Captain's Log

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A South Pacific Trade-Winds Passage

A voyage around the world in the Barque Picton Castle is many things; a challenging adventure, a voyage of personal discovery, a chance to learn to be an accomplished deepwater seafarer, a
rare, perhaps unique way to access some remote islands and cultures as real crew in a sailing ship from the ‘Age of Sail’, and much else besides. But a major part of all this sailing 30,000+ miles around our watery globe in this square-rigged ship is simply the passage making under sail over miles and miles of bluewater sea miles for days and days, even weeks on end in steady tradewinds. And that is just what we are experiencing right now sailing ever deeper into the South Pacific Ocean, both buffeted and drawn along by the South East trade-winds on this almost 3,000 mile passage to little Pitcairn Island.

Dawn -The day comes in quickly in the tropics, the sun seemingly springing up over the horizon, taking the eastern sky from inky black, burnishing it to rose, orange and yellow smartly. The
stars blink out and the sun takes over. On their toes, the navigators up on the quarterdeck swing their sextants quickly to snag the stars they need for a nice morning fix while the sky is still dark enough to see the stars and yet also have a bright, sharp horizon to bring our star down to. Well before dawn our Cook, Donald has been in the galley, stirring about, boiling water, making coffee, fresh bread and then getting breakfast ready for the oncoming watch. At precisely 0600 our Swiss engineer fires up the generator to charge the batteries and provide the wash down hose with seawater under pressure for the 4 to 8 watch to scrub the oiled pine decks. Due to our system of batteries and charging we need run our generators only six hours a day to provide all the power we need for normal use. This not
only saves a great deal on fuel consumption but this system also helps keep the ship quiet without the noise of motors 3/4rs of the day. We think this is the way a sailing ship ought to be as much as possible. After scrubbing the deck the watch takes small buckets and wipes down and cleans off finger prints and smears that have accumulated here and there. The Mate of the 4-8 will
have the gang take a sway on braces and halyards to get the slack that may have come into them overnight. This also renews the nip where lines bear on sheaves and moves the point of chafe about making for more even wear. If the wind has laid down the mate might call for loosing and setting the flyin jib. If so a couple hands will scramble out on the jib-boom to cast off the gasket and soon it will be set and drawing. It’s a nice puller the flying jib. Every sail this barque can set, apart from stunsles, are set and drawing giving us eight knots much of the time. With washdown finished we have sunny skies, cool breezes on the port quarter, long blue white-capped seas rolling in from so far away – our canvas sails growing from gold into a cream colour as the sun rises higher and strengthens for the day. The helmsmen for this 4-8 watch have had a good run. Soon come the 8 to 12 watch to take over and start the days work at sea.

rsz 1rebecca teaches celestial nav
rsz mate mike introduces celestial nav
rsz nadja rebecca and joh adjust their sextants - copy
rsz the crew attentive in celestial nav class

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Ever deeper into the South Pacific – Daymen on a Tradewind Passage in the Picton Castle.

Wednesday was the first full workday for our new daymen. Now that the crew really know their lines and are comfortable with sail handling steering, ship handling and can follow orders well, we have broken some of the gang off the watch schedule to turn to extra training in classic sailing ship’s work. This is an old deep-water sailing ship tradition, on long trade-wind passages, to break off a ship’s most experienced ABs to get rigging and sailmaking done on their ship when the weather is good while the less experienced crew sail the ship and gain in responsibility and skills doing that, although in our case they will simply take turns. For now Logan, Nadja, Julie and Liam are now daymen riggers under the direction of the Chief Mate; Nadia, Joani and Johanne are daymen sailmakers under the direction of the 3rd Mate Rebecca and the Captain; Jan is a dayman carpenter working with 2nd Mate Paul; Jon is a dayman engineer with Engineer Christian; and Meredith M is now bosun’s mate with Bosun WT. Having all of these people focus entirely on these areas means that the daymen can get lots of experience with these kind of skills and it’s good for the ship too with many projects getting done efficiently. Here’s what we’re working on: 2 new sailmaker benches, patching both old royals and gaff topsail, overhaul port aft head, serve and make leather covers for main yard cranelines, canvas covers around all turnbuckles, overhaul the inside of the longboat, assemble and overhaul all gear for setting studding sails, etc.

Conditions are just perfect with lovely warm trade-wind breezes and seas laying down, beautiful blue skies, flying fish and yesterday we saw a huge whale from up aloft. Not so bad…

rsz carpenter dayman jan makes two sailmakers benches - copy
rsz dayman sailmakers joani nadia and joh sew on a rope covering - copy
rsz julie aloft in the bosuns chair in shadow - copy
rsz julie in the bosuns chair removing baggywrinkle - copy
rsz siri and nadja replace a ratline

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The crew really look forward to receiving mail in port. It is very exciting. Having something from family and friends that we can touch and hold on to when we’re on the other side of the world brings a smile to our faces. There is a lot of time at sea to think, and we’re often thinking of the people we left behind to take on this great adventure. Getting something in the mail from you lets us know you’re thinking of us too. And unlike an email or a phone call, a letter is something we can take to sea with us again. The next port where the crew can receive mail is Rarotonga, Cook Islands, coming up in late August. Right now is the time to send your letters and packages to ensure they arrive on time.

The second mail port of World Voyage 5 will be in Rarotonga. Please allow four weeks for regular mail to reach Rarotonga. All envelopes and packages should be outlined in heavy green waterproof marker and addressed like this:

[Crew member name]
PO BOX 626
*Hold for arrival of Barque PICTON CASTLE on or about August 13, 2010

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Fresh Trade Winds

After only 12 hours motoring out of Galapagos the Picton Castle picked up fresh trade-winds. The usual destination for westward bound vessels from Galapagos is the Marquesas, just south of due west but not for us. We are steering SW for Pitcairn Island over 2,700 miles away deep in the South Pacific Ocean. Having these classic SE trade-winds kick in quickly is pretty nice for any windship and certainly for us. So, here at 03 South Latitude we are making a fine 7 to 8 knots in 10 foot seas under t’gallants. This morning the
breeze piped up to about 25 knots on the beam so we took in royals, flying jib and later the spanker. If the wind was further aft of the beam we might have kept the royals set. Our winds are cool and comfortable and so are we. Celestial navigation classes have started by the mates on the quarter-deck and rigging, sailmaking, carpenter and engineer daymen have been broken off too.

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July 4th!

Our multi-national (9 nations represented aboard) crew takes shipmately fun in celebrating everyone’s national day. The theme for this American Independence Day, just called the 4th of July, was a “Backyard BBQ”, with the main hatch being the “backyard”. Threads to the theme were “do your own thing” and “chillin like a villain” with an emphasis on not organizing anything really-just like a regular 4th in your back yard! No speeches.

Some of the crew came in costume too- we had the statue of liberty, Barbie and Ken, Marilyn Monroe, Barack Obama and a lot of people in red, white and blue. The main event of the afternoon was a “build your own bathing suit” competition – bathing suits could be made of anything other than standardbathing suit material. The eventual winners’ suits were made of duct tape and a shower curtain. Instead of softball or wiffle ball we had Turtle races…Yes, even the turtles we’re taking to Pitcairn got in on the fun-they are doing fine by the way. A track had been built, complete with starting gate, finish line, lanes and little canvas American flags. Anyone who bet on turtle #3 made a good choice because he won every race (turtle #2 slept through most of the event, coming out of his shell long enough to take a few steps backwards in his own lane). The big Dominican BBQ was pulled out of the hold and set up on the well-deck (on a platform, with water buckets standing by) and after the coals were glowing hot, the mates cooked up chicken and steaks all afternoon. As Sunday is Donald’s regular day off, Fred added to the BBQ with potato salad, bean salad and apple pie. Ollie shot all these goings on with his video camera and a beautiful curious little bird on a long voyage by air, maybe even to Russia, settled on the extended microphone of his camera when he wasn’t looking. Then she flew off.

The evening ended with shooting off some old flares while listening to Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock Star Spangled Banner virtuoso performance on guitar.

rsz jo in her 4th of july bbq outfit
rsz joh enjoys bbq on 4th of july
rsz paul grills chicken on the 4th of july - copy
rsz turtle races on the 4th of july
rsz turtle wrangler chris checks up on his charges

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Canada Day

July 1, Canada Day started by sailing off the hook from the harbour at Wreck Bay as we departed the Galapagos Islands, bound for Pitcairn Island, about 2800nm away. Shortly after Picton Castle got out to sea, the Canadians on board met to plan and organize an event to celebrate our national day. The crew are happy to have things to celebrate, so we hope to do something for the national day of each of the nine nationalities we have on board, and maybe a few nationalities we might not have…

The Canadian festivities began at 1630 with all of the crew dressed in Canadian outfits, which included lots of red and white, but also a few interesting costumes – we had Rick Mercer in attendance, along with Avril Lavigne, a couple of hockey players, a lumberjack or two and a Tim Hortons employee. We started with the singing of “O Canada” then moved on to a human bingo game where everyone had to go around to find out who has done the typically Canadian things on the bingo card. Once they found someone who had, that person signed the square. The first person to have their whole card filled won. It was funny to be asked if I had shot a moose, gone curling, lived in Nunavut, or driven a zamboni. Partway through the game, Tim Hortons opened up in the port breezeway. Meredith and Paula were giving out Timbits (donut holes, to you do not know Tim Hortons, the nationwide coffee shop chain, like Dunkin Donuts), coffee, hot chocolate and peach juice in exchange for answers to Canadian trivia questions. The next event on the main deck was a hockey game. Deck brushes were turned into hockey sticks, a crushed can was the puck and two crew members holding hands on each end were the goal posts. Goalies Davey and Jehle had pillows duct taped to their shins for padding. Rebecca refereed and the final score was 3-1.

The final event of the afternoon was curling. Like the hockey game, we had to make some small adjustments to play on the slanted deck of a moving ship in the tropics. The playing surface was marked with masking tape and wet down with salt water to be more slippery, the deck brushes stood in once again as curling brooms and we used little plastic jars of peanut butter and honey as stones. The celebration wrapped up with two Stan Rogers tunes – Northwest Passage and Barrett’s Privateers. With some help from the Canadians, dinner included poutine (a dish of french fries, cheese curds and gravy) along with beef, salad and Nanaimo bars for dessert.

rsz canada day dance party on the hatch - copy
rsz meredith and paula operate tim hortons in the breezeway - copy
rsz nadia and her moose hat on canada day
rsz playing hockey amidships on canada day - copy

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Crossing the Line

Picton Castle sailed across the Equator on Wednesday, entering the southern hemisphere in the Pacific Ocean. As expected, King Neptune and his royal court boarded the ship to address the pollywog issue. With kind serene senisitivities and all-knowing wisdom all pollywogs were solomly raised from their base state to a higher plane. Picton Castle is now crewed entirely by shellbacks. The tale of the transformation shall remain untold (but some of our crew are sporting really short haircuts). ‘Nuff said. its all good…

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Pitiful Pollywogs

Picton Castle sailed from Panama almost a week ago. Bound for Galapagos we are. In many ways, this is a regular passage for us with the routine of watchstanding, workshops, meals and day-to-day life aboard. We changed the watches on leaving Panama, mixing the groups up so that everyone has a chance to be on watch with different people in different times. Crew are settling into their new watches well, getting to know and spend time with different shipmates and learning new routines and subtleties of each watch and how to accomplish that watch’s assigned tasks. Bosun WT and bosun’s mate Paula continue to assign ship’s maintenance projects, focusing this passage on holystoning the main deck and getting some rust busting, priming and painting done on the overhead of the aloha deck. Both of these projects are appropriate for this passage as they can be done even when it’s raining. We’re in the intertropical convergence zone, resulting in light winds, overcast skies and fairly frequent drizzle. We’ve been mostly motoring with intermittent periods of sailing when the wind cooperates. The Captain’s multi-part splicing workshop continues today with part 5 with a sailmakers eye-splice. Yesterday was the chain splice, with the long splice the day before. Prior to Panama, we had already done the eye splice and short splice. Each crew member has a practice rope where they’ve been doing their daily homework – a practice on their own of whatever splice was covered in the workshop that day.

In some ways, this passage is not regular for us. The ship seems to have developed a foul, noxious, malodorous stench due to the number of pollywogs aboard. A pollywog, for those who don’t know, is someone who has never sailed across the Equator before. To a shellback, someone who has sailed across the Equator, there are few things as undesireable as the smell of pollywogs. For the sake of our loyal shellbacks’ sensitive noses, I certainly hope that King Neptune and his royal court will come soon to take care of this embarassing faux pas. And the adverse winds? Can only be due to the presence of the dreaded pollywog. Messages have been arriving almost daily, in the form of emails, a canvas bag caught on one of our fishing lines and even notes scrawled on mirrors in all the heads, warning the pollywogs of the court’s impending arrival and of King Neptune’s penchant for cutting hair. We were visited by representatives of Neptune himself in the form of two booby birds – one on the jibboom and one on the quarterdeck. These mighty sea birds made themselves at home while they observed the behaviour of our putrid pollywogs. Also black fish or pilot whales and porpoise have been swimming by to take a gander and inspect it seems. The reports can’t be good… We’re currently less than 10 nautical miles from the Equator and we’ll have to cross before we reach Galapagos, so one way or another, the pollywog problem will be solved.

booby on the taff rail
Meredith helps Niko with his splice
Robert, Katie and Michael at the splicing workshop
Shawn reads the note fished from Neptune

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Panama-Finishing The Sail

Well, there we were, through the canal, the Picton Castle moored in hot steamy Balboa on the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Panama getting ready to shove off into the broad South Pacific Ocean, working hard to get provisioned and stowed, sailing time bearing down on us – and we had to get this new main sail finished for the legendary Sloop Mermaid and her Skipper of long renown, John Smith. The Mermaid is a 50’ wooden working sloop built in Carriacou without an engine in the 1960’s. So many like her were built for trading in the Grenadines, fishing and maybe once in a while a leetle bit of smuggling of rum, whiskey and cigarettes from St Barts before that island blew up and became a jet-set destination. Jutting bowsprit and a raking mast she is little different than the small pyrate sloops that once did their deeds o’swashbuckling in the isles of the Caribbees…

In Anguilla, with Captain Kevin Gray’s masterful help and encouragement, we got the sail cloth landed in from Doyles in Barbados. Then we immediately laid out and cut the sail and seamed it up on our big machine at Roy’s Place on the beach at Sandy Ground– we did the second layout there too right away in order to get the final dimensions and tableings – on the way to Bonaire, even though we did not know we were going to Bonaire, we sewed up the tableings and corner patches with our small machine – in Bonaire, with a nice clean dock available we got the big machine out and sewed on all the other patches, reef bands and the like – on the way to Panama the gang sewed in grommets by hand furiously even working on night watch on the quarter deck. Now we had to rope it and stick on the cringles. As it happens we had an equally nice large cement floating dock at Isla Flamenco complete with awning and light to work with. So Rebecca, Jo, Brad, Ollie, Nadia, Nadja and others got to it. And got done in time to toss it on a small hop plane with Ollie and WT to get it to the Mermaid at Boca Del Toro and bent on to see what it looked like. We think it will be a strong sail. Maybe a few too many barefoot prints on it, but that adds to the charm, John is a barefoot kind of guy, Mermaid is a barefoot kind of vessel…

Those who worked on this sail for the Mighty Mermaid are…

Rebecca Libby

Johanne Aase

Krista Watson

Julie Vermeer

Siri Botnen

Alex Moore

Nadja Nitschke

Meredith McKinnon

Brad Woodworth

Dan Rutherford

Logan Livingston

Paula Washington

Shawn Anderson

Dave Farrall

Leonard Weaver

Jimmy Gordon

Adrienne Bode

Georgie Lockwood

Kate Addison

Joani Cain

Clark Munro

Lauren Berdow

Nadia Vassos

Christian Barmettler

Maggie Ostler

Katelinn Shaw

Sophie Martel

Cheri Davidson

Jan Caselli

Davey Laing

Mike Weiss

Meredith Spratt

Joanna Clark

Via Christensen

Niko Griffes

Tammy Sharp

Tiina Randoja

Ollie Campbell

WT Simmons

D. Moreland

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Panama #2-Turtles, Lumber and Sugar

Chief Engineer Christian has become the Picton Castle turtle wrangler. On the list of requests from Pitcairn Island, one of the things that was asked for was pet turtles, the little kind you have in aquariums. Just had to have pet turtles. In order to have a reasonable number of turtles make it to Pitcairn Island alive a month away, we bought 35 in Panama. I think the pet store owner was a bit shocked. They’re currently all living, quite happily it seems, swimming around in a plastic tote with fresh water and rocks in the skiff on top of the galley house. They don’t seem to be fond of having the main topmast staysail set over their temporary home, but other than that they are quite happy, energetic and almost frisky, swimming around in the tote and hiding under the rocks. All are OK so far. They’re pretty feisty, or feistier than you might expect turtles to be anyway. We are bringing these turtles with full knowledge and approval of the island council and due deliberation given to environmental concerns…turtles to Pitcairn? Sure, why not…we are also bringing 14 lawn mowers to the island – we said we should bring goats instead as they fertilize as they mow but that idea didn’t catch on…besides Pitcairn already has some goats.

Even though we might be the only sailing ship today with a big cargo hold for storage, storage space aboard any ship is finite, so that makes stowing all the things we bought a bit of a challenge and always a job once we start getting full. In addition to the lumber and food provisions I’ve already mentioned, we also had two major food orders that will see us through until Bali on dry goods, plenty of deck supplies like paint brushes and wire wheels, and an assortment of household goods to bring to Pitcairn. You can get pretty much anything in Panama. When the trucks bringing these things arrived at the ship, the crew unloaded the trucks, laying everything out on the dock to see what we had, inventory and to put similar things together, before finding a spot for it on board. The 4-8 watch loaded most of the food order into the hold, taking everything out of cardboard boxes on the dock before bringing it aboard.

The hold is organized so that the port side is mostly galley supplies and the starboard side is mostly deck supplies, with shelves built to fit and hold plastic totes in place. A great deal of organization goes into stowing the hold, making sure that similar things are packed together so that later on, when someone is looking for something, it can be easily found and accessed. Most of the dry goods are stored in the hold, the freezers were packed completely full, and the veggie lockers on the aloha deck are topped up. The aloha deck itself currently looks like a bit of a jungle with four stalks of bananas, a net full of mangoes, and a net of pineapples and papayas suspended from the overhead. Some of the lumber has been stored on deck, along with big metal drums, so the crew have had to learn their way around deck again without stubbing their toes on the new arrangement. Conveniently, these wood stacks also make handy places to sit on deck.

With the ship completely stowed, the last step was to lash everything down for sea. On Wednesday morning we had all hands busy with loading the last of the lumber on to the deck and lashing it below the pin rails, making sure that plastic totes were secure in their shelves in the hold, lashing down the bags of flour and sugar in the hold and tying down the 55 gallon drums in the port breezeway. Until we manage to eat a significant amount of food and discharge cargo at Pitcairn Island, the ship will be quite full. We could potentially still fit more things, it’s all a matter of using the available space wisely.

assembling provisions on the dock before stowing
Christian, chief engineer and chief turtle wrangler
lashing a load of wood on deck
Siri and Clark load bags of sugar into the hold

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