Captain's Log

Archive for November, 2015

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Day’s Run – 25 November, 2015

This week we assigned daymen from the watches because the weather is better and the gang are becoming more accomplished at sail handling, so fewer people are required in the watches just to sail the ship, allowing us to focus a little more on ship’s work. Rigging assistants for the week are Mackenzie and Gary, Engineers’ assistants Jen and Jesper, and Carpenters Dale and James. Captain ran an all hands seizings workshop this afternoon to teach some of the most common temporary and permanent methods to seize ropes or wires together. And Donald gave us American thanksgiving one day early with an enormous turkey dinner followed by ice-cream. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sailing along at sunset

SHIP’S WORK: Bosun, riggers and the watches: Spot paint black in MONOMOY, spot paint stone on starboard aft superstructure, spot paint red aloha deck and waterways, remove jibboom heel from bowsprit, send down stay tackle, make wire strops for temporary jibboom, ratlines in fore and main topmast shrouds.

Carpenters: work on temporary jibboom – rounding out the ends of the square spare to fit the hardware and fairing. Engineers: prep and paint on main engine, welding and straightening the martingale.

Sailmaking: finish patching main t’gallant staysail, and work on roping the repaired luff and head

TOWARDS: Cadiz, Spain
NOON POSITION: 37°52.9’N /020°05.8’W
DAYS RUN: 86nm
WIND: E1/2N, Force 5
WEATHER: 3/8 cloud cover (cumulus), air temp 62F (17°C), sea surface temp 66F (19°C) barometer reading 1037 millibars, visibility good
SAILS SET: Topsails, foresail, mainsail, main t’gallant,fore topmast staysail, main topmast staysail, spanker.

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Days’ Run – 24 November, 2015

This morning at 0740 while the oncoming watch were below eating breakfast and the 4-8 had just finished the morning deck wash, the port martingale backrope parted, the resulting pressure from the headsails on the jibboom causing it to break at the cap. All hands were called to take in sail, and bear away from the wind to take the pressure off the rig until we could get the fore t’gallant mast stayed, and the jibboom catted and lashed safely to the side of the ship. Then once all was secure, we worked to unbend the jibs and get the rest of the spar and the rigging aboard. Thankfully the only damage was to the backrope – actually a piece of chain and barely a month old – and to the jiboom itself. Meanwhile one of the blank spars that we carry for such eventualities was unlashed and set up on sawhorses so the carpenter and his assistants could start to fashion a temporary jibboom to allow us to carry a couple more headsails. The crew did a very good job responding quickly and safely to orders, and demonstrated just how much seamanship they have learned since this voyage began. We were underway again soon after lunch.

Tim, James & Dale work on the new jibboom

Tim, James & Dale work on the new jibboom

SHIP’S WORK: Unbent inner, outer and flying jibs, recovered headrig standing rigging and jibboom, set up fore t’gallant and royal mast with stays to the bow sprit, sent down fore royal sail.

TOWARDS: Cadiz, Spain
NOON POSITION: 37°34.9’N /021°36.4’W
DAYS RUN: 20nm
COURSE AND SPEED: Hove to under lower topsails on the starboard tack
WIND: NE, Force 3
WEATHER: 7/8 cloud cover (stratocumulus), air temp 62F (17°C), sea surface temp 66F (19°C) barometer reading 1035 millibars, visibility good

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Day’s Run – 23 November, 2015

Since the weather has been fair we’ve been doing lots of painting, so it was a well timed paint and coatings workshop this afternoon. Captain explained how any unprotected steel will quickly rust in the damp, salty marine environment, and how we counteract this by diligent and regular painting. It has been thus ever since the launch of the first iron ships, and will continue to be so as long as ships are built of steel. Even modern cruise liners and cargo ships have their people spot paint as a matter of course. He also discussed proper painting technique and some of the other coatings we use on the wire and fibre standing rigging: tar, slush and oil, and gave a practical demonstration of how to clean up spilt paint from the deck – much to Bosun’s horror.

How to clean up spilt paint

How to clean up spilt paint

SHIP’S WORK: Lots of painting to make the most of the fair weather – white on the aloha deck bulwarks and starboard fo’c’sle head round, primer on the pelican hooks, headrig seizings, scuttle hatch and salon sink, buff on the cat heads and jiboom, black on MONOMOY gunwale, red on starboard fire box, and green on main mast boot. Replace spanker knock lashing, get chafe gear on fore t’gallant headstay at martingale, replace ratlines port main topmast shrouds, replace port main upper topsail brace, serve threads on fore topmast backstay turnbuckles and install canvas boots on port main t’gallant and royal backstays.

TOWARDS: Cadiz, Spain
NOON POSITION: 38°40.5’N /022°47.8’W
DAYS RUN: 72nm
COURSE AND SPEED: SExS (143°True), 3kts
WIND: ExN, Force 3
WEATHER: 4/8 cloud cover (cumulus and cirrus), air temp 60F (16°C), sea surface temp 66F (19°C) barometer reading 1033 millibars
SAILS SET: All square sails to the royals, fore, main and mizzen topmast staysails, inner, outer and flying jib, spanker.

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Visiting the Azores

Written by Purser Bob
Azores – 18 November 2015

900 miles from Portugal and twice as far from Bermuda, the Azores are a classic stopping-off point for vessels making the transatlantic crossing between America or the Caribbean and Europe. A delightful mid-ocean service station, and they have been so for more than 500 years, since caravels built of wood with spritsails and whipstaffs sailed westward from Spain or Portugal off the edge of the charted world in search of new lands, rich fishing and untold fortune.

The Azores are still a welcome respite for sailors tired by the storms of the North Atlantic, crews can rest and re-supply here with the islands’ plentiful supply of clean fresh water tumbling down from the green mountain tops as dramatic waterfalls, and the lush pasture land dotted with fat cattle supplying the luxuries of abundant fresh milk and cheese.

They call the beautiful islands of the Azores the worst kept secret of the Atlantic, but the westerly most island of Flores might be the best kept secret of the Azores. Almost nobody stops there we were told – barely a hundred yachts in a year, and then all clustered together in the months of May and June, so as a square rigged sailing ship arriving in November, we were received with enthusiasm if a little surprise.

These days, most yachts stop at Ponta Delgarda or Horta, the biggest two towns on Sao Miguel and Faial island respectively where there are marinas, shops and facilities to make repairs, bunker fuel and re-provision. But we usually prefer the smaller islands, and we had heard that Flores was probably the most beautiful of the Azores, and so we asked and were granted permission to come alongside the wharf at the harbour at Larjes, no problem as long as we were gone before the regular supply ship’s arrival on Wednesday morning.

And what a stunning island! High volcanic peaks covered with every kind of vegetation from bamboo to big red hibiscus flowers, fragrant rosemary bushes, orange and green moss and blue rhododendrons all along the side of the steep but well maintained mountain roads. The views out over the ocean were stunning, and here and there tucked in a sheltered valley or along the waterfront were small stepped pastures of soft green grass and dry stone walls. Driving along the high road across the island we were above the cloud line, so looking down at the mist swirling in the volcanic caldera, now huge inland lakes, was like looking off the edge of the earth.

The harbour on Flores is in the south of the island, a strong new breakwater protecting the big concrete wharf where various visiting ships had painted their name and ship’s logo on the concrete sea wall. The steep road up to town curves around, as it rises to the beautiful Catholic church with its white and blue tiled facade and tree-lined cobbled courtyard looking out protectively over the clusters of the neat little houses with their terracotta roofs and tidy gardens, and beyond to the endless blue of sea and sky.

Over to the right past the yard with its small stack of shipping containers is a small yacht marina, and looking down over them both a delightful sailing club with full height windows where you can drink good coffee or a glass of beer while looking down at our barque drying her sails in the sunshine, and over the breakwater to the bright blue Atlantic with its whitecaps dancing on and on to the horizon.

Next to the sailing club is long, low stone building, now a store room for the small boats of the sailing club, but originally a boiling room for the small-scale whaling industry that flourished in these islands from about 1860 right through until the 1980s. Peeking in through the window you can see the original cast iron cauldron beneath its wide chimney breast where the blubber was boiled down to extract the valuable oil.

There was also an excellent whaling museum over in the island’s main town of Santa Cruz on the east side: an original Azorian whale boat under it’s enormous mainsail looks ready to sail right out of the museum and put to sea, while the steam powered pumps, row of enormous boiling pots and vast machines for drying and grinding the whale bone had the Industrial look of their time, like something out of Victorian England.

Apart from the scrimshaw carvings on whalebone and ivory for which the islands are still famous, the couple of dozen whales that were caught on each island supplied much of the annual wealth of this small, island nation – makes sense that this dangerous and bloody industry continued for so long when you think that a single whale carcass can provide as much meat, fat and oil as an entire herd of cattle. Whaling provided a strong link with the Americas too over the years, with Nantucket whale ships stopping in the Azores to augment their crews with islanders, as well as take on fresh water and provisions. Melville even had the PEQUOD call here before setting off in search of the White Whale.

Cod fishing the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and around Iceland provides an even older link between Europe, North America and the Azores: since as early as the sixteenth century Portuguese ships were making an annual transatlantic voyage to these famous fishing grounds, returning at the end of the summer with their hold stuffed with salted cod, and of course calling at these wonderful islands on the way.

I don’t know if it’s from this sense of history or their affinity with the sea, but the people of the Azores are certainly welcoming to sailors today, and many local people came down to the harbour to look at the ship and bring us fresh herbs and vegetables in exchange for tours of the ship. The author of two beautiful books about the history of long-distance fishing, whaling and scrimshaw art in the Azores, both called MAN AND THE SEA seemed quite taken with our little barque and left a copy of his books as a generous gift. But the most fun was probably the crowd of small children who visited from the school to look around – some were literally jumping up and down with excitement to come aboard our barque – and they all said they would like to sign aboard PICTON CASTLE to join us on the next leg of our voyage to Spain.



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Day’s Run – 22 November, 2015

We are still sailing close to the wind to make as much easting as possible, the crew are learning to sail ‘full and by the wind’. Since the weather was good and the winds light, the watches had some time to get on with personal projects on watch – practicing knots and marlinspike seamanship, reading, mending clothes and Dale helped the carpenter make a small-boat bailer. Meanwhile forward on the well deck there was Sunday personal maintenance: hair cuts, laundry in buckets and knife sharpening. The string band gathered on the hatch in the afternoon and played some tunes for us to work by.

Cookies by Jade and Sam G

Cookies by Jade and Sam G

SHIP’S WORK: Sunday at sea so no additional ship’s work beyond sailing the ship, cooking and domestic cleaning. We had the first ‘marlinspike’ of the voyage this afternoon with popcorn, fruit punch and dancing on the hatch.

TOWARDS: Cadiz, Spain
NOON POSITION: 39°39.5’N /023°42.1’W
DAYS RUN: 70nm
COURSE AND SPEED: South south east (173°True), 3kts
WIND: ExN, Force 3
WEATHER: 5/8 cloud cover (cumulus), air temp 60F (16°C), sea surface temp 66F (19°C) barometer reading 1035 millibars
SAILS SET: All square sails to the royals, fore, main and mizzen topmast staysails, inner, outer and flying jib, spanker.

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Day’s Run – 21 November, 2015

We sent up the fore royal yard today. I wonder if anywhere in the world there is another ship crossing yards at sea today. A pleasant, fairly sunny day and with small swell so great for getting work done, but with the light winds of a large high pressure system we are going quite slowly towards Cadiz. Wore ship this morning onto the other tack, gradually working our way to the east.

Crossing the Fore Royal Yard

Crossing the Fore Royal Yard

SHIP’S WORK: Bend fore royal sail onto the yard, cross fore royal yard and run rigging.
Training: learning to plot a position on the chart, sail drill in fore royal, spanker, mizzen topmast stay sail and mainsail.

TOWARDS: Cadiz, Spain
NOON POSITION: 40°48.5’N /024°06.8’W
DAYS RUN: 41nm
COURSE AND SPEED: South south east (142°True), 2.5kts
WIND: E1/2S, Force 3
WEATHER: 5/8 cloud cover (stratocumulus), air temp 60F (16°C), sea surface temp 66F (19°C) barometer reading 1036 millibars
SAILS SET: All square sails to the t’gallants and the main royal, fore, main and mizzen topmast staysails, inner, outer and flying jib, spanker

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Day’s Run – 20 November, 2015

The sun came out today but the wind died – the good and bad of a high pressure system at sea. Sunny weather meant we could get lots done on deck: making headway in sailmaking, rigging, carpentry and painting projects. We also did a drill to practice rescuing someone injured in the chain locker – the rescue team wore breathing apparatus in case the ‘unconscious’ volunteer had been affected by a lack of oxygen or poisonous atmosphere, then with neck brace fitted they used a strop and a team in the forepeak to help lift the casualty up to a flat surface where a stretcher and the medical team were waiting.

Drill: Rescue from the chain locker

Drill: Rescue from the chain locker

SHIP’S WORK: Send down the fore upper topsail for repairs and bend on a replacement, end-for-end fore t’gallant braces and main royal sheet, paint grey on quarterdeck rail and buff on port davits, seize new thumb cleat on port fore shrouds, seize shearpoles on fore backstays, seize and patch serve mizzen topmast stay and main upper craneline, nip bunts, move buntline blocks, replace ratlines starboard fore and main topmast shrouds, install graving piece in a focslehead plank.

TOWARDS: Cadiz, Spain
NOON POSITION: 40°58.5’N /025°01.1’W
DAYS RUN: 140nm
COURSE AND SPEED: East by south a half south (74°True), 3kts
WIND: SWxS, Force 3
WEATHER: 8/8 cloud cover (stratocumulus and cirrus), air temp 64F (18°C), sea surface temp 66F (19°C) barometer reading 1030 millibars SWELL HIGHT & DIRECTION: 3-5 feet, SW SAILS SET: All square sails to the t’gallants and the main royal, fore, main and mizzen topmast staysails, inner, outer and flying jib, spanker.

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Day’s Run – 19 November, 2015

REMARKS: A good North Atlantic sailing day for PICTON CASTLE with almost all her sails set, and filling beautifully as they do their work, the ship creaming along with white water under her bow. The crew did well to keep up with the gusty winds today – quickly setting and taking in sails as the wind strength and direction changed.

Katja on lookout

Katja on lookout

SHIP’S WORK: Ratlines in the starboard lower shrouds, set up fore t’gallant and royal stays and re-rig main t’gallant and royal braces with blocks on mizzen topmast. Re-lash t’gallant lift strops, paint quarterdeck skylight white, paint new fire hose box red. Hands-on splicing workshop: teaching the sailmakers’ eye splice and chain splice. In watches training about how to safely enter confined spaces.

TOWARDS: Cadiz, Spain
NOON POSITION: 39°51.9’N /027°53.0’W
DAYS RUN: 133nm
COURSE AND SPEED: East by south a half south (74°True), 4kts
WIND: SxE, Force 4
WEATHER: 6/8 cloud cover (stratus and cumulus), air temp 64F (18°C), sea surface temp 66F (19°C) barometer reading 1023 millibars
SAILS SET: All square sails to the t’gallants, fore, main and mizzen topmast staysails, inner, outer and flying jib, spanker.

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Day’s Run – 18 November, 2015

Underway at first light to make way for the supply ship whose berth we were graciously allowed to use. Flores was a wonderful port stop: incredibly lush and dramatic scenery, the most amazing waterfalls I’ve ever seen, a very warm welcome from the local population and a dairy making delicious cheese.

Vai at the helm - Lajes

Vai at the helm – Lajes

SHIP’S WORK: Jesse went aloft with needle and palm to herringbone stitch a small tear in the main t’gallant before it could get any bigger. Got another coat of green paint on the new main mast boot, which was installed in Flores, tropical blue spot paint in the breezeways and primer on the batcave hatch. Sail drill in the flying jib, spanker and mizzen topmast staysail. Replaced ratlines in starboard lower shroud. At 1300 the Captain called a fire drill, swiftly followed by an abandon ship drill. I wonder what the passing pod of dolphins thought of 4 people in immersion suits mustering on the quarterdeck.

TOWARDS: Cadiz, Spain
NOON POSITION: 39°26.1’N /030°39.0’W
DAYS RUN: 24nm
COURSE AND SPEED: ESE (79°True), 4kts
WIND: SxW, Force 4
WEATHER: 4/8 cloud cover (cirrus and cumulus), air temp 64F (18°C), sea surface temp 66F (19°C) barometer reading 1021 millibars
SAILS SET: All square sails to the t’gallants, fore and main topmast staysails, inner, outer and flying jib, spanker.

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Weathering a Storm Mid-Atlantic

By Purser Kate (Bob) Addison
Tues 10 Nov 2015

The sun is streaming in through the starboard window of the ship’s office as PICTON CASTLE daintily rises and falls with the Atlantic swell. She’s making an easy five knots this morning with square sails set all the way up to the t’gallants, swaying like inverted pendulums high above the deck. The wind is astern so yards are braced square as she runs before this fresh sailing breeze, and all is well and comfortable in our little floating world.

Just 12 hours ago and it was quite a different story on deck: after dark it seems like all of your other sense heighten to make up for the limited vision, so the roll of the deck under your feet seems exaggerated, and the whistle of the wind in the rigging more unnerving. The waves look bigger and everything just seems that much more real. We have red deck lights that we can use on dark nights so the gang can see their way about without losing too much in the way of night vision, all very practical but the red glow adds its own special drama to the scene.

And there was some drama on Sunday night: a deep low pressure system was forecast with its centre somewhere north of 40N, sweeping westwards in the jet stream, and big enough that we would be affected by it no matter where we went.

The Captain and Mate are always very interested in the weather, but with a storm predicted, every 6-hours sees them poring over the various weather charts and forecasts that we receive by fax and satellite email. The Captain was checking in ashore too to make sure he had all the best information and he set a strategy to make the ride as safe and comfortable as possible. His decision was that we should hold our latitude and keep making easting as far as possible before the cold front hit, so that we could make the best of the north westerly winds expected to follow the front, but without gaining latitude which would put us closer to the eye of the storm.

As the long-range forecasts gave way to 24-hour forecasts, all the information began to converge to give a pretty clear picture. The day had been warm and wet with the classic squally weather of a warm front, so it was just a case of waiting for the cold front to follow it as the wind built in strength throughout the day. Winds were predicted up to 35-40 knots – actually something of a moderation since the long-range forecast originally predicting up to 50 knots. But still, a 35 knot wind is plenty for a sailing ship, and you have to expect gusts that are stronger, especially if the front brings unpredictable squalls.

So we made our preparations for heavy weather, three simple aims: keep the people in the ship, keep the water out, and keep all the gear and boats lashed where they should be and not flying around. So we rigged the ‘sailor strainers’ netting running midships from fore shrouds to main shrouds, and then from abaft the main shrouds to the stanchions at the quarter, rigged wire jackstays along the breezeways and quarterdeck for people to clip their harnesses into, and tight man ropes across the main deck and quarterdeck for extra hand holds. We battened down the main hatch with an extra heavy-duty tarp and a bunch of ratchet straps atop of the standard heavy planks and three-layers of tarp. Extra lashings were put on all the boats, and the hold and decks were carefully inspected for anything that could get un-stowed and cause problems if not properly lashed down.

We took in most of the sails through the day as the wind got too strong to safely carry them, but the ship just kept moving right along – at one point making 9 knots under just lower topsails and the foretopmast staysail. We got double gaskets on the stowed sails aloft, and sheeted the canvas still set down hard.

All port holes and watertight doors were dogged down tight, and once there were boarding seas crossing the main decks, the captain ordered the main decks and breeze ways closed and gave instructions for all hands to make their way from one end of the ship to the other below decks. The watch standing by on the quarterdeck were to be in harnesses at all times, and clipped in when stationary, and all ship checks done in pairs. We had our lookouts posted at the bridge wings, and our best helmsmen at the wheel – important not to get caught aback and to keep the seas on the quarter and not let them come abeam, so the steering must be strong and skillful.

Since it was a Sunday and Donald’s day off, Vai, Kevin and Jesper cooked a big pasta bake with prawns, crunchy salad and chocolate cake to keep everyone fueled through the night long. Even doing dishes after dinner was quite exciting with everything flying through the air given half a chance, but stepping out of the nice warm, brightly lit scullery onto the aloha deck was sobering: by then it was dark and blowing a steady force 8, gusting 9, so you really had to focus just to walk about without getting blown sideways. Definitely real.

Forward in the fo’c’sle I was amazed how comfortably she was riding the enormous seas, and I slept well until half-past midnight when the wind shift and sudden heavy rain changed the movement and sounds of the ship. It was cold too. Guess that’s why they call it a cold front.

Meanwhile on deck we’d taken one big boarding sea that curved up above the galley house and smashed down on the boats that are stowed there. A shock, no doubt, for the people sheltering in the lee of the galley house to get a big square of green water dumped on their heads in the dark. The water forced its way in through the gaps around the galley house doors, picked up and moved the semi-dory a good half-inch sideways despite her being well lashed down, and swept away the lid of the galley cool box all the way from the well deck to the aloha deck where it ended up. The scullery cooler on the aloha deck did little better, with left over pasta from the cooler ending up scattered on the main deck. The bucket rack under the port forward pin rail had given way, so there were odd deck buckets bobbing across the decks like so many rubber ducks.

By the morning the wind had dropped right off and we were starting to set sail again, though the big seas took more time to lay down. I am glad to report that the worst casualty of the storm was the bucket rack: a simple wooden structure that the carpenter had patched up soon enough in the morning, and the 4-8 watch had everything else ship shape and tidy by breakfast. All ready for the next day at sea.


Crazy Clouds on the Atlantic

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