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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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