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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 4

What follows below are the first Captain’s Logs that were written back when just getting the ship and working at seeing this dream come true. The story begins in Norway in May of 1993. We hope you enjoy the tale.

The Story of the Picton Castle

The Captain’s Running Letter
Captain Daniel D. Moreland

Passage to England – November 15, 1993

On a bright, clear, sunny Danish morning in early September, the crew let go the heavy hawsers, the Dolmar backed down on a stern spring and nosed into Svendborg Harbor bound for England. This was to be the first leg of a 4,000-mile, transatlantic voyage to New York, New England and then Nova Scotia.

The crew, including Mate Jeff, Engineer Doug, Bosun Tara, Cook Henrik, Deckhands Scott and Dave, along with others, had been working diligently for three months getting our staunch vessel ready for sea. We were joined by Danish Heidi Baatz, whom we had met in Svendborg. She came from the north part of Jutland. Her father was the skipper of 400-ton coaster and she had a desire to see the watery part of the world. She is also a rust banging fool, unstoppable with a rust hammer.

So we steamed northerly out of Svendborg Sound in between pretty and low wooded isles, passing yachts and coastal freighters to the “Great Belt,” the piece of water between the island of Fyn and the principle island of Zealand, home to Copenhagen. Denmark is a country of islands, and much of Denmark’s charm is a result of that. Now they’re building a huge bridge to Zealand from Fyn. It will be the largest suspension bridge in the world by a large factor. When done, it will connect the capital of Denmark with land traffic to Europe. Cost a bazillion dollars. Put a dozen ocean-going ferryboats out of work. Most Danes don’t seem to want it. I didn’t meet any Danes who thought the European Union was going to be good for Denmark, either.

The ship was performing well. The engineer developed and trained the crew in the minute details of engine checks of the fairly sophisticated engine room. Cylinder temperatures, cooling water discharge, lube oil cooling, voltage, and injectors, grease cups, bilge level, oilers and a lot of things were checked at fifteen minute intervals. The engineer kept a very close eye on his machinery while we started to get used to it all. The steering gear, radios, and safety gear were all up to date and we had conducted all the appropriate drills. The gang was glad to get under way. Smooth sailing in the lee of Jutland.

Rounding Skagen, the Dolmar started punching in the rolling remnants of a spent westerly North Sea gale. Stiffened with 60 tons of ballast, she had a pretty snappy roll. Good news for future sailing ship stability. Pretty tough on crew new to the sea, let the heaving begin. Things started looking pretty snotty. We had been land-bound for months, we were still learning the ship. Discretion being the better port of valour, I ducked here into the last harbour for a while, Hanstholm, and spent 24 hours there working on electrical system repairs and monitoring the weather. We poked back out the next morning, the seas were down and we started across the North Sea.

We had gotten this little black box called a Navtex and it spits out weather reports and predictions for the region the ship is in. A long tape of flimsy fax paper with terse pronouncements is its contribution to my mental health. Things were going fine, smooth seas; crew no longer throwing up, grey and light overcast as we steered southerly courses into the North Sea. We were buzzed frequently by fighter jets on manoeuvres. I don’t know from what country. Twelve years ago or so, when we were homeward bound in these waters in the full-rigged ship Danmark, and Breschznev was head of the Soviet Union, NATO manoeuvres used to be pretty thick around here. We heard later on the VHF radio that a fighter plane splashed near us and rescue operations were under way.

It was strange and amusing, listening to the radio on the bridge while on watch motoring along. As we passed in and out of range of commercial Norwegian, Danish, German, Dutch, French and eventually, English AM/FM radio stations, the languages changed but the bravado of the disc jockeys stayed the same. Picking up BBC Radio, I was reminded of old black-and-white war movies, and then of all the war that had been fought in these waters. We chugged along in these ancient European waters.

All was going well, the engine was going fine, the watches turning over, etc. I was aiming to make a daytime transit of the narrow part of the English Channel between Dover and Calais. Seemed like a good chance along for Plymouth. Our little weather box was reporting all kinds of lows and gale warning north and south of us with nothing special in our area.

But the wind was picking up and seas building. Then out spat a description of a very low-pressure area charging out of the North Atlantic into the English Channel. I figured it was the tail of the hurricane that had just danced around the western Atlantic. Still, no big deal until the black box spat out “Extreme Force 9 gale warnings English Channel 25′ seas in western approaches.” We had a chart for Harwich, a major port on the north side of the Mouth of the Thames on the southeast coast of England and fifty miles away. There we headed. By the time we were off the approach for Harwich, the weather had gotten pretty rotten and the ship was pitching and rolling in the nasty chop of the Channel. Past a couple of light ships and into Harwich harbour. Traffic control sent us to Ipswich, seven miles on up a smooth snaking river, past moored Thames sailing barges, into a locked-in wet dock. There we lay and glad of it. The gales shrieked outside and there were reports of shipping losses.

Here in Ipswich we learned that the Dolmar, as the HMS Picton Castle, has been in the Royal Navy as an armed mine sweeper from September, 1939 to December, 1945. It’s hard for me, in 1993, to imagine the deprivation, loss and courage of those times and in ships like this. I suppose I get a little taste at sea. We’re looking into the Picton Castle‘s routes, convoys and activities during WW II. The crew are working away during the day, and at night can be found promoting international good will at the Lord Admiral Nelson Pub as part of the Picton Castle‘s “philanthropic” international adopt-a-pub program.

So, after a few days in Ipswich, with endless frontal systems rolling up the English Channel, and with hurricane season in full flower, it seemed a good chance and wise idea to fly back to the States to do some serious fundraising and develop this little Barque project a little further. So I left the mate in charge and took a bus to Heathrow International Airport. Kuwait Air, no bacon, no booze, very good security and plenty of fuel.

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