Captain's Log

Archive for January, 2007

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Arrival at Roseau, Dominica

Shopping at the market in the West Indies with the Picton Castle‘s Grenadian cook, Donald, is a whirlwind experience. We had been told by everyone we asked that Friday and Saturday were the best days of the week to shop at the fresh produce market in Roseau, Dominica. Our driver first suggested he pick us up at 0600 because all the best fruits and vegetables were available first thing in the morning, but we compromised and went after breakfast. Asking around paid off as we found the market was full of vendors and shoppers on Friday morning. There were a number of cement buildings, but most stands were outdoors under brightly coloured patio umbrellas. Each vendor had a table about 6 x 6 feet, piled high with fruits and vegetables of all sizes and shapes. In and amongst the stands were crowds of people—those busy selling their wares and those even more busy buying. Donald got right to work, spying some good-looking cabbage and watermelon at a stand in the middle of the action. He negotiated while the vendors weighed what he chose, each tomato and pepper picked out because it was the best in the bunch. I followed along behind, distracted by all the noise of people asking how much for a bunch of this or a kilogram of that, paying for our purchases, and helping to carry the growing number of bags. We bought everything from parsley to hot peppers, watermelon to watercress. Our final purchase was a branch of 18 young coconuts, filled with sweet coconut water.

The Picton Castle is anchored just south of Roseau, the capital city of the island nation of Dominica. The anchorage is a bit difficult because the bottom is very deep, even close to shore. Logan took sounding after sounding on the way into the anchorage, the end of the lead line not even touching bottom until a couple of hundred feet off shore. We were guided to the only spot that would be suitable for us by some local guys who came out to meet us in their small but fast motorboat. (Sea Cloud, a four-masted barque, was anchored here when we arrived on Wednesday afternoon but left that same evening.) We finally found a useable anchorage and the off watch wasted no time getting ashore. We found out that the big party that evening was going to be at a hotel right near where we anchored, and it featured live calypso music by a band warming up for Carnival. The biggest, month-long event on the island begins on Saturday evening with a huge party in the streets of Roseau and runs through until just before Ash Wednesday with competitions for bands, beauty pageants, and “jump-ups.” We have seen preparations for Carnival everywhere—people walking through the streets with shiny costumes in hand, fields being turned into music stages.

Dominica’s best asset, besides the people, is its natural environment, with 365 rivers on the island and plenty of freshwater lakes, waterfalls, and hot springs. Many of our crew have been to see Trafalgar Falls, the biggest on the island. It features two natural pools right near each other, one with cool refreshing waterfall water, and one with warm relaxing water from a hot spring. Trois Pitons, a national park right outside of Roseau, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island is extremely mountainous and lush, with very few people living in the interior. One of the island’s most famous features is the boiling lake; to hike to it and back takes a full day.

There has been plenty of action on the ship for the crew on watch. We all take turns looking after the ship on anchor watches at night, and we have been particularly vigilant here because of our proximity to land. During the days we have had a variety of projects going on. Joe continues to work on the ship’s main skiff, making repairs with body filler and fiberglass. A number of crew were in the spare skiff today, painting along the waterline. Emma has scraped, sanded and varnished the wheel box cover. New hands received instruction in tackles as we shifted boats on top of the galley house. Chief Engineer MacGregor went for a swim to examine the propeller, while Andrea has done a monthly check on the batteries. Nadja continues to practice her boat-driving skills as the coxswain of the skiff. All of this has happened as crew are continually standing by in this unusually deep anchorage close to the shore. It is beautiful here under the tall mountains covered with jungle.

Donald in the galley, Martiniqe
Kip at the wheel with Sea Cloud behind us
PC at anchor, Dominica

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Arrival at St. Pierre

The Picton Castle sits at anchor off St. Pierre, Martinique, very close to the wrecks of eleven ships that were lost in 1902 along with about 30,000 residents of the city when the local volcano, Mont Pele, erupted. Local dive outfitters seem quite busy, judging by the amount of boats filled with people in wetsuits cruising by. Ashore, there is a mix of old and new as the now less populated town has developed around the ruins. Many old stone walls and foundations still sit empty, even in the town centre. Looming over the town and the anchorage is Mont Pele itself, its peak mostly shrouded in clouds and grey mist even when the rest of the sky is clear. Our arrival in Martinique marks the end of one leg of our Caribbean voyage and the start of a new one. The leg we just finished began in early January at St. George’s, Grenada. On that leg the Picton Castle called in the ports of Tyrrel Bay, Hillsborough and Sandy Island on Carriacou; Petite Martinique; and Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Ashore we have had the chance to check out boat building, snorkeling, island tours, a turtle sanctuary, local live music, beach front bars, mountain hikes and more. We have sailed mostly in the day, traveling from island to island and anchoring at night. With a large group of mostly new trainees we wore ship twice, and made one overnight sail from Bequia to Martinique.

The trainees we have had aboard for the past two weeks have been an enthusiastic bunch. In addition to the individuals who signed up independently, we also had a group of 14 students from Mount Holyoke College, a women’s college in Springfield, Massachusetts. The professional crew were kept on their toes, constantly answering questions, reviewing running rigging, and putting trainees through their paces in sail handling drills. The ship itself has benefited from such an eager crew, receiving a new paint job on the bulwarks, tar on the headrig and main and mizzen shrouds, paint on the t’gallant rail and the taff rail and the rail on the foc’sle head, paint on the overhead in the breezeway, a proper scrubbing on top of the galley house and all around the quarterdeck, new line to replace old line, a cleaning of the stove, and some fresh varnish on the spanker boom. Joe, our Grenadian carpenter, has been hard at work fixing the rescue skiff with a parade of assistants.

The Mount Holyoke students participated in our program as part of their January term, an opportunity for them to earn school credit for something outside of their usual areas of study. As part of their class, they have been writing occasional blog entries, which are currently posted on their site at Photos will follow shortly, once they return home and have a chance to choose the best from more than 500 they took. We encourage all our friends and families to check out their blog to learn more about daily life on board.

Becky on the windlass
Bsoun Michael and Sara furl the upper topsail.
Elissa s first time aloft
John tars the mizzen shrouds.
Ky on the peak inhaul.
Logan, Andrea, and Lynsey inside a boat being built at Windward,Carriacou.
On the fore braces.
p and over for the first tie
Rowing at Sandy Island
Sheeting in the spanker to try to tack.
Shirley and Mary Anne sweat while Becky and ea tail

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Petite Martinique

The sun rose over the crest of the hill ashore, slowly spilling down into the bay. These early morning rays illuminated the white, blue and green hulls, masts of bright colours, and stripes of the local wooden fishing boats anchored nearby. Dawn broke quietly as brisk trade-wind breezes buffeted and soothed the ship. The overcast of the past couple of days has burned away in the strong hot tropical sun. Now we have brilliant blue skies and sun-shining seas.

The Picton Castle is anchored at Petite Martinique, the northernmost of the islands that make the nation of Grenada. A very short skiff-run away is Petite St. Vincent, which is an entirely different country. My guess is that customs and immigration protocols are somewhat relaxed between these two islands. We have a great gang of keen crew aboard including a group of 14 from Mount Holyoke College. Today onboard the watch on duty under 2nd Mate Lynsey are painting the longboat, scraping the spanker boom to get it ready for a fresh coat of varnish, and tarring the mizzen and main shrouds (along with quite a bit of the decks below them as well). Andrea is fixing the port forward head, Maggie is cleaning out the stove with a couple of helpers, and an inner jib that had gotten a big hole in it is being switched out with good one. Our fine new Grenadian ship’s cook, Donald Church, has the day off, so Nadja is pitching in with cooking. She has a barbeque going off the taff-rail and some lovely cold salads are on the way. Ashore the free watch is exploring the island and, I trust, making new acquaintances. There were reports of a new 36-foot wooden fishing boat being launched this morning right after church, a big sports day for the school children, and talks of a barbeque at the “Standing Wave” Supermarket and Bar this evening. Everyone was invited to join these events.

The Picton Castle now sails along in the lee of the chain of islands in the Caribbean known as the Lesser Antilles; this is the string of islands on a curved line stretching north to south from Trinidad just off the coast of South America up to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Anguilla, St. Barts, St. Kitts, Nevis, Dominica, Martinique, St. Vincent, Bequia, and Grenada forge a barrier to the broad Atlantic Ocean, breaking the seas that have been rolling in from Africa for three thousand miles or so. Sometimes, in a “tropical wave,” we will still get a haze in the sky from windborn dust lifted from the distant Sahara. Makes for those brilliant sunsets hereabouts.

She sails in fresh easterly breezes and small seas, although she still has a motion to her. The sun shines off the seas. We are warm in the buffeting trade winds. The anchorages are excellent. The folks ashore are richly engaging and astonishingly generous with themselves, their islands, and their way of life. We are very fortunate to be here.

Boats at Petite Martinique
Even the goats are friendly, Petite Matinique
Footrace, Petite Martinique
Grave markers, Petite Martinique
Island cook Donald Chruch and friend
Petite Martinique
Picton Castle at anchor
Street barbecue, Petite Matinique

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