Captain's Log

Archive for October, 2016

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Captain’s Log: Introduction to Sailmaking – Ditty Bags

One of the best first projects for any beginner sailmaker is a ditty bag.  What is a ditty bag and why would one want to make one, you ask?

Well, a ditty bag is a canvas bag, typically shaped like a cylinder, that’s used to hold a sailor’s tools.  We have no idea why it’s called a ditty bag, it just always has been.  On Picton Castle, we typically make the bottom of the bag out of wood cut into a circle to help give the bag some structure and durability, but the bottom could just as easily be canvas or leather.

By making a ditty bag, a sailor not only get a practical bag in which to keep their tools, they also get an introduction to a variety of concepts and skills required for making sails.

The first step is to measure and cut the canvas.  What eventually becomes a cylinder starts as a rectangle, with extra width and height added for amount of canvas that will be folded over for the seam and the tabling.  Next, the short edges are folded under and rubbed to make a crease.  The canvas is then made into a cylinder and the two ends are seamed together.

This is, for many sailors, the first time they use a needle and a palm.  A palm is like a thimble for the palm of your hand, worn around your hand, with a metal surface that can push the end of the needle through the canvas.  Palms come in right- and left-handed versions and varying grades of sturdiness.


On a sail, the tabling, which is an extra layer of canvas around the perimeter of the sail, is a separate piece of canvas sewn on.  When making a ditty bag, the tabling is made by simply folding over the top of the bag and sewing it down.

The next step is to add two small grommets where the becket (the handle) will be attached.  We make the grommets ourselves out of waxed marline, wrapping strands of it together in a circle then using a fid (a cone-shaped tool) to shape them into a circle.  The grommets are then stitched into the tabling on opposite sides.

Then it’s time to make a big grommet for the top of the bag.  This grommet is usually made of manila rope and must be made to fit exactly.  Canvas sails typically have roping around the outside of the sail to help give the sail strength and structure.  The large grommet around the opening of the top of the cylindrical bag does the same.  Once the grommet fits exactly, it gets sewn on.


The last step before attaching the bottom is to make the becket, or the handle of the bag.  It’s typically made of manila rope as well, and the length is chosen by the individual depending on how they want to use their bag.  Some choose a long becket so they can wear their bag across their body and take it aloft into the rigging, others prefer a shorter becket so their bag can be carried by hand or possibly looped over one shoulder.  The becket needs to go through both grommets, then has an eye spliced in each end.  We like to use the sailmaker’s splice, a splice that goes with the lay, on beckets so that sailors can learn another splice that’s useful in sailmaking.  The splices are then served to strengthen and protect them, and to make the bag look more finished.



As I mentioned earlier, we typically make the bottom out of wood cut into a circle.  There’s more measuring and cutting involved, a bit of sanding and applying something to protect the wood, then the canvas is turned under at the bottom, the wood circle is placed into the bag and the canvas is nailed to the wood.

Bosun School students started their ditty bags on Saturday morning and finished them on Monday as part of their current focus on sailmaking.







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Captain’s Log – Wire Splicing

Last week, after having served a number of footropes, Bosun School students moved on to wire splicing.  Specifically, splicing an eye into the end of a wire rope.

There are a number of uses aboard a ship for a wire rope eye.  Aboard Picton Castle, we have wire sheet pennants for many of our fore and aft sails, our brace pennants are made of wire, there are wire guys connected to the davits, and the clewlines on some of the heavier sails have wire rope components.  So, it’s very useful for a mariner to be able to splice wire.

The splice the Bosun School students were working on is the Liverpool eye splice.  This is a splice that goes with the lay.  Students started by setting up the wire in a vice to hold it steady, tying the ends to the classroom ceiling so they were held straight up and seizing the two pieces of wire together to form the eye.  Then, with the use of a large marlinspike, strands of the rope were separated and other strands woven in to form the splice.  When it was finished, ends were cut off.

Captain Moreland says that someone with experience and lots of practice should be able to do ten of these per day.  Our Bosun School students are working on their second or third wire splices in as many days, so more practice to come.

wire splicing - photo by Melissa Boulanger

wire splicing – photo by Melissa Boulanger

wire splicing - photo by Melissa Boulanger

wire splicing – photo by Melissa Boulanger

wire splicing - photo by Melissa Boulanger

wire splicing – photo by Melissa Boulanger


wire splicing - photo by Melissa Boulanger

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Captain’s Log – Introduction to Sailmaking

Captain Moreland started the sailmaking section of the Bosun School by explaining the shape of a headsail and how to do a first layout of one of these sails.  Bosun School students will start their hands-on practice by making a ditty bag (more on that later), then will learn how to repair sails, and will lay out a new headsail.


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Captain’s Log – Rigging And Yards

With Picton Castle in drydock, the Bosun School students are working on yards and rigging.

As you may remember from previous Captain’s Logs, we sent down all yards on the fore and main masts except the course yards.  Picton Castle’s royal and t’gallant yards are made of wood, her upper and lower topsail yards (as well as course yards) are made of steel.  Students have been working on overhauling the steel yards, busting the rust as necessary and preparing the yards for coatings.  Niko and Ashling were working on applying a product called Blue Steel, which is a rust converter primer (not to be confused with the Zoolander pose of the same name).20161013_14294420161013_142821-resized

All of the standing rigging was removed from the yards and taken into the warehouse for overhaul.  Bosun School students have had lessons in worming, parceling and serving.  We worm, parcel and serve in order to protect wire or rope from corrosion and chafe.  It’s easier, less expensive and more practical to replace the service that protects the wire rope than to replace the wire rope itself.  Worming fills the channels between the strands of wire rope with lengths of smaller line, parceling means to cover the rope and worming with thin strips of light cotton material (we sometimes use thin canvas or even old bedsheets) wrapped around them, then serving covers the whole thing in tightly wrapped tarred marline.





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Captain’s Log 10 October, 2016 – Drydock Continues …

Picton Castle has now been in drydock for a week.  The ship was hauled out last Monday at the Lunenburg Foundry for routine maintenance.  We haul the ship out of the water every two years in order to inspect, clean and overhaul the hull and the through-hull fittings.  She’s awfully impressive out of the water, there’s a lot more ship under the waterline than you might imagine! 20161004_162311_resized

Bosun School students did a walk around the outside of the hull last Monday with Captain Moreland, as he pointed out a number of interesting features and ran down the work list.  Since then, the hull has been pressure washed to remove the marine growth, the old zinc anodes have been removed, epoxy primer has been spot painted on to the small areas where there was bare steel and we’ve done testing of the thickness of the steel hull.  Through-hull fittings have been removed for cleaning and overhaul, and seacock valves have also been removed for the same reason.  While out of the water, Picton Castle is also having her annual survey. 20161003_155022-reduced

It’s now Thanksgiving Monday in Lunenburg and the workers at the Lunenburg Foundry are enjoying a holiday.  It’s raining today, but weather looks fair for the next few days which should allow work to continue on the hull.

To celebrate Thanksgiving, Captain Moreland hosted a dinner for the Bosun School crew at his home on Sunday night.  We all have so much to be thankful for!

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How to Rust Bust Steel Yards

While Picton Castle is in drydock, Bosun School students have been carrying on with projects related to Picton Castle’s yards. All yards except the course yards were sent down last week.

Picton Castle’s royal and t’gallant yards (the top two yards on both the foremast and mainmast) are made of wood. The upper and lower topsail yards, as well as the course yards, are made of steel.

The steel yards need to have the rust removed, first by chipping hammer, then by wire brush, then possibly by powered wire wheel or sanding disc. Alternately, sandblasting would do the same thing (and probably even a better job of it) but on a ship at sea, sandblasting is not an option.

Captain Moreland gave the Bosun School a lesson this morning on how to properly use a chipping hammer.



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Picton Castle Goes Into Drydock

With the high tide on the morning of Monday October 3, 2016, Picton Castle was hauled out of the water on the marine railway at the Lunenburg Foundry.  We take the ship out of the water every two years so we can clean, inspect and repaint the hull.  The last time Picton Castle drydocked was in Fiji in the summer of 2014, so it’s time to do it again.

Most of the drydockings we have done have been in Lunenburg at the Lunenburg Foundry.  There are different methods used at different shipyards to get ships out of the water, at the Lunenburg Foundry they use a marine railway.  There is a set of tracks on an inclined plane that goes from the shore into the water and a cradle that goes up and down the tracks.  To prepare for the ship’s arrival, the shipyard sent the cradle down the track into the water.20161003_114630

At high tide, we brought Picton Castle to the cradle and positioned the ship in the middle of the cradle.  Because we’ve worked with this shipyard so many times, they know the shape of Picton Castle’s hull and had already set up blocks on the deck of the cradle.  With the help of scuba divers, the shipyard makes sure the ship is properly aligned over the keel blocks.  Once the ship is in the exact right spot, the cradle starts to move up the track on the inclined plane.  Just as the weight of the ship starts to sit on the keel blocks, the cradle is stopped and the shipyard workers use pulleys to move the bilge blocks in towards the hull so they’re supporting the ship at the turn of the bilge.  With bilge blocks in place, the cradle moves up the track again, being pulled by a very large chain.  Eventually the cradle, holding the ship, is fully out of the water at the top of the track.

Picton Castle out of the water is an impressive sight to see.  I’m always amazed at how much ship there is below the waterline.  As Captain Moreland explained to the Bosun School yesterday, Picton Castle has the lines of a medium clipper.  Although she began her life as a motor vessel, it was her lines that attracted him to her because the shape of the hull is that of a sailing ship.20161003_120212-reduced

On a tour of the ship’s hull with the Bosun School, Captain Moreland pointed out a few features of the hull that aren’t visible from above the water.  The first thing he noted is that Picton Castle’s hull is made of steel that has been riveted together.  Riveting was the accepted way of fastening a steel hull until about the 1940s, when welding was found to be far quicker.  Picton Castle’s hull is about 99% original steel from 1928 and in that time, only about 12 rivets have ha d to be welded over to repair them.  We will gauge the thickness of the steel in various places around the hull in order to make sure it continues to be in good condition.

There are zinc anodes that are bolted to the hull.  The zinc protects the rest of the hull by attracting any corrosion, so they’re basically installed in order to be sacrificed.  As we expected, most of the zinc anodes will have to be replaced.  We use bolted-on anodes rather than welded-on anodes so they could be replaced while the ship is in the water, if necessary.

On both sides of the hull, there are long narrow strips of steel that run along the length of the hull.  They would have been used to protect the hull when the ship was hauling fishing and minesweeping gear.  There are a few places where you can see marks in the steel that look like long gouges made by equipment being dragged up.  The rails would have been added to help prevent the gear from scraping up the side of the hull.20161003_155006

Picton Castle has a number of through-hull fittings.  There are places where water needs to come in and out through the hull.  Water comes in to cool the main engine and goes back out again, water comes in to go through our watermaker which desalinates it and makes it drinkable.  The fittings where the water comes in and out will all be removed, cleaned, inspected and reinstalled while the ship is out of the water.

The propeller on Picton Castle is about five and a half feet in diameter and has three blades.  By the construction of the place where the propeller fits, it’s easy to see that the ship had a larger propeller at one time.  Our current propeller is a controllable pitch propeller, which means that each blade on the propeller turns in order to control the direction the propeller is pushing the ship while the propeller continues to spin in the same direction (as opposed to the blades being fixed and the whole propeller stopping and spinning in the other direction in order to change the direction of the ship’s movement).  While having the propeller blades sticking out slows us down when sailing, having the option to turn on the engine to move the ship is very helpful in some situations.

The rudder post is straight up and down, so when the wheel turns, the rudder turns from side to side.  In addition to the post, as a safety backup, there are chains that connect the rudder to the hull, although Captain Moreland says he can’t imagine a situation where the rudder would come off the post.

Every time we haul Picton Castle out of the water, there is always some growth of marine life on the hull.  Since our last drydocking, we have had the hull cleaned twice by divers using underwater pressure washers.  We’ve also recently been in fresh water in the Great Lakes, which kills off a lot of the salt water organisms.  Even with that, there is some growth on the hull, but not much.  The first job the shipyard workers will do is pressure wash the hull to clean it entirely so we can inspect it and then prepare to paint it.  The first coat will be epoxy primer, followed by two coats of anti-fouling bottom paint which will help prevent marine organisms from growing again.20161003_121012-reduced

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