Captain's Log

Archive for October, 2013

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Clearing In At New Zealand

By Cheri Davidson

After all of our Seamanship Derby fun on Saturday, Picton Castle motor-sailed around the northern tip of New Zealand and into the Bay of Islands on Sunday. There were lots of lovely green hills and lush mountains and rock coming right up out of the ocean. It all looks a lot like Mahone Bay, near our home base in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. We anchored up near the town of Russell for the night with our Q flag raised (a signal that shows we haven’t yet cleared in) and went into Opua to clear in in the morning.

Clearing in can be a little adventure with every different country Picton Castle sails to. Some things are always the same, but everywhere does it just a bit different. In New Zealand we can attest that they were indeed quite thorough. Where passports and a simple crew list of names, dates and numbers will usually suffice for most, New Zealand required a one-on-one meeting with every crew member and trainee and their passport. Not a problem, and easy to accommodate. Oops, we had some beans and popcorn that their quarantine people didn’t like. Okay, easily remedied. They confiscated our popcorn and threw it ashore in sealed bags for ‘destruction’. You would think popping the popcorn would have gotten rid of any plague within. As well as everything out of our freezers too.

But unfortunately for our smallest and furriest sailor, the solution wasn’t so simple. New Zealand does not allow our ship’s cat, George, to enter without quarantine. Even if incarcerated on the ship under lock and key. When we were in Australia (which is no slouch when it comes to regulatory matters) we had to lock George up in his ‘cat condo’ for a week with a padlock, but we were allowed to keep him on board. We had taken one of the vegetable lockers and converted it to Georges home. He could not get out. To our dismay, New Zealand did not consider that arrangement an acceptable one.

Option 1 was to have George locked in quarantine ashore for the duration of our stay in New Zealand, which will be about 6 weeks (at great expense, I might add). Option 2 was to send George home. George is a member of the Picton Castle family and a good shipmate. We didn’t want to send him away to a kitty prison! With sadness I can report that George will soon be on his way home to Canada.

He was taken from his cozy cat condo with all due drama under the supervision of the Customs & Quarantine officials on Monday morning with the cameras rolling of a “reality TV show” called BORDER PATROL with which the government seems to be participating. George will be kept in Auckland for a few days until his flight back to Halifax. It will be a long journey for a wee little cat.

Once he arrives in Nova Scotia his good pal, Capt. Michael Moreland, will be there waiting for him with some yummy treats and a good cuddle. George will no doubt be Picton Castle’s ship cat once again, exploring the world and sharpening his claws on ropes. But for now, he’ll have to wait on land.

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Seamanship Derby in the Tasman Sea

By Cheri Davidson

October 22, 2013

Last Saturday we had the 8th Biennial Picton Castle Seamanship Derby to test the skills of our trainees and have bunches of fun. It’s best to do this kind of event on good weather days, and boy did we have it. Sunny skies, light winds and a temperature warm enough that we could take off our heavy sweaters. Hurrah! The watches compete against each other to show what they have learned so far on their voyage.

The first event was the pin rail chase. We name lines and parts of the ship to see who knows their stuff. The watches line up single file on the main deck and have to quickly walk, but never run, to the target. Fore topm’st stays’l weather sheet! Charlie noble! Port main upper tops’l downhaul! Inner jib halyard! Starboard windlass bar! All the watches did pretty well with this event, but the 12-4s squeaked into first place.

Next up is many a sailor’s favourite: knots! Everyone on the watch needs to correctly tie the knot before the time is up. You can help your team mates, but you cannot touch their piece of rope, they must do it themselves. You think you know your knots, especially the simplest ones, but once the clock is ticking it’s a different story. The 8-12s pulled into the lead, but only by a thread.

After the knot-bonanza it was time for Super Helm! Who can stay on course the longest? Each watch chose their top two helmsmen for the job. Since we were motoring and steering is much more manageable, we increased the difficulty to staying within two degrees of the given course. This event was very close and the 12-4s took the lead again with five points given just for having Spike on their watch. Five bonus Spike points are hard to compete with.

The final event of the day was boxing the compass. This one is near and dear to my heart after spending many a night watch on previous voyages boxing the compass forwards, backwards and even by the ¼ point. It’s important for a good sailor to know where they’re going. The 4-8s really had their stuff together for this event. They beat the other watches by boxing the compass anti-clockwise in less than half the time of the other watches!

With such a tight race the judges really had a hard decision to make on which watch would bring home the prize. Engineer Alex, Bosun Finn and myself had a long and difficult deliberation. Enthusiasm, style and pizzazz (not to mention delicious chocolate cookies) all came into play. It was down to the wire. But in the end it was the 4-8 watch that proved they deserved to win the prestigious first place prize of the Picton Castle Seamanship Derby. Glory!

Note from Captain Moreland: The gang did well in all areas. Good job.

Meg, Chris and Matt tie knots while judge Finn looks on at the Seamanship Derby
Nolan, Scott and Spike from the 12 to 4 watch, the moustache watch
the 4 to 8 watch are the winners of the Seamanship Derby!

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Land of Clouds

Ahead in the east the rosy loom of a sun below the horizon is fading the stars out of the sky – except for the Southern Cross and its pointer stars. These points of light in the deep dark blue sky above the growing morning on the starboard seems to drift or hang over this new land, lingering on somehow. What appears to be a large slumbering whale is revealing itself to be the North Cape of New Zealand. We are making our landfall at the “Land of Clouds” in the Picton Castle at dawn.

Seas are smooth, winds from the SW and cool. And just for our benefit a full moon sets astern, a moon we have had with us all night. It has been a pleasure to have the company. After over 1,000 miles we are very near our destination, although, truth is, the goal really was the voyage for many of our gang and this will soon come to an end. Easy enough to fly to New Zealand if that’s where you want to get to. Yes, the destination is slinging your sea-bag over the rail and stepping foot aboard. The rest is getting ready to be ready.

As the sky brightens ahead, a couple hands are in the galley deck house, the ‘caboose’, getting coffee going and making some breakfast for all hands. Philosophical indulgences or not we still need to eat and are still coming into port after a passage at sea. This promises to be oatmeal cakes this morning. A perfectly clear morning, not a cloud in the sky.

Land of Clouds, New Zealand, Kiwi, all pretty good names for this land ahead, although I am not sure where “Old” Zealand is – thought it was the main island of Denmark, but not too sure. ‘Land of Clouds’ is good too, the original Maori name, just sort of long, a mouthful. “Kiwi” is a pretty fine name for a country, slips out of the mouth easily enough and pretty much everyone knows what you mean – and many folks call these islands ‘Kiwi’. Seems to fit somehow too. Kiwi. Odd little bird too.

Picton Castle approaches Opua photo by Paul Bishop

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The Evening Watch

17 October 2013

All day the winds have blown a steady Force 4 to 5 just aft of the port beam of the Barque Picton Castle as we sail east. Our ship has been making a steady six to seven knots under topgallants and all plain sail on a cobalt blue-sky day. The gang has been soaking up the sun and the cool breezes. Lead seamen Pania and Finn have been releading lines aloft for best lead. The gang on deck has been madly making new baggywrinkle to replace the old stuff hanging off the forestay and many years old. Hangs down like old Spanish moss it does. This is a good sailorizing job in the pale sunshine on the quarterdeck. Now the 4 to 8 watch has the deck for the evening. The sun is well down although the sky glows bright yet. It is time to knock off and clear up the decks. They sweep up all the small ends of shredded lines as the sun heads down for the night astern, take a tug on the lee braces after drying and stretching all day and jig up the halyards to renew the nips for the night. A large moon has climbed up the sky astern, even as the sun sets. We have plenty of light to go about our duties.

Seas remain small and even and we are enjoying that. A pleasant change in the Tasman Sea that we have become acquainted with. Many of the gang are studying their knots and pin rails for the upcoming test of their knowledge of the running rigging, the compass, steering, the point bearing system and names of parts of the ship. This will come in two days. It is good to have a deadline. Up on the fore-bitts on the well deck one of the lads is playing a guitar on his off-watch. This is a good gang.

The lookout heads forward to relieve out the old one. The big teak wheel gets a new helmsman at six bells. It is a beautiful evening here in the Tasman Sea as we reel off the sea miles towards Opua.

Our esteemed Chef Donald, after surpassing himself once again, has gone to his cabin, tomorrow is another day…

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The Morning Watch

16 October 2013

Coming on deck of our barque this morning for the morning watch of 4 to 8 we find the Picton Castle sailing along with fair winds just aft of the port beam. The ship is sailing east in the Tasman Sea along the 34th parallel south of the equator at about 163 degrees, 34 minutes east longitude. A large yellowing moon is setting in the west and a dazzling swath of stars reveals itself more and more and the belt of the Milky Way becomes clear as the moon descends. Seas are small, wind is cool, visibility is excellent, yards braced just so with all plain sail set and drawing. How quietly they do their work.

We are bound from Sydney for Opua around the North Cape of New Zealand. Our gang is getting the hang of things, and there is much to get the ‘hang’ of: steering, boxing the compass, the 205 pieces of running rigging and knowing what to do with them, safety procedures, even just standing up and walking takes on whole new dimensions for new crew – but they are doing it – and no amount of preparation ashore can replace the time at sea.

Our passing gale was an experience not to be forgotten, and they did well, as did the ship with not a line parting nor a sail damaged. Now, in as fine of conditions any sailing ship seafarer could hope for, our crew is getting a chance to take in why this going to sea under sail is so worth doing, sometimes just for the sheer beauty of it.

This is a beautiful morning at sea in the Picton Castle.

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Tasman Winds

By Cheri Davidson

14 October 2013

We’ve heard stories of Picton Castle being a tough sea-going sailing ship, but now we know first-hand and have our own stories to tell.

After sailing from Sydney Harbour in the company of 15 other ships, six of us are continuing on to New Zealand as part of the Tall Ships Regatta. A race from Sydney, Australia to Opua, New Zealand! Aboard Picton Castle, we didn’t have any grand expectations of racing. We aren’t really a fast ship. The Captain says towing an almost six foot prop does not add to our speed under sail in spite of the ship’s medium clipper lines. Still as our slogan goes, “We may be slow, but we get around!”

It was all good fun to see other sailing ships on the horizon that first day out. But by the next morning they were out of sight. Our first couple days at sea we had fairly light winds and were sailing along at a whopping 1-2 knots. Of course with our new trainees on board there were more than just a couple of green faces clutching the leeward rail. Then just when the seasickness was subsiding, the Captain mustered us for a talk on the weather to come. Expecting 30-35 knots of wind overnight and maybe more. Wow! Hold on to your hats, folks!

There are things to do to prepare us and the ship for a gale. Double gasket some of the lighter sails to make sure they stay stowed, close all the hatches and make sure they are dogged down good and tight, close the watertight doors in case any big waves come busting over the rail, lash the things in your bunk and sleeping areas to make sure things don’t tumble around, and most importantly, get some sleep while you can. When the seas get lumpy it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. The swells don’t just toss around our belongings, they toss us around in our bunks too!

The wind and swells started picking up in the late afternoon, making simple things like eating and cleaning up after dinner take much longer and much more effort than normal. But we aren’t in a rush. Slow and steady does it. We don’t just walk with our legs, we use our hands too in case our feet slip. We rig up man ropes across the main deck and the quarterdeck to hold on to and clip into if necessary. Everyone must wear a harness on deck at all times to clip in on deck if needed. Overnight we did everything in pairs.

For most of the night watch we keep everyone up on the quarterdeck near the helm. Captain’s orders were that no one was to cross the main deck as it sometimes had waves coming over the rail. To get from the forward part of the ship to the quarterdeck for watch, we file through the hold and engine room below decks and come up the charthouse ladder, so we could walk from one end of the ship to the other safely. This was designed this way on purpose.

Standing on the quarterdeck, I must say some of the waves were bigger than anything I ever saw when I sailed from Lunenburg to Bali on Picton Castle‘s fifth world voyage. The ship doesn’t often see these conditions now, sailing mostly in the tropics. All of us know that this ship spent many years plying the North Sea and North Atlantic, so she can handle this. The question was, could we?

Our new trainees were definitely up for the job. Being on helm was especially tough. Steering isn’t easy with swells bashing us around. But staying on course is important so we don’t get knocked by waves on our beam and rip any sails. We can ride them out much more nicely from the quarter. After a four hour watch everyone was pretty much knackered, so straight to our bunks we went.

Waking up this morning, the wind and swell had calmed down quite a bit. We had steady winds of 35 knots for most of the night, with gusts blasting up to 40-45 knots. Back down to 25-30 knots in the morning seemed like nothing in comparison. The ship was fine, and we were fine. Nothing broken and no injuries. Onwards to New Zealand! I just hope it warms up a bit. Cold as anything out here!

Chris, Gary, Martin and the Doc on watch in the Tasman Sea

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By Cheri Davidson

Picton Castle is now on her way through the Tasman Sea, bound from Sydney, Australia to more Tall Ship festivities in New Zealand.

We spent a whole week in Sydney, and it was such a hub of activity with both ship related work, as well as having fun on our time off. We got a whole new batch of fresh trainees that we had to whip into shape too. With new crew learning the ways of the ship, provisioning for the next leg and deck tours for the Tall Ship Festival, everyone was going at full speed.

We had 21 new trainees join and each of them gets a full hour-long tour of the ship just moments after they step on board. They need to be shown how to use a marine head (toilet), always the very first lesson, where we can and cannot go except at special times (chartroom, engine room), where we eat and how we clean, and what to do in the event of an emergency alongside. These are just the basics for the first day, and even this can be overwhelming.

The next day is spent going into more details about seamanship, such as learning the names of the sails and starting to learn the running rigging. All crew and trainees are part of our all hands “up and over” training which includes the use of harnesses. Crew and trainees that wish to go aloft also get a safety aloft lesson from the Mate, and we take them up the shrouds to lay out on a yard to see how comfortable they are. Some people are comfortable aloft right away, while others may take a few weeks before they feel useful at loosing or furling sail at sea. But everyone can go at their own pace. Some will never go aloft and that is fine.

Getting new trainees also means a new stage for the continuing trainees. They are no longer the new ones and now others are looking to them for answers to questions. They start to realize how far they have come and how much they have learned on the last leg.

Apart from our own small world on board, everyone had a chance to go exploring in the big city during time off. There were 15 other tall ships in Darling Harbour near the Australian National Maritime Museum that we could go aboard and check out. It’s fun to see the different rigs and designs, see what’s the same as our ship, what is different, and meet other crews to swap sea stories.

Right across the pedestrian-only Pyrmont Bridge from our berth at the museum was the Sydney Aquarium. There was a small mall just steps from the ship with many essentials like ice cream, ATMs, fancy coffees and did I mention ice cream? Very key. All around Cockle Bay was restaurant after restaurant of every food imaginable. All this was within a five minute walk from the Tall Ships! Of course we also continued our explorations farther into the city as well with many crew and trainees coming back to the ship with stories of ferry rides to the Zoo, markets in Chinatown, and walking and walking and walking with no destination but a nice sunny patio. Sydney had it all.

Special mention must go to our superb Liaison Officer, John Abernethy, who really went above and beyond for us while we were in Australia. John’s ties to Picton Castle are very unique. His father-in-law sailed on Picton Castle back in 1937 as a 12 year old boy in the North Sea. Halfway across the world and we still manage to find very special friends. John joined us in Newcastle for the short sail into Sydney. Were we ever glad to have him once we arrived! He had much local knowledge, helped us provision, and dealt with all our little hiccups that come with trying to organize so many ships during a festival. All with a positive attitude. It was so great having him.

But onwards we must go. Auckland is hosting it’s very first Tall Ship Festival and we are invited! Not only that but all the sailing ships are part of a 1,000 mile Sail Training International race across the Tasman Sea towards Opua, New Zealand then on to Auckland.

Picton Castle entering Sydney Harbour

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Picton Castle Retires From Race

Those of you who have been following the Tall Ships Regatta race across the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand may have noticed that our race status is “retired”. We assure you that all is well aboard. Last night the wind was calm and the sea state was lumpy and we had almost no steerage, so Captain Moreland engaged the engine to lessen the discomfort aboard. By engaging the engine, we retired from the race (we were in last place at that point). We’re still committed to sailing to New Zealand and will be in Auckland with the other tall ships for the festival, we’re still offering our award-winning sail training program aboard and, although we won’t win the race, everyone aboard can feel proud of their efforts on this passage. Slow speed hasn’t stopped us from circumnavigating the globe five times, and it won’t stop us from continuing our epic worldwide tall ship adventures.

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Picton Castle in Sydney

We sailed from Newcastle, just 60 miles up the coast, for Sydney to join in with a large Naval Review celebrating the founding of Australia’s Navy 100 years ago. Picton Castle and 15 other sailing ships boarded excellent pilots and steamed in the long winding channel under power in freezing cold rain to dock at various wharves in and around the National Maritime Museum – who knew it was so cold ‘down under’? For eight days we were tied up near all sorts of malls and shops as well as a few ships. The city is so big I think our ships got lost in the view. But no matter.

We also signed aboard good number of new trainees who were keen to join us for the Tall Ships Race we were part of, sailing across the Tasman Sea towards Auckland, New Zealand a thousand miles away. In a hot fresh NW breeze all the ships made their way out of the harbour towards Sydney Heads, made sail and started across the starting line in fair winds and lumpy seas. The magnificent restored 1874 650 ton iron Barque James Craig and the excellent replica of Cook’s Endeavour escorted us out to sea.

Now we are on our way. Last night we had sharp wind shifts and strong winds and we can expect more of this as we cross this sea. Much bracing and sail handling. Our gang had four days of drilling and practice at the dock but it all pales when compared to actually getting to sea. Now, out here is where we can really learn to steer and handle sail and learn the ways of a ship. And we caught a fish…

aloft training for new trainees
captain and pilot on the way into Sydney
captain teaches at a muster 1
crew and trainees practice donning lifejackets
our berth on heritage pontoon
Pania and the Sydney Opera House 1
Pania steers under the bridge in Sydney Harbour 1
view over the monomoy in sydney

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Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

September 30, 2013

After pushing pretty hard against stiff headwinds most of the day we picked up our pilot 2 miles off the breakwater to the entrance of Newcastle Harbour. I wanted to get in to spare the gang a night of being hove-to in 25 knot winds and 5 metre seas. At dusk our pilot boarded after seeing a Chinese Navy ship out. Pania took the wheel and we entered the harbour nicely and the wind dropped down just in time to turn the ship around and get her starboard side to the dock.

Newcastle is a small city with a fine fjord like harbour about 60 miles NNE up along the coast from Sydney to which we will be sailing in a couple days to join in a huge Naval Fleet Review and Tall Ship festival. Picton Castle enjoys the distinction of being both a lovely Class “A” Tall Ship as well as a Royal Navy veteran of the 2nd World War. Yes, Our barque was HMS Picton Castle from August 1939 through December 1945. She may well be that last and only Royal HMS Naval vessel of that war that is still in full time sea-going commission. I mean, apart from the HMS Victory, of course. Good company to keep anyway.

We are enjoying fine sunny weather here in Newcastle, giving us a good chance to get a little shined up after our almost 3,000 mile passage from the Cook Islands. Topsides always need painting. With all the spray and seas we have not done much in the way of varnish lately. We always want to oil the decks more. And tar the rig, and make sails, and this and that…

We have also had a particularly pleasant surprise here in Newcastle. As we were making fast to the quay, a family came down and gave us a picture of their grandfather, Alan Harries, who had sailed in the Picton Castle as a 12 year old boy in 1937 while fishing in the North Sea out of Swansea, Wales. We have run into former Picton Castle crew in Ireland, Wales, England and Norway, and now Australia! This is a great treat for us aboard to meet these former crew and their families and show them their ship again. Alan Harries as a 12 year old boy is in the bottom left corner of the photo that accompanies this log, which was taken aboard the Picton Castle in 1937

The lovely barkentine Spirit of New Zealand sailed in a day after us, looking good. She will be joining us on the sail into Sydney.

We are enjoying stretching our legs, getting laundry done and being moored in a superb and secure harbour after months and months of South Pacific adventure – which we will be returning to very soon when after about a month enjoying New Zealand we will sail east bound for Pitcairn Island in early December.

Swansea 1937 Alan Harries smaller

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