Captain's Log

Archive for February, 2011

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Off Namibia

The day comes in overcast and grey, cool with a strong fair wind on our starboard quarter. The ship is sailing along fine in following seas with a few seabirds soaring about the stern. The royals are taken in and furled and the mainsail is made fast up on the main yard for ease of steering. The Picton Castle is 40 miles off the coast of Nambia. Crew are bundled up in sweaters, oilskins but still insist on going barefoot, can’t be that cold. We are bound for the small seaport of Luderitz from Cape Town, South Africa.

Soon, after a few days at Luderitz, we will be sailing across the South Atlantic Ocean the 5,000 miles towards the West Indies putting in only briefly at St Helena along the way. While too soon to think too much about the other end of this circumnavigation (we have 7,000 miles to go), perhaps it is not at all inappropriate to look back at our wake and say that this has been a wonderful voyage and an amazing journey for all aboard. Oh, of course, we all have our murkier moments – how could be otherwise in a voyage already 10 months long? But basically we have a great crew in the ship getting along remarkably well, sailing consistently in fair winds (when were not motoring for days in mirror calms off hot hot white hot north Australia). Good weather and great passages under sail have been a blessing on this voyage. We have sailed our barque into any number of remarkable, even astonishing small ports, bays, coves, open roadsteds, harbours and big city harbours.

The crew have adopted a new way of measuring time; no longer by month and day (who can remember all that?) but by place and name. “You remember at Raro so and so?” Raro, or Rarotonga properly, is really a time designator as much as a place. The same for Bali, Palmerston, Pukapuka, Pitcairn, Panama or South Africa. Later some of their acquaintances ashore might think them snobs for name dropping wild exotic places all the time but that will be incorrect and unfair. The places we have immersed ourselves in are no longer wild and exotic to us but part of our natural fabric and their names, as charming as they might be, are but bookmarks in time for our world voyaging crew. And 30,000 miles of hauling braces, heaving up anchors, cleaning heads, chipping rust, standing look-out and anchor watch, steering, hot weather, cold winds and squalls and all the rest is enough to take the ‘snob’ out of anyone. But they will be so judged anyway at times. So it goes.

Of course, the time in Cape Town for our Picton Castle crew was fantastic; quite literally. We have crew writing up their experiences there for you ‘just now’. In South African, “now now” means right away; “right now” means soonish and “just now” means we will be getting to it after awhile. So maybe the crew will be doing this “right now”, hopefully instead of “just now”. But for an overview of our Cape Town days we can say this.

Enroute from Reunion Island, the Picton Castle rounded the Cape of Good Hope in broad daylight and we passed it’s tall craggy cliffs only a few miles off under full sail. It was very exciting for most of us, a true sailors milestone and, on that day, a beautiful sight as well. Many of us thought of the thousands of sailing ships that have turned that very corner in fair weather and truly foul, bound either east or west, for the far east of Java, Sumatra, Japan, or China, or for the West Indies, West Africa, the Americas or Europe. Tea, hides, silk, spices, locomotives, soldiers and anything else in the holds of ships, sailing and steam propelled. To this day, the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom tip of Africa is crowded with ships sailing east and west. Even more so now with the expansion of organized piracy based in Somalia as ships divert away from the Red Sea and Suez Canal and take the old Cape of Storms road. But, anyway our small barque and her adventurous crew sailed around the Cape of Good Hope on a heartbreakingly beautiful day and right into a localized but quite strong gale in Table Bay, as the roadsted off Cape town is so named. There we found a calm lee right under Lion’s Head and dropped the hook for the night as other ships tugged and strained at their anchors further out in the slot off Cape Flats that funnelled all this wind and magnified it. Blew hard it did. But the Picton Castle was snug as a bug as the lights of the big city blinked so close by and drew us in.The next morning in a sunny calm we met our pilot right off the breakwater and twisted and turned our way into the inner harbour known as the ‘Alfred Basin’ built in the 1800s as the main harbour, now about three basins in from the grand commercial harbour that constitutes Cape Town port facilities. Overlooking all this is towering Table Mountain, as dramatic and stark as it must have appeared to the first San people, Dutch settlers, French Huguenots and later English conquerors.

In Cape Town the crew, on their expansive time off, climbed Table Mountain, visited schools and delivered donated schools supplies, went on safari, went to the movies (Black Swan, oh my goodness! True Grit, The Kings Speech), visited African markets, met crew from previous voyages, hosted the Cape Horners party, had school kids visit the ship (150 bright cheery kids all at once!), went out to Robben Island – once a prison of apartheid, now a museum to overcoming same, yes – tours in exquisite wine country, visits to the ‘townships’ and braais, many braais. A ‘braai’ is sort of a barbeque. Not quite the same, as true ‘braai’ involves only meat and no vegetable matter at all. At a BBQ one can expect in addition to hamburgers, hot dogs and maybe chicken and perhaps steak, potato salad, three bean salad, maybe humus and tabuli and so on. But at true ‘braai’ no, only meat and big pieces and plenty of it. And not just beef but springbok, kudu, boorvorst, zebra, ostrich as well as beef and pork. On great big charcoal or wood fired grills. Braais, well, more later on braais… And any kind of dining in and around Cape Town, well, you cannot get a bad meal there, just cannot be done.

Onboard the ship the duty watch kept at it in the fine dry Cape weather: sails were sent down and inspected and overhauled, yards were prepped and painted, some deck seams were reefed out, caulked and pitched, plenty of deck-oil and varnish were spread around, the ship underwent her annual safety inspection and al safety gear was overhauled and renewed where needed, completely restowed the hold, changed the oil in the main engine (150 gallons!), overhauled and painted/varnished the galley, shined up the engine room and plenty more. New crew joined and for a few, time had come to sign off and head off home as planned; all good shipmates and we will miss them all.

We were in Cape Town over three weeks and although we all wanted to get back sea (sort of, needed to anyway) and look forward to what’s ahead, I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave Cape Town. For, as the saying goes, “It is necessary to navigate”…

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What To Do While The Ship Is In Cape Town

Before Picton Castle arrives in a port, the Captain always holds a muster in order to give the crew some guidance and instruction on what to do and what not to do, local customs, places to go, things to see and people to meet. These briefings are always in balance – giving the crew enough information that they’ll be conscious of safety, aware of any major social and cultural expectations and interested in getting past the first establishment with cold drinks or wireless internet while holding back enough that the crew still feel they have things to explore and discover on their own.

Sometimes the Captain puts together a list of things to do, reinforcing the muster and giving the crew something to refer to again. Here, from Captain Moreland, the list for Cape Town:


The Republic of South Africa is an amazingly rich and truly diverse land full of joy, hope, optimism as well as wealth and grinding poverty. It is a beacon for all of Africa and even the world – RSA wears her dilemmas and contradictions openly and honestly – you will have a fantastic time, and meet wonderful folks of all backgrounds – don’t believe everything you have heard, yet travel safe, you ain’t in Kansas (or Bali) anymore…

– Start by getting past Mitchell’s Pub…

– Robben Island – a must, all should go. President Nelson Mandela spent many years in captivity there along with others in the anti-aparthied movement – now a museum and all the docents are either former inmates or former guards, just amazing.

– Walk through the botanical gardens where the first Dutch settlers put down in the 1600s

– Take a walk through the University of Cape Town campus – follow the roads sloping up the mountain and observe some of the Dutch Colonial architecture in this more ‘upscale’ part of town. The statue of Rhodes (in my opinion not such a great guy at all… in spite of the Rhodes Scholarship – so sez Dr. Livingston relative of Bronwen Livingston).

– District 6 – the Museum really explains it all. An area where ‘coloured’ people lived for generations. An area of music, life, vibrancy, artists – torn down as people were relocated (with bulldozers) during apartheid. Little has been built since, which is powerful in and of itself – but there are signs of people returning to take root once more. But how much different is this than “urban renewal” in the US and Canada? Food for thought.

– Original Dutch foundations and waterfront fortifications from the 1600s under nearby modern buildings in archaeology displays in the basements, very cool.

– Victoria & Albert waterfront mall, the best harbour and best mall you have ever seen.

– Wine tasting tour in beautiful wine country; Paarl and Stellenbosch – eat plenty food, bad on an empty stomach.

– Day trips or overnight to see wild game in reserves

– Addo Elephant Park, very cool

– Go up Table Mountain – beware the wily Rock Dassie!

– Take a trip to see the Cape of Good Hope – stunning – beware: baboons everywhere! Zebras and ostritch too.

– Visit seaside Simonstown right near by – penguins everywhere! Smelly but cute (reminds us of…)

– Camps Bay; near Lions Head, seaside town

– Oudtshoorn; Ostrich capital of the world (taste good too, and not like chicken!)

– Cheetah rescue center at the Spiers wine estate in Franschoek, pet a cheetah

– Township tours, simply amazing

– Long Street – amazing African arts – do not stay after hours…

– Various craft markets all around

– if you are really nuts, I mean totally whacked out, go shark diving in cages…

– take a drive along the Garden Route

– school visits

– Cape Town is pretty good but DO NOT WANDER ABOUT BY YOUR LONESOME on lonely streets or at night.

– GO IN GROUPS, of three or more

– TAKE CABS – if out late at a restaurant, order a cab, don’t wander the streets looking for one…

cable car going up table mountain cape town
colourful jewelery at the market cape town
Kolin gives a tour to his Christel House friends cape town
PC berth in front of the Cape Grace Hotel cape town
shark diving cape town
view of Cape Town from Table Mountain

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Departing Cape Town

At 1100 the pilot came to the Picton Castle alongside West Quay in the inner Alfred Basin to take us back out to sea. We had spent three weeks here at Cape Town, surrounded by lovely wooden fishing boats, ships coming off the synchrolift and right next to the very posh hotel the Cape Grace. With our powerful Danish main engine rumbling over, through a few twists and turns we backed the ship away from the old granite wharfs, swinging bridges giving way, crowds watching, former crew waving we made our way to the bunker dock to take on fuel and off again.

Just now we are under way from Cape Town in very light winds under power – the famous, infamous Robben Island is on port. We have done safety drills for all hands, much training and orientation for our new crew- we have most of the supplies for the rest of the voyage and Cape Town is vanishing in the haze astern.

The new hands have all been assigned a ‘buddy’ among the experienced crew to show them the ropes and have someone to easily refer to and get guidance from – one of the many advantages of a sail training voyage of this duration is that so many of our ‘students’ have more sea-time and even more training than some young licensed professionals and they certainly know the ship and our procedures quite well. Cape Town and South Africa was simply amazing for us, as rich or truly a richer experience we cannot imagine. Hard to leave Cape Town but it must be done. We are bound for Namibia…

*Many thanks to Cape Town photographer Maurice Taylor for the beautiful photos of getting underway.

Captain and the pilot discuss
Meredith, Pania and Jan on the foc sle head
Meredith, Rebecca and Nadja trim braces
motoring out of Cape Town harbour

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Planning for Newfoundland

Voyage planning is a fascinating process. Generally it involves charts, dividers, pencils, calculators, calendars, pilot books and cruising guides, along with vast amounts of caffinated beverages. As part of the process, ideas and imaginings become real, places I’ve heard about become familiar to me through their details. I found that particularly true while working on the voyage plan for this upcoming summer’s voyage around Newfoundland.

I’ve long been fascinated by Canada’s easternmost province, and was thrilled to finally visit in the summer of 2009 when Picton Castle sailed into Burgeo on Newfoundland’s south coast. Coming from Iles de la Madeleine and heading back towards Lunenburg to wrap up the voyage, we had intended to visit a number of ports on the south coast, then jump over to St. Pierre before sailing home to Nova Scotia. Hurricane Bill had other ideas.

With modern weather forecasting, we knew several days in advance that something big was brewing weather-wise and made the decision to head directly for Burgeo and a dock at the old fish plant that looked promising as a secure spot to tie up the ship. Upon arrival we found that the old fish plant was exactly what we were looking for, a solid wharf with adequate depth and a spot available for us, at the end of long protected bay. We arrived with enough time to make all the necessary preparations to the ship, weathered the hurricane well, then waited an extra day or two to allow the seas to lay down before getting underway again. We owe a big thanks to the people of Burgeo who were so welcoming and we hope to get back there this summer.

This brief experience definitely left us wanting more of Newfoundland. This voyage is one we’ve been talking about making for a number of years now, just waiting for the right time. This summer is it. And we’re getting excited about exploring one of the most beautiful, scenic, rugged bits of rock in the world.

alognside at the old fish plant in Burgeo

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Canada Games Opening Ceremony

What an honour it was for the crew of the Picton Castle to light the cauldron at the Canada Games opening ceremony on Friday night!

The ship is still in Cape Town, but back in Nova Scotia we were invited to be part of the opening ceremony for the Canada Games, Canada’s biggest multi-sport competition for young athletes from every province and territory. The Games are held every two years, alternating between winter and summer, and Halifax is hosting the winter Games this month. To welcome the athletes to Nova Scotia and kick off the two weeks of competition, the opening ceremony on Friday night had a distinctly nautical flair and the organizers decided they wanted the crew of a tall ship to be involved. It was a call we were thrilled to receive! We assembled a team of alumni crew currently in the local area who responded quickly and enthusiastically to the invitation.

After some rehearsal in the days leading up to the big event, Friday night arrived. During rehearsal there had been just a few people in the arena at the Halifax Metro Centre, mostly production staff and performers, getting things ready for the show. Friday night was different – when we walked in through the backstage entrance the atmosphere was electric. Groups of athletes were assembling backstage, all dressed in their provincial uniforms and carrying flags and noisemakers. We made our way to the dressing room that we shared with the rest of the torch team, passing people with headsets rushing around, the big trailer with all of the broadcasting equipment and countless volunteers marshalling athletes and performers. The audience was starting to fill in, we could hear the sounds of thousands of footsteps in the stands over our heads.

At 7pm the event began and the noise in the hallway outside our dressing room reached a crescendo as the parade of athletes began. The team from Manitoba had assembled just outside our door and our conversation in the dressing room was drowned out by shouts of “Mani-Mani-Mani-Toba-Toba-Toba-Mani-Toba-Mani-Toba!” The athletes entered the stadium from the tunnel just down the hall from us, so we watched the procession on its way, giving a particularly loud cheer ourselves as Team Nova Scotia, the last team to enter the stadium, passed by us. Once the athletes were all seated, we knew it was time to put on our matching outfits and get ready to be called for our entrance.

Admittedly, we were a bit nervous as we stood just outside the tunnel where we’d make our entrance, but mostly we were excited. Waiting with us was the band Grand Derangement and also Jimmy Rankin and his band. Grand Derangement performed first, there were a few speeches, then Jimmy Rankin took the stage. During his performance, the four Canada Games torches were brought into the stadium, down the aisles through the audience and onto the floor of the stadium, carried by young people representing Nova Scotia’s founding Acadian, African, Gaelic and Mi’kmaq cultures. When Jimmy Rankin’s song was finished, Paul Tingley, Paralympic gold medallist in sailing from Halifax, made his entrance carrying the Roly McLenahan Canada Games torch. This was our cue to enter the opposite end of the stadium and get into place under the cover of darkness.

As we took our positions, we could see the audience begin to rise to their feet, a standing ovation for Paul and the torch started by Team Nova Scotia. When Paul reached the centre of the stadium floor, the four Canada Games torches came together to light the torch he carried, earning a giant roar from the crowd. By the time Paul got to where he would start to pass the torch to our crew, the entire audience was standing and cheering. Receiving the torch from Paul Tingley was Erin (World Voyage 4, Summer 2006, Caribbean 2007), who passed it along the floor to Kathleen (Summer 2004, World Voyage 4, Summer 2006), Alex (Summer 2006, World Voyage 5), Ryan (World Voyage 4, Summer 2006, Atlantic Voyage) and Erin (Atlantic Voyage, Summer 2009). Erin handed it up to me on stage, then I carried it across to Bub (Summer 2009), who started passing it up to Helle (Summer 2002, World Voyage 3, Summer 2004) and Danie (World Voyage 3, Summer 2004, World Voyage 4, Summer 2006) who were standing in the metal scaffolding, designed to resemble a ship’s mast. Julie (Summer 2006, Summer 2007, Summer 2009, World Voyage 5) was on a separate truss ladder at the level of the cauldron in the crow’s next and when Danie passed the torch up to her, the volume of cheering in the stadium was almost deafening and cameras were flashing like strobe lights. Timed perfectly to the music, Julie reached out at just the right moment and ignited the giant flame in the cauldron!

Being on stage with thousands of people cheering, doing something that makes them feel proud and inspired, is a real rush. Not quite the same rush as furling the flying jib out at the end of the jibboom when the wind pipes up, but despite not currently being aboard this gang of alumni crew pulled together to make this a success. It was an absolute pleasure to be invited to participate in the opening ceremony – many thanks to the organizers of the Games, the producers of the show and to all of the Games volunteers who made this such a fun and exciting experience. Best of luck to all of the athletes who will be competing here in Nova Scotia over the next two weeks!

For anyone who missed it, you can see the opening ceremony online here (skip ahead to 4:47 to start the torch part):

Julie lights the cauldron
just before going on stage at the Canada Games opening ceremony
the crew with Paul Tingley just outside our dressing room
the whole torch team after our performance at the Canada Games opening ceremony
waiting behind Jimmy Rankin and his band to go on stage

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Picton Castle to Participate in Canada Games Opening Ceremony

While the crew are having a fantastic stay in Cape Town, South Africa we have some exciting news from our home office in Lunenburg as well. We’ve been keeping the news under wraps for a while, but now we can share with you that Picton Castle will be participating in the Canada Games opening ceremony. We can’t really share any details yet, but a group of crew alumni who are based in Nova Scotia will be taking part in the ceremony on Friday night in Halifax. Held every two years, alternating between summer and winter, the Canada Games is the country’s largest multi-sport competition for young people from every province and territory (over 1800 young athletes will be participating in 15 sports!). The opening ceremony will be broadcast across Canada on TSN2 and online at We hope you’ll tune in and keep an eye open for some familiar faces!

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Entering the Agulhas Current

On the afternoon of January 26th the Captain held a lecture on ship handling. The rains had subsided that afternoon – and so the crew settled onto the quarterdeck to learn a thing or two. Primarily he discussed docking – a daunting and fascinating job. There are many factors one must account for including, but not limited to wind, current (and counter current), traffic, anchorage, drift, heaving lines, ships boats, timing… The Captain has manoeuvred the ship into some pretty tight spots on this trip alone: Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga; Port Ouest, La Reunion. He seems to do it with such ease and yet he admitted that is can often be a very challenging experience, no matter how many times you do it. As he said, he is still learning. At some point you have to put down the book and stop discussing the scenarios and just do it – although I am sure that by that statement he was not implying he was going to let any of us take the Picton Castle for a spin! We shall stick to the skiff for now!

January 26th also happened to be the Captain’s birthday. The crew organized a dinner in the Salon in his honour. Donald cooked up an absolute feast – roast beef, roasted potatoes, squash and cabbage salad – with apple pie for desert by Sophie. It was incredibly nice to be able to show our appreciation to the Captain and it was equally important to be able to gather as a crew. Laughter and good conversation around a pretty mahogany table piled with fine foods does the heart good (Capt’s note – it was a lovely evening indeed and what the salon was designed for!).

When we woke up the next morning all sail was furled once more, the engine was purrring and the decks rolling. We were close off the coast of South Africa well down the coast from Durban. We knew that we were entering a bit of a front and that for a time we would have strong headwinds. The lookout was shifted back to the bridge – as a more comfortable spot than the focs’le head which was getting some spray. A low front, created by the temperate climate on land (land being Africa) collided and mingled with a high front off the coast, and for the majority of the day and night we were in a gale. 25-30 knot winds, a lot of pitching and rolling and yawing and large unruly waves. We had entered the Agulhas current – an extension of the Mozambique current – which hugs the coast of Southern Africa. Not unlike the Gulf Stream this current is created when the naturally westerly movement of ocean water from Asia and Australia runs up against land and has nowhere to go. It is particularly strong against the coast of South Africa because Madagascar creates a bit of a funnel effect. In fact it has been recorded to be as fast as 5 knots in places. As Mate Mike explained to the crew, the wind driving against the current was the reason the waves were particularly large. As the winds die down, so will the waves.

As I write this we have just passed Port Elizabeth and are getting ever closer to Cape Town. The waves are substantially smaller this morning and the ocean an eerie green colour – chlorophyll in the water from plankton or the effect of heavy weather stirring the pot? The coast of Africa has been visible for a few days. It appears as a hazy line of mountains and sloping hills during the day – and a string of lights at night. At first the lights gave the appearance of a row of blinking ships off our starboard bow, beam and quarter. Being in a major shipping lane the lookout might be forgiven for thinking it so. Indeed we have been passed by many a tanker – all headed toward Cape Town now – a common link and a common destination. Here we come, Cape Town!

Captain s birthday dinner
Dinner in the salon for the Captain s birthday
Lookout during a squall
Siri on helm in a squall
water over the rail

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