Captain's Log

Archive for June, 2011

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By Paula Washington

The last scheduled stop of World Voyage Five appeared on the horizon around noon on Wednesday June 8th. From ten miles away it did not look like much, a low lying sandy island that stretched for 13 miles in front of us. Despite its lack of elevation and its lonely location approximately 700 miles from Lunenburg, New York City or Boston, Bermuda is home to 60,000 people and a thriving economy boasting the highest GDP per capita in the world. The famous island has been an important landfall for ships throughout a lot of new world history, dating back to 1500s when the Spanish and Portuguese used it to replenish their supplies. Today it is a popular destination for yachts and hosts a few famous regattas each year.

As we neared the island its distinct features became clear. The shoreline was scattered with beaches and long inlets snaked their way deep into the centre of the island. Any where the rock appeared through the tangled vegetation it displayed the power of erosion. The white limestone was pitted and marked by years of rain and waves pounding the shore leaving the battered rock looking beautifully sculpted against the blue ocean and green foliage. Coming through the narrow passage the buildings of St Georges, Bermuda’s first capital and smaller of its two municipalities, became visible. We were all lined up along the midships rails commenting on the beautiful architecture and strange roofs. The houses and shops were painted in a large array of pastel colours with distinct matching white roofs. Inside the protected harbour we gracefully docked against a large well maintained dock on the edge of the town.

Coming into Bermuda I had no preconceptions about the landscape, the people or what we would get up to there. I just thought of it as a convenient stop roughly half way between Jost Van Dyke and Lunenburg where we could get some work done before we arrived at home. It turns out that it was so much more than that. On an early morning run the first day we had there I explored the town. It was small geographically but had everything you really needed. The water front was scattered with pubs and restaurants, their patio jutting out of the habour. The streets ran up from there with a square in the middle and shops and businesses scattered around town. At the top of the hill bordering the back of the town was a beautiful old ruin of a church. It was built all of limestone and must have been abandoned years ago for it had no roof or window panes and the floor had been taken over by nature as grass spread between the palm trees growing inside. You could tell it must have once been a grand place with skillfully placed windows that framed the landscape around it. I later discovered it was only one of the striking ruins over grown by gardens in the town. The small town turned out to be a great place to explore with lots of public spaces.

With the trip quickly coming to a close we spent the time in Bermuda diligently working to make the ship look great for our homecoming. We scrubbed and painted the waterways that run along the edge of our deck, put an extra coat of varnish on our bright work, spot painted the rails and shined up the engine room. On top of our own work list we were busily working on getting our secondary skiff ready. The wooden boat was built at the Dory Shop a few years ago and after a few minor repairs and a fresh coat of paint is looking great.

Now of course we didn’t spend all our waking minutes working. One of the inhabitants of the island is our great friend Paulina. Over the past five world voyages she has sailed around the world, joining for a different leg each time. Being a local Bermudian she has a great love for the ocean and quite a talent as a sailmaker. We last said goodbye to her in Bali where she promised to throw us a great party when we arrived in Bermuda 7 months later. True to her word she had us all over for a great barbeque at her lovely home just outside the biggest city of Hamilton. The party was full of stories of this and past voyages as her son Alex sailed on Picton Castle‘s third world voyage and many of her friends had questions about our trip. Over dark & stormys, the famous Bermudian rum drink, we stayed up late into the night reminiscing about all of the fun and insane things we did this year. On top of entertaining us at her house, she provided us with connections for water, provisions and anything else we could think of.

It turns out that Bermuda is much more than just a convenient pit stop on our Atlantic passage, it is a beautiful island with terrific people and lots to do, leaving us with even more great stories to add to our repertoire of tales from this amazing world voyage.

Lauren, Adrienne, Taia and Clark in Bermuda
Mitch, Adrienne and Clark in a cave
Picton Castle alongside at St Georges Bermuda
Rebecca stroking Darth Vader at the aquarium
Taia and Clark and a cannon

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Reunions in Jost Van Dyke

By 2nd Mate Paul Bracken

The ship and her crew are homeward bound. We are just two days out from Bermuda, logging six and a half knots under full square sail as we plough our way north. For now the wind is a fresh westerly that was kicked up from a nearby low and my watch has the deck as the sun slips away and we run into the night. As we make our way through the North Atlantic we can’t help but reflect back on those generations of sailors who passed through these waters in days gone by. I think of the Captain voyaging for his fifth time around the world on this ship, and of how many times the Picton Castle has made this 700 nm passage north cross the Gulf Stream and into the northern latitudes.

Our last port of call in the Caribbean was Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, which for the Picton Castle is a place rich in our traditions. This year, we had the honour of hosting Captain Moreland’s mentor, Captain Arthur Kimberly (also know as “Skipper”) along with some of the old crew of the Brigantine Romance on board for a few days. Skipper was the Captain and owner of the Romance and he sailed her from 1966 to 1989 with his wife Gloria. They sailed around the world twice, once with our Captain Dan Moreland as Mate. They also spent many months in the South Pacific and around the Caribbean. The Romance was not Skipper’s first ship for he left home at the age of 17, just after finishing high school, and signed onboard a 2500 ton Swedish four-masted barque with just 13 crew! (He later told me they might have been a little short handed!) He spent his life sailing the seas, and Romance was to be his last command, but not his last sail or ship.

Skipper spent one afternoon aboard with my watch spending time with his old crew, and meeting some of the Picton Castle crew. Within moments of him stepping aboard you could tell that this was where he belonged. As an ancient mariner he paced the decks all day inspecting the rigging, pulling on lines, giving skilful advice to the sail makers, and spinning yarns of his days at sea. Lunch came and the watch gathered round as Skipper went through picture books of the “Last Age of Sail” with us, having been there is his early days at sea. Hearing his first hand account of what it was like to sail in these ships, known only to us as they appear in photographs or tied to docks of maritime museums was truly something special. Sailing in Picton Castle comes pretty close I figure.

The following day the Picton Castle went for a day sail. Pretty unusual for us. It is not a simple feat to take a 600 ton Barque, sail off the hook, and tack up a four mile wide channel just to sail back onto the hook in two hours. This time, however, as hands gathered round the windless there was a different feeling in the air as if the crew felt a need to impress not just Skipper, but our Captain as well. Knowing full well he was under Skipper’s watchful eyes (his captain of four years) things could not have gone better! We set full sail smoothly and smartly as a crew who has sailed together for almost 30,000 nautical miles should. We tacked up the channel, wore ship bringing her back to the same spot we left from two hours earlier. I don’t know when Skipper might sail again in something with yards but I am glad to be able to say that I sailed with Capt Kimberly once in a proper sailing ship.

Bert, Michael, Captain and Foxy
Day Sail with Skipper
Skipper at the helm
Skipper guides Meredith
Skipper sailmakes with Sophie

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Why Pretend?

By Ollie Campbell

Editor’s note: The following is by one of our crew who goes by the name Ollie. He claims to be an actor known as Billy Campbell. Maybe this is true, we try not to get too involved with our crew’s personal fantasy life but he does look a lot like that guy… he wanted to write this and we saw no harm in it, so here ya go for a fantasy ego trip…

I don’t go to sea to get away from it all.

There’s no ‘all’ to get away from. I enjoy a perfect cocktail of circumstance in the non-watery part of my life, and am grateful for it. I’m well enough known as a thespian (Ed note: “Don’t ask, don’t tell”) to work regularly the last few decades, but not so well known that I can’t read a book in peace on a park bench, usually Patrick O’Brian (Ed note: Very salty guy, eh?). Those encounters I do have are not only seldom, but mostly sweet; folks are generally conscious of intruding, apologetic, complimentary. In fact I have – in almost 30 years of acting – yet to weary of fraternizing with fans. Not only do I enjoy the occasional friendly reminder that my career’s alive (it has, at times, seemed comatose), but I genuinely enjoy people, whatever they have to say, however they have to say it (Ed note: Most people are wise enough to realize that this guy aint B.C. hence they leave him alone, even stay away…).

Not that there aren’t awkward instances, but those mainly consist of jangled nerves on the part of someone who has approached despite their shyness. I always feel awkward in return, eager to help us both back to normalcy, so we can relax, chat for real.

I even get a kick out of the occasional boorish encounter, of which there have been more than you’d guess over the years. These I kind of look on as zen challenges, my chance to leave a better impression than they’ve earned a right to expect – the bone-heads.

Inasmuch as I’d considered it, I had no real expectations, when first departing Lunenburg on the Picton Castle, of being recognized abroad (Ed note: Like I said, most people see no resemblance…). Certainly not under the windswept palms, on the sugar-white beaches and craggy bluffs, in the mingle-mangle markets and bazaars of the South Pacific, South Africa and the Caribbean, to which our merry barque would deliver us.

But I had (to paraphrase a favorite philosopher) mis-underestimated the renown of J-Lo (Ed note: And one time leader of the free world…).

I’d years ago done a bit of a potboiler with the inestimable Miss Lopez, entertaining to be sure, but far from a treatise on the subject of human cruelty. The film nevertheless and mysteriously made a lasting impression on folk, perhaps as a kind of domestic abuse revenge fantasy. J-Lo (still just Jenny from the hood, mind you) marries a brute who beats her (played by moi), gets herself some martial arts training, turns the tables, kills the creep (on a table). Girl meets boy, boy beats girl, girl kills boy. A simple formula with, as it turns out, universal appeal. Or was her eminence, La Lopez, the real appeal? I still can’t say.

Cut to: Suva, capital of Fiji, downtown. Capital of the South Pacific. Huge open air markets, burning tropical sun, a rainbow of people, maddening wheezing traffic; teaming with vendors, Indian shops, hucksters, beggars, shoeshine boys; redolent with thick other-world odors and sights, yet a big city with fancy watch and shoe stores for those that wear them. Waiting to cross a congested street, I am startled to find myself closely shadowed by a man with frightfully impressive dreadlocks. He’s standing so close over my shoulder I can smell him (not unpleasant, just… rich). He is carrying a walking stick and wearing a banana-leaf around his willy (literally just a leaf and JUST around his willy; no shoes, not a stitch of clothing else, unless you count a shoulder-bag of woven grass). I see bloodshot eyes when I turn to confront him, which do not blink as they stare into mine.

He is giving me the stink-eye, as it turns out, for beating up J-Lo.

I thought him a bit unhinged at first (tourist’s assumption), but that was before we got to talking. His English, though spotty, was better than my nonexistent Fijian, and I came to find him quite, um, well-hinged; sharp (despite his taste in cinema) and entertaining company. He was a traditionalist (part of a kind of Fijian back-to-nature movement, see quite few around town), lived in a ‘custom village’ in the mountains, but, I gathered, was given to watching DVDs when visiting relatives in town, something over which he seemed not the least conflicted. He rather enjoys the effect of his appearance on tourists, I think, (fellow Fijians, who seem to dress mostly in Tommy Hilfiger, think nothing of it), had been amused to find himself glaring at the bastard that beat up J-Lo, so had laid on some extra eyeball.

On taking our leave of each other – I’d had the universal language of cold beer in my bag, a couple of which we shared in the park – I returned to the subject of the film (which he pronounced as ‘fill’em’), and wondered what he’d found memorable about it.

‘Nobody (should) beat nobody.’ is what (I think) he said, confirming my theory of the universal appeal of the film’s simplistic formula.

‘Specially her.’ He added.

Still, Suva’s a big city, cosmopolitan. I was astounded to be recognized in Pukapuka, a tiny very remote atoll in the Cook Islands, for the same transgression. Also called Danger Island, Pukapuka is a reef with a couple hillocks, home to 500 souls, surrounded by endless ocean. Home, too, of all things that fly and sting and suck. Isolated, no anchorage at all, the ship heaves-to or ties to the reef hoping the steady tradewinds will hold her off, and the reef is so precipitous you could entirely submerge the World Trade Centers (upright) just a coconut’s throw from it. We were delivering ‘emergency supplies’ at the request of the island leaders stuck in Rarotonga, and a lady in the longboat, on our way to shore, is narrowing her eyes at me: That Guy who beat up The Gal in That Movie. Onshore, barefoot on coral sand, under swaying palms, a girl of 4, who’d seen the movie with her family, cried when her mom tried to put her in my arms. Couldn’t blame her. Same in Nassau Island, enroute to Pukapuka, even more remote, and just 100 residents. And these are places to which we were delivering emergency supplies, because the regular service is so… irregular. But they got a J.Lo movie and a player to view it on…

Downright gobsmacked I was then, you may imagine, by the fellows in Asanvari, Vanuatu, one of the more primal places we’ve visited (Ed note: No roads to Asanvari, can only get there by boat which usually means outrigger dugout; steep jungle covered mountains, cascading waterfalls, palm thatched huts in a small village), who pegged me for ‘the Rocketeer’. Electricty (only in certain huts) from tiny bush generators powers a radio or the single dangling lightbulb for the clinic, and only a few hours a day at that, but they could watch DVDs. They loved it, watched it all the time when it was on the island, were much impressed with Jennifer Connelly (an admiration we, um, bonded over) (Ed note: The gang at Asanvari even asked to meet Ollie and find out how movies are made. The meet was arranged, I have no idea what lies he told these folks…). Turns out they share DVDs with other islands in the group, so films will circulate a while, then be paddled off in a dugout to be watched in a thatched hut in Bwatnapne, or Banam Bay, over a meal of lap-lap with coconut and chicken, feet and beak and all.

As unreal as it sometimes is for me, I think it’s even weirder for my shipmates in the Picton Castle. They don’t think of me as anyone but Ollie, giant, crazy, ass-slapping pseudo-gayboy, hiding out in the Captain’s mess, who smells as bad as anyone onboard (or worse) (Ed note: Well, this much is true anyway). It never fails to raise giggles of astonishment when, out and about with my mates, I am recognized and made a fuss of. They have fun with it, too. A lady in the store in Dominica was on to me, as 2nd mate Bracken and I were grabbing libations for a hike to the Boiling Lake. She was standing, slack-jawed and smiling, silently wagging a finger in my direction, trying to place me, when Bracken couldn’t take it anymore, became ‘incensed’ that she hadn’t recognized HIM – ‘Are you kidding?! I’m action star Jet Bracken!’ — and she seemed then for a moment nonplussed, like she ought to recognize him, was maybe missing out on something. The nice fellow who took our photo with the lady’s cell phone thought maybe he’d seen Bracken in a Jackie Chan movie, was so nervous he used the phone backward, took the first snap of himself. (In fairness Jet has yet to take over Hong Kong from Jackie, as we know he will. He is the Castle’s hero for now, star of many a 12 to 4 watch’s coffee-fueled action fantasy. Filmography on request.)

Captain’s even in on the fun, leading some unsuspecting folk to believe I am impersonating the actor I happen to resemble, Billy Campbell. Cap himself is quite convincing, has left more than one would-be fan wondering if they’d been duped by me (Ed note: Just trying to keep it real for these folks, keep this delusional fraud to a minimum…). I sometimes retaliate by pretending to be the Captain, convincing folk that he’s the celebrity (as I guess he actually is in sailing-ship circles). I sometimes behave very badly while pretending to be him. (Shh, though.)

Then there are the run-ins with tourists. Had a big thrill in Saint Barths, where I was recognized for the ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ I did with Dana Delaney, at the Old Globe in San Diego. Recognized for stage-work! Hardly ever happens, even at home. Gleefully texted Dana about it. She wrote back:

‘Of course. You were that bad. Love you, D.’

(Ed note: Oh sure, Dana Delaney, Captain’s personal favorite and lifetime knockout crush and he knows this, coincidence? I don’t think so…why not throw in Julia Roberts? Already tossed in Jennifer Connelly. Hey, why not that amazing Olivia Thrilby??? Cuz no one would buy that…sheesh…and what about Sela Ward? The REAL Billy Campbell was in “Once and Again” with Sela Ward. Big Show, big Star. But he doesn’t mention her. Why not? Maybe he don’t know about that show! Maybe he isn’t faking as good as he thought he was! )

One fellow, can’t remember where, approached me with ‘Hey! Aren’t you–’

‘Yes. Yes I am.’ I cheerfully replied.

‘David James Elliot! I knew it! Loved you on J.A.G.!’

Embarrassed, I played along, signed an autograph, hopefully making as good an impression as David does for himself, at least in the handwriting department.

Lesson learned there.

(Ed note: In Panama some guy thought he was Pierce Brosnan. Did he say “no, I am Billy Campbell?” Nope, just signed the paper as P.B., this guy is sick…

Over the course of the 4th World Voyage I had to grow my hair and beard for a TV show I was doing at the time. Both were quite long, and on arrival the kids in Bequia wouldn’t stop asking me if I was Jesus. No, but I played Moses on TV. They hadn’t seen that. I was Jesus to them, rest of our stay.

This time in Bequia, nearly the entire staff of the Frangipani were on to me; photos, autographs, hugs and kisses, the whole shebang. One sweet woman, having just hugged me, held me at arm’s distance, asked reproachfully ‘Why you have to beat that woman?’

‘It’s just… I’m not really that way!’ I laughed.

‘I know,’ she said, hugging me again ‘but why you have to pretend?’

Almost thirty years on, I still can’t say.

Ollie and fans in Bequia
Ollie and his Asanvari fans
Ollie and his fan Bernadette
Ollie fans
Ollie signs autographs

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Wendell’s Place

By Katelinn Shaw

I didn’t notice it was open. From the beach side, Wendell’s Place doesn’t catch your eye. There’s a covered outdoor seating area, what looks like an old shop and a crude wooden table in the sand. Most of it was once painted blue. A few men sit in the shade around one standing, working with his hands. This is Wendell. No one seems to object to my being there, so I watch him work. He’s weaving a net with a spool of seine twine in one hand and a board for spacing in the other. The square holes in the net hang down and make a strange pattern in the sand. The board is worn dark and smooth from countless wraps of the twine, as are his hands. He works them both slowly.

For a while I watch him work in silence. The hitch is simple; it doesn’t take long to figure out. Eventually I ask him what the net is for. ‘Turtle net’ he says. Not wanting to make any assumptions, I ask him what he does with the turtles. ‘Tag them and release’ he says. Bones and shells hanging above us clink in the breeze. I raise an eyebrow at him and he chuckles, ‘for eating.’ We both enjoy the joke and I refrain from asking college questions like whether or not this is a sustainable practice. When in Rome, weave turtle nets.

He knows that I want to try and hands me the spool and board. The spool is surprisingly heavy—the board surprisingly light. I pass the spool correctly and pull the knot tight. Once again I find myself somewhere I never expected, weaving a turtle net of all things under an array of strange dangling objects with my bare feet in the sand.

Although it’s a simple knot, while we talk I tangle the twine. My hands look small next to his as we work together to decipher the mess. ‘Deceptively simple’ I think to myself. I find it interesting that he has lived on this small island all his life, and he finds it strange that I have been away from home for over a year. This trip has made me feel young again. I don’t mean that in a nostalgic sense, but that when I left I was an adult, but here on this island I am a child. The tangle is resolved and I resume weaving, hoping that my row will be the same size as his.

He is patient with my questions, so I ask what he does here on the island, and he replies ‘I live my life before I die.’ What a perfect Caribbean answer. I smile and think about how similar we are. Looking at the pile of spools waiting to be woven into the net, I ask him how long it took to make the already substantial net. ‘I don’t measure time’ he says. I laugh and think about how very different we must be.

While I stain my hands with the twine, he pulls out a guitar and begins strumming a song of his own creation. And here on a white sand beach under coconut trees, Wendell — of Wendell’s Place — sings of hardship in rhyme. It’s his song, but I know it too. He’s singing about life, and time the way he knows it, and I am amazed at how we are the same.

I don’t have a picture of Wendell’s Place, but I can make a turtle net, should I ever need one, and I can hum his song. It was another moment in a year of small miracles. Another day in the life.

Editor’s note: Wendell’s Place is a shack like creation with trees growing through it right on the beach at Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke, maybe four paces from the water’s edge and tangent to the sandy road. Benches and table of drift, conch shells lying about, old photos tacked to the walls, low roof where this is a roof, the floor the beach itself, boats pulled up.

long boat anchored just off Wendell s
Sea Never Dry on the beach near Foxy s

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Jost Van Dyke

Light winds carried the Picton Castle NW from stunning lush Dominica on smooth blue seas the almost 300 miles towards the British Virgin Islands. This would be our last Caribbean island before setting off north bound for Bermuda and Nova Scotia. The watch did what we do on watches; steered, kept a good lookout, painted, made sails, looked after the generator, used the sextant, set and took in sail. After a couple days the outlines of the Virgin Islands emerged over the horizon ahead on another balmy light trade wind day. Like some many other Caribbean islands the Virgin Islands were discovered and named by Columbus.

We made landfall between Round Rock and Ginger Island with Clark at the helm, then sailed down Sir Francis Drake Channel, slipped through Soper’s Hole and West End before running out of wind just two miles from our anchorage at Jost van Dyke. The Virgins have been getting good rainfall so were greener than usual. Normally these islands are quite dry and scrubby, the original ‘desert islands’ of pirate legend, and no shortage of old school pirate activity around here. They had to fence their booty somewhere, no? And thus we have the origins of St Thomas’ Free Port status…

All anchored at Great Harbour with yards squared for furling sail and just looking nice; Bronwen, Rebecca, Meredith and I went into clear in at the customs & immigration building right at the head of the wharf. We take a gang in because often there a lot of landing cards to fill out, just like the ones you fill out on the airplane before landing on an international flight. Jost Van Dyke is joy to behold, perhaps anyone’s idea of a charming tropical paradise island. After getting dropped off we walk down the well maintained small wooden jetty, cross the narrow sandy beach road lined with palms and sea grape trees. Just up a few steps to our white stucco customs building. Inside there is a large map of the world we donated to them some years ago.

Clearing can take some time. I stepped outside and saw an old friend and shipmate walking towards the wharf; Captain Arthur M. Kimberly, my master and commander, known as “Skipper” when I was a young guy deckhand then mate in his fine wooden Danish Brigantine Romance in these very waters in the early 1970s. Some other Romance crew, when learning we would be coming to Jost, arranged to have a bit of a reunion for some old “mareneros” as he called us. And I thought our Picton Castle gang would benefit by meeting a true seaman, a master mariner who was of the “age of sail” himself. Should Capt Kimberly read this he will sputter and fume at this designation but it remains true nonetheless.

We also had to go down to Foxy’s to see Foxy and Tessa who have been welcoming mariners to this island with food and drink and calypso for decades. Foxy Callwood was recently awarded the MBE by the Queen and pinned by Princess Anne for his work at keeping Caribbean culture alive, or maybe just for being a cool guy. We call him Sir Fox now. Foxy is also at work heading up an initiative building a small sail training vessel for island youth to crew and learn and spread their wings in the Caribbean, a noble and worthy project. Look up the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society and learn more. The vessel design was developed from local working craft lines, those of the swift inter-island sloops, but with all the best materials. She is pretty far along and only needs the last push to realize completion. From Foxy’s dock I could see that sails of the ship were furled and that the swing rope had been rigged, swim call announced. All in all, a good start to a visit to, as Skipper puts it, “Jost Van Foxy’s.”

One of the reasons for putting into JVD was that this was also Foxy’s Annual Wooden Boat Regatta this weekend. And our last such chance to sail our small boats or get to crew on other craft which is such a good learning experience and fun as well, most of the time anyway. As wooden yachts converged on Great Harbour for the races, our longboat and dory were launched and sailed actively all weekend. We pulled the dory up on the beach at night in by Foxy’s and anchored the longboat by Wendell’s. Nice just looking at them in such a pretty environment.

I think all hands had a good time at our last Caribbean island but those are their tales to tell, or not. Minds naturally are turning to home and the Big Question; “what’s next?” But not so bad to spend some time at Jost Van Foxy’s in the sweet Virgin Islands while we ponder the question too long…

Carib Indian canoe Gli-Gli built in Dominica based in Tortola
Donald watches the Foxy s Wooden Boat Regatta races from the rail of Picton Castle
Endeavour II being built at Jost Van Dyke
sailing the long boat
Sea Never Dry spends the night on the beach at Foxy s
Sea Never Dry, our dory, pulled up on the beach by Foxy s

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Dominica – “Tall Is Her Body”

The lush green island of Dominica, located in the northern Windward Isles, has many names: The Commonwealth of Dominica, The Nature Island of the Caribbean, “Waitukubuli” – which is a Carib word meaning “tall is her body”. On May 21st, the Picton Castle sailed into an anchorage just south of the capital city of Roseau. Despite the fact that her highest peaks were hidden by dense rain clouds, she was still an imposing sight. The mountains sloped steeply down, inviting discovery. Dropping our port anchor in 100 feet of water, Paula and Dan R took the skiff to shore, laden with two stern lines. They tied these off to two large coconut trees, thus keeping us nicely secure. In both St. Barths and Grenada the Picton Castle moored stern-to, but never in quite this fashion. Dominica does not have many good anchorages and this was an old school way they used around here back in the days of sail, and it still works just fine!

For some, Dominica was a familiar site. In 2007 Survivor creator Mark Burnett got the Picton Castle to be the “pirate ship” for his short-lived TV series Pirate Master. She underwent a complete transformation. Her white hull was painted black, she flew the ominous Jolly Roger instead of the Cook Islands flag, the aloha deck was sealed off, she had a figurehead installed off her bow, the hold was turned into the Captain’s chamber, and contestants filled the bunks in the salon instead of the usual trainees. For three months the Picton Castle sailed the waters off Dominica and those of us onboard during that time, or indeed during the Atlantic Voyage when the ship visited, were awfully excited to once again anchor off her coast. It was an enormous amount of work to sail for a TV show but we also thought it was pretty interesting.

The youngest and most mountainous of the Windward Islands, Dominica’s tall steep jungle interior (bubbling with geothermal activity) is what really sets it apart from other Caribbean nations. This island is an ideal place for day expeditions and the only trouble the crew had was deciding where to spend their two days off. Aase, Siri, Shawn, Ollie, Katelinn, Dave F, Robert, Bas, Dan E, Nadja, Paul and Ali, among others, spent one of their days hiking to the second biggest hot spring in the world, Boiling Lake. Traversing a giant gorge, they walked for hours up a steep path, flanked on either side by cool rivers and pools. As they climbed the pools became progressively warmer, being fed, as they were, by the boiling lake. Atop the mountain the view was breathtaking and absolutely worth the 6 hour round-trip hike.

Others, not wishing to spend their entire day in the mountains, but nonetheless desiring a soak in a hot spring with a waterfall view, went to Trafalgar Falls. I took the short, muddy hike into the falls with Rudolph and Frederick. When we were filming Pirate Master 4 years ago, Rudolph was the man assigned to be our driver. He quickly became a friend. Frederick, through sheer determination and hard work, became crew on the Picton Castle for two months. He had never before left Dominica and yet he sailed with us to Martinique and the British Virgin Islands before returning home. It was such a pleasure to reunite with these two men! When we arrived at the falls, Meredith, Rebecca, Shawn, Cody, Brad, Dan R, Clark and Joh were already enjoying the scenery. Two waterfalls cascaded off the cliffs and into large, round pools. A few feet from the falls were several hot springs where one could relax, hidden amongst the foliage of the forest. Pania, Fred and Julie also made it to the Emerald Pool, another stunning waterfall which cascades into a pool which is literally ‘emerald’ in colour. Wendy took an hour and a half hike around Sourfriere and unwound in the hot springs at the water’s edge. Dan R, Tammy, Josh and Frankie spent an afternoon diving near Champagne Beach, where the bubbles from the underwater vents and volcanoes tickle the body, like champagne bubbles tickle the nose.

Adrienne, Lauren and Josh took a tour of the island, especially eager to visit Carib territory. Many of the islands in the Caribbean had been inhabited by the Caribs at one point or another. Yet Dominica is the only Caribbean island where they still have a territory, elect chiefs and maintain an autonomous ‘traditional’ way of life. During the 1500s and 1600s, while the rest of the Caribbean was being settled by Europeans, Dominica was relatively ignored. Consequently many Caribs fled to Dominica during the height of colonization. This is not to say that Dominica evaded conquest for long or that the Caribs did not suffer massacre and torment there.

If Dominica is famous for its natural beauty and culture, it is also celebrated for the diversity of its wildlife. Joani and Mitch both said that their favourite part of the visit was just listening to the tranquil life of the forest. Raj, our medical officer, hiked into the Northern Forest Reserve, where he hoped to get a glimpse of two parrots indigenous to Dominica. He climbed the Syndicat trail which leads to a platform overlooking the rainforest. While sitting, admiring the view, one of the parrots he sought flew above him and landed on the branch above his head where it preened itself. Satisfied, Raj decided to take a bus to the National Park of Cabrits, near Portsmouth. He had read a study on the genetic mutation of snakes and lizards and knew that they were abundant on this part of the island. Hundreds of years ago the land where he hiked had been the site of one of the largest British forts in the Caribbean. As he walked through the overgrown jungle, past cannons covered by moss and walls overrun with vines the ghosts from that era seemed to follow him. And of course, he found his lizards and snakes in abundance.

Discovering historical Roseau (the capital city) is also a great way to spend the day. In many ways the town has not changed significantly since the days of colonialism. No high rises clutter the waterfront and no casinos or shopping malls beckon the gambling or shopping tourists. Dominica has something far more special to offer and one can only hope that they do not have to sacrifice too much to a foreign clientele in order to get the kind of boost to the economy they so deserve.

At night the crew congregated at Ruins Rock Cafe. Ruins Rock is one of our favourite crew hangouts of all time. Serge (Spice Man) the proprietor serves up rare treats such as snake, iguana and bison and creates a groovy, hip atmosphere where the crew can dance or relax or just be. Usually closed on the weekends, Serge opened his doors when he heard we had come back to the island for a few days.

The Picton Castle and her crew could have easily spent several more weeks on Dominica. There is a mind-boggling amount of splendour to see. The sea always beckons however and our journey must continue. We still have places to see before we sail for Nova Scotia. On May 24th, 2011 we hauled up the anchor, let go the stern lines and sailed out of South Roseau – bound for Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.

*Thank you to Dan Eden for allowing us to use his lovely photographs

at Trafalgar Falls with Rudolph and Frederick
Dan hiking in the hills of Dominica
downtown Roseau, Dominica
Picton Castle stern to in Dominica
preparing to swim at the falls
the crew lounging at the falls

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North Bound 2

Picton Castle is about 360 miles north of Bermuda and about 350 miles south of Lunenburg. We have been sailing along pretty well. We had a head current yesterday from an eddy off the Gulf Stream but we have found a strong fair current it looks like we can ride for a couple hundred miles. Squalls last night, so much falling off before rising winds and taking in of high light sails. The crew did fine. Soon we were back on course. Now we have more squalls from the west but they are just helping us along with an extra push now and then. Sailmaking on deck is getting a bit impractical though. Conducted what should be our last abandon ship drill. Abandon ship drill and training is like no other drills. We go over launching life rafts, review what we would do before we had to abandon ship, if possible – certainly emphasize how abandoning ship is an act of last resort, practice putting on exposure suits quickly, cut away boats as well as launch life rafts, how to be personally prepared, review how to activate emergency comms, etc. We have the best gear there is but the ship is always better. As we head north of the Gulf Stream, sure, all excited to get home, but no voyage is over until we are moored to the wharf. Conditions are good and we are making good time for Cross Island.

abandon ship drill
Mike, Joani and Katelinn beside the galley house in squally weather
motor sailing in the North Atlantic
Paul dons an immersion suit
squally weather viewed from the bridge

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Bequia – Boat Building, Beautiful Beaches and Back Alley Chicken Shacks

After a brief visit to quiet Petite Martinique for a day the Picton Castle sailed on toward Bequia for a few days. Bequia is part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and has long been a favourite destination of sailors. Many of the islands populace are descendants of early Scottish boatbuilders and North American whaling crews as well as of ancient African lineage and still predominantly view themselves as mariners and people of the sea. Perhaps that was part of the reason this beautiful island was on the plan to visit. The Captain seems to have an uncanny way of knowing where we will feel right at home.

Anchored in Admiralty Bay off Port Elizabeth, near schooners and cargo ships, old whaling boats and fishing vessels, the Picton Castle swung gently on her anchor chain for three days. You can certainly see how the old and the new, historical and present day co-exist with one another on Bequia. A relatively secluded island, Bequia’s residents and administrators do what they can to maintain a tradition of environmental protection, preservation and traditional life-ways, while catering to a blossoming tourist-fed economy. Many of the boats we saw pulled up on the beach or anchored nearby were built on the island – with time-honoured techniques and hand tools. The majority of the sails are also made on the island and Port Elizabeth boasts working sail lofts. Aase made friends with some of the local sailmakers one morning and took pride in showing them our ship and our sails – all sewed by hand by our crew. Many of us wish we could have been there during the launching of one of these schooners or dorys, for the community gathers and it is said to be quite a festive event.

Whaling is also still practiced on the island, albeit in a restricted form. There are only a few whalers left and Siri and Shawn were privileged enough to meet some of them one evening while dining on the other side of the island. According to IWC standards, they are only allowed to catch 4 whales a year and many years they catch none at all. This is due to the fact that when these whalers – most of them men in their 40s and 50s – hunt whales, they do so in open sailboats, using hand-held harpoons virtually the same as was once done from old New Bedford whale ships in essentially the same wooden sail and pulling boats. What an insanely nerve-wracking experience that must be! When I was 12 I went whale watching for the first time off the coast of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and a humpback breached right next to our tiny zodiac, making it look alarmingly small, and me, within it, even smaller. These men take great pride in their heritage and their continuance of a lifestyle passed on by their forefathers. There is opportunity on the island, but there is also opportunity around the world. Many of the islanders spend at least a little time on international cargo ships or a few years fishing in open boats in the Caribbean waters.

You see, it is also a thriving fishing community. As Aase, Rebecca, Ali, Siri, Taia and I walked down Long Bay beach one sunny afternoon, we saw fishermen, sitting in the surf, scaling and cutting up fish they had just caught. Undoubtedly they would be serving them later that night at one of the islands famous local fish frys. The marine environment in Bequia is absolutely breathtaking. Tammy, Frankie and Raju all went diving and described seeing sharks, reef fish, pillar coral, anemones, tube worms, lobster, moray eels, barracudas, nurse sharks, angelfish, seahorses, and turtles. Even those of us who stuck to shallow water were in for a treat. Suzanne, Dan Eden, Rebecca, Mitch, Christine, Josh, Robert, Ali and I, among others, went snorkelling and what we saw just a hundred feet from shore was an underwater vista with abundant colourful coral and a playground for a plethora of marine life, including garden eels and blue chromis (this little blue, speckled glowing fish), tube worms and reef fish.

There is also plenty to see on shore and many of the crew set off on individual adventures to explore the island by land. Davey, Cody, Dan R, Niko, Ali and Paul rented a bright yellow jeep and took a cross country tour of the island. Lauren and Adrienne also rented cars. Wendy, Joh, Nadja, Chris, Sophie, Raj, Dave F and Dan E and others picked up scooters for their explorations. Bequia is delightfully unique and if you weren’t driving on a road without bridges you could swear that you were traveling to several different islands. Some watched the sunset from Mount Pleasant, others made their way to the windward beach of Spring, Nadja and Joh took the hike to Hope Bay where they swam in the surf of this secluded beach. Pania , Julie and Clark loved visiting the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, where Brother King takes the turtle eggs and then raises the babies until they have a better chance of surviving on their own – his way of bolstering the turtle population.

Some of the crew will also remember the food on Bequia. Whether it was finding the “best fried chicken since ‘Donald fried chicken” at the unassuming back alley chicken shack like Mike and Paul or discovering the local pizza like me and Meredith or the Mexican food like Frankie…we all found something that satisfied our cravings and suited our budgets. The restaurants on the island cater to hundreds of tourists a day during the peak season and yet reminders about the fragility of the local eco-system festoon every bathroom – reminding us all that water is a precious natural resource. You could say that the crew of the Picton Castle is more aware of this fact than most. We live within an obviously finite environment on the ship and see the negative results of excess consumption regularly in the form of reprimands from our ever watchful engineer Chris.

Onboard the crew continued their preparations for our imminent Lunenburg arrival. While none of us are quite ready for this voyage to be over, there is still reality to contend with. The ship looks good, but she can always look better. The crew continued to paint and varnish around the galley house and apply primer to the windlass bars, the quarterdeck ladder, the t’gallant and royal backstays. They scraped the decks, installed a new door in the Captain’s head, overhauled Chibley’s litter box and painted the workshop.

During the evenings there was live music to entertain, especially at the Frangipani, owned and operated by Sir James Mitchell, former Prime Minister of St Vincent and whose family not so long ago were shipbuilders on this very spot. Just like in Grenada, steel drums are a favourite here, performing familiar songs with a local twist. The steel vibrations mingled with the lapping of the water against the shore and the exuberant mood of the crew was infectious.

After a few days soaking in the sun, sensations and sights of Bequia we could see why Donald and Tammy both call this island their favourite in the Caribbean. And many of us wish to return one day to explore more. On May 20th, the Picton Castle hauled up the anchor and sailed out of Port Elizabeth and north once again, toward Dominica.

Siri and Shawn on Norway Day
small boats and schooner Friendship Rose in Bequia
waterfront and ferry dock at Bequia
Waterfront pathways
Wooden boats

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The Infectious Rhythms of Grenada

In order to get a more complete picture of Grenada one must talk about the music! You will inevitably find music on every street corner in St. George’s. Steel drum and reggae bands practiced well into the evenings; large speakers were set up at every corner shop, blasting the latest (or vintage) calypso and reggae songs. Set up next to every speaker were instruments and inevitably people were playing, adding their own beat on top of the beat in the song, making it richer. Everyone, it seemed, appreciated spontaneity. Everyone wanted us to play, regardless of skill. So, encouraged by the mood created, most of us, at least once, picked up a piece of steel pipe or grabbed a hubcap or a shaker and joined in with the local revelry.

The musical theme continued throughout our stay in Grenada. Donald and his family threw a BBQ/Dance Party at his house for the crew one evening. Donald has a lovely house he built just a 30 minute walk from where the Picton Castle was moored. Perched on a hill, it overlooks the lagoon of the port and his family’s property runs all the way to the water. Donald and his family whipped up BBQ chicken and a Grenadian dish called oil down. We mingled and danced with Donald’s family (his son Donnel – or DJ Point Blank Menace as he known professionally – acted as DJ extraordinaire) and neighbors until we could dance no more. The music continued to reverberate in our ears long after we were tucked into our bunks on the ship and fast asleep. It was a block party Jump Up!

But oh, no – the celebration did not stop there! We also hosted a dinner onboard for all of the Captain’s shipwright friends he has known since his days sailing on the Romance. These men, like the shipwrights on Carriacou, had taught the Captain many of the boat-building and spar making skills (he says they also simply taught him how to ‘work’, an alien concept to many young guys) he would later go on to use during his time as Bosun on the Danmark and even later, when it came time to convert the Picton Castle into the tall ship she is today. In a touching speech, the Captain reiterated this fact: “This voyage of today would not be possible without the instruction and guidance and hard work of the men you see around you tonight.” This was met with unanimous applause from the crew.

After four busy days in Grenada it was time for the inevitable farewells. In the early morning, with Senior Pilot Capt Julien Rapier aboard, we eased off the stern lines holding us to St George’s and hauled up the two anchors, waved goodbye to our friends on the dock and prepared to handle sail. We were bound for tiny Petite Martinique, the last of the three habited islands of Grenada.

Captain, Bones and the shipwrights
Dancing to the beat
Donnel (left) and friend DJ
Nadja reunites with Queen

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A Tour of Grenada

Approaching St. George’s, Grenada from Carriacou on a late afternoon May 10th was a charming sight. The island had been to windward of us for several hours as we made our way down the coast and steep, green and richly forested it was. Fort George, which is hidden until you come around some steep cliffs, overlooks the city and was bathed in a late afternoon golden glow. The sun reflected off the stained glass windows of churches. Old brick houses lined the streets, all of which sloped steeply down to the Carenage, a common name for the harbor at a West Indian Island, and in this case one in which we would soon anchor with two anchors and go stern-to the quay where not so long ago trading schooners berthed and heaved down, careened, to repair, caulk and paint their bottoms.

St. George’s was not the only thing glowing that evening. Donald stood at the rail, craning his neck to see his friends and family on the dock. He was home. After sailing for 13 months in this voyage of the Picton Castle as Chief Cook, Donald was back in Grenada.

Grenada, known as the Isle of Spice (rightly so as this small island is second only to all of Indonesia for nutmeg production), is the most southern island in the Windward Isles. It is a spectacularly beautiful island to explore and many of the crew took local buses into the mountains where they spent their afternoons hiking to the wonders of the Seven Sisters waterfalls, Concord Falls, Grand Etang National Forest and Crater Lake. Some made a visit to Caribs Leap where a large group of Caribs escaped the French long ago, and you can still see Carib petroglyphs nearby. Guave is the main fishing town and they have a festive “Fish Friday” every week and many islanders make the trek to join in the fun, so did some of us.

Everywhere you see interesting local built wooden fishing boats hauled up on the beach. Some of us got to see a still working sugar plantation from the 1700s now making rum more than sugar; 80,000 bottles a year all consumed on Grenada, none left over for export. Took a taste, rough stuff, but the sugar factory was amazing, still powered by a water wheel – using all the same equipment and techniques from over 200 years ago, amazing.

St. George’s itself is an intriguing city to explore. You need not visit a museum to learn a little about the heritage here, for the city itself is a living, interactive museum, where the past and present collide at every intersection. In particular the crew frequented the lively market place in the centre of town, purchasing local delicacies like French walnuts (a fruit that tastes like a plum, a pear and an apple combined) and callaloo (a leafy green chock full of iron, makes a great soup) and boxes of spice to bring home for family and friends.

While onboard the on-watch crew had plenty to do to occupy their time. Work on a ship is ongoing. Naturally the crew has been working diligently on maintenance throughout the voyage, but now, an increased urgency has set in. The weather during our stay in Grenada was perfect for jobs such as varnishing and painting. Sunny, warm days without sudden downpours allowed the crew to varnish the pin rails and spot paint the bulwarks and holy stone the deck in preparation for oiling. The little small boat, Uncle C, that we acquired in Carriacou (9 foot boat built like a schooner) also needed some work and the crew stripped her down and prepared her for some re-planking. As Nadja, Donald and I prepared our food provisioning orders with local, trusted chandler Terry, the rest of the crew cleaned out and organized the forward sole and hold, ready to receive the bulk of food.

*Thank-you to Ollie for the use of his photo of the Picton Castle stern-to.

bags and bags of nutmeg
our young Grenadian friend points out petroglyphs
Picton Castle stern to at the Carenage, Grenada
processing sugar cane
processing sugar cane the old way
St George s Market

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