Captain's Log

Archive for April, 2012

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Workshops, Ship’s Work… and Sails!

By Kate Addison

We’ve been busy busy aboard the Picton Castle as we sail from Bermuda towards Savannah, Georgia. Current position is 29o35’N 69o34’W and course is West by South. At Savannah we will join the rest of the fleet of the Tall Ships Challenge 2012, organised by Tall Ships America, so we will be on show to the public, and of course to a whole bunch of salty sailors. So we’ve been working hard to spring clean the ship, rub the winter sleep from her eyes and put her lipstick on so she’s all shiny and pretty and ready to be admired.

The last couple of days has seen sanding and varnishing of all the teak bright work on the quarter deck – binnacle, steering gear box, deck boxes. Lots of painting too: green trim on the charthouse, ensign red for the waterways, tropical blue on the breezeway overheads. In port in Bermuda we took advantage of the nice weather to have cold lunches and barbeque dinners for a couple of days so we could take everything out of the galley and the scullery and clean them all up, paint them all nice. And now Donald’s moved back into his galley, and all is well with the universe; Donald is more cheerful than ever in his sparkly domain, the food just keeps getting more amazing. You won’t starve on this ship, as one of the trainees pointed out today.

There was some final decorating to do in the galley – extra coats of varnish, painting trim – so the night watches pitched in and between 10pm and 2am everythining was prepped, painted and cleaned up, ready to light the stove again in time for breakfast. Was like having a little party of midnight-galley-painting elves busy in there. Got to be a business model there somewhere, hiring out the elves…

We’ve been having afternoon seamanship workshops too, so the crew can practice some marlinspike seamanship as well as practicing painting and cleaning things. So far we’ve learned eye splice, long splice, short splice and some seizings. Everyone’s got their own length of 3 strand manilla to practice on, some of them look more like hairy hedgehogs than others. Nothing that can’t be fixed with a good whipping though.

And this log entry was going to stop right there, but I got up this morning and had barely finished my morning cinnamon bun before I was up aloft on the t’gallant yard taking gaskets off so we could set the sail. That’s right, SAIL! The wind is still pretty light, about a force 3, but we’re hoping it will fill in later. We’re braced up sharp on a port tack, square sails, spanker, staysails and jibs all set. Engine’s off, generator will go off too at noon. Whoop!

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By Wendy Heisler

The last time I saw Bermuda, she chewed me up and spit me out in the most romantic way possible. You in the unkempt fancy shirt, you know what I’m talking about. It was the kind of affair that leaves you woozy, disoriented, dumbstruck and always finding pink sand in weird crevices. In the end – and it’s a swift termination, always – in the end it always leaves you wanting more.

The universe is funny. Ten months after I last frolicked hand in hand with Bermuda, I was sailing back into St. George’s Harbour with a devilish glint in me eye. This time I was determined to be the one in the power position. This time I had security reinforcements to block pink sand from entering my VIP areas. This time I knew the exact ratio of rum swizzles to ice cream necessary for entering a higher state of brain power. There was no messing with me, no sir.

Of course, we all know what happens when you’re left at the whim of a beautiful seductress. All self-posturing flies out the window and once again you’re happily laying face first in a pile of rum cake, which you originally planned to present to your boss and/or grandmother.

After three-point-five days snuggled up at Penno’s Wharf, our Picton Castle crew leaves doe-eyed and dizzy after a long weekend of sweet Bermuda love. A healthy chunk of us were return visitors, having dropped by last year as our second-to-last stop on World Voyage V. We were all eager to re-visit favorite haunts. Some found pink sand beaches and swam in cool, turquoise waters. Many ventured to Hamilton, the capital city, in search of action and in some cases, sit in trees (???). Some claimed territory at the famous Swizzle Inn to partake in their signature Rum Swizzle. Some hiked around St. George’s to find forts, hidden bays and parks. Most of us considered it of highest priority to sip Dark & Stormys with Bermudian rum and ginger beer. For me, it’s nostalgia in a glass.

Of course, a few days in port allows for much ship’s work to be accomplished. Our girl will feel pretty sassy sailing for Savannah, as she got big-time gussied up by our diligent crew. The freshly painted galley and scullery have not grown tired of our admiring “ooooohhhs”; a newly varnished wheel box gleams aft of the helm; our favorite color tropical blue glimmers from the breezeway overheads. Our passage to Savannah will certainly find us armed with paint brushes, tar, sand paper and rust bust lust to ensure that heads will turn when we arrive for tall ships festivities.

As of Wednesday, April 25 we set sail at approximately 0700 for some southern hospitality. Due to the last dying remnants of Monday’s gale, we hung around for an extra day to let the seas calm down. Now that we’re satisfied with our Bermudian love affair, our sights are set on the siren call of biscuits, fried chicken and collard greens… lord have mercy.

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Another Day in Bermuda

All is well aboard the Picton Castle here in Bermuda – surrounded by pastel turquoise waters we are snugly moored starboard side-to at Penno’s Wharf in beautiful old St George’s. A fresh southerly breeze has us fair pinned to the wharf but the fendering is excellent and we could not be better berthed. Much thanks to our shipmate Paulina and the good Harbourmaster of St George’s for looking after us so well.

We are looking at some poor weather for the next couple of days as a low pressure system blows through – looks like we will get off Wednesday bound for Savannah some 800 miles away. Our gang is a good one and settling right in, learning the ropes, working diligently and in good cheer.

The ship gets pretty scruffy looking over a Nova Scotian winter. Weather can be good enough for rigging and bending sail and stowing the ship but fog, snow and rain do not lend themselves to beautifying the ship. But here in Bermuda it is warm, sunny and soon with a pot of paint, tar or varnish and elbow grease of willing hands it all comes together. The ships skiff is getting painted up too, waterways overhauled and painted, galley painted out and the blue overhead in the breezeways are getting a bit of attention too. The ship’s office just aft of the charthouse is getting a good housekeeping overhaul too, as is the mess room.

But it isn’t all work as the off-watch finds plenty to do ashore on this fair island placed just where an island ought to be placed between the tropics and the higher latitudes to give wandering sailors and their ships a break from a North Atlantic sea passage. A bit squally today- should blow pretty fresh tonight- but we are as snug as can be.

2nd Mate Sam points out the best bar in St Georges
Bosun Susie and Mr Mate
Hoisting the Bermuda courtesy flag and the Q flag
Midships gang standing by

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Bermuda Bound

We in the Picton Castle are having a fair passage towards Bermuda just now. Seas moderate, winds light and mostly favourable, even currents in our favour. We have a strong crew. Many Picton Castle veterans and we have some pretty salty young folks who have only recently signed off the Danish full-riggers Danmark, Georg Stage and Norwegian Sorlandet as well as the big Norwegian bark Statsraad Lehmkuhl. We have a Bosun School alumni and we have a crew member from far Australia. We have a good gang.

We delight in the warming weather and the blue skies. A few birds have hitched a ride aboard and they just might make it due to the absence of Chibley the Cat. Chibley was indifferent to mice, rats and other creepy crawlies but birds got her blood up. But these birds will get a chance at a passage at least.

Donald is back and master of his domain and everyone’s stomach being the great sea chef and shipmate he so consistently is. Michael is back too, Chief Mate on the last two big voyages, he is looking after the ship as only the dedicated talented seaman he is can do. Due to the fine weather we have started up seamanship workshops in the afternoons as well. All looking forward to a new port in the form of St George’s, Bermuda. Soon into the clear turquoise waters of the Bermudas and stretch legs ashore.

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Sea Legs and Sea Creatures

By Kate Addison

So a couple of days at sea and it’s starting to feel like home again. People are discovering or re-discovering their sea legs, looking less green, moving about the place more easily. The roll of the Picton Castle in the North Atlantic swell is becoming pleasing background music where initially it was a little jarring like europop played too loud. We’re getting used to the new sleep pattern of the watches too. Obviously the ship won’t just steer herself while we all turn in for the night, so a third of the ship’s complement are always on watch, taking turns at the helm, on forward look out, standing by for sail handling or any other jobs that need doing, cleaning things, making coffee. 4-8 watch are setting up for breakfast, taking care of deck wash, and making sure there’s hot coffee for the 8-12 watch. 8-12 clear up from breakfast and set up for lunch, take care of a spot of domestics (cleaning heads, scullery, living spaces generally), and making sure there’s more coffee for the 12-4 watch who clear up from lunch and then put the kettle on. Then 4-8 take over again, all hands have dinner at 6, and so it goes on. If it sounds like 12-4 aren’t doing any work it’s because we haven’t really started on ships’ work yet – damp and rolling a bit much for painting. Plus they’re slackers. I can say that because none of them will have internet access until Bermuda. Hehe.

We’re steaming more than sailing at the moment. The breeze is light and flukey, but we’re setting and striking the lower tops’ls as the wind comes and goes. The general plan is to keep steaming South, picking up any bits of wind that we can, but with the main aim of getting to Bermuda in good time so we’ll have every opportunity to sail onwards toward Savannah, Georgia. The fog has lifted to a haze so the sky is now a slightly different shade of grey to the sea, which is nice. Good old Atlantic grey, it’s sort of comforting in its constancy. It’s much warmer now, sea temp up to 22°C, and the first pair of winter white toes has emerged from the sea boots. Yes Niko, it’s very wise to keep your boots as un-stinky as possible, and the other bros in the forepeak will be grateful I’m sure. The general effect of the increased temperature is slightly steamy, like a coffee shop on a rainy day. Better than the cold anyway!

And as a consolation prize for not having many sails set, we have seen whales. And dolphins. And phosphorescence. And phosphorescing dolphins dancing in the bow wave. Really, like glowing torpedoes of awesomeness! Now I know I should call it bioluminescence but phosphorescence is a cooler word, and I’m sure that you wouldn’t bother reading my stuff at all if you were the pedantic sort, so phosphorescence it is. I don’t know why it happens, I don’t even really know how it happens, but I do know that I like it. Every movement in the water setting up a sparkle, every little white cap glowing and then fading. Flush the head? Glitter in the bowl! Doing dishes? Stars in the sea sink! It just never gets old. Who needs religion when you have sea critters that sparkle in the breaking seas, and dolphins playing in your bow wave?

1 Muster
2 Drea and Victor
3 Elisabeth at the helm
4 Nathalie is first to muster
5 AB Susie makes coffee
6 Tre making a lanyard

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Training Crew and Stowing For Sea

By Kate Addison

At 14:00 today Picton Castle is due to leave her dock here at Lunenburg and set sail bound for Bermuda. The ship and dock have been a buzz of activity over the last few days as we’ve all been working hard to get everything stowed, rigged and ready for sea.

We’ve been testing all of our kit and making sure it all does what it should, fixing or replacing things where necessary, getting spare parts stowed making sure we know where everything is. So much kit! Diesel engine, galley stove, satellite communication systems, navigation kit, radar, water maker, liferafts, fire systems… of course our main ‘engine’ is the set of sails, so we have spares of those too. All ordinary sails bent on now apart from the royals, but generally not too much need for royals in April in the North Atlantic…

And then there’s the stowing, making sure everything is neatly put away and lashed down so that it doesn’t become an unintentional flying object at sea and cause damage to anyone or anything. Ship shape and Bristol fashion as they say.

The other main thing we’ve been working on is getting the crew ready to go to sea. No good having all the safety kit in the world if the crew doesn’t know how to find it or use it. So we’ve been doing drills for every emergency you can think of. It’s sobering to think of the situations that would require us to do this for real, but this is balanced out by the pure comedy of watching the whole crew practicing donning their super-fancy immersion suits. Picture a bunch of sea lions in luminous yellow inflatable outfits flopping across the deck to help each other with their zippers… brilliant!

And then of course there’s the sail handling drills. The core of what we do, and the reason most of us joined the ship; climbing aloft to loose sails, sheeting home, hauling away on halyards, bracing round. There’s a whole lot to learn for the new crew, so many lines! It’s making my head spin and I knew them all once, not so long ago. We’re not the slick, polished machine we will be after a few months at sea, but the new crew are doing a great job, and we’re working through the sail evolutions steadily and safely with help and instructions from the mates and the experienced Picton Castle crew.

So after all the preparations, we’re just about ready to sail. It will be sad as always to say goodbye to Lunenburg and all of our friends here. Hopefully see lots of you on the dock at 2pm today, but until then thanks for having us, see you all soon!

Dan helps Cheri tighten her lifejacket
demonstrating heavy weather procedures
Drea looses the mains l
Elisabeth and Victor loose the spanker
pizza and turkey soup and salad for Sunday lunch
the mate demonstrates how to don an immersion suit
Wendy and Dan practice donning immersion suits

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Setting Sail Monday

After days and weeks of training, orientation and preparation, Picton Castle is scheduled to set sail this coming Monday, April 16, at 1400. Sailing from the wharf at the end of Bluenose Drive in Lunenburg, Picton Castle is bound for Bermuda, then Savannah, New York City, Greenport, Norfolk, Newport, Halifax and the Nova Scotia coast before returning to Lunenburg about three and a half months from now.

All are welcome to wish the ship and crew bon voyage and to wave farewell on Monday afternoon, so join us on the waterfront if you are able.

As always, the itinerary of a sailing ship is subject to change due to weather or any number of other reasons. If a change is necessary, it will be posted here on the Captain’s Log.

bending on the fores l
Drea and Susie mouse footrope shackles on the yards
Maria, Tre and Nadja have a laugh
Siri loads provisions into the hold

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Provisioning and Crossing Yards

By Kate Addison

Excitement is building at the Picton Castle here in Lunenburg, less than a week ‘til we sail, plenty still to do!

Provisions arrived early this morning, packets and tins and frozen stuff. Hands finished their breakfast (porridge, muffins & cheesy scrambled eggs) and straight to the dock to chain the food aboard and get it stowed. Eggs are greased so they keep better; cardboard packaging discarded so it can’t make a home for cockroaches or other critters when we get down to warmer waters. Tins, crackers, peanut butter all sorted and stashed for easy access in a seaway. Fresh fruit and veggies will come later in the week so the fresh stuff lasts as long as possible. Thanks to Norm for his endless patience with our seemingly endless shopping list!

By 9am everything’s away and the crew get started on the rigging jobs for the day: Abbey and Aase running sheets out along the jibboom for the headsails, Nadja and Victor aloft on the main with turning blocks, Allison and Drea stropping blocks on the well deck. Meanwhile, chief engineer David Brown (DB to his friends, I won’t publish what the others call him) is doing something mysterious with buckets of engine oil.

The wooden spars have all come down over winter for some varnish and tender loving care, but today’s the day when they go back up! In my book this marks the official end of winter and the start of the sailing season. T’gallant and royal yards and spanker gaff and boom are all on deck or alongside on the dock now. As I type, preparations for crossing yards has started – a quick lesson from Mr. Mate, and then its hands to the capstan to provide the power that lifts the yard aloft, hands aloft on the course and topsail yards and in the shrouds to hand up the yard as it comes and another gang on the dock looking after the tag line that controls the yard on its way up and stop it swinging about everywhere. I love this stuff, no cranes or lifting machinery, no fuss, just some easy physics, a bit of sweat and a whole lot of team work and sailorising. Good job!

It’s fresh enough today, but glorious sunshine which certainly helps the rigging along – hard to believe we had a good inch of snow here on Easter Sunday just a couple of days ago. With the weather as changeable as this we need you all to cross your fingers, touch some wood and say a prayer for fair weather for the 16th and beyond. Thanks!

Abbey in the head rig
Briefing for crossing yards
capstan crew
Crossing main royal yard
Donald in the snow
main royal
rigging footropes and backropes on the main royal yard
Stowing provisions
Tagline team

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Outward Bound for the South Pacific

Not long ago some of the crew were sitting around a fireplace here in Lunenburg on a blowing late winter’s night. All were veterans of one or more voyages through the South Pacific in the Picton Castle and were contemplating the next voyage and all that it would bring. As attractive as the planned voyage was, the thought floated up, not quite sure how, and I do not know who first put it into words, but it came out fully formed: what would it be like if we never sailed in the Pacific again? A dark shudder went through the crew. Heads hung and an awkward silence filled the room.

What is it about the South Pacific that so tantalizes sailing ship sailors? Well for one, you can’t imagine a finer tradewind ocean to explore under sail while learning the ways of a ship and the sea, nor more exciting and evocative islands to draw us over the horizon. Any number of old school deepsea sailors would have given anything to sail a small trading square-rigger among these storied isles, particularly when the alternative was hauling on frozen braces in the icy seas in the lee scuppers off the pitch of Cape Horn.

Maybe they were right, we thought. The South Pacific is the sea in which to range far and wide. Sailing in the tradewinds of the tropics across the broad blue Pacific Ocean. And what ship is better suited to roam among these South Pacific islands and archipelagos than this same barque Picton Castle who knows these isles and atolls so well? The answer is a little bit obvious, isn’t it?

And so once again we will square our yards and sheet home our canvas and set sail for the South Pacific this fall. We are bound for Panama, Galapagos, Pitcairn Island, French Polynesia and the Gambier Islands, Tuamotus, the Society Islands of Tahiti, Morea, Bora Bora and then on to the delightful Cook Islands. Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Palmerston Atoll and others will give our crew a chance to deliver the mails and try their hand at catching parrot fish and learning to dance island style in the sands by the lagoon.

The deep Polynesian island groups of Samoa and Tonga are on our voyage path as well. We will be seeing old friends of the ship in the islands and making new ones when we anchor or heave-to in the lee of these atolls. We will be taking educational supplies and actually delivering real cargo to some very isolated islands. The crew will be taking long boats into Bounty Bay and will perhaps take our own long boat on an overnight expedition around stunning Bora Bora. We have plenty of sails to make up on the quarter deck from bolts of snowy cotton duck as we traverse the tradewinds. Ropes and wires to splice, decks to oil, the rigging to tar, a ship to look after, safety duties to study and learn, and perhaps fish to catch. If the gang does not learn celestial navigation and shooting the sun and stars after days at sea it won’t be for lack of opportunity.

More on this all in the coming days and weeks. We have a wonderful summer planned too, sailing with an impressive fleet of Tall Ships from Savannah, Georgia, and other ports, on to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We also have two Bosun Schools with some exciting seamanship learning opportunities planned this summer, so stay tuned.

Alex gives a piggy back ride
assembling cargo on the wharf at avatiu
at anchor drying sail
camping expedition in the monomoy
Georgie demonstrates how South Africans climb coconut trees
rigging the swing rope for swimming while anchored off the reef
Skiff ride
south pacific sunset
students on the bridge

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