Captain's Log

Archive for February, 2009

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Engineer Wanted

Picton Castle is looking for an Engineer for our Summer Voyage 2009. The Engineer is responsible for keeping all of the machinery and equipment in the engine room running smoothly, including our 690hp Burmeister & Wain Alpha diesel engine. We also have two Lister generators, a Sabb generator, a bank of gel batteries and a Great Water water maker that turns salt water into fresh water.

This position runs from early June until early September. For more information, or to apply, contact our office in Lunenburg.

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We Must be Near Land

We must be near land… Early this morning the Picton Castle has a few small birds flying near by. These little birds swoop and dart over the steep rolling peaks and troughs of the large seas rolling along with our ship as we make good time NW towards the Caribbean . These little guys do not look like they can swim so I think they are land birds. The day comes in with fresh winds and squally skies but making eight knots is just fine too. The ship is under t’gallants and the spanker is stowed as well. Steering is fine.

We have had plenty of fairly stiff squalls for the last few days and good strong winds in between. Not sharp violent nasty squalls with radical wind-shifts, just proper, blowing good, rain squalls that send this barque rushing ahead at 9 or so knots, sometimes 10 knots. These squalls trundle down on us from the windward quarter, darkening the horizon, pelt the watch with rain as the helmsman puts the helm up to fall off to make sure the power of the growing breeze is behind us, the watch standing by to take in sail muy rapido if needed. Usually the mate has gotten any kites in already, sails like flying jib, gaff topsail and maybe royals have already been taken in and stowed. That’s the mate’s job to see these things coming. And to call the captain…always call the captain…

First the dark cloud of a squall climbs above us blotting out stars or blue sky. We feel the wind pick up and the order is given to the helmsman to fall off a couple points or about 22 degrees. This done to make sure the wind is well behind us and to allow for sudden wind shifts and to avoid getting caught abackthis latter is very important—soon we will see the curtain of rain smattering at the sea and then we can hear it just before it lays into us. Then for short period (usually short) we go for an exhilarating ride rushing over the seas before we come back to course. The squall eventually rolls over us and usually steals a little wind when it does pass leaving the ship rolling awkwardly for a period with darkened wet canvas sails slating against the rigging until the old wind fills in again and sends us back along our way. And sail taken in might be reset if all looks good astern and the wind comes in steady again.

But these little birds seem unconcerned with squalls and maybe they can sit on the seas surface and swim after all – I am sure we are near land anyway…

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A Stunningly Beautiful Day off the Coast of Surinam

Our day comes in fair and clear with a nice Force 4 trade-wind on the starboard beam of the Picton Castle . White caps are all around and they allude to the 15 or so knots of wind that is flowing over us and sending us along our way. The sky is a fulsome blue with small puffy fair weather clouds in pleasant abundance. A couple days ago we had some curious sea-birds set down on the taff-rail next to the spanker sheet as well as the entire watch on duty there. Good thing Chibley didn’t see them, she is rough on birds. Early in the morning the sea is yet a rich dark blue as a few flying fish launch themselves airborne to get out of our way or the way of some bigger fish that wants to eat ‘em or maybe they shoot off and fly simply because they can – if I could fly I think I would set off into the sky quite frequently just for fun. Who says fish cannot have fun? Scientists say it hasn’t been proven but then scientists are always “baffled” about things anyway…

Deck wash down with hose and brushes was taken care of just after dawn. In the low early morning sun galley gang are shunting back and forth from the galley with pots of coffee, muffins and porridge and scrambled eggs to the covered stern area where we usually take our breakfast in good weather. Fresh fruit is long gone but with lush garden islands up ahead, soon come. At the end of a long sea passage that is what we miss most, fresh fruits, vegetables and salads.

The fore royal is being sent up to be bent on after coming down for repairs. It is a pretty old sail but its holding up well enough. Soon bent and drawing once again. On the quarter-deck David and his sailmaker helper, John are working on two new topgallants and a mizzen topmast staysail. A new inner jib just got roped and covered and we have put away our new strong main topmast staysail to save it and have bent on an old, well worn and plenty patches stay-sail in its place for these balmy conditions.

Matt, who has become keen to learn ships carpentry to compliment his already high level of accomplishment as a cabinet-maker carpenter has been variously making a new stunsle boom, new hardwood trim for the bronze windows of the chart house and will soon have some boat carpentry to look after.

Baggywrinkle is under way up on the well-deck. We hope to shift out all our 12 year old baggywrinkle on the fore and main-stays in the islands soon up ahead. It takes about a foot or so of linear baggywrinkle to make an inch of applied baggywrinkle. In olden times baggywrinkle was removed form a ships rigging as she entered port as it was considered unsightly and thus uncool to have aloft as a point of pride in port. Today we see big floppy dustyruffles of bag o’wrinkle all over the rigging of vessels. An examination of black & white photos of sailing ships even well up into the end of the age of sail will reveal limited use of baggywrinkle. The goal on a ship is to reduce chafe as much as possible with smart leads to rigging and not just festoon the rigging of a ship with baggywrinkle making her look like a sailing forest of Spanish Moss. Baggywrinkle serves really only one purpose; to reduce [but not eliminate] chafe between sail canvas and wire stays, it can do no more than that.

Up ahead lay Guyana , Trinidad and Tobago , all of which we sail blithely past on our way to Grenada , Carriacou and the Lesser Antilles . Of course we want to get where we are bound – the crew are extremely excited at the prospect of sailing the Caribbean in a way only a few ships do or can but we can wait our time – this passage under sail is too sweet to not savour.

Picton Castle in the Caribbean
sailing in the BVI
what to do at Jost Van Dyke

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In these Tropics

Our passage from the Cape Verde islands off West Africa to Fernando de Noronha , Brazil was just about as perfect a sailing ship passage as one could ask for. We started off with strong winds, which then moderated, later got calm and picked up again but under sail almost every inch. If Columbus had any idea how close the New World really was he would have sailed south west from the Canary Islands towards Brazil instead of due west to the Bahamas (and a little more than twice as far), and well, who knows what would have happened. His first voyage took about two months across almost the widest part of the Atlantic – I guess he must have hove-to at night to avoid going aground and only making 50 miles a day – a good call but I don’t know what he did. His ships could easily make 100 miles a day in fair conditions.

Our gang got the Picton Castle under way from Mindelo, Sao Vincente under sail alone, sailed every inch of the way but for a couple six hour stretches motoring in flat calms – then 1498 miles, 12 days and nine hours later they sailed their barque in fresh breezes right up to the hook off the little harbour at Fernando and anchored under sail without the use of the engine; pretty good gang of sailors they are. Somewhere near the equator King Neptune and his Royal Court boarded the ship and after offering their tender ministrations welcomed all hands into the Sacred Order of Royal Shellbacks. More on these dignified proceedings I am proscribed from relating. After a brief interlude at that pretty island we set off again. This time bound for Grenada in the West Indies just about 2,000 trade-wind miles away.


Just now we are sailing along braced well up on the starboard tack, under all plain sail to royals, flying jib and gaff topsail set. The stunsle booms are run in on top of their yards – the wind is too close right now for stunsles and actually probably too strong anyway. The Picton Castle is making about 6 to 7 knots in fresh North East trade winds steady, steady, steady on the starboard quarter right here off the coast of Brazil right about on top the equator, a bit north of said line actually. Land lays about 180 miles on our port beam. Flying fish take flight and soar out of our way – scientists say that these fish do not fly; they look like they fly to me hundred yards or more at a time. When they loose a little speed they drop to almost sea level and the bottom bit of their tail dips in the seas and sculls madly and they are airborne with speed again; seems a lot like self propelled flying to me. Scientists are baffled but they need to get out  more…Our nights have magical skies of clouds overhead that could easily, with some imagination form into any number of mysterious shapes. The binnacle lantern gives a feint rosy glow to the helmsman framed in the spanker sheets as he is, or perhaps a she, and drenched and backlit in starlight and velvet blue-black sky – yet dark enough to hold on to the mystery of the night.

Pretty well out of fresh vegetables we are but Mr. Church managed to find a few sacks of potatoes in the last island. We even have couple watermelons from Senegal , well, maybe one. Donald is still feeding us but we are getting to that point in a long passage where we can see those tins of sardines and corned beef hash we have been avoiding…we last provisioned heavily in Dakar now many weeks astern and an ocean ago.

It was plenty warm today under this tropic sun – helmsman stripped to the waist with a broad straw hat – haven’t touched the braces in days. Some crew are broken off into day-men riggers, sailmakers and ‘donkeymen’ (engine-room gang). The quarter-deck is covered with two new t’gallants getting roped by David and his able helpers John and Sophie. Aloft we spy a couple crew, Erin and Jackie, seizing on new ratlines on the main shrouds. Another former landsman is oiling blocks. Some new baggywrinkle is being made up there from some fine new German marlin we got in Hamburg and the usual short yarns of manila rope. DB, Bruce and Charlotte have the task well in hand. The engineers (Suzie having joined their ranks as a Donkey-Dayman for the passage) seem to be on perpetual smoke-break on the fore-deck. But the engine room looks pretty good so they must be doing something from time to time.

It is about two hours past sunset and full into the night now. Seas are small, the moon has not yet made an appearance although expected any minute or any hour perhaps… There are enough stars to make the night far from pitch black and getting around on deck with the ambient light is easy enough for those on watch without the use of our night deck lights. As the ship rolls in the modest beam seas the nipped buntlines slat and drum softly on the fore-side of the billowing canvas sails. I remember stories by old deep-water seamen standing lookout on the focsle-head of some huge Finnish or Swedish bark when young in the 1920’s and 30’s, sailing squared before the trades and grabbing a wire buntline (yes, wire) as the foresail fills and it would lift them off the deck and set them down again gently. This barko is a bit small for that. Along the lee waterline seas swish and slop and make that pleasant undulating hissing sound. Up forward on the well deck near the fore-bits a guitar and fiddle are doing their best. A couple crew are stretched out on the hatch in the cool of the night. Now with the moon having joined our company, these crew are alternately bathed in muted silver light and then blue-black shadows of darkness from the sails and rigging and then into the moonlight again.

chibbley sitting on sail
Fernando Brazil 088
sweet tradewinds

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Bound for the New World

On Monday January 26 we sailed from Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands bound for Fernando de Noronha, Brazil. It had been blowing extremely strongly for many days but now it was laying down to under 30 knots. After clearing out with Immigration and the Marine Police the gang loosed sail, braced yards aback and hove up both anchors. Without using the engine the Picton Castle crew did a fine job of sailing their ship off the anchor and out of the harbour, past the other anchored ships, past the breakwater, past the USS Pittsburgh, a Navy submarine in for a port visit, past the high jagged cliffs before falling off down the broad channel between Sao Vicente and Sao Antone.

Soon the barque was making nine and a half knots between the two islands. As we made our way offshore we settled down to 7-8 knots and have been keeping that speed ever since. Still comfortably cool we are all pleased to be back at sea in good passage making breezes. Celestial navigation lessons have started, other workshops are in the works and the Equator lays somewhere ahead – as soon as the wind lays down a little we are sure to set studding sails.

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