Captain's Log

Archive for July, 2014

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Bending Sail in Fiji

By Kate “Bob” Addison

July 11, 2014

Friday came in bright and clear aboard Picton Castle as we are lying here at anchor in Fiji waters. Another dry day, perfect for bending on more sail! Bending sail is an exciting moment in a voyage – one more step away from shipyard mode and towards being ready to hoist the anchor and set sail on our next voyage: this time our voyage is Westward Bound, a year at sea and half way round the world to sail.

Looking up from the main deck and seeing the white cotton sails neatly furled along each yard is a very visual reminder that this floating home of ours was not built to rest at anchor, but to open her canvas wings and fly across the open ocean.

It’s also the first work aloft for most of our crew, and it’s great to watch them grow in confidence as they work side-by-side with our professional crew, braced between feet on wire foot-ropes and hips leaning on the yard. They are well balanced like this with their hands free to work. Clipped in too of course, why would you not wear a seat belt?

We spent most of yesterday bending on the main lower topsail – as Captain said, he could have bent it himself in an hour with one other hand, but the point now is to teach to as many as possible and explain how it should be done, as much as to get the sail aloft and neatly lashed to the yard. Starting with explanations on a whiteboard and looking at the sail and rig, Captain talked us through the essential points common to all ships, and also the finer details, some of which can be done just as well several different ways depending on the tradition of the specific ship, or the preference of the master.

There are a few steps to sending up a square sail: the sail is brought up onto the main hatch and arranged so it’s ready to go aloft, and as easy as possible to handle when it’s up there. We use robands to lash the head of the sail onto the yard; you could just as well use marlin or any small stuff, but we use robands and they work just fine, so first of all they need to be made by pulling the individual strands out from lengths of manilla rope. These strands are used as temporary lashings to keep the sail tidy as it’s hoisted aloft, so they are passed through grommets and fairleads, head-earrings and clew cringles. Then a gantline is rove from deck up to a block above the yard and then back down on deck where it is tied in a bowline around the bunt or middle of the sail. By hauling away on the gantline the whole sail is lifted up aloft ’til its level with the yard.

Now the crew run up aloft, and with someone smart at either yard arm and hands spaced all along the yard they stretch out the head of the sail so it is tight and even along the yard: the centre lined up with the mast as it should be and the earrings lashed fast to the yard arm. Then each grommet along the head of the sail is lashed to the jack stay, which is a narrow steel rod welded onto the top of each yard for this purpose.

All fast and it’s time to lay back down to deck for the moment of truth: setting the sail to see that all is well, and check to see if there are any foul leads, twists or any other problems. It’s pretty cool seeing a square sail set for the first time, especially with the Fijian tropical sunshine behind making the sail semi-transparent like a paper kite.

Then once all is well we haul away the gear to strike the sail again, and the final step is to run back up aloft to stow the sail. Stowing sail is a first for our new trainee crew, but something they will get lots of practice at over the weeks and months of the voyage. They probably won’t believe me if I say so today, but very soon running aloft and stowing a topsail will be an easy job.

Chris, Joe, Vai and Murray shift the foresail to the focsle head compressed
Chris, Joe, Vai and Murray shift the foresail to the foc’sle head so it can be bent on

Allafia, Aaron, Bruce, Rob and Gabe bend the foresail compressed

Allafia, Bruce, Rob, Aaron and Gabe bend on the foresail

Stowing the foresail compressed

Crew lay out on the yard to stow the foresail

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Bracing, Safety Training and Celebrations

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Monday July 7th, 2014

It’s been another busy few days aboard Picton Castle at anchor here in Fiji. It’s been a pretty good balance of instruction, learning ship’s work, getting useful stuff done and fun – really a classic three days of the Picton Castle experience.

Friday came in bright and clear, perfect weather for learning lines and going aloft for the first time. After a good deck wash and cleaning down below, as is our usual morning routine, the Captain mustered the whole ship’s company on the main deck to start learning the lines and how to brace the yards around. In about at hour with whiteboard and broomstick for illustration he had explained the nature and purpose of just about every line on the ship, pointed out the patterns and repetitions that mean that the 135 or so lines are really only about 7 different lines repeated port and starboard, on different sails and different masts. Captain used a very accurate 1:1 scale model of a barque that he had handy to point out how the lifts and halyards and downhauls work, and how the braces are used to pull the yards around to catch the wind. Then it was time for bracing practice.

First the new hands watched from by the main mast as the people who’d sailed Picton Castle before ran around the deck hauling on lines, remembering which gear to slack and which sheet or tack to cast off or make fast. For me anyway it’s been nine months since I’ve been aboard, so I was glad to have such competent ABs to follow to make up for my rather rusty brain. After a few iterations of bracing hard up on a port tack, square and then hard on a starboard tack it was time for our new hands to get stuck in.

Mark, Gabe and the Starboard watch took the main braces, while Axel, Erin and the Port watch had the fore braces. Practicing with both the mate and then the AB calling orders, the crew were learning the commands and how to respond to them. How to marry the braces so the friction takes the strain when making fast, how to haul away on a line with your spare foot behind you so you won’t fall should a line part or you lose your grip. That it is never, ever ok to stand in a coil of rope. Sometimes it seems like everything we do is safety training, never mind learning to use fire extinguishers or climbing harnesses.

We will need much more bracing practice before we’re slick at it, and then more practice once the sails are sent up, but a whole morning of practice was certainly a good start.

Then in the afternoon all hands went aloft, many of them for the first time, and all did very well. Starting with fitting climbing harnesses and knowing how to use them safely, our climbing training is heavily focussed on why and how crew should keep themselves safe aloft. Obviously it’s good to wear a climbing harness that would catch you if you fall. But we think it’s far, far, better that though you’re always wearing a harness and clipping in properly, the harness never has to catch you – i.e. you don’t fall. Where you put your hands and feet when climbing and what you wear on them is really just as important as how you adjust the straps on your harness. A good harness and how to use it properly is important and is part of safety aloft. Similar to a good seat belt is part of good practice in safe driving in a car but is not in itself what makes for safe driving.

The general idea is that safety equipment can help reduce the likelihood or severity of an accident, but that safety equipment alone is not what keeps you safe. What keeps you safe is being being knowledgeable and aware, using all tools and equipment properly and skilfully, and looking after yourself and your shipmates. It’s all part of learning seamanship.

Saturday was another sunny day here anchored off Suva. We spent the morning introducing certain of our emergency procedures. Watch officers Mark and Axel introduced the fire fighting apparatus we have on board – extinguishers, blankets, fixed systems, main fire pump and the auxiliary ‘trash’ pump. We got the trash pump on deck and all hands had a go at starting it and then changing the flow of water between a jet and a fine mist for cooling. It’s good to exercise these things, firstly to make sure everything works perfectly first time when you need it and just as importantly to make sure people know where to find the kit and how to use it before they need to. Chances are it won’t be a beautiful calm day when we need to use any emergency kit, but it’s a good time to start practicing. We still have much more emergency orientation and practice to do before we sail, but we’re making good progress.

Then we wrapped up work at about 3pm on Friday to get ready for a BBQ and marlinspike or crew party with popcorn and punch, music and party lights. With Canada Day and the 4th of July falling in the same week it seemed a good reason for a celebration for all our crew from Canada and the USA. And then we thought it would be fun to celebrate everyone else’s home countries and cultures too, so we had a Tongan warrior princess, a beautiful Indian lady from British Columbia and some Cool Australian Dudes helping to celebrate, as well as guests from the British Royal family. Doc Murray did a sterling job in the galley with his team of helpers making Swedish Hasselback roast potatoes, homemade coleslaw and salads, while Axel and Mark R did good on the BBQ grilling the chicken and fish, which was marinated in citrus and herbs by Rob. Gabe and Christian looked after the music, and Amy got her glowing poi going once it was dark. A good time all around.

Sunday was another day of festivities. With just a skeleton crew aboard to mind the ship, the whole ship’s company was invited to a big feast at the house of friends of the Captain, Muhammad and Zubaida Iraq. Together with Muhammad’s mother and their two young boys, the family live in a nice old house in Flagstaff, that was built by Muhammad’s grandfather, a schooner captain.

The feast was a traditional Fijian ‘lovo’ cooked in a ground oven (umu-kai in Polynesian) that was dug by Muhammad with help from Donald, Joe and our gang. Meanwhile the ladies had been busy in the kitchen chopping up chicken, fish and veggies and making delicious little parcels flavoured with coconut and garlic and wrapped in taro leaves and tin foil. Alex and Nicole went to the house the day before to help prepare the food so by the time the stones in the oven were hot the food was all prepped and ready to be cooked. With the smouldering fire in the bottom of the pit of extremely hot stones, the food is layered up inside with layers of palm fronds first and last to keep everything moist and keep the soil out. The breadfruit go in whole and I think it’s my favourite way to cook breadfruit – half smoked and half steamed it comes out smokey, soft and delicious, not at all dry as breadfruit sometimes can be.

The crew had a good time sitting around on the woven mats and carpet that cover the verandah, eating, chatting and hanging out. The radio was playing all sorts of cool music, and Vai gave me some polynesian dancing lessons – we worked on our Salsa and Bollywood dancing too, which was pretty hilarious all around. The when we’d cleared up a little and it was time to leave, Iraq topped off his generosity to our crew by presenting us each with a small carved wooden mask to remember the day by. Not that I think anyone would be forgetting it for a long time anyway.

Alex checks Allafia's pfd compressed

Alex checks Allafia’s PFD

Bracing and sail handling lessons compressed

Captain Moreland teaches bracing and sail handling lessons

Bracing practice - Vai, Joe, Aaron, Rob and Chris compressed

Vai, Joe, Aaron, Rob and Chris practice bracing the main braces

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Ship’s Work, Crew Training and Canada Day

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Thursday July 3, 2014

I’m sitting in the mess room of Picton Castle as we lie here at anchor off Suva, Fiji. We just finished a delicious supper of chicken parmigiana, eaten snug down below round the varnished tables of the main salon because it’s been such a rainy day here.

The first day of rain this week, it’s been glorious sunshine up ’til today and we’ve been getting lots of work and training done on deck and taking the monomoy out every day to learn rowing and small boat handling as well.

We had a great row in the monomoy today, over to the yacht club for showers and sodas and then back to the ship in time for supper. Watch Officer Mark R, Gabe and Alex took turns with Amy as coxswains, practicing pivoting in small circles and coming alongside a big pontoon moored out in the bay here. The rowing team were starboard watch of Mark B, Christian, Rob and Aaron. Carpenter Joe and I tagged along too for the fun and exercise. It was grey and rainy, windy and choppy, which I found exhilarating, but maybe I’ve just spent too long sailing in the English Channel. Most people were in waterproofs but I figured swimsuit and a shirt would do just as well – tropical rain is very wet but hardly cold!

Yesterday was the turn of port watch, with Axel, Erin, Murray, Allafia, Nicole, Bruce and Luke rowing to the yacht club for showers – they had less exciting weather and a dryer time of it with perfect sunshine, and their rowing was impressive, especially given it was only the second time out for some of the gang.

In between rowing we’ve been working on a bunch of different things: mastering some of the most important knots, working through the handbooks to understand the ship’s standing orders and basic operating procedures. Today the watches were learning how to do a decent ship check which involves going through the whole ship with an AB, learning to sound bilges and where to check for fire or flood, valves left open or lights left on. It also includes essentials, such as what to do if you find something in the hold that’s come unlashed or un-stowed, or much worse, if the coffee pot is empty.

The watch officers took a group at a time through basic VHF radio protocol today too so they know what to say, and maybe more importantly what not to say, on the radio should they ever need to use one.

For ship’s work the spot painting continues, there’s always something that needs painting, and we also overhauled all of our climbing harnesses so they are good to go whenever the weather decides to cooperate with our aloft training, hopefully tomorrow.

The other big job has been over at our ‘sail loft’ in the Royal Suva Yacht Club – we’ve pulled all of the sails out of the hold so they can be inspected and a plan made to repair and make new sails as required. The ship carries a suit of 10 square sails at any time, as well as headsails, spanker, kites and stunsails so that’s a whole lot of canvas before you even start on the spares and unfinished new sails. With manpower from the whole crew to get all the sails up on deck and then into the skiff, Tammy and Amy have been doing sterling work sorting through them, ably assisted by Bruce, Mark B and Nicole at various times. Captain’s been spending a fair amount of time in the sail loft too, giving instruction and helping make the plan of action to make the best use of the sails that we already have.

15 in the monomoy compressed

Rowing the monomoy

Rowing past Picton Castle compressed

Rowing past Picton Castle

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Fiji – The Start of a Voyage

By Kate “Bob” Addison

June 30, 2014

I started writing this log on Monday afternoon, and it’s now Thursday morning. Apart from how badly I procrastinate, that says something about how busy life is aboard Picton Castle at the start of a voyage….

Our crew for this first leg have arrived now, and we’re excited to have them aboard. There’s a good energy on board and the focus has shifted away from shipyard mode into full voyage mode. There’s still lots to do to get the ship ready to sail, but it’s at least equally important to get our new crew ready to sail, and that means a whole world of orientation and training.

Trainee crew who’ve never stepped foot on a sailing ship, and experienced professional mariners alike need to be fully oriented with the ship: all of her compartments, equipment, routines and procedures. And that’s before we even start learning the 175 lines of running rigging, standing rigging, sail handling and the rest. I find having brand new crew on board is a good reminder of just how much knowledge we take for granted in this sailing ship life.

So we started off in groups with hour-long orientations lead by Gabe, Erin and myself, walking all over the ship, pointing out the two exits from every compartment, where the light switches are and that they should be switched off when not needed, where the marine toilets are and how to use them, how to take a sea-shower that conserves fresh water. Basic emergency actions to be taken before we’ve done our thorough emergency muster station walk through and drills. Chain of command and privacy considerations. What to do with rubbish on board, where’s good to hang out, where not so much. How to live with lots of other people on a long voyage in a small ship. Picton Castle is actually plenty spacious, but not if every body leaves their belongings all over the place or runs around tuning their radios or practicing their opera singing at midnight – it’s certainly a higher population density than most people are used to!

After orientation the watches were given jobs on deck in the sunshine: spot painting, varnishing the ship’s wheel, oiling the decks. But this is really all orientation too – how to mix paint to the proper consistency for painting in the tropics, how much turpentine to add to the linseed oil to keep the pine decks protected and happy, and how to not tramp oily footprints all over the ship when it’s done. Where to find cleaning supplies, clean rags and deck brushes and who to ask if you’re not sure about something.

It seems there’s a huge amount of basic domestic living to learn before we even start on the salty stuff. But there’s plenty of that to come too!

Mixing paint

Mixing paint at the paint locker

Painting topsides

Painting topisdes from the skiff

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