Captain's Log

Archive for June, 2006

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Sailing Home Into Lunenburg

Anchored in serene Port Motoun the day came in blue, crisp and clear. The gang got up bright and early to heave up the anchor for the passage of the last few miles of this amazing voyage round this world of ours world back into Lunenburg. Decent winds had been forecast but the sea was calm with barely a breath of wind, so we motored on to keep to our appointed rendezvous off Cross Island at 1300 with the jib-boom of the Picton Castle to round Battery Point at 1400 and into the harbor, hopefully under sail.

The crew scrambled aloft to loose all sail in the hopes of catching a sailing breeze later on. Sure enough, as we puttered down the coast, off the Le Have Islands a SWly breeze filled in and the gang set all sail in the Picton Castle for the last time on this circumnavigation. Soon the Picton Castle was sliding along sweetly on a sunny Nova Scotian sailing day, all sails set and drawing, all flags hoisted and snapping brightly. To say that the energy onboard was “high” would be something of an enormous understatement. Soon enough Walter Flowers whale watching boat was alongside with shaking signs, hands and arms waving madly. As we steered north-west into Lunenburg’s outer harbor, naturally, the wind picked up and the ship surged ahead. Rounding Battery Point close hauled under full sail braced on the port tack was a thrill for all of us, somewhat less so for me (or perhaps more so) because as we bore off three points into the channel this gave us more and a fairer breeze adding speed at much the same point when a good skipper would be wanting to slow down. But we had talked about this with all hands and they were all ready to get sail off in a hurry. Our barque galloped down the channel as the crew got sail off her and the Picton Castle came beam to the wind just off our pier head braking the ship in a sliding fashion, then we backed into the wharf crowded with eager friends and family, somehow remembered to put our hawsers on the pilings, squared the yards, up and stowed the canvas sail hanging and flogging in the clew and buntlines and the fourth world voyage of the Barque Picton Castle from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia was done. That will do the watches.

As the Picton Castle was sailing around the Point Lynsey had set up the Cargo Sale on the wharf. We had forwarded all our world voyage exotic cargo ahead so it could be ready when we arrived. We had wanted to do this before couldn’t figure out how. After all many of the folks who would be keenest to get some of this crazy stuff would be there when we arrived. So this was done with a lot of help from a lot of people and the 4th World Voyage Cargo Sale was a big success. We do, however, have a goodly hold full to share the joy up in the Great Lakes this coming summer. Lynsey and her helpers set out beautifully displayed mahogany sea-chests, beautiful teak garden furniture, Sarongs, bamboo wind-chimes, bowls inlaid with cinnamon, colourful Bali kites, Pitcairn Island shark carvings, Fiji jewelry, dug-out canoes, Masai spears, Zulu bead-work, Tonga tapa cloth, Rodrigues baskets, big wooden spoons, woven fabrics from the Galapagos, carved chess sets, flutes and xylophones. And maybe a million other things. It was also fun for the crew show all these trade goods to their families and tell stories about them. And then we had our night at the “Oscar’s”.

All hands gathered at shipmate Alan Creaser’s “Old Fish Factory”. All received “Awards” of some sort, lots of hugs, some tears and lots of laughs as crew told stories on each other and had their last moments together as a crew. The next day crew unloaded sea-chests, ditty-bags, sea-bags and began the long trek home. This fourth circumnavigation of ours may have come to an end but their voyage that they started here in the Picton Castle will carry on forever.


30,000 miles sailed, 19 anchorages, 138,700 pounds of anchor and chain heaved back, 400 miles of braces hauled, 239,616 dishes washed, 1,630 watches stood, 257 days at sea, 127 days in ports, 1 royal yard shaped and crossed, 13 sails made by hand, one stunsl boom carried away, a three foot stack of charts used, two cyclones dodged, zero anchors dragged, 1200 coconuts consumed, 384 jars peanut butter scoffed, 25 ports visited in 20 different countries, 61,440 cups of coffee drank, 10 tons of school supplies delivered, 6,850 packages of instant noodles eaten, 4,000 tours given to guests on board, 250 gallons of paint applied….

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Arriving Lnbrg 107
on way to bermuda 418

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Sailing for Cross Island

Last night Rebecca steered and Greg conned the Picton Castle into the bay at Port Mouton to anchor for the night. Soon we were surrounded by cool still waters and rocky pine-covered islands with a big orange sun setting gently in the west. It was a perfect crystal sky evening. Joe got out a fine dinner of barbeque pork while all hands stowed sail. After supper we had a quiet last “marlinspike.” As it is considered bad luck to take a whole group photograph of a crew (with exceptions) before a voyage is done, we took pictures of the crew in two groups. Brent took a picture of all the lads. This we did up on the foc’s’le head. Then all the women of the ship had a group portrait, but up on the quarterdeck. Probably some symbolism there on who and which gender runs this ship. We have a stomach bug running around the ship that we picked up in Bermuda, so Laura missed the group picture. Instead of Polynesian drum songs and Bob Marley Reggae music, we listened to Stan Rogers and Great Big Sea and other music from Newfoundland. Of course, we had popcorn and some Stella Artois beer contributed by my brother Jon at Bermuda.

This morning all hands were roused at 0600 to heave up the anchor and make our way down the coast towards Cross Island and Lunenburg Harbour. Another brilliant morning. We got the Picton Castle under way in a perfect calm, and it was very beautiful passing the small islands and a pretty lighthouse. Before breakfast all hands scrubbed the deck down and loosed all sail, soon to set and sail for the last 40 miles of this voyage around the world in the Barque Picton Castle.

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on way to bermuda 409
on way to bermuda 411
on way to bermuda 413
on way to bermuda 417
on way to bermuda 420
on way to bermuda 422

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Shelburne in TS ALBERTO

At about eight o’clock in the evening our tempest blinked and started to ease up. The Picton Castle stopped heeling on the roar in the rigging softened to a low whine. The wind backed into the northwest and the barometer started to go up. The storm was passing. We heard that a joint US and Canadian Coast Guard rescue operation got the folks off the sinking yacht that was in the worst part of the storm. We had been all hands, but now we could break off into watches. We would get going again early in the morning to get back underway for Lunenburg. The radio was promising a nice day and weekend for our passage down the coast and arrival at 1400 Saturday.

Shelburne is a lovely and historic old ship-building town. Initially settled by post–American Revolution Loyalists as well as freed Black American slaves, Shelburne has broad streets and many beautiful old houses from the 1700s. Many of the crew walked around town in the abating rain on the way to the pub—The Sea Dog Saloon—which took good care of us. There were some very pretty windows including a stained glass window of a bounding square-rigger.

This morning we had a perfectly still wind and a bright clear day and a small container-ship headed up harbour who wanted our berth. We cast off and headed south for the last time on this voyage. On our way down the shore we have a lot to do. John Kemper is in charge of sending up the fine new royal yard. Of course, we have loosed and set all sail to a pleasant SW breeze. All the flags have to be organized for tomorrow. Spot painting is needed here and there. Susannah and Morgan are putting the finishing touches on the upper topsail for the Charles W. Morgan, sticking in grommets and reef points. And we have bent on the fore royal and flying jib. Lots of little jobs are getting done. All I have to find a place to anchor for the night. Tomorrow we get up very early and sail for Lunenburg. It is a beautiful day on the southwestern shore of Nova Scotia.

Afoot in the murk.
Bending sail on the new yard.
Boats in Shelburne Harbour escaping Alberto.
First Mate Sam Heyman checks the penants for arrival.
Morning dawns clear.
On our way Home!
PICTON CASTLE alongside in Shelburne.
Putting finishing touches on the sail for C. W. MORGAN.
Royal yard goes up.
Safely ashore in the Sea Dog Saloon
Sending up the new Royal Yard.
Shelburne village window
Shelburne Village window 2
The pleasures of a Nova Scotia shoreside tavern.
Touching up a few spots with paint to look our best!

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Blowing Hard

Day before yesterday the Picton Castle and crew were enjoying a lovely day sailing along homeward bound in the warm Gulf Stream—fine balmy west winds, small seas, sunny skies—not so bad. We had been making a good passage north from Bermuda without any problems. But this is the North Atlantic so we have the keenest interest in weather reports and predictions.

All this time a Tropical Storm called ALBERTO has been brewing and boiling in the Gulf of Mexico, which would properly seem pretty far away. But for a storm ready to hook up to 20 then 30 knots in forward motion while spinning around at 50 knots, it really isn’t so far at all. The predictions had been pretty far off for when it was going to break out of the Gulf, but all agreed that when it did, it would move fast and furious for right along the south shore of Nova Scotia. This makes it sound localized, but the system would spread gales from the Bay of Fundy to Georges Banks all the way down to Bermuda. So, being within rock-throwing distance of Nova Scotia, we fired up the main engine and paddled north as fast as we could, the idea being to get into a safe harbour and lashed alongside the closest secure wharf right away.

We made Shelburne yesterday in a light southwesterly wind on the port quarter. I was set to come sailing in under the lee of a low, rocky, pine tree–covered Nova Scotian headland, this time Cape Roseway of McNutt’s Island (McNutts = son of Nutts?). After a year of tropical fragrances, it was a delight to inhale the ambrosia of pine saltwater tide, seaweed and even a little wood fire smoke of the North. Harbourmaster Don Faye called us up and gave us a fine berth to wait out the predicted blow. We got the ship tied up starboard side to the pier with plenty of hawsers. Customs Canada graciously adapted to our changed port of entry and cleared us in along with a small container ship and a yacht dodging the same weather. A few big North Atlantic deep sea trawlers steamed in after us with much the same idea in mind. The short-term forecasts all called for a still night with winds to pick up in the morning. So, we set the watches and headed off to the “Wreck-Room,” the local pub. It might have been 8:30 in the evening when 30 or so Picton Castle crew wandered in. Apparently thinking about closing early due to light business on a rainy Tuesday night this all changed as we filled the place up. The friendly publican, Al, made us all feel welcome and at home. We took over the pool table and paid close attention to the Oilers / Carolina Hockey game on the big screens. We rooted for our Canadians to beat their Canadians.

One of the problems with predicting storms, of course, is that they don’t always do what you predict. Sometimes they are less intense than predicted, in which case people make fun of the weather forecasters. Sometimes a storm does exactly as predicted, which doesn’t seem to surprise anyone. And then sometimes the storms are a bit worse than forecast. That seems to be becoming the case with ALBERTO. While not coming right out and calling this a full-on hurricane, the latest warning that came over one of our little black boxes called this a storm with “hurricane-force” winds. Today, at four o’clock in the afternoon alongside in Shelburne, it is blowing very hard out of the NNW after doing the same from the NE a couple of hours ago. The Picton Castle is heeling away from the wharf as if we were sailing at about 5+ degrees and straining hard on all her lines. There is a roar in the rigging this crew has never heard before. All hands are standing by to do what is needed for their ship, but at this point there is little to do. The good news is that ALBERTO is blasting through pretty fast; tomorrow it should be gone to torment the south shore of Newfoundland and then off to Ireland. The weekend in Nova Scotia is predicted to be nice and sunny. Let’s hope so. We have just heard a MAYDAY from a yacht “Dad’s Dream” that left Bermuda with us bound for Halifax. Then we heard partial transmissions of a joint US Coast Guard / Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue operation. It is very, very rough out at sea south of us. We are anxious for their safety.

The weather has not stopped a small stream of visitors to the wharf including Mr. Milford Buchanan, who is making the finest little models of the Picton Castle for our shop in Lunenburg. Mr. Buchanan came down the wharf with his son and presented me with one of his handsome little wooden Picton Castles. I hope he comes back when he can come aboard for a “mug-up,” so we can show him around the real thing and thank him properly.

Cute models of the PC will be on sale in our store!
Dirty weather brings in other ships.
We arrive safely at Shelburne.

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North Atlantic: Lows and Squalls
and Tropical Storms, Oh, My! Gulf Stream too!

The Picton Castle is sailing due north at about 40 degrees North latitude just now. With a little help from a Gulf Stream eddy we are making 11 knots. The sun is coming out and we have a fresh west wind on the port beam. Lunenburg is at about 44 degrees 20 minutes north latitude. Now, bear in mind that 45 degrees is halfway to the North Pole from the equator. If we go much further north we stand the danger of slipping right over the top.

The latest on Tropical Storm ALBERTO—which has been churning around in the Gulf of Mexico—is that it is going to break loose along the eastern seaboard and head for Lunenburg, muy rapido, just like the Picton Castle. And get there more or less the same time we are supposed to. So we are paddling pretty hard to duck in somewhere along the southwestern shore of Nova Scotia by Wednesday night and get secured to let old AL pass by. Now 50-knot winds may not be a hurricane, but they’re nasty enough for me. It looks like we will have nice weather for sailing into Lunenburg on June 17, anyway.

The HMCS Preserver was heading south and dutifully sent a helicopter over to check on this mysterious pirate ship headed into Canadian waters. Finding out it was the Picton Castle they hailed a happy return and carried on with their duties patrolling the seas. Crew got pretty excited to see a Canadian Navy ship checking us out.

Yesterday we were still in the Gulf Stream only 200 miles south of Lunenburg. The water was 74 degrees F. and it was a sweet summer, even tropical day. Passing over the northern boundary of the Stream (and through a lot of fishing vessels working “the wall”) the water temperature dropped by 24 degrees, and thus did the air a great deal, too, and then the fog socked in. All our tropical flower crew are wigged out with how cold it is (it isn’t that cold).

Logan has his new royal yard ready to send up and so we won’t feel underdressed sailing into Lunenburg. Sailmakers are hard at it stitching away in the salon. Sea bag makers are hard at it as well. Deck watch has double lookouts in the fog, “a right tic dungeon o’ fog.”

Somehow a picture of the Picton Castle at anchor at Palmerston Atoll, deep in the South Pacific Ocean, in the warm gentle trade winds, turquoise waters, balmy breezes, soft sand in between the toes got in here. How could that happen?

Cold and foggy as we leave Gulf Stream behind
Crew work on seabags.
Headed north--and home.
Keeping an eye on the weather--14 June
Picton Castle at anchor as seen from the beach, Palmerston
Putting finishing touches on new Royal yard
Royal yard in progress.

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Passage North

The Picton Castle sailed from St. Georges, Bermuda with an eager crew excited about the last sea passage to Lunenburg, friends and family and the end of our voyage around the world. Most of the gang aboard sailed in this barque from Lunenburg just over year over a year ago. Now 30,000 miles later, they are homeward bound. The day came in with a fresh SW breeze and some sunshine and blue sky in between the low scudding clouds. All hands aboard, dropped off the pilot and soon we were steering due north under all sail but stuns’ls making a nice turn of knots. The night was fine with a murky moon hazily glowing through racing clouds.

This morning our wind was making up just a couple points aft of the port beam. The sky is getting thicker and we got in some sail. Spanker, main royal, flying-jib, main t’gallant staysail, gaff topsail and at last, the spanker all taken and stowed and we are still making a nice 7.5 knots. The seas have gotten pretty lumpy though so we are swooping along with plenty of motion. Storm handlines are rigged even though this is not a storm, just a fresh bit o’ breeze. Turns out we have a big low pressure system centered over the Bay of Fundy that reaches all the way down to south of Bermuda; this is what is giving us our strong and favourable winds. Not bad. The more important news is that we have a first Tropical Depression, now called Tropical Storm Alberto, developing in the Gulf of Mexico that the weather folks seem to think is going to scoot rapidly our way. I think this year we all need to keep an eye on the Gulf; the water is hot there, and that’s what cooks up a hurricane.

The crew are all good: excited and spooked at the same time to be headed home. Not much to be done about that. Signing on a ship is hard enough; sailing around the world in a 180′ square-rigger with 49 other people is challenge enough but it is harder still to go ashore. And it’s impossible to properly explain to anyone who hasn’t really gone to sea under sail for an extended period of time. We can list some of our ports: Panama, Galapagos, across the broad South Pacific to famous Pitcairn Island, Mangareva in French Polynesia, Rarotonga, Palmerston Atoll, Vavau in the Kingdom of Tonga, Viti-Levu in Fiji; Esprit, Malekula, Pentecost, Maewo in the Vanuatu Islands; through the treacherous Torres Straights to magical Bali, Christmas Island off Australia; Rodrigues and Reunion in the Indian Ocean; took a pass on Madagascar due to a pesky cyclone; around the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town, South Africa; tried to put into Namibia and got blown out by a violent gale then onto St. Helena, Fernando de Noronha off the corner of Brazil; Grenada, Bequia and Jost Van Dyke in the sweet West Indies. And that’s the time we spend ashore. Going to sea is something else altogether. Steering (and learning to steer), hauling braces, taking in stiff canvas sails in a squall, learning the 175 pieces of running gear, splicing, sewing, tarring, painting, oiling, varnishing, washing dishes, keeping forward lookout, aloft to furl out on the yards, sunburn, mildew, sunsets, sunrises, burning sun, crossword puzzles, star sights with a sextant, weather reporting, playing guitar up on the well-deck, rubbing the cat’s belly, keeping the log, packing your bunk, making a sea bag, stuffing a sea chest, learning your shipmates as they learn you.

The wind is still picking up and blowing 25-30 on the port quarter and the Picton Castle is going just about as fast as she can, bound for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Five hundred miles to go.

A fresh breeze for Nova Scotia
Flying the Canbadian flag
Making all sail

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Bermuda Interlude

The island or actually islands of Bermuda are an interesting phenomenon. A coral island formation growing off the top of a sunken volcano like this should be somewhere out deep in the South Pacific Ocean or maybe in the Maldives. These islands and cays of Bermuda most closely resemble the Vava’u group of the northern Tonga islands, yet here is Bermuda high up in the North Atlantic Ocean with New York City and Nova Scotia not even 700 miles away. It is a low archipelago surrounded by broad coral reefs lurking in an area of weather convergence; many ships sailed for their end when they might not have been looking for an island at all. The Portuguese, Spanish, and finally the English stumbled upon Bermuda in the 1500s and 1600s.

For us, Bermuda is delightfully placed due south of Lunenburg and about halfway to the Caribbean Sea. After sailing for a year in trade winds and warm palm-tree and volcanic covered islands with relaxed tropical island cultures, Bermuda is a port call of transition for us. It all appears very tropical with its distinctive architecture and pastel shades and palm trees everywhere. The people of Bermuda are a rich mosaic of folks with an accent particular to the island—a bit West Indian, a bit southern, and a bit English, all mixed up together in a pleasant tempo, each variation depending upon where the speaker may have gone to higher education. Bermuda is startlingly expensive, but that only serves to ease the shock of re-entry into North American and European cost of living soon to hit us. We find we spend more at the cheap islands anyway. Why? Because they are so cheap!

Our visit to Bermuda begins with taking a pilot on just off Town Cut into St. Georges at the east end of the island. Captain Wendle did the job; he has taken us in before, and we have many friends in common. Soon the Picton Castle was anchored in “Powder Hole” with our heavy port anchor and three shots of chain out. Paulina, who has sailed many times with the ship, was there to greet us with my brother, Jon, in tow who also has sailed with this ship and was instrumental in helping get the ship across from Europe these many years ago. As is typical of this Picton Castle crew, all hands found much to do—laundry, movies, motor-bike rental, pubs, sweet little beaches, and get-togethers here and there.

We had some local excitement when a cruise ship went aground making the turn into Hamilton Harbour in a blinding squall. These are pretty big ships maneuvering in pretty tight corners sometimes; even with all the electronic aids in the world you still need to see where you are going. They got the ship off on the evening tide without much problem. Now they have to assess what kind of damage happened to the reef. The passengers seemed to think it was exciting.

I am often asked about the “Bermuda Triangle.” What is it? Is it real? Why are there so many mysterious marine accidents in this area, which is basically the western North Atlantic? Well, I suppose it’s much the same as asking why there are so many car accidents at the busiest urban intersection of a major city at rush-hour instead of, say, a national forest. This area of the North Atlantic is simply very busy and has ever changing and sometimes quite violent weather. That and being the front door to any number of naval training exercises and amateur yacht-sailors sticking their nose into the deep blue for the first time, it is a wonder that there haven’t been more accidents. The weather in this area has lows rolling out of the Gulf of Mexico and off North America, hitting first the cold water north of the Gulf Stream and then the hot water of the Stream itself. Small wonder it boils up around here. It can be a pretty treacherous patch of water. Enough said.

Our base in St. Georges is always Ocean Sails sail-loft, with Steve and Suzanne Hollis at the helm, always glad to see us and hear about far-flung sailing friends. They can be amazingly resourceful—internet, tell us where to go to solve problems, even had a band saw on hand so Logan could cut a new yoke for the royal yard he is finishing. Just as we arrived Paulina was making a new colourful pennant for the Picton Castle at Ocean Sails.

Bermuda is well known as a recreational travelers’ destination. But it is also an island steeped in British and American history dating back to the first English colonies in America. This is best witnessed in St. Georges which, following in the wake of Lunenburg, is also being designated a United Nations World Heritage site. Here are pretty little houses with white-washed roofs that catch the rain along winding, narrow, town streets. The cemetery illustrates the influx over the years of Canadian, American, British and souls from other nations and particularly the islands of the West Indies. St. Kitts has a lot of grandchildren in Bermuda. Sailing ships from all over put into Bermuda. In the window of Ocean Sails is a perfect tiny model of a sailing whale boat left over from the days when men whaled from these shores. St. Georges was very much a base for Confederate blockade runners during the American Civil war. This brought a burst of wealth to this end of Bermuda of which the results are all around us. Today you find many Canadians here in the business of managing lots of money, among other things.

One particular serendipitous meeting was with the hospitable and welcoming members of the “East End Mini Yacht Club.” A chance encounter on a pier turned into an invitation to come on up and mix at the EEMYC. Soon a few of us were dancing, painting (yes, painting, as renovations were under way), and making new acquaintances at this venerable, vibrant, and down-to-earth sailing club. They have plans afoot to build up their youth sailing program. You can’t ski or mountain climb in Bermuda, but you sure can sail. Wesley, Stevie Dickenson, and Commodore Patty Washington could not have made us feel more welcome. Hats off to the EEMYC and much thanks.

The famous and even notorious (in a good way) single-handed sailor Paul Johnson in his most able Venus ketch Cherub sailed in just as we were clearing out on Saturday morning. Our crew had had a fine time sailing with Paul at Jost Van Dyke in the BVI. We welcomed him with a bottle of the best rum in the world—”Goslings” Black Seal—and we regretted that we had to sail on just as he pulled in. We encouraged him to follow us to Lunenburg, where he is anxious to get a hold of some superior Dauphinee blocks. Perhaps we will see him in lovely Lunenburg, but sail we must. We have a fair wind and a good chance along. One thing around here: You take your chance when you get it because the weather is sure to change and soon.

After monkeying around getting the port anchor back and catted, we steamed out the way we came in and soon we had all sail set and were steering due north bound for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where many of our friends and family will shortly be gathering to meet the Picton Castle on June 17th (if all goes well) We are having our cargo sale at the same time, so come one, come all!

18th-century houses mark Bermuda
Captain (far right), Paulina and friends
Captain Dan and Paul Johnson
Having a good time is part of the mix.
Model of a sailing whale boat
Norwegian cruise ship in a bit of difficulty
Nova Scotian gravetone
Our hosts banner
Pastel houses give charm.
Paulina making penant
Picton Castle and pilot boat
View from the top!

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Steering for the North Star

At 25 degrees north latitude the Picton Castle sailed out of our beloved trade winds. The water temperature has dropped 5 degrees since the Virgin Islands and cloud patterns have shifted to those we remember from long ago over the northern hemisphere. We are maybe two days south of Bermuda, our last port before Lunenburg. But a couple of days ago all was as it has been for most of the last year.

The yards of the ship were braced up halfway on the starboard tack to catch a fine Force-4 southeast trade wind on the quarter. Sailmakers were stitching away on the main hatch sewing tablings on the sail we are making for the 1841 Whaling Bark Charles W. Morgan laying at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, USA. This sail is coming out quite fine and we are looking forward to donating it to the ship and museum. Susannah, Ivan, Morgan, Kathleen, and watch helpers have finished a new main t’gallant staysail that set very well, and they are about to finish a new main deck awning. That will be quite nice to have.

Logan, Bart, and JD are swinging adzes, draw-knives and planes at a 28-foot chunk of spruce shaping a new fore-royal yard. The first yard broke at the beginning of the last voyage. We made a new one by gluing up some planks we bought in Panama. A couple of the planks have softened up a bit (code for rotten) so now we get to make one properly out of a big piece of pine we have been carrying around for years in the port waterways just for this purpose. We hope to have it crossed before Lunenburg, of course. What traditional spar-making I know I learned from West Indian shipwrights in the Caribbean, from Mr. Ruben Petersen in St. Thomas and from Mr. Wesley “Bones” Pilgrim in Grenada. I enjoy seeing young carpenters gain these skills learned as young sailors did before the mast in wooden sailing ships.

Ollie, Tracy, Andrea D., and Shackle are rigging away. Almost all the lower shrouds have been completely overhauled since Cape Town. This is a big job. All the wire seizings laboriously clamped on in 1996 in the snowy Lunenburg winter have to be broken off to get at the serving underneath. It is the serving and the wire itself that needs to be overhauled, not the seizings; they are fine, just in the way. Then the 8 or 10 feet of 1-1/8-inch wire underneath gets cleaned and wire brushed, greased with viscous goop, parceled with fine canvas and reserved with tarred marlin. Then this stiff wire needs to be bent around the solid rigging thimble and secured. Lastly, four heavy wire seizings have to be passed around to hold the legs tightly together. This is old-time sailing ship rigging—hard and nasty at times—but the gang is good at it. Ratlines are being renewed and rigging screws overhauled at the same time. Pretty tarry crowd we have here.

After work is done for the day, Ollie, Shackle, and Torunn (from Norway) have been studying Scandinavian sailing ship terms, since they want to sail in the several Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish ships. They are all good sailors and seamen; they just need to learn this business in their own language. I help them by giving terms in Danish, which are mostly the same as Norwegian. We use a wonderful Danish book (still in print) called Haandbog af Praktisk Somaendskab by Jens Kusk Jensen; it is the best book of its kind. In the mid 1970s Captain Kimberly in the Brigantine Romance used to help me pour over his old copy of this book to learn Scandinavian sea terms. Learning these terms helped get me a four-year berth in the Full Rigged Ship Danmark. Not bad, I thought.

Amanda and Rebecca and all their helpers have been hard at it. Painting and varnishing was coming along in the fine weather. Pin rails got more varnish. The masts have all gotten painted out a nice buff. Oh, you can paint a ship forever…

Danie has Brett and Pania as his engine-room helpers. Brett is a veteran of the machinery, and Pania says she likes it a lot. They report that they have been doing lots of cleaning. Hot work sometimes but it’s important. Joe is putting out the meals and even more birthday cakes. Today it’s mac and cheese with lots of salads. Joe will be sailing in the Topsail Schooner Shenandoah this summer, cooking on. He is quite a talented musician, a guitarist and singer who writes his own songs that have a Celtic, Maritime, bluesy feel to them. He has three excellent albums out, so why does he cook in sailing ships? Says he likes the life.

A lot of hands are finishing up canvas sea-bags with certain urgency. Lunenburg and the 17th of June are not far away.

Carpenters among the shavings
Danie starting the Main Engine
Ivan the sailmaker
Kathleen on the wheel near JVD
Pania and Danie
Preparing lunch
Redoing the rig
Redoing the wire seizings
Sailors are carpenters, too.
Shaping the yard
Sunset on way to Bermuda

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At Bermuda

The Picton Castle approached Bermuda late on Monday afternoon, and we were escorted into St. George’s by our friend and shipmate Paulina in her little boat. As you come through the narrow cut into St. George’s it is like walking into a film set—the houses look like sweets, all different pastel colours and complimentary coloured shutters. The water is an amazing array of turquoises with bits of ship wreck sticking right up.

But for us it has been a little bit rainy! Not that we mind, but my, my, my! Can you ever get wet in a skiff ride in the type of rain that is sheeting it down! And it is definitely cooler. The crew have been busy exploring going to the aquarium, buying last bits and bobs of their world adventure, enjoying long meals while watching the rain from under little restaurants that dot the harbour front, such as the ever-famous White Horse. Admittedly not many of us have made it to the beach for a quiet day! There have been trips on the high speed ferry over towards Hamilton and the dockyards to go to the maritime museum.

On board, Logan and his carpenters have been roaring along on the new Fore Royal Yard. I can’t believe how much they have done in such a short amount of time! It started off being a spare bit of large square timber sitting in the breezeway, Making the new yard is much like taking a stick and making a toothpick out of it. All of sudden there it is—a new yard! I believe that after a couple coats of varnish it will be all ready to go up and have the sails bent on, just in time for our return.

Even though our return is imminent, and there is a lot of anxiety as to what we will do next, our spirits are high in anticipation of seeing friends and family on the dock. Until then Bermuda awaits!

Carpenters Logan, JD, Bart making a new yard on the way Bermuda
Morgan having a hard day sailmaking on the way to Bermuda
New yard takes shape.
The yard nearly done!

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A Sail for the Charles W. Morgan

We hope that folks have been following the websites of both the Picton Castle and Mystic Seaport – The Museum of America and the Sea – on this our fourth voyage around the world. One thing we have added on to this voyage in conjunction with Mystic Seaport is to tell stories of square-rigger voyaging today to, in part, glean what has changed and what has stayed much the same between the 19th-century ocean wanderings of the Bark Charles W. Morgan and these world voyages of the Picton Castle. There is so much similar about the ships and the waters sailed that we all thought this would be an interesting exercise in historic interpellation and interpretation. This 1841 wooden sailing whale ship is due to be soon hauled out of the water for a meticulous and fascinating hull restoration that will last three years at Mystic Seaport’s DuPont Preservation Shipyard. Not only will this preserve the Morgan for decades to come, it will also provide unique insights to ancient ship building techniques and methods. I can’t wait to see the old ship out of the water and partially peeled back, it will be fascinating.

As part of studying, considering, and celebrating the voyages of the venerable bark Charles W. Morgan we thought it would be a good thing to give something from the Picton Castle to that wooden sailing whale ship as Mystic Seaport gets ready to give her a massive overhaul. We couldn’t figure out much that we could do from afar that would actually be useful, but then we got thinking about sailmaking. After some discussion by all concerned we decided that the thing to do was to make a brand-new but completely historic hand-made cotton sail for the Morgan—a cotton sail as close as possible to the sails that once drove her along. This would be no great hardship, as we make all our own sails by hand on the decks of the Picton Castle with palm and needle, in much the same way as did the clippers and large square-riggers of the age of sail. This would be a fun project, would require some good research, and the Picton Castle crew could take pride in the results. Maybe we could even bend on and set this sail for a passage to give the canvas some off-shore seatime before turning it over to Mystic Seaport.

After discussing the notion with Sailmaker Gary Adair, with demonstrations leader Mary Kay Berkaw at Mystic Seaport and others, we decided to make an upper-topsail for the Morgan. Gary was very helpful in sorting out some historical detailing and organized plans for us, which were sent to South Africa so that we could begin. Susannah Clark—who sailed in the Picton Castle along the east coast of Africa and home to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, on our first world voyage—has joined us a sailmaker on this voyage after spending a year working for pre-eminent sailmaker Nat Wilson of East Boothbay, Maine, in between sailing in various large schooners. Nat is world recognized as one of the top go-to sailmakers today for traditional sails for schooners and square-riggers, as well as fine yachts.

Once-upon-a-time, most deep-water sailing ships made all their own sails on a regular basis. A sailmaker would have been one of the permanent day-men in a big ship, along with the carpenter, cook, and steward, maybe a donkey-man, too. Qualified Able-Bodied Seamen along with mates and skipper were expected to be close to fair sailmakers themselves as well. The Charles W. Morgan would have kept a sailmaker pretty well employed on her long ocean voyages of years’ durations. But you don’t find sailmakers at sea in ships anymore, except for our little barque.

There is another chapter to this story of sailmaking in the Picton Castle—one that knits things together with Mystic Seaport and the Charles W. Morgan pretty soundly too. The only real reason that we can make sails in the Picton Castle at all is due to Captain Arthur M. Kimberly. Captain Kimberly with his able wife Gloria and only sextant, lead-line and years of know-how sailed their Danish wooden Brigantine Romance for 23 years all around the Caribbean, South Pacific, and twice around the world in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Captain Kimberly, known to his many young crews as “Skipper,” first went to sea in down-east coasting schooners before signing on the Swedish four-masted bark Abraham Rydberg just before WWII. Kimberly was a seaman before the mast in this 3,000 ton cargo-carrying sailing ship. This vessel carried a sailmaker and many of the crew were expected to help seam a sail. Later Kimberly served as mate in tankers in WWII convoys and then moved onto the last three masted cargo schooners in the Mediterranean. In the 1950s he worked in Ted Hood’s first sail loft back when Ted was on the floor. This was also when there were plenty of cotton and hand-made sails around and techniques were still pretty traditional. Dacron was pretty new stuff back then.

The sea called upon Kimberly again when he signed on as mate in the Johnsons’ famous Brigantine YANKEE, which had just been sold. Soon he was the skipper of the YANKEE. There he met his wife and partner, Gloria, and they got married in Tahiti, on what turned out to be the YANKEE’s last world voyage. After leaving their beloved Yankee (which went on to get wrecked at Rarotonga some years later) they made plans to sail their own brigantine on challenging deep sea voyages. This quest had them moving ashore and Captain Kimberly getting work at Mystic Seaport as Chief Rigger for a number of years. (In his time at Mystic, Skipper worked on the rigging of the Morgan quite a bit, finding much of it to be very ancient yet in good condition.)

While ensconced up the Mystic River they searched for the right ship while making plans to build one. Suddenly there came on the market the finest 90-foot brigantine they could imagine. Captain Alan Villiers (who sailed Mystic Seaport’s Joseph Conrad around the world in the mid 1930s) had rigged a perfect mid–19th century brigantine for the filming of James Michener’s epic “Hawaii,” starring Julie Andrews and Max von Sydow. The filming was done and the movie company didn’t want to own or maintain traditional brigantines, so a deal was quickly concluded and the Kimberlys now had their staunch and seaworthy Brigantine Romance. Many young sailors got a good healthy start in ships by sailing in this wonderful ship under a true master-in-sail. And Skipper and Mrs. Kimberly made all their own sails onboard, teaching their crew sailmaking on ocean passages. I served four amazing years in the Romance under Captain Kimberly. My experience rigging and sailmaking in the Romance later earned me a berth in the Danish State Full-rigger Danmark, where one of my first jobs was assistant sailmaker. Of course, that is another story, although the sailmaking ties into this one.

So the Picton Castle crew make all the sails for their ship. Cotton canvas, natural roping, hand laid up and stuck grommets, rope and wire cringles—design, lay out, cutting, and sewing, every inch and stitch by hand. We often find a flat piece of short grass somewhere, maybe an old copra wharf or warehouse on some island somewhere to serve as our “sail-loft.” We have even raced the tide on a nice firm beach to get a sail laid out. Beaches are nice because they are clean and you can make all the sail-making marks on them easily.

For this Morgan sail we wanted to do an especially good and traditional job. Susannah was to be Job Foreman. Ivan Klok and Morgan Davis (a descendent of Charles W. Morgan himself) would be the principal seamers, and other crew would help. I guess that I was “general contractor,” designer and general arbiter of this sail. The sail is almost done now but it all got started in Cape Town, South Africa. There we used the gymnasium of the wonderful Christel House School to do the initial layout to measure and cut the cloths so we could sew them together once we got to sea. Crossing the South Atlantic in pretty good trade winds, Ivan and Morgan stitched away in the sun on deck in a manner that would have been little different from making a sail in the Morgan 150 years ago. Maybe they would have started earlier in the morning than we do. We start at 8 AM, while in the old days daymen would turn to at dawn or 0600 and work until dark. We don’t work quite that hard; maybe we should. The second layout was done on the wharf in St Georges, Grenada, West Indies. The second layout of the sail is where we actually make the precise cuts out of the big seamed-up patch of canvas that will result in a sail. Then all the reinforcing patches and tabling get sewn on and roped along the edge as well. And there are lots of grommets to sew in.

This upper topsail for the Charles W. Morgan is 31′ 4″ on the head, 13′ 5″ in the hoist and 37′ 2″ along the foot. It is made of #4 cotton canvas seamed up of 25-inch-wide cloths laid out vertically. The finished sail is 450 square feet and is a little bit smaller than the Picton Castle‘s upper topsail. It has a single reef band about 2/5 of the way down from the head, based on old photos of the Morgan under sail. The sail has no provision for buntlines as we could not see any in the old pictures, which were pretty clear. But it does have a sunburn patch along the head on the after side that acts much like a sail cover when the sail is furled. This is a traditional technique that may or may not have been universal, certainly a good thing. It is roped with 7/8″ high-quality tarred manila. Head cringles are laid up of hemp and clew cringles are galvanized iron rings with galvanized steel thimbles. The head-earrings (which are the ropes at the head of the sail to stretch it and lash the upper corners to the yard-arms) are made of hemp as well. All the grommets are hand made of waxed and tarred marlin and sewn in along the head to seize the sail to the jack-stay that runs along the top of the upper-topsail yard. It will have over 200 man-hours in it before we are finished and could cost over $12,000 if contracted for at commercial rates. We have gone to a little more trouble than usual to keep this sail clean but it will not get to the Morgan without a few deck and crew stains. Susannah and her sail-making gang have done a superlative job, and we hope that this sail will set on the Charles W. Morgan‘s upper topsail for years to come as that ship introduces new generations to America and the sea. Maybe we will bend it for the passage from Bermuda to Lunenburg to stretch it out a bit and baptize it, so to speak.

If I don’t mention that we also make our own spars and rigging onboard the carpenters and riggers will get their noses out of joint. Logan is just now swinging an adz to make a new fore royal yard from a piece of spruce we have been carrying around for years just for this purpose. And with Billy Campbell at the fore the riggers have replaced most of the heavy wire seizings that have been holding the lower standing rigging together for the last ten years; this in order to overhaul and re-serve the heavy shrouds themselves. And so forth.

Captain Dan Moreland at helm on way to Fernando
Chelsie wire splicing on the way to Cape Town
Ivan sewing sail on the way to Fernando
Logan shapes a new royal yard with an adze.
Morgan sewing grommets in on the way to Fernando
Morgan sewing sail on way to Fernando
PICTON CASTLE under sail, bound for Mauritius
Replacing the wire seizings
Sporting new stuns ls, PICTON CASTLE heads for Bali.
Stuns ls help catch the light airs.
Under sail with new stuns ls on the way to Bali.
Wire seizings

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