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Sailing Martha’s Vineyard to Norfolk

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Tuesday afternoon finds our barque Picton Castle sailing happily along, heading southwest towards Virginia with a fair wind filling our square sails as it fills in from astern. Yards are squared and all sail set to the t’gallants. Six or eight knots might not sound fast to people used to cars and trains, but from the deck of a sailing ship it feels like we’re dancing right along. And of course we are taking our collective home, office and workshop along with us, pretty much a ship’s chandlery and general store down in the hold too, almost 600 tons all told. It seems to me that six knots is pretty quick for all this stuff to be moving.

The day is clear and bright, chilly about the toes but pretty: this is the North Atlantic and it is hardly summer yet – sky a clear pale blue, sea dark green-blue and everything looks clean and fresh from the quarterdeck. The horizon is big and round. Occasionally a miniature ship interrupts the line between sea and sky, stamping its silhouette on the horizon. Back into the ship’s office behind the charthouse with my coffee, and from my seat here I can see out through the chartroom window: a square of light; top half lower topsail white, bottom half sky blue with fluffy clouds.

Just sailing along, engine and generator all off and forgotten, the only sound apart from my fingers tapping away at the keyboard is the swooshing of the water past the hull as we gently rise and fall with the swell. The sails do their work silently. It’s terribly soporific on days like this, with the gentle rocking of the ship and the muted peaceful sounds. It’s a day to drink plenty of coffee if there’s work to be done, or just give up on the work and go below for a nap.

There’s something timeless about this sailing along too; the days start to merge reminding me of childhood summer holidays. Our time is marked out and divided by meal times, the sun rising and setting, the change of the watch. No deadlines or appointments or staff appraisal forms. We just get up, do stuff, learn, laugh, hang out, eat, sleep. Maybe somebody makes espresso or pulls some chocolate from their locker and we have a little treat. When you’re such a small dot on the big empty ocean the little things become your world.

Aloft to loose royal
Doc Jenny stands lookout
View from main upper topsail yard

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