lulled into a sense of false security that the rain was gone, we were shocked on Monday, a morning so full of promise, to see the rain clouds again! It actually hurt our feelings. But there they were—menacing flats of black on the horizon, and they are still there today.

Ship work continues regardless. The fore royal yard has been sent down to be replaced with a new one that we will have to make, no problem. The carpenters, J.D., Logan, and Bart, have been taking the gear off the old royal yard to be used again on the new one they will make probably on the way home from Grenada.

Amanda and Rebecca, the Acting Bosuns, have been busy this morning sending down the fore t’gallant and fore upper tops’l to be patched. Susannah and her gang of sailmakers get ready to stitch away in the steamy salon.

The riggers—Papa Jack, Ollie, and Tracy—have been making new ratlines (these are the cross-sections that you climb up to get aloft, kind of like a rope ladder.

The watches have been rust busting on the quarterdeck.

Engineers Danie van Schalkwyk and David Matthews sweat it out in the Engine Room, pinging and banging at what ever it is they do down there. Now that the engine is on, they have gone back to engine watches and have commandeered Andrea D. to help with the third watch.

Bruce, Laura, and Drew are on galley and were last seen scrubbing dish towels in the plethora of fresh water we have right now from all these squalls! Only the problem this week is, Where to hang them so they dry? Answer: The engine room—it’s about 115°F. down there!

John Kemper is still Acting Third Mate, and Kjetil, Andrea M., and Pania are all Lead Seamen.

Grenada is about 1000 nm away, and we can smell the fried chicken from here.

Day 8--It is still raining on the way to Grenada.
John Kemper, acting thrid mate, looking at the squalls on the radar.
King Neptune and his Court make an appearance.
Ollie, Amanda, and Tracy sending the topsl down on the way to Grenada.
Rust Busters on the way to Grenada
Sending the fore royal yard down on the way to Grenada.

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Rain on the Way to Grenada

If we were Noah and our Barque was the Ark we’d be out collecting animals by the pair right now. As David Matthews just said lovely weather—if you are a duck!

It is raining and has been for four days—big, fat, heavy drops—and when it stops and looks a little clear then it laughs in your face and rains some more! All you can hear is giggling all over the ship as people have no choice but to either go to galley, the head or the quarterdeck, and a short walk through this rain and you are quite literally drenched. The 8–12 have given up; they sit on the quarterdeck in full foulies laughing as it runs down their sleeves and into the inner layer. Hair plastered to their heads and feet and hands all pruned from being wet so long. On a good note, our feet are very clean and our Barque has had a freshwater rinse that we didn’t need to fill buckets for. The air has cooled to livable, and as I figure it we don’t need a shower now! AND with this squally weather come bursts of speed taking us from 4–5 knots to sometimes 8 or 9 knots, lovely! So you won’t hear us complaining, but you may hear us wringing out our clothes! All in all, this is not so bad.

We are treacherously close now to Neptune’s home waters. At 1’03.139°S x 37’19.656°W, we wonder if the rain is another warning and that all these Pollywogs onboard are not making Neptune happy, or perhaps he sends the rain to try and cleanse our nine pollywogs. We did have our first written warning, which showed up on the well deck a day ago, pleading with us to take the wretched smell of pollywog off our beautiful, white Danzinger of the sea.

Who knows what could happen? Any day now Neptune himself could make an appearance on the Barque Picton Castle! I’m glad I’m not a pollywog!

8-12 Watch gets a little bit wet!
Big fat drops of rain on the way to Grenada.
Squalls overhead on the way to Grenada.

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Fernando de Noronha

It seemed that from St. Helena to Fernando de Noronha that it took the Picton Castle at least three years to get there, it was in fact only 16 days. Why certain passages seem longer than others is always a mystery to me. But the crew of the Picton Castle were going slightly stir crazy on that passage to Fernando de Noronha. This made our arrival at Fernando a very exciting moment!

From the sea Fernando de Noronha is not a big mountain sticking out of the water, like so many Islands we visit, but a series of jagged peaks and very lush and green. It is so green that from 20 miles away you can see how green it is. It is striking, with the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Big, wide expanses of fine, velvety sand and fierce surf that is great for playing in the waves like a five year old. Fernando de Noronha has special protection to preserve its environment, its endemic species, and ecosystems; it is a Brazilian national park and has a population of just over 2000 people.

They also have cold drinks! Honestly, it was the first thing anyone wanted. Cold juice, coke, beer, milk, anything cold.

Second, we needed dune buggies or “boogies” as the islanders called them. Most everyone drives a dune buggy. Severely basic, they hold 4–5 people and don’t shift gears very well, hence the sound grrr, cruch, grrrrr you hear everywhere, but they will drive over anything and are great for Fernando de Noronha, where the roads are paved only part of the time. Top tip: you must hold on, it’s a good idea.

Third, the crew wanted to eat. Eating is very easy in Fernando. They have these great buffets at lunch and dinner, where you pay for your food by weight or the set buffet price. There is lots of fresh fish and a local specialty that is like curry with coconut milk and vegetables. Or you can go down to the beaches, where you will find little beach cafés under tarpaulins with their BBQs heated up ready to serve you fresh grilled fish “caught just now” or houloum, cheese grilled with herbs. Yummy!

Then, when you aren’t thirsty and hungry and you have the appropriate wheels, you go exploring. The diving is excellent on Fernando de Noronha and they have two wrecks you can dive on, or a general dive to see the amazing array of fish and sea life; the water is so warm wetsuits are not needed. They have a huge variety of sea life with 30 types of coral and 3 types of fish endemic to the island. There is a protected variety of spinner dolphin that literally goes straight up out of the water spinning around. You can watch these dolphins in the bay of Golphinos, where they come in to hang out and do gregarious, spinner dolphin stuff, but you are not allowed to swim with them. Fernando also has a project that specializes in protecting the sea turtles; you can go snorkeling with them (but no touching) and they are huge!

Fernando has a large range of flora and fauna with every color of hibiscus you can imagine. It is a gorgeous place and so well looked after! The beaches are really clean and good for more than a whole day of frolicking, sunbathing, playing Frisbee, getting beat up by the surf (I am still sore. I played like a 5 year old, and now I feel like a 50 year old!). There is so much to do, but nothing to do really. Does that make sense? It is full of relaxation and getting wet in the squalls driving around in a dune buggy, swimming, sleeping late, and eating. Sounds good? It was.

There is also very old colonial architecture and ruins, fantastic sunsets with something cold to drink in hand. The locals all enjoy their island almost as much as we do, with beach picnics and lots of dancing. Lots of wooden fishing boats are built right on the beach at a small shade tree shipyard with tilting band saw. All hands had a great stop at this friendly Brazilian island—but we are also anxious to get to Grenada and the Caribbean. We can sniff the Caribbean from here!

Two and a half weeks now until Grenada and this morning a note from Neptune arrived. It seems that an awful stench of Pollywog has reached him—there may be trouble ahead!

Baia de San Antonio, Fernando
Baia de Sancho, by David Matthews
Baia San Antonio, Fernando
Boatbuilding, Fernando
Fernando 136
Kids play in the surf, Fernando
Kimbers and Kjetil smacked by the surf, photo by David Matthews
Lizard. Photo by David Matthews.
PC at anchor. Baia San Antonio, Fernando

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