Captain's Log

Archive for November, 2013

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Bay of Islands

A couple days ago we hoisted our boats, hove up the anchor and Picton Castle made her way from Parua Bay northward 53 miles to the famous and scenic Bay of Islands nearer the northern end of the North Island of New Zealand. By the way, although New Zealand seems to be small on the map, (next to Australia) but sailing from the north tip of New Zealand to the south tip is the same as sailing from Nova Scotia to Florida, pretty far. Anyway, we are in the Bay of Islands and anchored at Russell.

Russell is a charming small village that was once an important whaling port. It appears little changed. Low Victorian colonial architecture. Shade trees along the modest roads, a few spots to sit and enjoy looking over the harbour. And laundry and wifi as is always in high demand. The anchorage is protected enough for us and good holding.

We have been at work getting ready to get ready for our long sea-passage bound for Pitcairn Island. The mate and crew emptied out the chain locker under the forepeak (aka the “Bro-Cave”); hawsers, fenders, blocks, wires, strops, spare running lights and more all came up, got inspected, some stuff got chucked, the rest cleaned and inventoried. Then the space got a good scrub, dried up and all was restowed, taking up less space than before. Next will be the large storage space under the sole in the tween decks, main salon area. Here we keep sails, coils of rope and a whole lot of other stuff.

We also had a workshop in tackles and overhauling blocks. In the afternoon the free watch went ashore and had a relaxing time in and around Russell. A beautiful sunset sky made a delightful setting to see our barque at anchor only three cables off the beach.

Pania jumping over the side
Sailmaking workshop
Swim call!

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Parua Bay

The Picton Castle is serenely swinging to her starboard anchor at the mouth of Parua Bay here in New Zealand. We have a lovely warm late spring morning with soft sun and a gentle westerly breeze. Surrounded by low hills, the waters are as flat as can be. Yesterday in nice breezes the gang took turns sailing the longboat all around the waterways here. Good fun and good practice too. And nice for us onboard to see her sailing about so snappily against the turquoise waters and dark green hills.

The 24’ gaff-rigged long boat is fun and simple enough to grasp easily, yet challenging enough to be demanding of those sailing her. All the decisions that a captain needs to make sailing Picton Castle, the skipper of the long boat also must consider. Ballast, trim, wind strengths, depth of water, crew skills, supplies, condition of rig and sail, anchor and ground tackle, spares and any other supplies needed, routing and on and on. But if you go aground you just hop out and push her off. Consequences of goof-ups are both more immediate and less dire, and thus, a perfect craft to get seamanship practice in.

Today is Monomoy Day. Sunny and flat calm just now, the Mate Dirk is leading an overhaul of the boat’s rig, giving her new strops of tarred hemp for halyards, sheets and blocks. Cheeks and thumb-cleats are getting refastened and the spars are getting a lick of fresh varnish. It is hot enough for swim call. The waters are about 21C or 65F, so swimmable to all who come from higher latitudes. So, after lunch a swim call for all hands. In the evening we had a nice sit-down dinner made by Hannah; roast beef, peas, salad and for some reason, chocolate chip pancakes. And a nice quiet evening at anchor.

Crew dinner in the salon 1
Out in the monomoy

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New Zealand Interludes

The Picton Castle has been along the coast of North Island of New Zealand for a spell now. It has been interesting and different for us to sail along the coast this way. And very pleasant and delightful too.

After sailing from Australia through gales in the Tasman Sea and into Auckland for a Tall Ships gathering and then along the beautiful east coast of North Island and Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand, the Picton Castle put into Port Marsden or Northport at the mouth of the Whangerei River pretty high up on the east coast. Big 10 foot tides made the gangway to the quarterdeck something to look after but as is the norm, we managed.

Our object was to get near the small town of Waipu. In the 1850s, 900 hundred folk sailed from Nova Scotia in ships they had built themselves to settle in Waipu. They had been living in Pictou and St Ann’s Bay, Cape Breton. They needed a new place with better potential for agriculture so they sailed halfway around the world to do so. Seems to me they could found a nice cove on the SW shore of Nova Scotia on in Annapolis valley, but no, sail far they must. They sailed in seven ships, two of which, apart from being built of wood instead of steel, were barques very much like our own Picton Castle.

There certainly is a Nova Scotian feel to the area, and the people and institutions. For example, their Legion Hall could be set up in Nova Scotia and both inside and out would feel right at home. The museum is full of images of shipbuilding in Lunenburg, Mi’kmaq crafts and other artifacts from Nova Scotia. There are even souvenier Schooner Bluenose plates in the museum.

The Waipu area is quite lovely, with bucolic, rolling green fields and hills, patches of woods, plenty cows and sheep on paddocks of what look like small farms. Crew all got time off to look about. The town of Waipu is small with a couple pleasant spots to hang out. We had a nice reception at Waipu Museum. A lovely ‘potluck’ affair where we presented the folks with gifts and proclamations from former Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter recognizing the remarkable connection Waipu has with our province.

We moored at Port Marsden or Northport, a modern deep-water marine facility where as many as two or three large ocean-going container ships or bulk carriers are discharging or loading at any given time. And as in Nova Scotia, lumber and pulp is a principle product. The weather has been warm and fair. As an international port there was all sorts of security check ins we needed to do.

We had set aside this time to get some basic ships work done (been a long, wet, hardworking year in the South Pacific) and to do some concentrated instruction in this type of work – this was mostly just standard ship’s maintenance with a couple high points. Here is what we did: of course, like every white ship we spot painted topsides. Did some minor sail repair. We sent down main upper topsail parral drum for repairs, prepped and primed the fore topsail yards, oiled and tarred aloft, sent down main and fore royal yards for overhaul as well as for the practice of teaching how a seaman gets yards up and down the safe old way. We took SSB radio out for inspection and repair and got it sorted and in tip-top shape, carried out in-depth workshops in prepping and paint, not as simple as it sounds, rigging workshops in parceling and serving wire rigging, send all hands off in the longboat several times sailing around the bay and, quite a treat, all hands got to go on trips with the two super modern tugs docking the big ships at Port Marsden. Very interesting this was.

On Friday November 15 we steamed the seven miles up the pretty fjord-like river past endless cow paddocks and hills to Whangerei (pronounced “funga-ray” – why don’t they just spell it that way?) and tied up at Port Nikau near to the main town. This was an old industrial dock with a couple laid up French tugboats awaiting delivery to New Caledonia, and a well-worn old 100′ wooden scow schooner, dating from 1902 we are told – a big rebuild to come and nothing 5 to 10 million dollars could not fix. A very historic New Zealand built ship, we hope she can be saved and sailed again. Auckland has a couple scows that have been restored. There was some sort of Portuguese research vessel tied up when we arrived, ARTICO, painted all red and buff. Looked like a big long-liner but no sign of fishing gear. The crew wearing hard-hats and reflective vests convinced us this was some sort of government vessel.

Flatter landscape up here and lower land, it seems a bit more desolate than down by Waipu. A long walk to town through light industry and warehouses along a broad lonely boulevard. Here we held open ship days over the weekend for the sons and daughters of Nova Scotia to come see a ship from the ‘old country’ much like what brought their forebears to these shores. We had a warm turn out. The Picton Castle here in this part of New Zealand caused a lot of interest and excitement.

Then we had a big all day sailmaking instruction workshop with all hands and laid out two storm sailsof #4 cotton duck on the dock, an upper topsail and a foretopmast staysail, just now getting them seamed up with the machine on the hatch. I hope to do a second layout using the marks we had made in chalk on the dock (much, much easier this way). All hands pretty into this sailmaking teaching.

We are also rebuilding our 1975 6-cylinder port LISTER generator. This we do every ten years or so and is an interesting job for the right gang, and of course, a good training exercise. Alex the Engineer is doing a great job on this and Pania is Alex’s assistant in this. Some tarring and deck oiling as well. All focsle steel got chipped and prepped, as it has been a wet year, this has been a while coming but good now. We met a guy here who used to have a Lunenburg built schooner at one point. Quite a long way from home, as are we.

After a bit longer than we would have liked alongside (but we had to shop, get gas bottles inspected and refilled and get our LISTER bits and such) we steamed down river and anchored off Parua Bay, near the mouth of this river on the northern side. Here we plan to spend maybe two or three days in this very pretty spot. It looked lovely and peaceful as we passed it on the way up. A great spot to sail the longboat. Get some more sailmaking done and maybe go fishing a little.

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Sailing the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand

Picton Castle sailed from Prince’s Wharf in downtown Auckland on a sunny morning after the recent gathering of beautiful Tall Ships we had joined. Now we were going to sail the famous Hauraki Gulf. It had been a long time since we had sailed among islands close together, sailing in the daytime and anchoring at night.

We had been going deep-sea for some time. We had seen plenty of blue water in the last few months and now we were in some of the most beautiful cruising areas of the world and we were keen to find out more for ourselves. Once off the dock at Auckland the gang got sail on the ship and she started to pick up speed. A goodly number of local yachts joined us spontaneously and sailed along with us we sailed east through the islands at the entrance to Auckland Harbour or, as it is called, Watemata Harbour.

It really is quite beautiful sailing around here. One can only imagine what the first explorers coming from Tahiti, Raiatea and Rarotonga, sailing their big double hulled Vakas back about 900 or 1,000 years ago must have felt. The story is told that after discovery by bold explorers, New Zealand or ‘Land of the Long Cloud’ or Aotearoa was settled by a large armada of Vakas that drew together from many islands in and around Tahiti and Raiatea, at Muri lagoon Rarotonga, Cook Islands and set out from there together to make for what we now call New Zealand. This is a voyage of about 1600 miles. These were and remain some islands to behold coming in from sea. Lush, high majestic mountains with broad forested and grassy areas. Endless excellent bays and coves for boats and fishing. For folks looking to settle a new land, this must have been very attractive indeed, magical perhaps.

We sailed along in among these dramatic islands of volcanic cone of Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihi in the freshening afternoon SW breezes and sunny skies and the smooth seas of the protected Hauraki Gulf. You often find an island called Motutapu at the mouth of a significant harbour in Polynesia. Motutapu Island; a bit redundant as ‘motu’ means small island by itself. “Tapu” or Taboo, of course, translates roughly to ‘sacred’, not really ‘forbidden’ per se, but certainly something that demands respect.

We were sailing along fine and all hands were getting some practice steering in amongst close islands. This is quite a bit different than steering offshore and deep sea. And it’s all good. Soon enough we sailed around the north end of Waikeke Island and found an anchorage in Man O’War Bay along with the lovely Barkentine Spirit of New Zealand whose captain had advised us of this fine anchorage. The ‘wai’ or vai elsewhere, in Waikeke means water, so there must be something to do with water here, perhaps a good spring. We came to anchor, furled sails and settled in for the night. A stunning beautiful anchorage with little pebbled beaches and green woods and fields working their way up from the shore to rolling hills, one could be in Ireland, or Nova Scotia or right here in the Hauraki Gulf.

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