Captain's Log

Archive for June, 2014

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Work at Anchor in Fiji

Tuesday June 24th, 2014

Another fine day aboard the Barque Picton Castle at anchor in Suva harbor, Fiji, South Pacific Ocean. Nice ring to it, “South Pacific Ocean”, a good address, no?

The torrential down-pours forecast to drench us today all day long failed to materialize. Nice sunny blue sky kind of day instead. Lovely soft pleasant breezes, calm and sweet. Curses. We had rainy-day work planned for today. For all day. We always need rainy day work planned in advance, just in case it rains. Cannot paint the topsides in the rain. Tarring the rig in the rain, not so good either – although I have sailed in ships that did both. But it turned out a beautiful sunshiny day – as this work needs doing anyway we are carrying on with the rainy day work despite the fine weather plaguing us today. Where’s the rainy day when ya need one?

The gang is sanding and varnishing the salon sole. Deck or floor if you will. The big broad pine planks will look all the better for a couple coats of fresh varnish. It has been awhile so we are keen to get at it. Plenty of patina for the charm. This tween decks was modeled after the salon of a fine old German pilot schooner, Wanderbird or Elbe 5 to be specific. And as we have new folks showing up soon who will be living in the salon or tween-decks, now is the time to get a few licks of varnish in.

Sailmaking has also started in earnest. The Royal Suva Yacht Club has graciously granted permission for us to set up our sailmaking shop in their breezy, well lit events hall. Tammy and Amy have dragged all the heavy sails out of storage, opened them up, spread them out, checked the records in our sailmaking log-books and canvas tags tied to the corners with bits of marlin, marking their condition and, for new sails started, state of completion. They’ve brought up the sewing machines, located the 220V to 110V converters (inverters?), piled all this same into the skiff and have headed into the yacht club. There they have swept and cleaned the wide floor of the events hall and we are spreading out sails to see what we can see.

Turns out that we have a new jib all seamed up and all through 2nd layout awaiting corner patches, tabling, grommets, roping and covers. We have a new fore topmast staysail that has been seamed up by hand awaiting a 2nd layout, cutting and all the rest. Also a new lower topsail that was laid out in Whangerai, New Zealand that needs finishing up. All in nice new snowy white cotton duck canvas. Some of the older sails need minor repairs, which we will get to too, though they mostly need hand repairs rather than machine work. And we plan on laying out and cutting a few new sails before we sail too.

Meanwhile on the ship, mate Axel is getting some fire extinguishers overhauled all shiny and new as part of our safety gear overhaul. Engineer Billy is installing new big deep-cycle batteries (18 of them) that run our entire ship electrical system. Charged by the generators for six hours a day they hold enough power to keep the freezers cold, lights on and navigational equipment running when we’re at sea too. By running off batteries instead of directly from the generators we save an enormous amount on fuel consumption, spew far less exhaust into the air and are also rewarded with a quiet ship 18 hours out of the 24. Not bad at all. We set this up before there was a thing called “green” that was not a colour.

Donald is ashore with ‘Bob’ at the big Suva produce market getting all sorts of island vegetables, fruits and no doubt fish and chicken. Suva has a brilliant market: it’s huge with stacks of great freshly harvested fruit and vegetables, lots of variety and excellent prices too – except for lychees, for some reason lychees are expensive, no idea why. Donald says the people are so friendly and want to help you, so shopping is easy and everything is wonderful. And every sailor knows that if the cook’s happy then the whole ship is happy.

Gabe finishes varnishing the salon floor compressed

Gabe finishes varnishing the salon sole

Axel replacing watertight door gaskets compressed

Mate Axel replaces gaskets in the watertight door

Getting the big sewing machine online compressed

Amy gets the big sewing machine up and working

Tammy seaming compressed

Tammy works on hand seaming at the Royal Suva Yacht Club

Amy stiching a new sun patch on a topsail compressed

Amy stitches a new sun patch on a topsail

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Fiji Sunday

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Sunday July 22, 2014

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning aboard the Picton Castle lying here at anchor in Fiji, and the crew are scattered around the ship, chilling out after another busy week working on transforming the ship from ship-yard to voyage mode.

Amy is reading in her hammock slung between the foreward shrouds and the galley house strong back, Axel is scrubbing a bucket of laundry at the break of the deck. Alex has just hoisted the Fiji courtesy ensign on the starboard foremast, and is now reading something nautical-looking on the main hatch. Billy is writing an email and Gabe is phoning home from atop the galley house. Dawson is wide eyed, transfixed by “Despicable Me” playing on a laptop in the mess – keeps him happy for hours given the chance.

Sunday is a quiet day on the ship, no power tools, no paint or tar or mess and the crew are somewhat cleaner than usual. The crew do the cooking on Sundays so ship’s cook Donald can have a well-deserved day off, and he’s chilling in his cabin just now. The ship seems pretty spacious with just the professional crew onboard, but it’s surprising how much work this small gang of people can get done in a week, especially with the help of the Fijian carpenters and welders who’ve been helping with the bigger projects.

This week has been a big week of cleaning as we scrub away the ingrained grime of weeks of heavy work. It took about two minutes of scrubbing on each patch of deck for the water to run clear and the decks to look clean again. That’s a lot of scrubbing to get the 150 feet of decks clean. Then there are all the hatch coamings, bitts, chocks and corners which collect dirt and dust and need to be scrubbed clean with buckets of soapy water. Even in the ship’s office all the books and binders had to be pulled out, wiped down and put back – the amount of grime that had collected on the shelves was astonishing.

The engineer has been busy this week: overhauling the air compressor with the second mate and installing a whole new battery bank. There’s been a concerted effort scrubbing the engine room clean too.

But it’s not all work – Thursday was Donald’s birthday, so we had a little barbecue in the evening with grilled chicken and fish and lots of salads. Gabe made a rum cake, served with those annoying candles that re-light once you blow them out, and a tub of ice-cream that was kind of soft so we had to finish the tub. Shame. We had reggae music in honour of Donald’s Caribbean home of Grenada, and Vai danced a lyrical Tongan dance on the main hatch that told a story of sailing away to sea.

There’s still much more work to do – scraping down the rails and re-varnishing, painting yards, bulwarks and topsides, sending up sails. And of course, more socialising and dancing to be done. So now we just need our trainee crew to hurry up and get here!

Axel and Billy overhaul the air compressor compressed

Second mate Axel and chief engineer Billy overhaul the compressor

Donald on his birthday compressed

Ship’s cook Donald in the galley on his birthday

Fishing boat neighbours compressed

Fishing vessels sharing the anchorage at Suva, Fiji

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The Market In Suva

By Kate “Bob” Addison

This is my first visit to Fiji, and being back in the warm, lush humidity of the South Pacific is wonderful.

Picton Castle is lying at anchor just off the Royal Suva Yacht Club, on the southeast corner of the largest Fijian island, Viti Levu. It’s a bit more than 3 hours drive from the international airport at Nadi on the West Coast. Three hours drive to get less than half way round the coast! That give you an idea of how big this island is compared to the Cook Islands or Tonga say. It just looks tiny being so close to Australia on the charts. Suva, the capital, is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the South Pacific. The University of the South Pacific has a large campus here, with students coming from all across the region. There’s a major port just along the coast, with the occasional cruise ship amongst the container ships, bulk carriers and fishing vessels.

The weather in Suva is warm and damp, the humidity picked up by the trade winds on their long ocean passages is forced out by the mountains inland to the north and west, making the Suva peninsula lush and green and soggy. There’s been a more or less constant haze or light fog since I’ve been here, though not much actual rain so far.

The centre of town is an agreeable melange of old colonial buildings, now requisitioned to become bars, shops and restaurants, and shiny new shopping malls and office blocks. The main market in the centre of town is enormous and wonderful. I went there today with Tammy to pick up some fresh stuff for the ship, and being a Saturday morning, all was bustling. We got kumula and pumpkin, salad, fruit, veggies to stir-fry and coriander and ginger because they smelled so wonderful. Also some beautiful purple and green mottled beans that I bought because they were pretty. Apparently you pod them and then fry the beans with garlic before adding them to a curry. Sounds good to me! There were all sorts of exciting vegetables: taro roots and leaves, plantains, coconuts and all sorts of pretty coloured tropical fruit. The people were mostly Fijians and Indo-Fijians, all friendly, calling ‘Bula!’or hello. One called out ‘English?’, which I thought was quite impressive – how did she know I wasn’t Canadian. Maybe it’s the red hair. You buy the veggies by the bundle, which is a small plastic plate heaped with tomatoes or oranges or whatever for a fixed price of a few Fijian dollars.

We didn’t explore much beyond the market today, but the streets winding away were full of colourful cafes, bakeries and shops selling sarongs and bling. It all looked intriguing – I’m looking forward to going back to explore soon.

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Coming Down From Drydock

Tuesday June 10th, 2014

After 11 days ‘up on the hard’ the Picton Castle was ready to relaunch from the marine railway at Suva, Fiji. It would have been maybe only seven days but for the four days of torrential tropical rain that put a halt to some projects. But this had been a good dry-docking at a good yard. But that came as no surprise.

What work have we done to our ship?

Well, mostly the usual; high pressure water blasting the bottom for removing growth after two years in the water. Then, of course, spot painting epoxy primer followed a full coat of nasty anti-corrosive and then a full coat of fresh antifouling paint; new zincs that prevent electrolysis to the steel hull underwater. It works just fine too, no evidence of any electrolysis on any part of the ship since last dry-docking. We also removed all the bronze through-hull fittings for inspection and any rehabbing as needed. Some of them needed some lapping and re-seating. Through-hull fittings let water into the ship as cooling water for the main engine and generators, as well as the water maker which converts salt water to fresh and also seawater for the heads.

We also pulled the main engine propeller shaft and propeller. This must be done from time to time to inspect for wear on bearings, seals and the shaft itself. This is quite a big job too. First the rudder must be removed, then the sternpost cut away, that’s right, cut away, that’s the only way. Then of course, the long, 6 inch (150mm) steel shaft must be unbolted from the gearbox deep down in the engine room and it and the 6 foot (almost 2 meter) three bladed controllable pitch propeller all slide out. Well, it doesn’t really slide out; it takes a good deal of effort and chain come-alongs to get it out into the slings of the waiting crane. From there it is trundled over to the machine shop for examination and whatever work might be needed. We found that the bearings were fine but that the seals needed a bit of reworking. This was done after a few days and the shaft went back awaiting adjustments – it needs adjustment as it is not simply a solid steel shaft with a prop on one end, which, once back in, would not need adjustment – but it is a CPP or “controllable pitch propeller” indicating that the individual blades of the propeller move to provide forward and astern pitch and therefore, thrust and has moving parts in the shaft and propeller. It is a very good system installed in this ship in 1965, works just great to this day. But as it all had come apart, it needs readjustment after going back together.

We also attended getting a generator dynamo cleaned and back to perfect and sundry jobs in the engine room. After a thorough shell thickness survey we inserted a couple bits of new steel plate where it was needed. All the work was done under not only our supervision but that of an independent marine surveyor. This is a big help to have a qualified expert to look over my shoulder. It is also a requirement of our annual re-certification process.

While all this important stuff is going on below the waterline, plenty of work going on up on deck too. Crew were working away getting all the standing rigging chain plates chipped and coated with five or more coats of primer before the finish coat, various carpentry jobs here and there on deck. The anchor windlass got completely overhauled and coated and greased up. We renewed the steel part of the taff rail around the quarterdeck too. Lifted the teak capping and replaced almost all the steel it rested on. This had been installed in 1996, but apparently without much bedding compound so it had corroded significantly in the last 18 years. Other new steel installations from the same time that were treated properly are holding up fine.

The original steel from when she was built seems to last forever. The shipyard manager told me that the Picton Castle was one of the strongest ships in the best condition he had “ever seen, regardless of age”. He has seen a lot of steel ships up on his shipyard over the last few decades. I was quite impressed and satisfied with the quality and standard of both the steel work and the engineering work done for us on the grand Picton Castle at Suva Shipyard.

And… a new non-skid deck covering for the scullery and galley to give a better grip when we are at sea. All new and renewed safety gear as required by regulations. Yards all got painted (nice job!). New INMARSAT computer. And soon-to-return cook Donald’s cabin and the galley getting a nice paint job too.

But that’s not all. Going into shipyard is a bit like going into surgery at the hospital. Must be done, is good and needed to be done, but you don’t always come out of the hospital looking your best. We have all sorts of paint blow-over to remove. The engine room needs a big old cleaning, I mean a big one. The decks did not get scrubbed for about two weeks, accumulating any amount of crud, grime and welding detritus pretty much everywhere and anywhere – so the ship is getting a massive cleaning this week after coming off the dock.

On Sunday past, after a couple days alongside the quay at the shipyard next to a couple Chinese fishing boats who looked like they were keen to get up on the lift, we backed away from the wharf and headed out to anchor in the harbor. At long last and once again, fresh air, cool breezes and the quiet of the anchorage after almost two weeks of banging, clanging, mud, blasting, spraying and all kinds of dirt and crud of the ship-yard. But all good to get the shipyard done too.

Picton Castle on the hard

Picton Castle before going up on the slip

neighbours at the shipyard

Flip flops strictly prohibited

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