Captain's Log

Archive for September, 2016

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Sending Down Yards

Bosun School students have been working on sending down yards. On some other ships, this is done with the assistance of a crane. On Picton Castle, we use the lifting power and mechanical advantage in the ship’s rig to lower the yards down to deck.
Although sending down yards sounds like it may look dramatic, it’s a slow, methodical process. Before yards can come down, there is a lot of preparation work. All running rigging must be sent down or nipped aloft, the yard must be free of anything that will keep it in place, and the mastrope (the line on which the yard is lowered) and the tag line (the line which helps manoeuvre the yard) must be rigged.
Once all of those things are in place, the mastrope takes up the strain with help from the capstan while the bolt and any last bits of rigging are removed. At that point, all of the weight of the yard is being held by the mastrope. The mastrope is slowly and carefully eased around the capstan while a strain is taken on the tag line and the yard is gently eased down to deck (or in our case, down to dock).
The fore t’gallant yard was sent down this morning, then this afternoon the fore lower top’sl yard came down. As we speak, the last project on this lovely sunny Friday afternoon is to send down the fore upper top’sl yard. We’re hoping to do the same on the main mast tomorrow.
By being involved hands-on in projects like this, Bosun School students are learning how to handle lines, including lines under enormous strain, how to work aloft and on deck, how to work safely, and the various steps that are involved in this project. By doing it multiple times with the different yards, they get to move around to different areas and complete different tasks each time.

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Captain’s Log: Sailing Schooners & Other Traditional Boats

This weekend was all about boats for the Bosun School. Every fall, there’s a race of traditional vessels in Lunenburg. It’s always a fun event. Our students were adopted by skippers of the various boats to crew with them for the day. The breeze was fresh outside Lunenburg harbour, 20 knots gusting to 25 knots out of the northwest. The race course went from Lunenburg harbour, out around Cross Island and back. Festivities, including a BBQ and live music, followed ashore.





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Captain’s Log – Bosun School Begins

Bosun School is officially in session!

Monday September 19 was the first day of classes for this session of the Bosun School.  We have a small class this time, which makes for lots of individual attention for each student.  Bosun School is designed for young mariners who want to learn skills to advance their careers.

While actually sailing is the best way to gain experience, we have often found amongst Picton Castle professional crew applicants that the amount of sea time they have doesn’t always line up with the skills they have.  We’ve noticed that they simply don’t have the skills we might have expected based on their seagoing experience.

Bosun School is our effort to remedy that situation.  By taking away the distractions of being at sea, where work projects are naturally put on hold to tend to the immediate needs of the vessel, students have the opportunity to delve into those skills with focus.  They’ll start and finish projects, seeing them the whole way through.  But it’s not just seeing, Bosun School is based on Captain Moreland’s belief that “practice makes permanent.”  By not just seeing it, or seeing it and doing it once, but seeing it and doing it multiple times, students are able to learn, understand and apply those skills.

So, what is a bosun?  As Captain Moreland describes in this video, the word bosun comes from boat swain, which basically means the boat’s boyfriend.  The bosun usually reports directly to the chief mate and is responsible for the ship’s maintenance.  That doesn’t mean the bosun does all the work him or herself, the bosun coordinates the deckhands and works along with them.  As Captain Moreland points out, many people think of the bosun as being a rigger.  There certainly is some rigging work involved, but that’s only a part of looking after the ship.  It’s also vital that the bosun can keep the ship clean, tidy and in good nick.

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A Ship’s Cat’s Life Ashore

Since returning to Picton Castle’s home base in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada two weeks ago, ship’s cat Fiji has made herself at home in this UNESCO World Heritage town.

We’re often asked who owns Fiji.  She really owns herself, as most cats do.  However, she does not have one single owner, she goes with the ship wherever Picton Castle goes.  Sure, she has crew members who she prefers (she especially likes whoever is assigned to feed her).

Our little cat is stretching her legs in Lunenburg, getting ashore and exploring the town.  She didn’t have a collar for the first few days after the ship arrived in port, so we got her a black collar with a reflective silver design and a tag with her name on one side and Picton Castle written on the other along with the ship’s office phone number.

Since getting her tag, we have had multiple phone calls about Fiji.  She was picked up by a concerned family on King Street outside the Bank of Montreal, she was spotted sneaking into an inn on Montague Street after hours, she visited the Bluenose II wharf, and was lying on the table amongst the books and notecards for sale at Lunenburg Bound.  Although we haven’t seen it ourselves yet, rumour has it that she is being fed treats of scallops at the back door of at least one local restaurant.

Fiji has even made her way up to our shore office, resting for the afternoon in one of our armchairs and finding a comfy (?) spot amongst the office supplies the next morning.


Fiji - turning even the most jaded among us into cat people

Fiji – turning even the most jaded among us into cat people

Questionable Comfort at the office

Questionable Comfort at the office


Turning old armchairs into things unbearably cute

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Captain’s Log – Early September in Lunenburg

12 September, 2016

Early September in Lunenburg

On the morning of the last day of August, Picton Castle sailed quietly in to Lunenburg Harbour.  As Captain Sam Sikkema explained in the last Captain’s Log, royal yards, the mainsail, t’gallants and all upper staysails had all been sent down before the ship made her entrance, so although there was less canvas to set, the ship came in under what sail she had and looked good doing it.    20160831_092107_resized

The crew wasted no time once alongside the wharf in Lunenburg.  We knew that many crew members had to sign off the ship very shortly after their arrival in Lunenburg, so we wanted to get sails sent down right away while we still had many hands.  It’s possible to send down sails with a smaller gang, but the sails were good and dry so we wanted to take advantage of the conditions and get it all done in a few hours.

Picton Castle’s sails are made of cotton canvas.  This means that when they get wet, and particularly when they’re stowed wet, they start to mildew which causes them to rot.  In order to prevent this, we have to dry the sails.  When the sails are bent on and we have a big crew, it’s easy.  We just go aloft, loose the sails from the gaskets that secure them to the yards, shake them out and let them hang in their gear, then the sun and wind do their work to dry the canvas.  At the end of the day, we stow the dry sails again.  When the ship will be in port for an extended stay and we have a small crew, rather than constantly drying sails we simply send them down and stow them away in a dry storage place.  It’s one less thing for the crew to look after, and allows us to turn our attention to other projects aboard.  It has the added benefit of allowing us to do proper inspections and inventory of our sail collection, making note of the condition of each sail and any repairs that may be required.

By mid afternoon, all sails were stowed away properly below decks.  We had a ceremony aboard where everyone officially signed off, receiving their sea service certificates.  Particularly for the cadets who sailed with us this summer from the Nova Scotia Community College’s Nautical Institute, these certificates are valuable.  To earn certifications as a mariner, classroom work is important but documented hands-on practice aboard ships is also essential.  These cadets will return to class this September with a significant portion of their required sea time earned.

Over the next few days, crew packed their sea bags and dispersed by car, plane and train, on to their next adventures.  We have a small crew still aboard, working away at various projects including preparations for the Bosun School which begins next week.  We’re looking forward to welcoming a number of young aspiring mariners who are coming to spend three months in Lunenburg in a land-based skills development program.  They’ll do a combination of classroom learning and hands-on practice (with heavy emphasis on hands-on practice), covering a wide variety of seamanship topics.  We’ll bring you more updates on Bosun School and what the students are doing throughout the next three months while they’re here studying in Lunenburg.


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Captain’s Log – 30 August, 2016

At 2230 this evening Picton Castle dropped anchor in Rose Bay, in the same spot we lay four months and a little under 10,000 nautical miles ago. Quite a contrast to the blustery cold morning when we set out into the North Atlantic in May, the ship now lays calm and still, the only noise around being the occasional low rumble of the long northwest swell rolling into the other side of the bay. The peace and the long glow of the anchor light on the water gives us our last moment to reflect with the ship, a lot of miles coved this summer and a lot of sailing.

We left another secluded harbour early this morning, at sunrise, sailing off the hook. Gliding out with sail set to the t’gallants, we got under way from Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia where we had holed up for a night to let a fresh southwest wind blow through before continuing down the coast. Having been anchored there for the better part of a day we got a head start on down rigging soon to follow, down came the royal yards, off with the mainsail, upper staysails and gaff topsail.

Sailing off in the morning was the perfect way to have our last sail of the voyage, and we have been lucky the last week, every time we got sailing we were sure it was going to be the last chance. Crossing the Gulf of St. Lawrence with every stitch set going 6kts with a quartering breeze and a lovely sunny day, or running out of Toronto down Lake Ontario at 8kts sailing all the way up into the mouth of the river and sliding in under Sodus Point late at night under a clear starry sky.

Thing got pretty busy at the end of our west bound Atlantic crossing, one last gale off Cape Breton shot us up into the Cabot Strait, then around into Caraquet, New Brunswick. After a short stop we went screaming out of Chauler Bay under topsails after sailing off the hook, then up into the St. Lawrence River, for a stop to enjoy the old world feel of Quebec City and then on up through the Seaway to the new world of Toronto.

And so now we sit with just the occasional shuffle of the anchor, watch diligently looking after the ship, to reflect on all the different moods we have seen in the ship; crossing the Grand Banks in the fog, up and down with the sails, studding sail booms and yards, sailing on the same tack set to the royals for two weeks strait, short tacking the ship out of the roads leaving La Rochelle, 50 people busy about the ship then only 22 crew, getting the ship through 15 locks and another flurry of activity for a special project in Toronto, sperm whales quietly swimming across the path of the ship and humpbacks breaching in heavy weather off Cape Breton, the roar of the gales in the rig to the still calm of a quite anchorage.

At anchor in Rose Bay - Photo by Grant Oxner (thank you!)

At anchor in Rose Bay – Photo by Grant Oxner (thank you!)


Tomorrow morning we heave up the anchor one more time and work the ship back into her berth in Lunenburg harbour and the voyage is complete. Many of our cadets are right off back to school with some of the best seatime a young mariner could hope for. A few crew will stick around to get the down rigging complete and then Picton Castle will go into drydock for some much deserved love. And in a few months time a new group of people will come onboard to bring her back to life again and begin in the ship the next voyage to come.

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