Captain's Log

Archive for November, 2012

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By Kate “Bob” Addison

A beautiful Tuesday afternoon finds the Picton Castle sailing sweetly across the Caribbean Sea away from Grenada and the Grenadines. The trade winds astern are pushing us along towards Panama at a respectable 7 knots and are also wonderfully refreshing on this warm, sunny day.

Grenada showed us a wonderful time, and we would have loved to stay longer to hang out with the gracious and welcoming people, who seemed to be always on the verge of laughter of a smile.

Bigger and more bustling than Carriacou, Grenada rises up out of the sea to lush green rainforest-covered mountains. The main town of St Georges is on the NW side, and here there are the docks, bus station, markets, cruise ship terminal and all kinds of shops and restaurants. Riding the local minivan buses is a good (and very inexpensive) way to get out of town and around the island. Glorious views appear around every corner and over the brow of every hill. There are places to get fried chicken or a cool drink dotted along every road, and we discovered that even if the place looks shut someone will usually appear to open up if a gang of hungry sailors appears.

On Saturday and Sunday groups of 6 or 8 from the off-watches went out on tours of the island, way up into the mountains where the air was cool and the vegetation incredible – we even found monkeys to feed bananas at the Grand Etang Forest Reserve! There were cocoa, banana and nutmeg trees planted in every valley, and papaya, citrus and mango too. Nutmeg is the national tree of Grenada, and the twin crops of nutmeg and mace are important exports. Our guide explained that every bit of land is owned by someone, and they all plant crops to grow food or to earn a dollar. There were a fair number of goats tethered by the side of the road once we got out into the countryside, and the occasional wandering chicken as well.

The highlight of the tour was a rum distillery, built in 1785 and with original machinery still working. There is a big water wheel to crush the sugar cane, and the juice is boiled and fermented in huge sickly-sweet vats before being fed into the big copper stills for distillation. This whole enterprise dated from plantation days as they say around here. We were given a sip of the finished rum to taste at the end and concluded it would be good for a sore throat if not for a delicate stomach.

Another highlight of our island adventure was the waterfalls – there are several around Grenada, and our tour took us to Concord Falls where we swam in the plunge pool – such a luxury to be completely immersed in clean, cool fresh water – we get so used to being salty!

There were other intersting ships to look at in St. George’s – a freighter, Ocean Princess II out of Kingstown was converted from the Lunenburg scalloper T.K. Pierce, her old name still visible on the stern. We had a couple of fellow sailing ships too – the Windjammers Mandalay and the Star Flyer, both take passengers sailing around the Caribbean.

Friday night in Grenada is celebrated by a fish fry, and in Guave, a fishing town on the NW coast of the island, this means a dozen or so stalls lining two perpendicular streets and selling all sorts of fried fish, plantain, breadfruit and other, unidentified but crispy, golden and savoury things. There was a band playing island rhythms on the corner, and a couple of men on stilts doing some very athletic dancing – I’m not sure if this is a tradition or if they were from a circus school but either way it was fun to watch, and the whole place had a nice, relaxed vibe – lots of local families relaxing on a Friday night.

We had our own parties too – Donald hosted us at his house for a BBQ on Saturday, and on Monday we played host to some of our friends on the island. It was a good time, with singing and dancing and lots of food. Some of our guests bought us a big pot of ‘oil-down’, Grenada’s national dish it is a delicious mild and smooth stew of chicken, dumplings, vegetables, coconut milk, and, of course nutmeg.

So, we are very sorry to leave the West Indies, but it good to be back out to sea again where the breeze is fresh and cool and there is no hectic sightseeing, shopping or laundry to be done. It feels sort of like coming home.

Donald, Queen and Hazel-Anne in the skiff
P C drying sails
T K Pierce

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Carriacou to Grenada

By Kate “Bob” Addison

November 23, 2012

Friday evening finds the Picton Castle alongside the “schooner dock” portion of the deepwater commercial wharf in St George’s Town, Grenada, after a very enjoyable daysail down from Carriacou yesterday. Not so long ago, inter-island cargo schooners sailed in and out of this pretty harbour.

I am sitting on a deck box on the quarterdeck, looking out over the water as the sun goes down over the entrance to the harbour on my right. Straight ahead is the yacht club, and the green hills behind are studded with pastel coloured houses, one of which belongs to Donald, our cook of so many years. To celebrate being home, Donald is hosting a BBQ for the whole crew on Saturday night – he says there will be plenty of chicken for everybody. To my left, the next ship along the wharf tucked under our stern is a smallish inter-island supply vessel. The men aboard have just finished unloading the cargo and are relaxing now, leaning on the rail.

We started the day looking out over the other side of the harbour, the Carenage, but moved round the corner to the Lagoon side this afternoon to let a big bulk carrier take our spot on the dock. The Carenage is named for the fact that schooners and sailing ships “careened” down to work on their bottoms. Cannon mount the hill that once protected the town from foreign ships and the old fort is still standing high up on top of Fort George Point at the northern limit of the harbour. The ship that came in is carrying a cargo of wheat, which they have been unloading with a big mechanical scoop, load by load. It’s a big ship and a small scoop, looks like it will take days to unload! And if it rains they have to stop.

We’ve had a busy day today – we bought and stowed a load of lumber, big bags of charcoal, and fresh provisions. We did a giant clean and laundry run, everyone’s bunks stripped and cleaned, and mattresses wiped off and left on deck to bake in the sun. We also unloaded the children’s books that were donated for us by generous schools, hospitals and individuals in Canada and the USA to bring to the children in the islands here.

Our five new crew are settling in very well – all their inductions and safety training done, they have been up aloft, and they are becoming accustomed to this ship and island life just as well as the rest of the gang.

Donald looks out at Grenada
Heaving up the anchor
stowing the mainsail
Tonya, Scott and Murray prepare mooring lines

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By Kate “Bob” Addison

Picton Castle crew are very much enjoying island life here in Carriacou, our first port of call since Canada. This island is seriously sweet – picture perfect beaches, lush green mountains, delightful people, food, musics, ice cream…

I am sitting writing this at a rum shop (a “rum shop” being an old Royal Navy term and the Island local name for the local pub) looking out over Tyrell Bay on the SW of the island, but don’t be fooled by the name – rum shacks all serve soft drinks too (Ting!), and usually some fried chicken or a fish burger to go with. This is the yachty part of town, just the other side of the peninsula from Paradise Beach which makes up the bottom curve of Hillsborough Bay, where Picton Castle is lying at anchor.

She is looking good now, topsides scrubbed and painted by gangs over the side in the skiff, and the freshly oiled decks glistening gently in the sun.

The off watches have been exploring in the monomoy, our double ended surf rescue boat that can be rowed by up to eight people plus a coxswain or sailed. Yesterday morning Siri took an expedition rowing up to Sandy Island. It’s well named, a little sandy palm-fringed bit of an island just less than a half mile offshore. There was a salt water pool in the middle of the island, washed with clean salt water at every high tide. A barrier of coral protected it from the sea side, and soft, white sand on the Island side. We had a lovely time swimming from the boat, and from the beach. The current and wind were against us on the way back, so Siri played us row-faster tunes to keep us in time and Dkembe was official pep-talker and motivator. Such a lovely expedition! Today Michael took the other watch out rowing – I’m sure they will have plenty of their own stories too.

Last night was a little party for the ship up at Bernard’s place at Windward on the northeast side. There was a big fish broth for us – the men go out bottom fishing and anything they catch goes in the chunky soup, together with potato and plantain and deliciousness. We wandered down to the boatyard at Windward in the early evening to look at the pretty wooden boat being built there. The boatyard is actually the beach, and we are told that the launch day is a great party with food and music, and all welcome. It would be wonderful to stay here until she is launched in the New Year, but the South Pacific is calling, so onward we go, sailing for Grenada in the morning.

checking out boatbuilding at Windward
monomoy oar over Sandy Island, Carriacou
rowing the monomoy off Carriacou

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Our First Port of Call: Carriacou, West Indies

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Two weeks and two days out from Lunenburg and Picton Castle is sailing quietly and majestically to her anchorage off the beautiful island of Carriacou in the West Indies.

We have logged some two thousand miles through the North Atlantic Ocean to get here, and it’s good to have land in sight again, about to drop our anchor for the first port visit of this eight month voyage. Our position is 12Deg29’N 061Deg27’W, some 200nm SW of Barbados. The breeze from the east is warm, seas and skies are blue, and there’s a happy buzz aboard. Idle hands lean expectantly over the rail, watching the land get larger and more distinct – red-roofed houses appear and the lush green carpet covering the gentle mountains becomes a canopy of trees. Donald, returning once again to his home islands has the biggest smile on his face – everyone who walks past him catches the grin and passes it on.

This is a true, exotic spice island. Captain says it’s really too sweet a place for our first port and we’ll all be spoiled for the rest of the trip. Sounds to me like it might be worth being spoiled for – feels like we’ve earned a swim and something cool to drink after two weeks at sea. The white stripe of beach looks incredibly inviting, gently lapped by the blue water. Just up ahead of us there’s a sweet Carriacou sloop sailing out towards us – at the helm is a friend of the ship come out to welcome us in. There are a few yachts sailing close by too – they look like seeing a square rigger under full sail has made their two week yachting vacation, never mind their day. Lots of cameras pointed at us, if anyone reading this took nice pictures we’d love to have them emailed to us!

There’s a nice breeze running, and the Captain is calling orders from the bridge – coordinating the helm, the sails, the gang up forward preparing the big port anchor, the leadline forward taking soundings. Under his orders the mates call out instructions and the crew haul smartly on the braces bringing the huge spread of cotton canvas round sharp on a port tack so we round Gun Point at the north of the island and follow the coast round to the west. We come to Hillsborough Bay, which will be our anchorage for the next three days, and the ship becomes a flurry of coordinated activity as we strike sails, set the spanker, drop the hook, brace around, and strike the spanker again. Not bad going for this gang, sailing onto the hook for the first time. Anchor holding well on the sandy bottom? Good, then it’s time to “up and stow”! Captain took a few of us ashore to clear in with immigration and customs, and it was a fine sight on the skiff run ashore to look back at the crew all aloft stowing sails. And they got to cool off after with a swim call – was fun to watch people diving and splashing off the side as we waited for the boat to come and pick us up again.

And then, all cleared in, we lowered the yellow ‘Q’ flag and the two off-watches were stood down and given the ok to go ashore. They went off pretty quickly too in a couple of boat runs, all in holiday mood and looking suprisingly clean in straw hats and shore clothes. The 4-8 have the watch and they’re setting up scaffolding over the side to clean and paint the topsides, while dancing to reggae from a West Indian radio station playing from the bridge. Even work days are awesome when you’re in the Caribbean!

chief mate Michael looks at PC at anchor while driving the skiff
On the focsle head with the foresail set, preparing the port anchor
Siri holds George as he gets his first look at a tropical island
the shores of Hillsborough, Carriacou

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Settling Into Our Tropical Routine

By Kate “Bob” Addison

November 17, 2012

It’s proper tropical weather at sea now, blue skies and blue seas as far as we can see, the roll is gentle and we’ve settled into our usual shipboard routines on the Picton Castle. Each hour of the watch sees a different person at the helm, and standing lookout up forward, so when there’s no sail handling to be done there’s time for the rest of the watch get on with projects. There’s a lot to do so it’s good to be able to get going.

Today the rails on the quarterdeck have been getting some attention: a coat of varnish on the teak taff rail, fresh grey paint on the supporting stanchions and rails, and ensign red on the waterways underneath. We’ve moved the fruit lockers into the centre of the deck, out of the way of the painting, and with their dory buff tops alongside the buff hatches it looks like a little sandy island in the middle of the quarterdeck – just needs a palm tree or two.

The Captain started teaching a series of seamanship workshops this week. Most afternoons at 1600 the crew congregate on the hatch, and this week the subject has been rope work – learning different splices and whippings: long splice, short splice, eye splice, chain splice, grommets, quick whipping, sewn whippings. Each person has their own length of rope to practice on, and they are coming along pretty well.

Yesterday was Tonya’s birthday, so Signe and Drea made her an extremely chocolatey and gooey cake. Yum!

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Sailing, Cleaning and Some Fishes

By Kate “Bob” Addison

November 12, 2012

Monday morning came in overcast and warm with light southeasterly winds. The tail end of this big slow front is giving us rain showers and gusty winds; lightening very close last night too. Picton Castle is sailing southwest on a port tack; topsails, courses, spanker, staysails and two jibs set and filling nicely. Our position is 25°14’N 059°11’W.

The watches have been doing a fair amount of sail-handling over the last few days: setting, striking and stowing topgallants and royals, bracing around as the wind shifts – lots of drills in each watch too, getting proficient at taking in and setting sails quickly.

There’s been too much roll to really crack on with ship’s work, so when not sail handling, the watches have been spending a bit of time standing-by on the quarter deck. The ABs and mates have been making the most of this time to do some teaching in the watches – in the last few days I’ve wandered out of the office into lessons on filling in the weather log, including a discussion of the Beaufort scale and cloud types; setting and striking square sails; basic ocean currents and global weather systems; knot tying and compass boxing. Getting better at steering under sail has been a big focus too – sailing with following seas is quite a bit trickier than motoring into seas on the quarter.

Saturday was sunny and breezy and saw a massive clean of the ship, which was getting a bit nasty from the days of cold, wet weather, so gangs were out with buckets of soapy water and scrubbers cleaning deckhouses, overheads, windows and portholes, and deep cleaning the interior spaces too. I even saw AB Allison taking a toothbrush to the fo’c’s’le shower.

We’ve been line fishing the last few days – now that we’re sailing it’s safe to trail lines astern and we have four rigged from the quarter-deck. We had our first bite on Saturday (Siri’s birthday), and it was Siri who pulled him in. He was a pretty little mahi mahi, but too small so Engineer David “DB” Brown threw him back in. And Drea baked a big chocolate swirl birthday cake with jelly sweets and candles for supper.

Tonya caught our first flying fish at the end of last week – she was innocently walking down the deck when the fish jumped out of the ocean, and with incredible aim, hit her in the face before falling to the deck. Tonya didn’t seem too concerned; she just picked up the fish and put it in the cooler, so that Donald could fry it up for the Captain’s breakfast. George had the leftover scraps, and he thought that was very good.

Flying fish Fried
Sail setting with Allison

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Picton Castle in “Flying Fish” Weather

Picton Castle is about 130 miles ENE of Barbuda – sailing due south along in sweet pleasant light trades, making 6 knots bound for Carriacou and Grenada. I plan to keep sailing on the east, about 60 miles on the windward side, of the island chain to keep the good breeze and not get suckered in to taking in an extra island. Tammy and son joining up with us in Carriacou, and seven new trainee crew members in Grenada.

This North Atlantic this fall was not a pretty picture for passages south. What a wretched North Atantic ocean this year! Some autumns seems like a good chance along for sailing south offshore but not this one of 2012. We had a good window when we sailed November 3rd, actually was good enough by November 1st after Sandy but I wanted left over seas to lay down some more. But there has been bloody little getting south offshore from New England or Nova Scotia since. Had we not sailed Nov 3rd/4th we would have been easily another week or more in Lunenburg and would still be well north of Bermuda now. Might only be setting out right now, 12 plus days later.

Yet our passage south was been fine. A bit of a slog at times, mostly because I chose to keep motoring and pushing even when we had fair winds. Wanted those 200 mile days making southing. Wanted to lose latitude. Thought about putting in to Bermuda, we came within 80 miles but then we would have been there three days and wasted the fair winds given to us at the time. And these winds were snatched away soon enough around Bermuda. Many would-be mariners believe that a vessel is out of the Winter North Atlantic woods by the time they get to Bermuda, but that really isn’t quite so. Not out of the woods at Bermuda yet, but you can maybe see the end from there.

Now we are in sweet flying fish weather, and plenty warm. I have had my traditional and ceremonial flying fish for breakfast and now all is well. This year after 16 years of fine and torturous service we replaced our 1893 cast iron stove with propane restaurant gear before we sailed , two of them actually, side by each and the new stoves in the galley are great. Will be at Carriacou in three days in these perfect and fair easterly trades.

The crew are doing great, a keen bunch, learning fast, the ship is fine, the Caribbean sweet and the South Pacific beckons.

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Chugging Along In The North Atlantic

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Picton Castle is motor-sailing South, 600 miles from Lunenburg, braced up sharp on a starboard tack under staysails as we continue to work our way into near-headwinds. We’re well east of a big low pressure system centred in the Chesapeake Bay, which is causing these Southerly winds. And making a bit of a mess for the NE coast of the US. At 34°26’N 064°14’W we’re a healthy 500 miles away from the worst of the low, and we’re not trying to pinch any closer. The winds are forecast to veer round to fair Northerlies by the end of the week which will give us good sailing to the southward; until then, we just keep chugging along, getting Southing.

It’s an exhilarating day to be on deck. Big-ish seas, sunshine and showers and 20 knots blowing over the starboard bow, gusting 25. Five minutes on the bridge and you feel instantly refreshed (if a bit damp). It’s not cold anymore – the water’s been in the low twenties centigrade for the last couple of days, but plenty of rain squalls blowing over. Foul weather gear over T-shirts is the current fashion for on-watch-wear: not too hot, keeps the rain and any spray off, and makes for brightly coloured gatherings when the watches muster.

The worst thing in the last couple of days has been the roll – we’ve had maybe ten and 12 foot seas on the beam at the worst point, making sleeping into an art form. It had lain down a lot by last night so people are looking less sleepy today. In fact it laid down in a couple hours, surprising really.

There was a little bird fluttering round the quarterdeck yesterday morning. Trainee Dan was trying to feed it bits of his apple and take its photo, prompting a discussion about whether or not small birds eat fruit. This one did anyway. Poor bird, it looked fairly bedraggled, and unlikely to make the 125-odd miles to Bermuda, or even to survive as a stowaway with hungry George aboard.

Ship’s cat George has been causing trouble, breaking into his supply of kitty treats on the top shelf in the scullery, eating breakfast baked beans and generally acting like we’re starving him. I think his ever-expanding belly, glossy coat and bright eyes are signs that he’s not actually underfed, whatever he likes to think. He was quite seasick the first few days out, wandering about mewing for his gangway and his dock and being generally miserable except when being fed or petted. He seems to have cheered up now, remembered he’s a ship’s cat and got his sea legs back.

A sign has appeared on the salon door by order of the Chief Mate: “We have entered flying fish territory. The first flying fish found on deck must be brought to the officer of the watch immediately!” One of the trainee crew asked me if the sign was serious. Of course! First flying fish is for the Captain, second for the ship’s cat. Isn’t that how it is on every ship?

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Sunday and Monday at Sea, Jogging Along Nicely

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Yesterday was a Sunday so Picton Castle Cook Donald had the day off, and the galley team look after the meals with help from the watch. The galley team changes daily, one person from each watch have the day off from their usual tasks on watch and instead spend the day assisting in the galley, setting up for meals and cleaning up after. On Sunday the galley team cook, with the watches to help out and wash dishes as there’s traditionally no ship’s work on a Sunday. Yesterday’s team did a good job for us: eggs, porridge and fruit for breakfast, chicken with onion, pepper, tomato and rice in wraps for lunch, and pasta with sauce and salad for supper.

It always surprises people how tricky it is to cook at sea the first time they try. But is all part of what makes a strong mariner. We have 36 people on board at the moment, so that’s a lot of hot meals to get out at the same time, and there’s the added complication that nothing stays where you put it unless it’s bolted down or firmly wedged. This includes the cook. So, before commencing chopping, stirring or seasoning, the first job is always to find a nice corner to brace yourself into, or something to hang onto, so as not to fly across the galley when we take a roll… It is fun though, and also helps make the gang appreciate how wonderful Donald is for turning out three hot delicious meal on time, day after day.

Weather has been good – we have maybe a Force 5 on the starboard quarter, motor-sailing with topsails and the main topmast staysail set, braced up sharp on a starboard tack. There are big fluffy clouds, some grey, some white; lots of silver linings, their edges glowing where they meet the big blocks of bright blue sky. The ship has settled into a slow, comfortable motion, down now by starboard quarter, now by port bow.

A few of our newer crew are feeling the effects of the roll; there are always a few people suffering the first week out, and there’s really nothing more miserable but it generally doesn’t last long before they find their sea legs and forget that they ever felt bad.

Picton Castle is still heading South, or thereabouts. I can see the GPS course-over-ground from my seat in the office here and it’s swinging between 155 and 185… but then it is only the second time some of this gang have steered a ship – they should get much better in the next few days under the guidance of the mates, ABs and the other experienced sailors.

Just now the weather’s gone grey and cooler; a spattering of rain and the wind on the quarter picked up a little. I was aloft just now helping the 8-12 watch stow the foresail – first day it’s been warm enough to climb aloft with bare feet; but just as we were getting the last gaskets on the sky went dark and the rain started falling, so now I’m hiding from the miserable weather in the ship’s office. I think I might stay here until there are palm trees and sunshine outside… or at least until lunch.

4 to 8 watch relash strongback
Signe and Tonya at the helm
stowing the main upper tops l

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Leaving Lunenburg

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Saturday November 3, 2012

This morning at 10am there was a gathering on the Picton Castle dock in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The reason: Picton Castle was sailing from Lunenburg, bound for South Pacific explorations. Thanks to our friends and well-wishers who came out to send us off in style, and especially to Mayor Laurence Mawhinney who spoke eloquently of Lunenburg tied to the sea and it ships and their crew that do the job, and wished us fair winds and following seas.

Crew aboard, everyone else ashore, and Voyage Coordinator Maggie Ostler passed our last line aboard. We slipped off the dock out into Lunenburg harbour without drama and under sail. George the cat was pretty cranky about not having a gangway anymore.

Now it’s half-past one, and we’re motor sailing at just over eight knots; pushing to get South. Should make the warm waters of the gulf-stream by Monday morning. Right now it’s chilly, so the crew are muffled in hats and layers. Seas are small and a fresh breeze blows over the starboard quarter. Not too many people hanging out on deck just now; the off watches are snug below, snoozing or reading. There was talk of a game of chess. Still some Halloween candy in the scullery, but don’t expect that will survive the night-watches.

The 12-4 watch have the deck under 2nd Mate Sam Sikkema, and they are taking turns at the big teak wheel learning to steer, and standing up on the forecastle head, learning to be an effective look out. The start of a voyage is about basic skills and getting into the routine of the ship. As Captain Moreland told us in our first muster at sea this morning, we may think we want to learn celestial navigation, but first we have to learn how to walk again. On a moving ship. Step by step. It all seems new and maybe a little difficult now, but in no time it will feel like we’ve been at sea forever, and life on land will seem faintly strange (it is, you know…).

Now we’ve just had dinner (ham night, hurrah!), and 3rd Mate Siri Botnen’s 4-8 watch has the deck. The sun has gone down, a bright orange streak between the different shades-of-grey clouds and horizon. The ship is rolling gently, and I’m opening and closing lockers and drawers in the ship’s office looking for whatever small round thing is rolling around making noises to let me know it wasn’t properly wedged in its stow. Sounds like a pesky whiteboard marker….

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