Captain's Log

Archive for August, 2018

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South Pacific Ocean

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018 – South Pacific Ocean

At 1000 we are at 19-36 South and 161-19 West. Making 7-8 knots under t’gallants in force 6 southeast tradewinds and lumpy ten-foot seas covered with whitecaps. We are about 140 miles from Rarotonga and about halfway to Palmerston Atoll, both in the Cook Islands.

Picton Castle sailed away from Avatiu, Rarotonga yesterday morning just before ten o’clock. Sailed off the dock and out the pass of that small, snug but welcoming harbour and out into a beautiful blue-sky day at sea. Some friends came down to see us off. We had a great stay at Rarotonga for over a week. We had great weather almost the whole time. Many visitors came by. School children from the Avarua School and the Nikao School which now includes the Avatea School came to visit their ship and dance on the hatch too. The Marerro Lions Club donated school supplies while Picton Castle was in New Orleans back in April and they were given to these two schools. We had the kids’ sailing club from over at Muri Lagoon come as well.

What did we all do while at Rarotonga? Well, back at the ship we got all nicely tied up upon arrival, collected mail, painted the topsides, laid out sails on the dock, worked on some deck planks, fiddled and did things in the engine room, took on fuel and water, shopped for food to get us to Fiji, took on cargo for Palmerston, repaired sails, signed off crew whose time was sadly up and signed on new joining crew, and a few returning PC vets in the bunch. Then got going on the multi-day orientation and training with them. This includes a lot of safety stuff, living aboard stuff, how to go aloft securely, initial small boat handling introduction and a few dos and don’ts about life aboard and ashore.

What you really want to know is what the crew did while ashore in Rarotonga, no? I don’t know. Lots to do on Rarotonga. If you like Hawaii, and have thought of maybe going to Tahiti, skip all that and fly straight to Rarotonga. It is the best. I imagine that many of our gang went to Island Night feasts with that fantastic Cook Island dancing. Some rented bikes, scooters or even cars to get around the island. Many went to hear the wonderful singing at church. I am sure many drinking coconuts got consumed – no better drink in the world than a nice fresh green drinking nut. The island is surrounded by lagoon with almost all areas perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

Trader Jacks certainly had its fair share of attendance and with such a view, such a sweet beach and such fine sushi and pizza it is no surprise. Vaiana’s down the road right on the beach found our crew’s custom as well. Great food and music there too. Vaiana’s grandfather was from Pitcairn Island and a good friend of mine. Six-year-old Dawson considers it his own beach. And very family friendly indeed. Night markets here and there found our gang taking part. The big Saturday farmers and craft market was a hit. Some folks went on cross island mountain hikes that end at a cool waterfall. I gather that a few went diving off the reefs.

Tammy and I went to see “Mamma Mia 2”, the ABBA- fest movie at the cinema in Avarua. Dawson went swimming every day. What else? Of course, people had to internet and heaps of laundry got done too. A crew member had a tumble ashore and had to get off the ship for a while to mend his ribs but he is on the mend. Could be worse with all these rented motor scooters. Makes me nervous every time when we are ashore.  But I think what people did mostly was settle into that lovely island pace of life one finds in the South Pacific, maybe it’s the accomplishment of doing nothing?

And now we are on a roller coaster ride of a passage deep in this legendary South Pacific sailing towards Palmerston Atoll. Only 50 or so people live there. Almost all descendants of William Marsters and his three wives who settled there in the 1860s. We should heave-to off the pass early tomorrow. Hopefully to get the hook down and run ashore under the palm trees for some more and different island magic.

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Day’s Run – 29 August, 2018

Picton Castle sails along steadily between 6.5 and 7 knots. As we surf the 12-foot seas towards Palmerston Atoll, another one of the Cook Islands, our minds are still on Rarotonga, having sailed from Avatiu yesterday morning. Our time in Raro was well spent. Crew members enjoyed days at the beach, hikes inland, eventful island nights full of delicious food, dancers and talented musicians. Days off and on the ship were not wasted. The on-duty watches were busy maintaining the ship’s upkeep as well as hosting various visitors. Not too often during the world voyage is the ship alongside, and on top of that we were docked where the ship is well known from previous visits. Sharing our ship, our home for the next 10 months with curious citizens is a pleasure for us sailors. Three mornings we had school groups visit the ship. The school children are fantastic to show around, they’re extremely enthusiastic and want to know every detail about living aboard a ‘pirate ship’.


In Rarotonga we were happy to welcome 8 fresh new faces to our crew, hailing from all over the globe. During our time in Rarotonga the new trainee crew were able to get a lay of the land, get to know the layout of the ship, running safety drills, routine of the ship and do their up and overs (the first exercise aloft, done at their will, no one is made to climb the rigging). Today marks their first 24 hours at sea aboard a square rigger! They’re doing well.  Once the ship is underway she becomes alive. She comfortably rolls with the seas but one has to become accustomed to her lifelike state. Veteran crew members recommend a wide stance, taking it slow and always one hand for you and one for the ship, i.e. always be holding on or have an available hand to grab onto the ship.

Ship’s work: Yesterday our new joiners had a workshop to go over the six knots we most commonly use on board, the protocol of hauling on a line, names of lines and boxing the compass. Today in the warm sun and cool air (at times it feels as though we’re sailing the Atlantic rather than the Pacific) on the quarterdeck sailmaker John stitches the canvas cloths of a new t’gallant, helping him this afternoon is chief mate Erin and second mate Dirk. The all-female rigging team, Vaiufia of Tonga and Anne-Laure of France, are busy prepping and making new ratlines. Later this afternoon the Captain is holding a muster to discuss our visit to Palmerston, where unbelievably we will arrive sometime tomorrow morning. Sadly it’s not enough time to decompress from the “big city” of Rarotonga. It’s hard to imagine that this is the start of Leg 2 for the voyage! These past four months went by way too fast. Good thing our slogan is “we may be slow but we get around!”

From: Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Towards: Palmerston Atoll, Cook Islands
Date: August 29, 2018
Noon Position: 19°27.9′ S x 161°30′ W
Course + Speed: NW 1/2 W + 7kts
Wind direction + Force: ESE + force 6
Swell Height + Direction: 5m + SE
Weather: bright, sunny
Day’s Run: 148 nm
Passage Log:  Same
Distance to Port: 120 nm
Voyage: 8,380 nm
Sails Set: square sails up to t’gallants


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Day’s Run – 16 August, 2018

Beautiful sunny day as our ship motors through glass top still waters. As we inch our way closer and closer to Rarotonga, crew members who are sadly departing us are slowly packing their personal belongings and thinking ahead to their lives outside of our 180′ barque. It’s a very strange feeling that we will be saying goodbye to a handful of crewmates that have now become like family. Greet each other every morning, witness each other’s ups and downs and in the end we’re the few people on this planet that have shared this experience together.

This morning the main mast fife rail was stripped of its lines and pins in order to scrape and sand the wood and the intricate carvings, to then be varnished. The riggers have more serving work to do. Taking over the starboard side of the galley house the rigging team has foot ropes stretched out in order to apply the servings and tar. Serving is the art of very tightly wrapping greasy tarry hemp marline around the wire to protect it from the outside elements. Our sailmaking team stitch away vigorously on a spare outer jib. For all 20 sails we have at least one or two replacements for each sail, some are considered a light wind sail and others are for heavy wind sailing.

Another lovely day aboard the Picton Castle, it’s hard to believe it’s winter here in the South Pacific, yet our daylight isn’t all that long. As we head more westerly the mornings are darker and the evenings are remaining lighter later. When you’re sailing, it’s up to your captain as to when you want to change your ship’s clocks. During long passages, we often change the ships clocks up to 3-4 times. Although there’s an extra hour, the crew do not get a rest, when we’re underway there’s always a watch on duty which consists of a mate, lead seaman and a number of crew members, on deck for four hours. When we change the clocks each watch stands an extra 20 minutes through the night, and by the time it’s morning all of the clocks are reset.

From: Mangareva, French Polynesia
Towards: Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Date: August 16th, 2018
Noon Position: 20°42.5’S x 154°50.7′ W
Course + Speed: WxS + 7 knots
Wind direction + Force: Calm
Swell Height + Direction: 1m + SW
Weather: Bright, sunny
Day’s Run: 169.5nm
Passage Log: 170.7nm
Distance to Port: 277nm
Voyage: 7953.2nm
Sails Set: None, motoring


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Captain’s Log – WOW!

By Arne Stefferud

August 16th, 2018

As we sail around this world, the crew members’ personalities become apparent. Some are introverted and end their “off watch time” (when not sailing the ship) in introspective pursuits of reading and journaling. Others are extroverted and spend time talking to their shipmates about all kinds of topics.

One of our more extroverted mates named Tony says “wow!” to himself and others several times a day. His statement is heartfelt as every day there are new experiences for him and all of us.

Tony is our oldest Sail Trainee, who turned 72 earlier in the voyage. He is a former actor and has a long career in television as an Assistant Director and other behind the camera jobs. His love of tall ships goes back a long time, as he sailed on the Marques in the 1970s to produce the BBC documentary film “The Voyage of Charles Darwin,” the story of Charles Darwin’s voyage of discovery on the Beagle that led to his theory of evolution.

“Wow” has many meanings for Tony. It can express wonder or joy or relief in completing a strenuous task. For Tony, “wow” is the best way to say, “I am very happy to be alive and experience this once-in-a-lifetime voyage on the Picton Castle World Voyage 7.”

We shipmates agree.

Author Arne, Leslie (Pitcairn Host) and Ted

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Days Run – 14 August, 2018

Meat donuts for breakfast! Called “bakes” in Grenada where they are a long-standing traditional side dish. Always a great way to start your day off here on board the Picton Castle. Busy, beautiful day on board as we motor through headwinds. The Captain says this pretty odd wind patterns but not unheard of, just odd. Last night we sailed through a front and squall lines and then winds pooped out altogether followed by becoming westerly this morning. But Rarotonga calls. We want to get there Saturday.

Ship’s work: The fore mast fife rail received a coat of varnish yesterday and the main mast fife rail is being scraped today. The inside head was primed and the carpenters were working on the quarterdeck replacing and planing a deck plank. The riggers, covered in tar as usual, have sent down foot ropes and are serving them on the main deck. And 6-year-old Dawson packs for the beach, excitedly awaiting our arrival in Rarotonga, where “his beach” awaits him.

Yesterday our Chief Mate Erin, of Bermuda, held a block and tackle workshop, educating the crew on different blocks we have on board, demonstrating how to care for a block by taking it apart, applying a hefty amount of grease and linseed oil and how to put it all back together. The crew was eager to learn how the blocks worked, what the various kinds do and which jobs are best for the different blocks. We do not have winches; who needs them when we have tackles galore.

From: Mangareva, French Polynesia
Towards: Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Date: August 14th, 2018
Noon Position: 20°12.4’S x 148°51′ W
Course + Speed: WxS + 5.1 knots
Wind direction + Force: SSW + 3
Swell Height + Direction: 2m + WxN
Weather: Bright, sunny
Day’s Run: 94.7nm
Passage Log: 123.6nm
Distance to Port: 614.5nm
Voyage: 7611.5nm
Sails Set: All heads’ls, main t’gallant stays’l, main topmast stays’l, mizzen stays’l, spanker

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Day’s Runs – 12 & 13 August, 2018

Sunday at sea.  Seeing as we’d like to arrive at Rarotonga in the Cook Islands this coming weekend, yesterday we pushed forward in no wind by motoring from morning until 1500. Then after the Captain held a discussion on the quarterdeck pertaining to what Rarotonga has to offer us keen explorers; snorkeling, hiking, small boat sailing with locals, theatre and attending church to experience the breathtaking choir. And the Cook Islands Voyaging Society with their big ocean-going vaka, a double-hulled canoe. The Captain then touched on Leg 2 of our voyage and without going into great detail laid out what lies ahead; homestays in Palmerston, the culture of Vanuatu, meeting Vai’s family in Tonga and going into dry dock in Fiji. It’s mind-boggling to most of us that we are so far from our home countries and that we’re closing in on the end of Leg 1.

Immediately following our muster we broke out our ship’s speaker, blew up balloons, finished decorating the cakes and set up for face painting, as it was Dawson’s 6th birthday party! Our ever so talented carpenter Anders, of Denmark, was able to demonstrate his skills as a face painter, creating clowns, a pirate, cats, a pig, and Dawson chose to be godzilla for his birthday! A 4′ x 6′ piece of plywood was painted by Abbey, of North Carolina, and on the blank wood she painted a blue barque leaving out the spanker sail. A spanker was made of cardboard and painted yellow, this allowed us to play “Pin the Spanker on the Ship!” Dawson excitedly played and encouraged others to join in on the fun. A pinata in the shape of a 6 was hung over the center of the hatch and Dawson displayed excellent seamanship by slicing it open with his wooden sword. Fun was had by all!

From: Mangareva
Towards: Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Date: August 12th, 2018
Noon Position: 20°45.3′ S x 144°35.3′ W
Course + Speed: WxN + 4.2 knots
Wind direction + Force: WSW + 2 Swell
Height + Direction: 3m + SW
Weather: Sunny
Day’s Run: 95.8nm
Passage Log: 101.1nm
Distance to Port: 852nm
Voyage: 7337.4nm
Sails Set: Motoring



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Day’s Run – 11 August, 2018

Lots of rain yesterday afternoon, causing outdoor projects to move below decks or to be packed up and returned to another day. The weather made for exciting watches consisting of lots of sail handling. As the wind shifted from north as we sailed on the starboard tack, we wore ship, altering our course from westerly all around the clock to northwest as wind is now from the SW. The wind is normally from the east. It would seem strange that our destination is to the west yet we aren’t heading in that direction. With sailing you have to, so they say, “go where the wind takes you”. It would be similar to embarking on a road trip, coming to a closed off road and redirecting your route in order to reach your desired destination.

Ship’s work: The riggers were sent down from aloft yesterday afternoon due to the sideways rain. They return to their work today, replacing tacks and sheets on the courses. The sailmakers work up on the quarterdeck in the warm sun, happily stitching away the canvas of the new t’gallant sail. The inside head received a coat of primer, and the steering sweep, the oar the Monomoy coxswain uses to steer, received its Picton Castle label. Anders of Denmark is constructing a new wooden mallet made of Canadian pine. As Saturday carries on, projects are winding down and on-watch crew are able to catch up on their personal projects, sharpen their knives, keep up with their nautical studying or practice one of the many skills the Captain has taught us. This afternoon the Captain will continue his lessons on seizings. The biggest and most important task of today is prepping for Dawson’s 6th Birthday Party. He proudly handed out coloured invitations to all 44 persons onboard and is very excited to celebrate his big day with his Picton Castle family.

From: Mangareva
Towards: Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Date: August 11th, 2018
Noon Position: 21°46.7′ S x 143°16.1′ W
Course + Speed: NW 1/2 N + 3.8 knots
Wind direction + Force: WxS + 4
Swell Height + Direction: 2m + WSW
Weather: Bright, Sunny
Day’s Run: 34.8nm
Passage Log: 472.2nm
Distance to Port: 923nm
Voyage: 7236.3nm
Sails Set: All square sails, main t’gallant stays’l, main topmast stays’l, mizzen topmast stays’l, mizzen stays’l, spanker and all heads’ls

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Captain’s Log – 10 August, 2018

We’re moving along beautifully, averaging 5 – 7 knots by the wind in our sails. Our hand-stitched canvas is filled as we glide along on a starboard tack, headed west. The sunsets and sunrises have been fantastic these past couple of evenings and mornings.

Ship’s work: With gusting winds, this morning’s watch spent a lot of their time sail handling! The rigging team, Vai, Anne-Laure and this week’s dayman rigger Tristan are busy changing out the tacks and sheets for the courses. Good to have new rope in their places. This afternoon the bosun and a few keen helpers will put the windlass back together after it received a minor overhaul. Braham, of Texas, is proudly polishing our brass foc’sle head bell, the bell is often used when heaving up the anchor to indicate the amount of anchor chain remaining out. Soon to be six-year-old Dawson has spent his early afternoon playing a healthy game of hide and go seek, as well as party planning for his birthday celebration this coming Sunday. Lunch was delicious edamame curry wraps with rice. During lunch, the gang on the Aloha had a discussion on how many more miles we had until Raro, what speed we were going at and what our speed has been averaging. It was a rather comical discussion, mostly due to the heavy winds, as it was hard to hear one and other. It resembled a set of grandparents attempting to discuss the day’s weather. On board the ship if you’ve misheard, didn’t compute or could not hear an order given you simply say “say again”. There were a lot of “say agains” at this past meal along with a lot of laughs.

From: Mangareva
Towards: Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Date: August 10, 2018
Noon Position: 22°18.6′ S x 143°28.7′ W
Course + Speed: WxS 1/2 S + 4.8 knots
Wind direction + Force: NWxN + 5
Swell Height + Direction:  3m + N
Weather: Sunny, partly cloudy
Day’s Run: 114.5nm
Passage Log: 114.4nm
Distance to Port:  910nm
Voyage: 7144nm
Sails Set: Main sail, foresail, lower tops’ls, upper tops’ls, mizzen topmast stays’l



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Captain’s Log – Westward Bound 2

August 10, 2018 – Westward Bound 2

Just after dawn, Picton Castle 22-10S / 143-05W. Yards braced up, royals in and stowed, making good speed. Winds northerly at 18 knots, seas not so big at 6-8 feet, sky partly cloudy, low scudding clouds…

Bright seas and skies. Some spray coming over the weather rail amidships from time to time. Good idea to know where not to stand sometimes. Fishing lines trailing astern, got a mahi-mahi and a wahoo yesterday. Small wonder how the Polynesian explorers got around. Not always easterly tradewinds hereabouts. Plenty westerlies and southerlies and northerlies. Who got the idea that it always blew from the east in the South Pacific? Pretty much does blow from the east in the Atlantic/Caribbean tradewind belt but not so here. In a big sailing vaka, you could make some time in these winds making this ocean feel a lot smaller… Sailing just fine here though, at least for now. Dawson is planning his Big 6 Year Old Birthday Party. Turns out that “All are Invited”. Blue cake and presents are on the agenda.


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Captain’s Log – Westward Bound in the Barque Picton Castle

Westward Bound in the Barque Picton Castle 22-20S  / 139-16W midday August 8, 2018

Sailing along here just south of an atoll called Fangataufa in the Tuamotus. Yards close to square, with a big fan in them, sky strikingly blue, swells about 12 foot, also as blue as can be. Rolling along sailing ever westward in this South Pacific Ocean as fine as can be done. We can see the palms of the atoll in haze off to the north on the starboard beam about 6 miles away. This atoll was a base for Marururoa of nuke testing fame. Pretty enough from here, wonder what the fish are like?

We are bound for Rarotonga after a fine stop at Mangareva and an outstanding visit to Pitcairn. Pitcairn was as good as a visit could be, so say the Pitcairners themselves. And Mangareva is sweet. Quiet and serene, we go through several passes to anchor inside a lagoon, inside another lagoon, inside a barrier reef. Beautiful. And deceptive. Very smooth but holding is not the best for a ship like Picton Castle. Once in at the anchorage, we are surrounded by reef not more than a few ship-lengths away should the vessel start to drag in a squall. But there is the copra wharf we could lash ourselves to should the need arise and a supply ship is not in at the moment. What I like about Mangareva besides everything*  is that with the surrounding islands, still within the greater lagoon, only 3 and 4 miles away there are a number of islands perfect for overnight longboat expeditions for the gang. So, after clearing in and the first run ashore to find that elusive cold drink (and today, we must ALL check out our Facebook!), and after some practice sailing in the bay and packing waaay too much, off they sail for the night and day for an island called Aukena or Akamaru, find a pass around the coral heads, pull up the boats out of the swell, make camp and a fire, cook something up and get bit by bugs and goats. Ok, no goats. The longboat, the big dory, and a spare skiff as a chase or rescue boat and a radio check-in with the mother ship. I expect that they will get up to some hijinks – but no, not this crowd, reports that all went to bed, hammock, nest, early…But very interesting to sail a boat almost identical to Bligh’s Bounty Launch all around a South Pacific lagoon. And, the gang had great fun trading for black pearls.

* tall dark mountains as a backdrop, white tropicbirds with their forked tails swooping in couples high overhead, flaming hibiscus everywhere, fragrant Tiare Tahiti also, baguettes, pamplemousse, dancing in the halls, sunsets from the wharf, mixing it up with the pearl divers, swimming in the lagoon, kids swimming out to the ship and swinging off a fore-yard swing rope, young couples swaying in their pareaus walking down a quiet lane, catching up with old acquaintances, black pearls, the odd scooter or pickup puttering by, calm evenings, roosters waking us before dawn, take the skiff in at 0600 to pick up fresh baguettes at the bakery that had been ordered the night before, looking out across the lagoon over the motus to the crashing surf beyond, thinking about the rich history of Polynesia here mostly lost to time, thoughts of Pitcairn Island over the years, the miles and passages ahead.

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