Captain's Log

Archive for February, 2018

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Passage to Bermuda

There is nothing quite like a ship on a mission to get people focused. The mission: get Picton Castle to Bermuda, and at that this crew has done well. It’s no easy task to load a ship in the dead of winter and prepare for going to sea. Everything takes just that much longer, from having to wait to open the hatch when the freezing rain stops to pulling out the fire hoses and immersion suits for drills in the snow. While we certainly could have completed our fit-out in Lunenburg it will be far more effective to get her ready for the next year’s sailing here in Bermuda, she needs paint after a winter’s lay-up and attention to detail in the rigging is much easier to come by when one is not so concerned about how cold your fingers and toes are.

After the ship was in all aspects made ready for sea the crew spent some time at anchor doing drills and familiarizing themselves with the ship’s safety gear. This is very important at anytime before putting to sea but especially now as the consequences are much higher at this time of year.

We all knew from the outset that this would be a motor sailing trip, the North Atlantic is no place to mess around this time of year. Having some sail on the vessel though helps a lot, with both speed and steadying out her sea motion. The windows of opportunity for good weather can be narrow so when you get one there is no time to doddle. Fortunately we had a good weather window and made best use of it. Northerly winds pushing us with topsails set and the main engine thumping along, Picton Castle raced down the Nova Scotia coast at 8 to 9 knots. The biggest concern upon departure is to watch the low pressure systems coming off the mid Atlantic coast, these can bring very strong conditions and contrary winds. But once past, a northerly or northwesterly wind will fill in and provide a few days of fair conditions, as the coasters called it “a good chance along”.

The prevailing winds along the coast are from the usually from the southwest and once any northerly wind has gone you can expect the southwest to come in again after, and as such it almost always makes sense to head off in that direction. With our fair wind we ran along the edge of the George’s Bank and off toward southern New England, while it was quite cold it was at least sunny, a little bit of sun on your face goes a long way in the chill wind.

Even with what little sail handling we had to do, it gives you great appreciation for those who had to do these things for a living. As we skirt the edge of the George’s Bank, pulling on icy ropes and frozen sails it’s hard not to think about the fishermen and their schooners that plied these banks in the winter.

As forecasted, the wind veered to the west by the time we were about 120nm to the SSE of Cape Cod, and early in the morning the crew got the ship around on to the starboard tack and off we went to the south.

As the seas began to build with the fresh westerly winds, the crew kept busy making sure the ship, all of her gear and cargo, stayed sea stowed. Once anything starts to move it can be hard to get control of it again and the first sea conditions we experience after loading the ship is a good time to make sure nothing gets started. Before the seas built too much we also took the opportunity to rig up some of our extra safety gear, grab ropes to hang onto and extra lashings about the deck and on the boats. Bumpy as it was for a little while, we sped along a a good clip and late in the morning the wind and sea began to ease.

The concern to navigate is the Gulf Stream, the most remarkable current in the northern hemisphere. This massive volume of water flowing in places at a speed of up to 4 knots starts in the Straits of Florida and lesser Antilles continues up the east coast to north of the Carolinas (Cape Hatteras) and fans out into the North Atlantic bringing warm water to the Azores and as far away as Southern Europe. Coming down from the north, as we are, in the cold southerly flowing waters of the Labrador current, the Gulf Stream is a well defined change from dull green water to that of deep indigo blue, that beautiful and defining feature of ‘blue water sailing’. This ‘wall’ between warm and cold water has an effect on the weather, it can create squall lines and the strong flow of the current can cause seas to heap up and become quite steep. The best way to cross the Stream is far enough to the west that the current can be used to your advantage and with a fair wind or calm.

By late Saturday afternoon we crossed into the north wall of the Gulf Stream, quite suddenly the water temp jumped up to 23°C, the air became warm and moist, and the current took us racing off at speeds of up to 12 knots over the bottom. This of course was a welcome change to the crew, who quickly were in short sleeves and barefoot on deck with the warm water rushing around their feet.

Some mild rain and squalls persisted through the night and as we left the main part of the Stream behind the sea smoothed out and skies cleared. Sunday morning found the ship scooting along, still motor-sailing, in a calm sea and beautiful warm sunny day. We made good enough time that we were able shut the main engine down for the first time since leaving Lunenburg and enjoyed an afternoon of sailing. All hands came out to soak up the warmth and feel the easy sailing motion through the water as opposed to the charging along we had been doing under power.

But as the wind slacked off in the evening we fired up again, bound for Bermuda the following afternoon.

We could not have asked for a nicer afternoon for our arrival in Bermuda, a sunny day with a warm 12 knot breeze and small seas around the outside of the reef. As we were somewhat early for the pilot station we took a few hours to go sailing around the north side of the reefs that surround much of Bermuda. We called all hands and the crew put in a good effort getting cleaned up and ready for port.

The Schooner Spirit of Bermuda, under the command of Captain Michael Moreland (former Captain and Chief Mate in Picton Castle) came out sailing to escort us in. Always great to see a familiar face upon entering port.

At 1530 we boarded the pilots, fired up the main engine, took in sail and brought the ship’s head to wind and for the ‘town cut’. Twenty minutes later it was through the cut and into St George’s Harbour were we tied up behind the Norwegian full-rigger Christian Radich, also in for a stop over at Penno’s wharf. It created quite a classic sight with yards and masts of two square riggers springing up over the old town of St George’s with a Bermuda sloop sitting at anchor in the harbour.

With the ship all secure alongside the crew can take satisfaction in having made a good passage in the winter North Atlantic and turn to getting the ship painted and fully rigged. In two weeks time we’ll be ready to put to sea again, doing what we do best in the ship, sailing for the horizon.

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Hello Bermuda!

Picton Castle arrived in Bermuda on Monday afternoon! After meeting the pilot to bring the ship in to St. George’s harbour through the Town Cut, Picton Castle tied up at Penno’s Wharf in St. George’s.

Longtime friend and crew member of Picton Castle, Paulina Brooks, who is from Bermuda, took these photos of the ship’s arrival and shared them with us, so we’re sharing them with you.

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Day’s Run – February 26, 2018

Land Ho! Sighted Gibb Hill, Bermuda just after noon today. Its been a good passage and we are all looking forward to seeing our friends in Bermuda. A beautiful star filled night at sea last night and another bright and sunny day today. We should be entering the Town Cut at St. George’s, Bermuda late this afternoon and be tied up shortly thereafter. Hello Bermuda.

Date: 26 February 2018
Noon Position: 32°41.0’N, 064°48.0’W
Course + Speed: SxE, 7.9kts
Wind direction + Force: WxS, F 4
Swell Height + Direction: 1m, WxS
Weather: Clear and Sunny
Day’s Run: 185nm
Passage Log: 873nm
Distance to Port: 23nm
Voyage: 1020nm

The Mate spots land

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Day’s Run – February 25, 2018

What a change! Yesterday afternoon came with our much anticipated crossing of the Gulf Stream. Even when you have crossed in and out of this current before it is always a surprise just how quickly the world around you can change. Very suddenly the water temp shot up to 24°C and the air turned warm and moist. At about the same time Picton Castle was caught by the current, we went from motor sailing at 8kts speed over ground to about 12kts over ground and gained a few more points of leeway as well! Though the afternoon was overcast and squally the change in climate was most welcome to all hands, including ship’s cat Fiji who has finally emerged from under the mass of covers she had been hiding under.

This morning the clouds cleared and the west wind picked up again and we really feel like we are back to blue water sailing, the first flying fish came onboard this morning and the crew are in short sleeves. Today is Sunday, so no ship’s work apart from the normal watch routine and ship’s cook Donald takes a much deserved break. The meals are being prepared by the watches and they are doing well at putting out some good food.

As good a passage as it has been it feels like it will be all too short in the end, Bermuda is just over the horizon and we will be making port in the next couple of days to continue our fit out work for the Gulf of Mexico. It will be a busy time but Bermuda is a great place that has always treated the ship well and we have many good friends there.

Being as we have made such good time on the passage we are going to be able to shut down the main engine for a while this afternoon and get to enjoy a little bit of sailing in the warm breeze and deep blue waters.

Date: 25 February 2018
Noon Position: 35°18.6’N, 066°45.0’W
Course + Speed: SxW, 9.0kts
Wind direction + Force: WxS, F 5
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, W
Weather: Clear and Sunny
Day’s Run: 217nm
Passage Log: 648nm
Distance to Port: 205nm
Voyage: 831nm

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Day’s Run – February 24, 2018

We had our wind shift overnight as expected and early this morning got the ship turned to the South with a fresh West wind. The crew did a good job in the early morning hours getting sail back on to speed us along in our passage and steady out the ship’s motion. Though the sun isn’t out today it’s a lot warmer than it has been, no longer icy water crossing the deck but a much more pleasant 15°C. The swell height being up with the fresh west winds, the crew have been spending most of the watches checking that the ship has remained sea-stowed and that no gear has become adrift. This sort of weather doesn’t deter ship’s cook Donald a bit, steak for dinner last night and plenty of hot food at every meal.
We anticipate crossing into the Gulf Stream this afternoon, which will bring even warmer temperatures, a welcome change for all hands. Until then we are still just getting into the ship’s routines and remembering what it’s like to be at sea again. Nothing around, no land, no other ships just Picton Castle and her crew in our own little world.

Date: 24 February 2018
Noon Position: 38°39.8’N, 068°25.3’W
Course + Speed: SxW, 7.8kts
Wind direction + Force: W, F 5
Swell Height + Direction: 3m, W
Weather: Overcast
Day’s Run: 156nm
Passage Log: 428nm
Distance to Port: 420nm
Voyage: 611nm

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Day’s Run – February 23, 2018

Another clear and cold morning dawned on the Eastern edge of the George’s Bank as Picton Castle makes her way to the southwest. Cold as it was this morning the day has warmed to about 8°C and the sun feels good as we are motorsailing along under topsails and the foresail. Many of the crew are up and about the rig on this beautiful day, moving buntline blocks into their proper position and finishing up some odds and ends in the rig to prepare for bending more sail in the near future. Also of importance on a day like today is to continue getting the ship cleaned up and the ‘land’ washed off of her after a winter’s lay-up. We are expecting the wind of veer to the west overnight and this will turn us back to the southeast to line up for crossing the Gulf Stream and on to Bermuda.

Date: 23 February 2018
Noon Position: 40°52.1’N, 066°44.9’W
Course + Speed: SWxS, 8.4kts
Wind direction + Force: NE, F 4
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, NNE
Weather: Clear and Sunny
Day’s Run: 198nm
Passage Log: 241nm
Distance to Port: 518nm
Voyage: 424nm

Sunrise on George’s Bank

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Day’s Run – February 22, 2018

Picton Castle hove up anchor from Rose Bay this morning just before sunrise. Having left our berth in Lunenburg yesterday afternoon with all systems go, we are on our way to Bermuda. The crew spent the last few days bending on more sail to speed our passage along and enjoyed some unseasonably warm temperatures. It’s cold out now but all onboard are looking forward to the Gulf Stream and the warm water it brings with it. For now there is a fair wind stretching the topsails, the B&W Alpha main engine is rhythmically thumping away and we are leaving the coast behind. Farewell to Nova Scotia!

Date: 22 February 2018
Noon Position: 43°41.6’N, 064°31.4’W
Course + Speed: SWxS 1/2S, 7.5kts
Wind direction + Force: NNW, F 2
Swell Height + Direction: 2m, SW
Weather: Clear and Sunny
Day’s Run: 40nm
Log: 40nm
Distance to Port: 677nm
Voyage: 223nm

Sunrise in Rose Bay

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Here We Go Again

Picton Castle got underway this afternoon, bound for Bermuda. If that sounds familiar, it should. We also got underway for Bermuda last Thursday. Let me explain.

This past Thursday, Picton Castle got underway from her wharf in our beautiful home base of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. There was quite a crowd on the dock to send the ship off including Lunenburg mayor Rachel Bailey and local MLA Suzanne Lohnes-Croft. This was to be the last time Picton Castle would be present in Lunenburg for almost a year and a half. The ship got off the wharf at 4:00pm as scheduled and went out to anchor in the harbour for the night.

On Friday, the crew were busy all day with safety drills and the last of the task of stowing and securely lashing everything down for sea. Late Friday, Picton Castle got underway, sailed past the lighthouse at the end of Battery Point, and left the harbour. She went as far as Rose Bay where she anchored overnight again, waiting for the weather window that would bring good conditions for departure on Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning, Picton Castle got underway from Rose Bay, bound for St. George’s, Bermuda. The plan was to stay close to the Nova Scotia shore in order to put the ship in a good position to pick up the northwest winds after a low pressure system passed us by. By Saturday afternoon, it became apparent that there was a mechanical issue. The Captain and crew started to diagnose the problem, figuring out the scope of the problem and how to fix it. By Saturday evening, the decision was made to turn back to Lunenburg. The ship was not far from the Nova Scotia coast and still in Canadian waters. Had it been a summer-weather passage, we would likely have continued on to Bermuda, finding and fixing the problem while underway under sail. But winter in the North Atlantic is a different story. We played it safe and turned back for Lunenburg. On the way back, we found and fixed the problem (a leaky hose).

Picton Castle arrived in Lunenburg on Sunday morning in order to do a double-check of all systems and to find the next window of fair weather for a passage to Bermuda. The crew were in good spirits, all still eager to get to warmer weather in Bermuda. Even Chief Cook Donald, who is from the sunny, tropical Caribbean island of Grenada, didn’t seem too bothered by seeing some more snow.

Fast forward to this afternoon, when Picton Castle got underway for Bermuda for the second time in a week. She left without fanfare this time, just our shore crew to cast off the lines and a few onlookers who were in the right place at the right time to see her off. Picton Castle is anchored in Rose Bay this evening, staying overnight then will set sail tomorrow for Bermuda. The feeling of anticipation amongst the crew before a big voyage was just as strong today as it was last Thursday.

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Returning to Lunenburg

Because of a mechanical issue, Picton Castle is returning to our wharf in Lunenburg. The ship was close to home, still in Canadian waters, so we figured it is easiest and better to head back instead of working at sea this time of year to make the fix. The crew and cat are all well, and the ship is fine. We expect it to take a couple of days to resolve the issue, then we’ll set sail for Bermuda again in the next weather window.

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Day’s Run – February 17, 2018

First day of the Gulf voyage 2018! Started the day with sunshine, heaved up and got under way at 07:30, bound for Bermuda. Sailing southwest with clear skies, it’s beautiful but cold with icicles forming on the rails. Everyone is as bundled up as possible trying to stay warm, and consuming an extreme amount of tea and hot chocolate.

Date: February 17, 2018
Noon Position: 43°52.8’N-064°34.9’W
Course + Speed: SW 7kts
Wind direction + Speed: NWxN, F 5
Swell Height + Direction: 1/2m, NWxN
Weather: Clear with freezing spray
Day’s Run: 41nm
Log: 41nm
Distance to Port: 686nm
Voyage: 41nm

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