Captain's Log

Archive for January, 2013

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Landfall: Pitcairn Island

By Kate “Bob” Addison

January 21st, 2013

For the sixth time in her distinguished sail training career, barque Picton Castle is in sight of Pitcairn Island, which grows larger and more distinct as we draw closer. It is a perfect South Pacific afternoon, with sparkling blue seas and a bright blue sky as a backdrop for our white canvas sails, spread out on their yards and filled with the southeasterly tropical trades.

The excitement on board is palpable, and it’s not just because it’s been almost three thousand miles and three weeks of ocean since we last saw land interrupting the infinite blue of our horizon. It’s not the thought of fresh vegetables either, (never seen a can or freezer? ooo!), or the promise of showers, cool coconuts and comfortable beds. It’s not even the thought of sitting on a genuine sofa – and that is truly one of life’s great pleasures after a month or so without. And a sofa with a view of Bounty Bay and the very broad South Pacific Ocean at that.

These are all good reasons to be excited, and they certainly add to the anticipation of getting ashore, but the main reason that people are so happy and excited is because that little dot of land, two points off the starboard bow is the legendary Pitcairn Island, famous generally, but especially famous in Picton Castle history.

Most people have heard the story of the mutiny on the Bounty, maybe they’ve seen the Marlon Brando movie, or perhaps the Errol Flynn, Clark Gable version or Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson version. Maybe they’ve read an account of the tale, or even sailed aboard the reproduction HMS Bounty that was built to star in the 1962 Brando movie. I expect most people have an idea that the story has something to do with an eighteenth century sailing ship and her crew of ordinary British sailors, that it is a tale of dramatic adventures in the beautiful South Seas, of their interactions with the friendly and beautiful Tahitians and the volatile, violent incursions at Tonga and Tubai.

Perhaps your average person would know it was all something to do with breadfruit, and that the mercenary goal of the expedition was to bring back breadfruit – a cheap food crop the Empire planned to bring back to the West Indies as food for the enslaved working the plantations there. The idea was that this would be free food so the slaves would not have to work their gardens to feed themselves. So the plantations could get even more work out of them. For some reason they thought the Royal Navy should fetch this breadfruit for them.

Maybe they have heard of the heroic and improbable journey made by Captain Bligh and his 18 men, cast adrift off Tonga in a 23’ open boat, with no charts, no shelter from sun or weather and virtually nothing to eat or drink. How they navigated their way across 4,000nm of open ocean to the nearest European settlement – Timor in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and onwards aboard ships back home to England.

Maybe Pitcairn Island rings a bell too – something to do with Fletcher Christian and his band of mutineers seeking refuge on a tropical paradise there with their Tahitian wives. How Pitcairn was chosen because it was small and uninhabited, without a harbour, but fertile with a good water supply, and most importantly because its longitude (the jewel in the crown of colonial navigation) was not yet accurately known. How HMS Bounty was abandoned and burned so that her masts wouldn’t be seen by the Royal Navy ships that would surely be sent to capture and hang the mutineers. And how seventh and eighth generation descendants of those very people still live there today in a complex society that manages to be very English at the same time as entirely South Pacific.

Captain Moreland first visited Pitcairn in the 1970’s sailing as Chief Mate for Captain Arthur Kimberly aboard the brigantine Romance, and he’s been friends with the Islanders ever since. This gives us Picton Castle crew our own more personal legend of Pitcairn to go with the Hollywood version, and it also gives us a special and privileged access to the Island: we are willingly taken into people’s homes, and fed, entertained and teased just as if we were long-lost family returning from far across the sea.

There are about 50 people living on Pitcairn Island today, so our crew almost doubles the population and we go ashore in two watches so as not to overwhelm them, and to leave the ship properly manned.

One of our crew, Chief Engineer David “DB” Brown is actually from Pitcairn – we invited (pressed?) him to sail aboard Picton Castle the last time we were here, on the fifth world voyage, and so now he gets to do what so few people in the world ever get to do: to sail back to Pitcairn. Right now he’s pretty much going loopy on the foc’sle head at the sight of his beloved Island home coming into view. DB isn’t the first Picton Castle shipmate to come from Pitcairn either – Pania Warren sailed aboard Picton Castle on World Voyage IV, and the Atlantic Voyage, and is now sailing as an AB with the Norwegian full rigged ship Sørlandet.

Good times we had on Pitcairn the last time around on World Voyage V – starting with the the journey by boat from ship to shore – skilfully unloading cargo and people in the swell, and then a blissful few days, running around barefoot, visiting folks, exploring and eating too much, just to be sociable of course. Highlights for me were heading over to Tedside to feed bananas to Miss T the Galapagos giant tortoise, swimming in St Paul’s pool and Bounty Bay and helping Olive make her famous breadsticks.

Can’t wait to go back tomorrow – they say the only thing better than visiting Pitcairn the first time is going back for a second visit!

Pitcairn on the horizon

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It’s Not Christmas Anymore, But…

Greetings from our shore office in snowy Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.

While Picton Castle is hove to off Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific this morning, we’re being covered in a fluffy white blanket here, so much snow and wind that local schools are closed for the day. Quite different from swaying palm trees, warm ocean breeze and sarongs.

This past Saturday there was an incredible concert in Lunenburg, our friend Lennie Gallant with Symphony Nova Scotia playing mostly Lennie’s songs with symphony arrangements. Before Christmas, we had published a Picton Castle version of the classic poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Lennie wrote an addition to the poem that was shared with the crew but never published. This concert reminded us that we should ask Lennie’s permission (which he has generously given) to share it with all of you.

So, from the winter wonderland of Nova Scotia, a Christmas wish from Lennie Gallant:

And back on the land
Where the lubbers did pine
For the whimsical whispers
Of south winds so fine
For the pitch and the roll
Of the mighty P Castle
And the captain’s great shout
To his first mate and vassals
‘Let the star that led wise men
Lead us on this night
Of sailors and shepherds and angels of light
Of those who would follow a king with no land
And nothing to swear by, but a steady hand
A star to give wonder to all who would see
That the hope for the world
Lies in moments like these’

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By Kate “Bob” Addison

What better to write about on a glorious, sparkling South Pacific morning than the most glamorous of Picton Castle crew – the daymen riggers?

Often compared to colorful birds of paradise (or more commonly to monkeys) riggers are happiest with both feet off the decks, working high up aloft. Here, they enjoy the finest ocean views of the penthouse suite here aboard Hotel Picton Castle. With the wind in their hair and the sun on their tanned, muscular backs, it’s no wonder they look down on the rest of us. Literally.

So what do they get up to all day, those Amazonian aerialists, masters of twine and tar? Well the rig is their playground but also their vocation, and looking after the running and standing rigging is their craft. Or at least the area of interest and learning, as these guy ain’t actually “riggers” yet, that takes years, but this the best start one could have.

There are hundreds of lines of manila running rigging on our barque, and they are all used to set, strike and control our 22 sails so that we can catch the wind and make our way across the oceans of the world. There are miles of standing rigging too – the fixed structural lines and wires that tension the masts and spars, pulling sails and ship together into a robust but flexible whole. The standing rigging is what makes our rig so habitable too. Unlike big schooners and yachts, the rig of a square-rigger is intentionally designed to be climbed and occupied by humans – there are taut horizontal ratlines, which make for the perfect wide and sloping ladders to run up aloft from deck to the royals. And then across the cranelines and horse and out onto the yard to stow sail, there are foot-ropes to stand on and back-ropes for support and added security – all the preserve of the rigging department.

There is a mixture of wire and natural fiber rope aloft to fulfill all of these functions, and each piece must be inspected regularly and kept in tip top condition for the rig to remain strong and secure. So we begin with a monthly rig check, where every inch of the rig is examined, and any wear or other problems noted. Then the fun starts, and the riggers and their assistants administer whatever is needed: anointing with grease, tar and linseed oil as appropriate; worming, parceling and serving over wire or rope to protect it from the weather, sewing on patches of leather or canvas chafe gear to act as sacrificial protection against the dreaded friction, replacing lines in the running rigging or fixing it up or end-for-ending if the damage is isolated and the rest of the line still good. And of course, new wire mousings for any shackles and here and there.

When we send up additional sails it’s the riggers who climb up aloft to fix the blocks and run the lines to handle them – last week they were busy fixing up the studding sails (or stuns’ls) on the port side of foremast. Quite simply the sexiest sails known to a square rigger, the stuns’ls extend out beyond the side of the ship to increase her sail area when running off the wind in lighter airs. They are set from strong pine stuns’l booms which slot into the hoops or stuns’l irons welded on the top of the lower yards and upper topsail yards. Stuns’ls add maybe half or three quarters of a knot to our speed through the water – which doesn’t sound like much but that could be a hundred miles or a day every week.

They are also great training for the gang on watch – you have to be snappy taking in stuns’ls if the wind picks up or a squall passes over, as something could easily break, and besides you can’t take in anything else until you’re done with the stuns’ls. So, a good learning opportunity and a bit of extra speed, but I think the real charm is that they look so, so cool – outstretched like a great white wing, trembling in the breeze.

Signe replacing a ratline
Susie rigging stunsails

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By Kate “Bob” Addison

Here in the South Pacific it is another hot blue-sky day. Winds are light. The sun has been shining brightly all morning, and there are just a few fair weather clouds low over the horizon – nothing to offer heavenly shade. The decks are foot-scorching hot so most folks are wearing sandals and the lines of pitch over the caulked seams are starting to soften. Lets hope they don’t bubble… but it is nowhere near as hot as the Torres Strait.

It’s another timeless day at sea, when the movement of the ship is slight and gentle and the people on deck are quietly working on projects, snoozing or reading a book. I am sitting in the officers’ mess, which is deliciously cool and shady with portholes both sides and a high skylight to let the breezes in. The oak paneling, the pretty artworks from around the world and the many books of the sea on the shelves makes for a serene nook in which to work. It smells very faintly of pine tar, but I suspect that may be me.

Apart from the quiet clacking of my keyboard I can hear somebody in the scullery next door washing dishes, and above me on the quarterdeck I can hear the sailmakers stretching out the foot of the new topsail readying it for roping. Baby Dawson is cooing and gurgling happily and nanny Tonya is cooing back to him. It sounds like they are hanging out on the aloha deck all the way aft, or maybe sitting on the timbers in the starboard breezeway. All is agreeably muted and peaceful.

All, that is, except for the obnoxious sounds coming from the carpenter at work in the monomoy, hanging in the port boat falls. He seems to be using some sort of harsh, droning power tool intermittently – an electric drill or driver maybe, which is alternated with loud, ringing hammer blows. I will forgive the disturbance, though, since it is all in a good cause – namely to prepare our beloved monomoy for some serious sailing adventures in the sweet lagoons of French Polynesia.

At 23 feet long the monomoy longboat is just as good for sailing as she is for rowing, but the forces coming from the sail down through the rig place more and different stresses on her hull. And like any 80 year old lady, she needs a bit of support for the saggy bits about her stern. So Topher and Sam have been hard at work fashioning and fitting sister ribs to strengthen and reinforce her existing frames. To help to reverse the natural sag of the boat they have rigged a strop and “Spanish windlass” around her hull, which is tightened up to help restore her proper shape before the new ribs are fitted.

We don’t sail with a full-time carpenter (also known as “el Carpentero”), but similar to the sailmaking and rigging the captain is chief carpenter. 2nd Mate Sam and a couple of others have high skill sets when it comes to woodworking and Sam leads up most of the projects. And there are plenty of projects to keep them busy. We’re rotating carpenter daymen every week or two on this passage so everyone interested gets a chance to be a carpenter for a spell – Topher took over from Dan last weekend.

Dan’s masterpiece for his woodworking week was making a new lid for the line locker, which is the large green deck box that lives on the foc’sle head behind the windlass. You might guess form the name we use it to store lines – mainly heaving lines and good lashing lines – lighter manila rope that we need quick access to. With the rails behind for a backrest, it also makes an excellent bench for star gazing or gamming. Well the lid was not looking so good after years of use, so Dan made a replacement to a new design that is stronger and lighter than the original. It turns out that this chest was the Captain’s great grandfather’s from the 1800s and apart from the lid, is made of single slabs of now long extinct North American Elm, done in by some blight ages ago.

Anything wooden is the bailiwick of the carpentry department, and there is a surprising amount of wood on this steel ship once you start noticing: topgallant and royal yards, topmasts and topgallant masts, the spanker boom and gaff, and of course the deck itself are all of wood, but the carpenters probably spend as much time looking after the domestic side of things with fruit and vegetable lockers, deck boxes, sea chests, furniture and fittings in every compartment. Almost all of which can be made or repaired on board and the carpenter’s workspace just behind the foc’s’le is stuffed with all manner of tools for measuring, cutting, joining, shaping and finishing wood.

The source of the noise

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By Kate “Bob” Addison

Another beautiful day deep in the South Pacific Ocean, and all is well aboard Barque Picton Castle. The sun is bright, the seas are sparkly and skies are blue, and all on deck are busy working away on their projects for the morning – the bosun and his mates are sanding the port pin rail for varnishing, the sailmakers are working on the new lower topsail, the watch is setting the lower stuns’ls and Hege has the big teak helm.

But below decks, out of sight and hidden away from the sun’s rays there is (literally) a darker place – mysterious, underground and poorly understood by the deck department, it is visited only on the hourly ship-check, and inhabited by mysterious and talented men and women – we call them The Engineers.

Welcome to edition 2 of the “daymen” Captain’s Logs. Today, we shed an unaccustomed spot light on the shadowy world of the daymen engineers.

It’s 9am and there is a dull hum coming from the port generator as it charges the battery bank and runs the reverse-osmosis watermaker. We run one or the other of our generators for only six hours a day, which produces enough power to charge our battery system for our navigation equipment and nav lights as well as our freezers, ship’s lighting and other domestic needs for the full 24 hours. Under sail, one of the best moments of each day is the sound of silence when the generator is shut off at the end of its charge. For 18 hours out of the day there is no sound of machinery at all.

But the fact that we can sail in silence for so many hours a day means that the state of our lead-acid battery bank is of intense interest to the engineers – if you want to start a conversation with one you could do much worse than the enquire after the batteries’ latest specific gravity or voltage readings. Of course this battery vigilance also encourages the rest of us to conserve power – the use of bunk lights and lights in compartments are not restricted, but the engineers show no mercy to people who leave a light burning in an empty compartment, or charge their laptop outside of generator hours. Aboard Picton Castle, even the engineers are eco-warriors.

It’s not just the generators and electrics that the engineers look after – all of our ‘systems’ fall under their remit, from the impressive 7-cylinder Burmeister & Wain alpha main diesel engine to the heads or marine toilets, showers, water maker, water tanks and pumps, bilge pumps, fire pumps, deck lights, nav lights and domestic lights, and freezers. Engineers need to know how to start, stop and monitor all of these systems, and how to fix any problems with maybe a month or two before the next hardware store. There is always maintenance to be done too – today the two apprentice engineers Pete and Pete were painting the main engine.

Chief Engineer David Brown, or DB, of Pitcairn Island learned his engineering skills working at the Island’s power plant, and his skills and resourcefulness at fixing or making anything also seem to come from growing up on a very small and remote Pacific Island; the very same remote Pacific Island that we are sailing towards right now. But our best engineers have always come from a panel beating shop in small town England or a farm in rural South Africa or Switzerland or now an island far off the beaten track in the lonely Pacific Ocean.

Our people are very much looking forward to our stop at Pitcairn Island – the Captain introduced the Island yesterday and the aloha deck chat is all of Pitcairn. Should be less than a week until we drop the hook now, and everyone is wondering exactly what time and date that will be. Not least because nearly the whole crew subscribed to the arrival time sweepstake that DB organized…

DB in his office
Pete B painting engine
Pete D painting engine

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By Kate “Bob” Addison

Another perfect day sailing along in the Pacific Ocean aboard the Picton Castle, shoals of flying fish launch themselves, a small rain squalls wooshes by and a thousand miles or so before we next see dry land, and so it seemed a good time for a short series of special edition “daymen” Captain’s Logs. First installment: sailmaking.

Making sails on a sailing ship is rather like creating your own fossil fuels onboard a diesel liner. Our sails, together with the wind that fills them and the rig that holds them up, are our primary method of propulsion. Sails have several advantages over a diesel engine – apart from the awe-inspiring sight of a full press of canvas, and the delightful silence in which they do their work, sails leave no odor, emit no waste products and their fuel source, the wind, will last as long as the sun shines and the earth orbits around it. We can sail for five years on a suit of sails, maybe 18 days on our fuel tanks.

So that’s the green credentials of our sailmakers firmly established, but how about the sail training agenda?

Well, we make all of our own sails aboard, almost entirely by hand just as they would have done on ships like ours throughout the Age of Sail. On fair weather trade wind passages such as this, under the Captain who is the actual sailmaker aboard, we have a full time sailmaker always at work on the quarterdeck, and he or she never wants for assistants. Our cotton canvas sails don’t last forever – cotton will rot if stored damp, is weakened by sunlight and chafe and the sails will eventually blow out, although we try to keep them in good enough repair that the manilla lines controlling the sails will part before the actual sail gives way. Still, to keep the ship outfitted with a nice suit of sails bent on, and at least another suit for spares is pretty much an ongoing task for the sailmakers, what with making the new sails and patching up the old.

Every trainee aboard for at least a month or so gets a chance to learn something of basic sail making hand skills, and once passed as “good enough” gets to use their new skills on a real project – maybe grommets for the new royal sail, maybe making a new awning or helping to patch up worn spots in the topmast stuns’l. Oil and tar, which are so good for the natural fibre and wire rigging cause serious damage to sails. A drip of tar on a sail makes a small area of canvas that no longer contracts when it’s wet and expands as it dries out like the clean canvas will. So that edges of that spot gets weaker every time the sail gets damp and dries, eventually making a hole, which must be patched before it creates a serious tear. Our stuns’ls, which are pretty old anyway, managed to get cooking oil spilt on them when they were stowed, so we had to make patches to reinforce the oily parts before we could send them aloft.

Captain Moreland leads the sailmaking workshops, teaching the basic theory of sail construction as well as practical hand skills. And then to practice, everybody makes themselves a canvas ditty bag, which has the added advantage of giving everyone a useful bag to keep their sailor’s tools in. Every aspect of making the ditty bag uses a skill necessary for making a sail: from seaming the heavy canvas with needle and palm and tabling and roping the top edge with rope, to sewing in the small grommets or eyes for the rope handle and finally splicing the handle onto the bag – these are all skills our sailmakers use routinely in their work.

Right now we have a good gang of sailmakers working with the Captain and third mate Siri. Veteran Picton Castle sailor John is sailmaking full time for this passage with Allison as his dayman assistant at the moment. And other people help out too in between their watches – Hege, Drea and Mate Michael are often seen working on a grommet or a seam, and ship’s cat George very much likes to supervise progress when he’s not too busy snoozing in the sun.

Brody stitching his ditty bag
Sailmakers at work
Sailmaking workshop (1)

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Trade Winds and Celestial Navigation

By Kate “Bob” Addison

The first Monday in January finds Picton Castle sailing merrily along in the South Pacific at 10º17’S 108º08’W. There is a steady Force 5 breeze on the port quarter which makes us all very happy, as well as driving us along at a steady 6 to 7 knots. Our compass course is SWxS and we are on a port tack, heeling over to leeward six degrees or so and rolling very gently – excellent conditions for learning and studying, ships’ work, and also good for sleeping, especially for those us with starboard bunks.

The weather is bright and sunny and fluffy cumulus clouds are rolling across the sky, dappling the decks with sunshine and making the bright blue ocean sparkle. We have bent on and set the flying jib (all the way forward) and the gaff topsail (all the way aft) and the royal sails nearly 100 feet up are now routinely being left on overnight. This reliable trade wind weather is just about perfect for a square rigged sailing ship – she practically purrs as she glides through the water, pushed along by the pressure of the spread of white canvas. “How silently they do their work!”

The square sails have all had their buntlines ‘nipped’ so that they don’t chafe on the sail when they’re set in the same position for an extended period of time, and it’s possible to go a whole watch of four hours without touching the sails. Plenty else going on though – rigging aloft and alow, sail making on the quarterdeck, engineering, woodwork, and maintenance all over – today the handrails on the aft deckhouse got a coat of black, which looks very sharp against the stone deckhouse – lessons in tidy painting obviously paid off!

Celestial navigation is progressing well – twice a day a different gang gathers for a celestial navigation workshop on the quarterdeck or the main hatch. Morning lessons are with mate Michael and the afternoons with second mate Sam. And then every day at noon or thereabouts, a self-selected group gathers on foc’sle head or quarter deck to practice with a sextant – bringing the sun down to the horizon, waiting ’til the sun ‘hangs’ for a second to get the exact time of local apparent noon and measuring the angle at that time, and then using the angle to work out our latitude. Sun runs are next and then stars – we’ll have longitude down before you know it.

We don’t have the same problem finding longitude that the early navigators did because exact time is so easy to determine accurately now. It blows my mind that my $10 quartz wrist watch is so accurate – keeps time to within seconds even after weeks at sea. And even if it wasn’t that accurate I could just use the time on the GPS. Of course I could just look up our position on the GPS, but that wouldn’t be the point at all. Celestial is WAY cooler, and this is the perfect passage to practice – day after day of steady progress across the Pacific with the seas small, the horizon mostly clear and the skies often cloudless.

Very basically the theory is that if you know what position a celestial body will appear at a certain point in time and space then you can work out your own position by measuring the difference between where it should be and where it actually is at that exact time. So we know the time relative to Grenwich, London, and we also have books of tables that give the computed position of the most important celestial bodies. These have been calculated and tabulated for sun, moon, planets and stars at every point on the planet for every moment of time each year – a fact which makes me very happy. There must have been so much cooperation between people, so much detailed, accurate work and smart thinking to first build up these tables – and to create them first without a computer or even a pocket calculator. It’s also sort of comforting to me to think that the stars and planets aren’t just doing whatever they feel like, but they are all processing across the skies in well ordered patterns according to the daily dictats of the almanac. Somehow very British of them to be so predictable. But mostly it makes me happy that I can do celestial navigation without having to solve any tricky spherical trigonometry, or even so much as look at a logarithm.

But so much for being able to solve the maths – it’s no use at all if you don’t have good skills with a sextant to get an accurate reading to start with, and it’s suprisingly difficult to get a good reading while standing on a rolling deck. The sun has been almost direct ahead of the ship at noon the last few days too, so the pesky sails keep getting in the way, and the other students lined up along the rail too – nothing more frustrating than bringing the sun down towards the horizon and then realising you’re actually focussing on someone else’s back and not the horizon at all. All frustrations shared by many generations of novice navigators before us no doubt.

celestial workshop
Noon sights
Signe s Danish Birthday
working in the headrig

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Review of a Picton Castle Year

By Kate “Bob” Addison

On the last day of the year, it seemed appropriate to look back at 2012 and all that it brought for the Picton Castle and her crew. I’ve had a great time today looking back through our old log books and re-reading old Captain’s logs – hope you enjoy the review too. Thanks for reading, and happy New Year! Bob

For the Picton Castle, 2012’s adventures under sail kicked off on the 17th April, when she cast off her lines and set sail from her Canadian home of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, bound for a busy summer of festivals up and down the East Coast of the USA and Canada. Our first landfall was Bermuda on the 21st, and the crew were delighted to find themselves having time off ashore to enjoy the warm weather and palm-fringed beaches so soon after leaving chilly Canada. Of course there is always ship work going on too. The first few days in the North Atlantic were pretty cold and grey – much as you would imagine the North Atlantic to be in spring, but not to worry – from Bermuda onwards it was pretty much non-stop sunshine.

After a few days having a time in Bermuda, we sailed southwest for Savannah, Georgia where we enjoyed a warm Southern welcome, and our first Tall Ships Fiesta of the summer. Enduring memories for me are of endless peach treats, sweating in the hot sun dressed in pareau and straw hat running our Picton Castle treasure store on the wharfside, and dancing up a storm with the crews of the other ships at the crew parties thrown for us. There were ships there from all over the world – Navy sailing ships like Dewaruci from Indonesia and Etoile and Belle Poule from France, USCG cutter Eagle, East Coast topsail schooners Pride of Baltimore II and Lynx, Appledore V, “HMS” Bounty, and Peacemaker. Dewaruci provided one of my favourite moments of 2012 – early in the morning as we made our way into Savannah, our crew half asleep and scruffy, still cleaning and painting the ship when Dewaruci passed us close by to port, her crew all in spotless whites, neatly arranged on the decks and a full brass band playing Jingle Bells!

In Savannah we had open-ship every day with thousands and thousands of people crossing the decks; meeting the crew; taking each others’ pictures at the ship’s wheel and asking questions about the ship: what year she was built, whether she has an engine, and why do we have a computer in the chart house?

Savannah was also where kitten George signed onto Picton Castle as apprentice ship’s cat. Just a tiny bundle of fur and fear he was back then, and hard to believe he’s the same cat now that he is a sleek, heavy hunter, quite at home on his ship and with great skill and cunning when it comes to obtaining illicit feeds.

From Savannah we sailed back up the coast to New York City. No festival for us here, but we thought we’d drop by since our next engagement was in Greenport just up the coast – and mostly because sailing a square-rigger into NYC is just way cool. And of course this was where Captain Moreland brought our very own Picton Castle back in ’94 from Norway before her re-fit into the beautiful sailing ship she is today. So we sailed into the big harbor, swinging close by the Statue of Liberty – hands at the rail entranced by this familiar, iconic panorama gliding past us. And then on to the bottom of the Hudson River, dodging the Staten Island Ferry, container ships, tugs with big barges on wire hawsers and finally docking at Hudson River Park’s Pier 25, near SoHo Manhattan for a very sophisticated city break, Picton Castle style. We spent a fair bit of time hanging out at the South Street Seaport Museum, where we had ‘behind-the scenes’ tours of the huge sailing ships Wavertree and Peking, fine old Cape Horners from the peak of the age of sail – and rigged much like the Picton Castle, though bigger in scale. We did all the tourist stuff in New York too, took in a show in Times Square, coffee in Central Park, and dancing in Brooklyn. Good times!

We had some time to get to Greenport, so we spent a few days after New York cruising in Long Island Sound – tacking about and anchoring every night we got lots of practice sail handling, and got to sleep at night, and then spent a couple of days at anchor having small boat adventures in the Norwalk islands off Rowayton, Connecticut.

The 28th of May was the start of our second Tall Ships festival, this one at Greenport, NY. We spent Memorial Day there, with Bounty opposite us, and topsail schooner Unicorn just along the pier. Topsail schooners Lynx and Pride of Baltimore II, and schooner Summerwind were just across the water. The crowds were pretty big once again, and the queue to visit the ships snaked far down the pier in a colourful, noisy ribbon. Greenport itself we found to be very pretty and friendly – and we had a very nice time there with a crew BBQ, time chilling out on the beach and a party aboard Bounty.

Captain Moreland accepted a trophy on behalf of the ship from Tall Ships America for finishing 4th place in the first of the series of tall ships race from Savannah, Georgia – we were to place higher in later races, although we never made first place… but then, what ship is going to beat the Pride of Baltimore II?

June began with a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, where we spent the best part of a week alongside in Vineyard Haven, hanging out where Schooners Shenandoah and Alabama are based. I think most of my week was actually spent in the Black Dog bakery, but we also celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee in Martha’s Vineyard with red, white and blue streamers and a very civilized tea party.

Well rested we were by the 8th June, which was fortunate because Norfolk, Virginia was host to the next event of our summer, and this was big one. More or less a Navy event, OpSail 2012 was an impressively large-scale, international event commemorating the 200th anniversary of the war of 1812. Actually this was the first I’d heard of the War of 1812 – seems the Brits were sort of busy closer to home with some chap called Napoleon to notice what was going on on the other side of the Atlantic. That or it’s just not British to talk about a minor tiff in the woods, far away. Either way, we’re all friends again now – Canada too – and the whole event was really just a very classy group hug for Navy types in sparkling white uniforms and our tall ship crowd too. We had many crew from all the other ships visiting us as well.

Picton Castle was one of the smaller ships appearing here, and in a minority as a civilian sail training vessel. There were big square riggers from Navies the world over: barques Guyas and Gloria from Ecuador and Colombia, United States Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, full rigged ship Cisne Branco of Brazil, and barquentine Dewaruci of Indonesia. Picton Castle stood proudly among some of the world’s classiest Class A Tall Ships as a member in good standing. Also among the fleet were the three charming American historical ships: Pride of Baltimore II, Kalmar Nyckel and Godspeed. All of the ships were lit up at night, and dressed overall with bright colorful flags by day, it was an impressive and lovely sight, and the Norfolk fireworks display was spectacular.

The parade of sail into Norfolk was spectacular with all the big sailing ships interspersed with yachts and small boats, their yards and stays dressed overall with flags, party light, and/or cadets. We saluted the VIPs aboard USS Wasp (a big USN aircraft carrier – we were told “no gun salutes”) by dipping our topsails as well as our Cook Islands ensign and then our welcoming entourage appeared – the Pride Boating Club of Hampton Roads came out in force in their boats, all color and music and fun with Picton Castle banners and they threw a great party for all our crew ashore too. There was plenty more to keep the crew busy in Norfolk – as well as deck tours and our Picton Castle shop to run on the dock, there were formal dinners and dances, receptions on board the ship, a gift exchange ceremony with Admirals and more white uniforms, a great crew party, day trips to theme parks, fireworks… the only thing we didn’t do in Norfolk was sleep.

And so we were glad to get underway again, and to get anchored somewhere quiet to do some ship’s work, and some practice with our small boats. It was nice to be just us again. Up the Chesapeake Bay to the Wicomico River was where anchored, in Ingram Bay. From our base here the watches took turns to take the Monomoy on expeditions in and about the bay and small rivers, sailing into the town of Reedsville with auxiliary oar power. We turned some heads sailing onto the dock, and then hopping ashore for an ice cream. A wonderful little old fishing port. We got some much needed work done on the ship too – hard, actually impossible, to get any ship’s work done at these festivals – can’t very well tar the rig or paint steel when the decks are chock-a-block with visitors! And work aloft is verboten with visitors on deck anyway.

We celebrated the summer solstice underway to Bristol, RI where we had a Bosun School session to teach some skills to our crew, and give the ship some loving. We had some pretty cool projects in Bristol – disassembled and overhauled the capstan, laid out and seamed up some new sails and overhauled the spanker boom. There were workshops too on laying out sails, piloting, engineering and practical lessons in skiff driving, handling the Monomoy and the lead line. On other days there were school trips to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Mystic Seaport, the Herreshoff Museum, and SWOS – a naval officer training school with state-of-the-art ship handling simulators which our gang were very excited to have a go on. Bristol could not have been more delightful or accommodating to us.

Underway again, just as far as Fort Adams, Newport a scant few miles away, for the 4th July celebrations where we were alongside Bounty for a Tall Ships America champagne and fireworks fundraiser reception. Then on the morning of the 5th we moved across to Newport proper at Bannister’s Wharf for the Ocean State Tall Ships event, dodging a host of yachts of all shapes and sizes to come alongside Bannister’s dock, right in the middle of town. Newport looked very pretty with the ships dotted amongst the yachts along the bustling waterfront, and there were receptions and parties here too, including one particularly swanky event at the New York Yacht Club. Then parade of sail out of Newport, back past Fort Adams, and under Newport Bridge in the early afternoon.

We sailed onto the hook for the night, and turned to at 0545 to get underway for the Cape Cod Canal, bound for Gloucester, Massachusetts. We reached Gloucester on the 12th July, and spent a few days alongside the Gloucester Railroad Docks, where a gang successfully rowed around Cape Ann (25 miles?) in the Monomoy, much to the surprise of the locals in their dories, who seemed to think we were crazy for the attempt.

Gloucester was a lovely time, very much a sister port to Lunenburg, and low key, so we felt quite refreshed and ready for the next Tall Ships event. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the city closest to the Picton Castle’s Canadian home of Lunenburg and we always have a good time there. And so we did, with good food, good music, a fun crew reception at the Citadel, and open-air movies on a big screen. There were deck tours, receptions on board and fireworks too, and this was the last of the big festivals of the summer so we said goodbye to the crew of half of the fleet – ships that had been with us all summer but were peeling off to go to Lunenburg and Shelburne: Pride of Baltimore II, Lynx, Bounty, Larinda, and Unicorn. Just two more festivals left for us too – the Nova Scotia outports of Port Hawkesbury and Pugwash to go… smaller festivals but good fun, with music and dancing, food, stalls, and Gazaela Primeiro, Peacemaker, Theodore Tugboat and Appledore V there with us.

And then, Tall Ships all done we had a good sail home to Lunenburg, arriving on the dock just before noon on August 5th.

Chief Mate Michael Moreland had left us in Newport with a small gang of Picton Castle crew to take up a post as Skipper of the Freedom Schooner Amistad, and they brought her ‘home’ to Lunenburg and were there to catch our lines and welcome us home.

We were pretty busy in Lunenburg too – there was the launch of the lovely Martha Seabury, and then her sails and rigging to finish. Picton Castle crew were asked to sail on her maiden voyage – with Mate Michael as skipper they took her down to a big boat festival at Newport, stopping en route to rescue three distressed sailors. Good karma for the Martha Seabury that. All the crew was invited to take her out for day sails once back in Lunenburg, and much enjoyed sailing such a sweet schooner.

Then there was Bosun School, and the Lunenburg small boat sailing, barbeques, Hump Cup races, schooner races and the September Classic at the Dory Shop (it never happened, I wasn’t there…). Next there was a huge cargo sale selling much exotic treasure from our adventures around the world.

Captain Moreland and Tammy’s baby boy, Dawson, was born on the 14th August 2012, a healthy and happy little thing he is too. Dawson joined the ship with his mother for this South Pacific voyage in the Caribbean – much nicer than the North Atlantic in October – and he’s doing great as ship’s baby, enjoying salt-water bucket baths and coconut water like he was born to a tropical life at sea. Which, I guess he kind of was.

By now thoughts were turning to the South Pacific Voyage, and the new crew was assembled in Lunenburg to prepare the ship and start on their training. Orientation, safety training, bracing, setting and striking sails, firefighting and first aid at the fire station, and sea survival training with life rafts and immersion suits in the swimming pool were all completed before we even left port. The cargo hold was gutted and rebuilt and provisions and supplies were loaded aboard – from manila rope, blank spars and cotton canvas to cat food and cargo for Pitcairn.

And then after weeks of preparation, the ship and her crew were all ready to set sail, all pre-departure checklists ticked off and signed, but frustratingly the weather decided not to play ball. A suspicious low in the Caribbean deepened and developed into tropical depression Sandy, which deepened further over the next few days to become a full-blown hurricane, covering most of the North Atlantic and causing tremendous damage up the East Coast of the USA. Early on, Captain Moreland took the decision to stay snug in port until it was well over, and glad of that we were as we watched the havoc it caused on land and at sea on the news.

Sandy made us two weeks late leaving port, but no damage was done to the ship, and no one was hurt, so we carried on with our program from Lunenburg – plenty more training for the new crew, and a fair amount of time off to chill out, send emails home and enjoy the many cafes and restaurants of Lunenburg.

Eventually the weather turned fair and early on the afternoon of November 3rd, Picton Castle slipped her lines from Lunenburg once again, this time bound for the magical islands of the South Pacific.

The North Atlantic was predictably grey and lumpy, and we had to steam a fair bit to get down into the Gulf Stream and on into the Caribbean sea. By now most people were running round barefoot in shorts and T-shirts, and everything has been pretty much gravy ever since. A rare sweet time we had in Carriacou and Grenada, the laid back, yet vibrant West Indies appealing very much to our gang, who were delighted to have escaped the cold and frost of Nova Scotia in the fall.

As we sailed across the Spanish Main bound for Panama and the Isthmus between us and the Pacific we learnt of the arrival of another Picton Castle baby: Liam and Rebecca’s Finn is another healthy little boy, and we don’t doubt he’ll be finding his sea legs before too long.

The transit of the Panama Canal is a high point of any voyage to the South Pacific – more relaxing than a tour around Cape Horn anyway. We reached the Pacific Ocean late on the 8th December, after a very long day’s transit, crossing the American continent.

On the Pacific side we had a good time in Panama City, endless shopping and a case of dengue fever notwithstanding (the Captain has had dengue twice and says it is no fun), but with all crew healthy and back on board, we sailed from the Panamanian island of Taboga on the 17th December, bound for Isla Galapagos.

We crossed the equator into the Southern Hemisphere at a latitude of 087°11’W on the afternoon of the 22nd December and Neptune and his court came aboard for the traditional ceremonies and acts of benevolent blessings…

We made San Cristobal on Christmas Eve and celebrated Christmas with all hands aboard at anchor. Then there was time ashore to explore the islands, and re-provision before heaving up the anchor and sailing off the hook, bound for Pitcairn Island two thousand seven hundred miles away.

For New Years Eve there was an excellent party with fancy dress and party lights and popcorn and dancing on the hatch. Our position was 03°10’S 094°11’W at midnight.

2013 came in bright and breezy for the Picton Castle, all sails are set to the royals as her hull slips gently through the Pacific Ocean. Our heading is southwest by south, sailing in the trade winds she was designed for. Bound for Pitcairn Island we are and then on to French Polynesia, the Cooks and beyond.

All is well here aboard – we are sailing in excellent SE tradewinds, the flying jib is bent, looking to studding sails soon, the new daymen are busy on deck and aloft working on their projects – Susie and Konnor are rigging on the fore royal, Dan as carpenter is working on the well deck, Pete B as engineer in the engine room and sailmakers Hege and John are making grommets for a new lower topsail on the quaterdeck with third mate Siri. Meanwhile Engineer DB and Brody caught 4 tasty fish this morning – 3 skipjack tuna and a big mahi mahi, which Donald will turn into a delicious supper for us all tonight. Dawson and George are both sleeping; a gang is on the quarterdeck studying celestial navigation; and there is a lot to feel contented with in our little world.

Happy New Year! 2013

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Christmas at Galapagos

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Picton Castle and her crew had a magical, unique Christmas here in the Galapagos Islands. The ship and her crew had crossed the Equator and found themselves at anchor in Wreck Bay on the island of San Cristobal, and since we couldn’t clear in through immigration until the morning, we all celebrated Christmas Eve aboard.

With our decorated tree from Panama on the hatch and the decks all lit up with fairy lights the ship looked really quite lovely, and the crew scrubbed up pretty well too in their festive outfits. There were lots of presents piled up under the tree, some in fancy wrapping paper, some in pages from magazines and newspapers, duct tape featured heavily, and added a certain something to the stack.

And then there were all sorts of treats to eat – far too much food and then music and dancing, a really lovely evening. Then on Christmas morning, Santa (Saint?) Donald and his team of elves cooked up an epic breakfast, with fried meat doughnuts, fruit salad, bacon, eggs, breakfast muffins, pannetone, carrot cake, fresh baked bread, nuts, dried fruit and cheese. After the feed we opened presents, there was something for everybody under the tree.

Then, all cleared in and stamped passports back, we got permission to land and the off-watches were broken off to go ashore and look at sea lions and such, while the on-watch looked after the ship for the afternoon and then had movie night on the hatch in the evening. On Christmas night most shops and little krooks were open.

Everyone got two or three days off to explore ashore – the Galapagos are famous, of course, for Mr. Darwin and his studies here that went so far in developing his theory of natural selection. Quite something for us to have sailed to the same islands in a square-rigged ship just as he did, and also impressive to think that he didn’t have much more time ashore than us. He probably spent less time scuba diving and eating ice cream though.

As well as the significance of the place from a natural history perspective, San Cristobal is a very nice, easy place to be a visitor. There are lots of shops, cafes and restaurants in easy reach, and all manner of activities very easily organised – diving and snorkeling is a favourite activity here, with giant sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks and sea lions all competing for attention. Then there is walking and horseback riding – you can walk up to a volcanic lake where frigate birds swoop low to wash the salt from their wings, or for the less athletic there are island tours by taxi. The gang had a great time ashore – as Pete B said, “you couldn’t wipe the smile of my face with a 2″ x 4″” (and that’s quite a hefty plank of wood!).

Onboard ship, the duty watch were focusing on loading provisions and supplies: barrels of petrol and containers of diesel were loaded for the ship and for Pitcairn. Lots of fresh provisions too – they have good quality produce here, so we got plenty to last the next three weeks at sea, and some for Pitcairn too. Then there was painting and maintenance work – tricky areas like inside the paint locker and rails got some attention and lots of steel work going on. We’ll be in fair weather trade wind sailing for the next three weeks or so, which makes it a good time to open up a number of projects knowing that there will be time to get them finished properly.

The reliably good steady trade wind sailing also means we can break people off from the watches and have ‘daymen’ working on specialised projects. Usually purser, cook, engineer and bosun are daymen, but when we can spare people from sailing the ship, it’s also good to have riggers, carpenters and sailmakers. We’re rotating the daymen week by week over this next passage to Pitcairn Island so everybody who wants to take a turn will get to learn some of these specific skills (and sleep through the night!).

And for those still standing watches, trade wind sailing should mean stuns’ls, kites and celestial navigation…

crew Christmas photo
Dawson s first Christmas
Hayley in her Christmas outfit
opening presents!

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