Captain's Log

Archive for May, 2017

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Good Sailing

Friday May 26, 2017

After a boisterous few days under sail in strong conditions first light broke with a clear sky this morning, our first since Picton Castle set out from Charleston after an excellent meeting of Tall Ships there. With the ship quietly rolling along under tops’ls and the fores’l at about 5.5 knots the watch on deck is busy going about the routine tasks of hauling tight braces and halyards and breaking down the heavy weather safety gear that we have had rigged the last few days. Also with the moderation in weather comes the chance to set more sail and just as the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon the order was given to set t’gallants. After getting the tops’l yards to full hoist, the t’gallant sheets hauled home to the ends of the tops’l yards and the halyards hoisted up to stretch out the canvas, our ship is running along at 6 to 6.5 knots over blue seas and a brilliant clear day. Good sailing indeed.

Good sailing we have had this trip. After taking on fuel and final provisions Tuesday morning at the Charleston Maritime Center we took our departure from the Charleston entrance channel and as of this morning have covered some 390 nautical miles on our way to Bermuda. The first night and next day were spent running from squalls and observing some spectacular lighting displays, the watches were kept busy hauling on braces as the wind shifted with the squalls. As we sailed across the continental shelf and out into the warm waters of the Gulf Stream the wind and seas began to build, force 6, gusting to force 7 at times. Despite the conditions, the crew is happy to be sailing the ship, especially those who remember what it was like to be pulling at the lee fore sheet in much colder water. Several of the crew were on board last summer when we made our fast passage to France and crossed the Grand Banks to a tune of 0°C for the water temperature, it’s 25°C now!

Wednesday evening in preparation for even stronger conditions the crew set up the rest of our heavy weather safety gear, grab ropes along the deck, nets between the lee rigging and breezeway as well as an extra tarp and straps for the cargo hatch. By early morning Thursday we were snug down to lower tops’ls and the fores’l running along with the seas at 9 knots plus. Picton Castle rides well in this weather and after all is said and done one can really appreciate sailing in a well found ship with a good crew making a fast passage.

The gale force conditions did not last long however and in the afternoon we were able to again set upper tops’ls. During all of this the officers and lead seaman have been busy with the new hands focused on learning the ship, it can be quite overwhelming to learn all the lines, rigging and commands that go into making a ship like this work. Throw in some weather right out of the gate and it can double the challenge, but the experienced hands have done a good job showing the new people ‘the ropes’, and everybody has progressed well in the last few days.

Now that the weather is looking better and better we are excited to get more sail bent on and continue to get the ship shined up for our arrival in Bermuda were we will meet up with the rest of the tall ships fleet sailing over from Europe. But for the time being it is good to appreciate being out at sea in our own little world, working our ship steadily along, bound for nowhere at the moment but the horizon.

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Departing Charleston

By Allison Steele

Tuesday May 23, 2017

After a 10 day passage the crew were excited to stop at our first port of call this summer and join an international fleet of tall ships in Charleston South Carolina, USA.  The Picton Castle saw over 3,000 visitors during the three-day event and reveled in the attention.  It was a very hot and humid weekend but the crew happily answered countless questions from “where do you eat?” (usually on the Aloha Deck unless its poor weather) to “where do you sleep?” (we have four cabins and four larger bunk-style sleeping areas) to “what is your cat’s name?” (Fiji).  During festivals there is still plenty of work to be done but crew are given rotating days off so that we can have time to run errands, connect with family and friends as well as check out the local sites and experience the true Southern hospitality Charleston is famous for!

Several of the crew strolled along the market walk downtown and enjoyed a bit of shopping, architecture, and patios while others stayed close to the ships and met crew from other ships, trading “fish stories” and the like.  As the tall ship community is somewhat small, if you have sailed on the Picton Castle before there is a good chance you will know someone in port and if not then you will surely make new friends to visit throughout the summer!

We took on six new crew members at this port and they have hit the ground running.  Some are already mariners and others are brand new.  Even with experience aboard other ships, each vessel is unique but the basics are the same.  Before leaving port the new crew received a general orientation, safety drills, up and over training (for those interested in going aloft) and hearty welcome.

And now we race to Bermuda!  Festivals often feature a race between ports and although we may not be the fastest ship, we live up to our slogan “We may be slow but we get around.”

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Captain’s Log – 14 May, 2017 – Along the Coast of North Carolina

Written by Purser Allison Steele

Waking at 0700 to a beaming sun was a far cry from the overcast and rainy morning of yesterday. Gone were the 10-foot swells and foul weather gear as some crew donned shorts and sandals today and spent extra time during their off watch to pitch in on deck. A ship like Picton Castle, with all her miles at sea requires perpetual maintenance and care. If we treat her well she will take us far.

Today the crew is bending sails on the fore mast. The process of bending on sail takes many hands, the crew is excited to participate. The sail is hoisted by hand, block and tackle, up to its yard. The crew will spread out along the yard and fasten the sail by hand using sturdy bits of rope or ‘robands’. Although everyone is harnessed in and clipped in while aloft, common sense and communication are first and foremost. Bending on sail is not a daily occurrence and is only done when the sails are sent down for repair or maintenance so it’s a great opportunity for the crew to get some practice working aloft. Many hands make light work!

As we sail on a SWxS course towards Charleston, South Carolina, we are passing by Cape Hatteras that is famous for her tricky weather. The Captain explained how the remnants of the cold Labrador current are squeezed between land and the much warmer Gulf Stream. Combining this clash of ocean temperatures with the accompanying air currents makes a recipe for some challenging conditions. Fortunately today we are blessed with a nice brisk breeze and minimal swells, perfect for sailing!

Just after lunch today we had some excitement on the aloha deck (at the rear of the ship) as our fishing line had hooked a small Great White Shark! We often fish while at sea much to the delight of our wonderful cook, Donald, as he is known for his ability to whip up a wonderful meal of Wahoo, Tuna or Mahi Mahi but today’s catch was released back into the ocean to continue on. Cue the Jaws soundtrack.

The crew is excited to be sailing. The sound of the waves has replaced the dull thud of our diesel engine and the sun has broken through the days of overcast sky. It is a good day to sail this beautiful ship.


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Captains Log – 13 May 2017 – Approaching Cape Hatteras

Well, the Picton Castle has had a pretty good run down from Lunenburg, bound for Charleston by way of close in to Cape Hatteras.

We have been under power the whole way, sad to say. We steamed out of Lunenburg and headed southwest to skirt south of George’s Bank east of Cape Cod. We did this to avoid all the busy fishing traffic and strange currents of George’s Bank. Then we kept going like this skirting Nantucket Shoals.

Why? The hint is in the name; “shoals”. Don’t want much to do with shoals.

Now it is getting warmer. 2 degrees Celsius was the sea temperature upon leaving fair Lunenburg and in two days it was 5 degrees. Wow! Now as we are off the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay by about 90 miles the sea temperature is up to 20 Celsius or 65 Fahrenheit – much warmer indeed. But the cold was good for crawling under heaps of covers in your bunk and sleeping cozily.

And we have also skirted just north of the Gulf Stream which sets almost due west near here, did not want to get set to the Azores at a rate of 4 knots, now, do we? No, so we stayed north of that meandering hot water river right in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.

This morning we had a small low-pressure system pass overhead and our strong headwinds became light headwinds and are now veering (aka clocking) around to become a fair sailing breeze. This, of course, is welcome, looks like we can shut down and set sail soon to pass the famous and daunting Cape Hatteras under sail tonight.

Why is this cape so notorious? Well, a lot of factors weigh in. One: the Gulf Stream comes very close in here and the cape sticks pretty far out. And then you have all sorts of weather systems barrelling off the coast. So a cold northeast storm against a hot 4 knot current setting to the ENE is a cauldron of trouble. There is more to it than that, but that’s a good start.

But we have a fair breeze it looks good to slip in between the Stream and the shoals off the Cape for a nice passage south, or so we hope, then around the corner southwest towards Charleston.


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Captain’s Log – 11 May, 2017

By Allison Steele, Purser

As we steam south and westward, towards our rendezvous with other tall ships at Charleston South Carolina, USA, the Picton Castle has shaken out the cobwebs after her winter alongside the wharf in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and is operating as the stout sea-going vessel she is.  Today we are skirting just north of the Gulf Stream towards Virginia Beach where the seas are not as choppy as if we tried to pass through the Gulf Stream.  The weather remains cool but dry and we are looking forward to warmer weather! Water temperatures are going up from about 40 degrees Fahrenheit to now 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

After getting underway and some stowing for sea, we broke into watches which means each crew member is on duty for 4 hours and off for 8 rotating throughout the day. Each watch has specific duties that correspond with the needs of the ship during that time. Every hour a new person from the watch takes the helm and stands lookout. There is much variety to working at sea and at a moment’s notice you may be called upon to help with sail handling taking advantage of a change in wind or course. Night watches are often not as active as during the day but the crew is always on alert for anything that might arise.

During passages, the Captain will conduct workshops to help introduce new skills and yesterday the crew learned about mousings. Mousings are a method of wrapping wire around a shackle or a hook to keep the pin from backing its way out over time, or a hook coming off. Shackles are used throughout the ship and need to be relied on to hold rigging and sails in place so this is an important skill to have. As a training vessel, crew of the Picton Castle are constantly learning and putting these skills into practice. From identifying dolphins coming to investigate the ship to bending on sail, steering and keeping a good lookout, knots and splices to small boat handling, there is always something new to learn and practice.


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Captain’s Log – May 9 2017

Anchored in the beautiful old fishing port of Lunenburg Harbour, Nova Scotia, the Picton Castle crew woke up at 0715 to a cold drizzle and overcast day but spirits were high as we knew we were preparing to get underway and head to sea. We had left our dock and gone to anchor two days ago but high seas had kept us in port, 12 to 16 feet swells were the reports just off the coast and even the lobster boats were staying in the harbour. Kind of rough for starting out. The weather had finally turned more favourable with seas laying down and it was time to head south to Charleston, South Carolina. We had been stowing, lashing and drilling for days. Several crew members have sailed aboard the Picton Castle before, but for others, this is their first time at sea. Assistant Engineer Liz has been working and living aboard the ship for almost nine months now and nothing could beat her smile as we heaved up the anchor and headed for warmer weather!

At 1100 the crew was set to haul up the 1,500 lb port anchor. For some vessels, this is done with the press of a button but on our ship, it is the press of sweat and strong backs using a big iron 100A1 “Norwegian Steam” hand powered anchor windlass. The Picton Castle is steeped in tradition including the fact that “many hands make light work”. With 4-5 people on each side of the windlass, sailors “see-saw” on big iron bars until the anchor breaks off the bottom then comes to the surface of the water and can be stowed. Each up and down motion lifts one link of our very large chain, so with two and a half shots or 230 feet of very heavy chain lifting a very heavy anchor, I’m sure you can imagine the strength required. Often chants break out to help keep momentum but our spirits don’t need for much as a secured anchor means we are heading back out to sea. But as one wiseguy said, “can you imagine how hard it would be without the windlass?”

Today the seas are a bit sloppy after the large seas of yesterday, making for cautious footing but we are starting to get into the ebb and flow of the ship. Soon it will be second nature. Getting used to the new and unfamiliar movement, especially in choppy weather can sometimes take a bit. During our aloft training we learn the importance of three points of contact between yourself and the ship. This also rings true when navigating the decks while she rides over the 4 to 8 foot swells!

To some, this may sound like a lot of work and you are right. But when you stand at the bow of the ship, looking back at the tight-knit unit we’ve become in such a short span of time, every time we have scrubbed the deck or stood at the helm, we are reminded that we are a part of something much greater than just ourselves. We are sailors in a great sailing ship.



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