Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Leg 4: Cape Town to Lunenburg' Category

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Legs 3 & 4

“It feels like I belong here, like this is home” one of our gang aboard said the other day. Over the past three months, the crew have come to know the ship and each other well, increasingly becoming more than friends or coworkers as we all depend on each other and on the ship to carry us safely on our voyage. There is a word that describes this relationship-shipmates. To be considered a good shipmate is the highest praise for a mariner.

Picton Castle’s deep-sea voyages provide an adventurous seafaring opportunity that is rare and difficult to obtain by any other means. By being a crew member, you are very much an integral part of sailing the ship from port to port. Arriving somewhere having sailed there, having earned your way there, is much different than stepping off an airplane. Long deep ocean passages give you the chance to learn and practice seamanship skills, while short island-hopping passages test your snappy sail handling and ship handling skills. Add in visits to exotic ports and remote islands and a group of people from very different backgrounds who share a common love of their ship, and the result is a truly unique experience.

Crew members work hard and require a certain level of physical fitness in order to haul on lines, climb ladders and walk around a moving deck. While you have your own bunk, it will be in a compartment with a number of other bunks, so you must be able to get along well with other people. And most importantly, you have to make the commitment that other crew members before you have made, to always think of what is best for the ship and to act accordingly. Sailing aboard our beautiful barque is not for everyone but, for those who sign on, it can enrich your life.

All crew spaces on Leg 1 and Leg 2 of this voyage are full, but a few spaces will become available for Legs 3 and 4. Maybe you’ve been following along with the ship’s journeys from your home-now is your chance to step aboard and experience life as a square-rig sailor.

Begin your adventure by joining the ship in exotic Bali in November, then head out to sea for a long tradewind passage across the Indian Ocean. On this passage you will learn the names and functions of all 205 lines of running rigging that come down to deck, learn to steer the ship and keep lookout, and become familiar with the sails, parts of the ship and how things work. Put in at the French island of Reunion and explore this strikingly scenic volcanic isle. We also are looking into putting in to Madagascar and Mozambique. Set sail again for Cape Town, flying around the Cape of Good Hope with the strength of the Agulhas current. Take in South Africa, with off-duty pursuits ranging from shark cage diving to visiting vast game preserves to wine tasting. After a stay at Namibia we will have some of the most consistently perfect trade-wind sailing weather of the whole voyage crossing the South Atlantic, interrupted only for a brief stop at the remote island of St. Helena, site of Napoleon’s final exile. Carry on to Grenada and island-hop through the enchanting Lesser Antilles of the Eastern Caribbean, getting lots of practice with anchoring, sail manoeuvres and small boat handling. Ashore, enjoy local music – reggae, calypso, soca and steel pan- snorkelling, markets and much more. Then sail north next June, pausing at Bermuda, through the North Atlantic to Lunenburg to complete the voyage.

With a full 7 months of certified time at sea, you’ll be eligible to qualify for a first professional seafarer’s certification in most countries. Even if you don’t plan to go to sea again, you’ll find that the skills you’ve developed on board -resourcefulness, teamwork, responsibility-will serve you well. Your shipmates will become lifelong friends and you’ll have a trove of adventure stories to one day tell your grandkids. If the full 7 months is too long, consider joining for either Leg 3 (Bali to Cape Town) or Leg 4 (Cape Town to Lunenburg).

Think you have what it takes to be a good shipmate? Check out additional information on World Voyage 5 or contact our office for more details.

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Off Africa

Las Palmas

Las Palmas is a huge modern port. Of everywhere we have gone in the past few months we have been impressed by the Spanish port infrastructure as being solid and up to date. The Picton Castle put in here to see what the place was like and because there really aren’t many anchorages in the Canary Islands for a ship like this one. On an overcast day the ship sailed right up to the huge breakwater under topsails in good sized seas before ducking around the corner into the smooth shelter of the large harbour. We had a good passage from Essaouira, Morocco. We dropped the hook in the designated anchorage inside the breakwater but it became immediately clear that with all the yachts anchored there as well that this would not be a good, secure berth for the Picton Castle. It would have been fine if we had it to ourselves, but this was, naturally, not to be. If we dragged or even swung one way we would damage yachts, another direction lay a stone breakwater and in the last direction lay the harbour limits where anchored ships could not be. The weather, although getting warmer, was predicted to be unsettled, making our swing around all the more likely. Soon enough we arranged to go along side at the head of the harbour. After we got safely moored it picked up to blow pretty hard for a few days. There was a certain amount of surge at the wharf keeping the duty watch busy with chafe gear and replacing a parted hawser, even though our hawsers are quite oversized. This condition was partly due to our location in the basin – but that is where the port authorities wanted us as other ships were coming and going and there was no place to anchor. So it goes.

Full Rigged Ship Danmark and Best Dressed Dogs

To our delight and surprise the Danish State Full Rigged Schoolship Danmark was in port too, along with the English Barque Tenacious. It turns out that the Danmark was in winter lay-up in climes a bit more benign than winter in Denmark. Our crew met up and traded ship tours. Also the German Brig Roald Amundsen pulled in for a day with a medical issue to attend. Again crews traded ship tours. Las Palmas was great for Christmas shopping, getting laundry done, phoning home (very cheap), catching up on emailing and internet stuff which is so important today, people watching and generally hanging out with your shipmates. We had to get some visas sorted out for Senegal for some of our crew and, of course, there was minor shopping for the ship. Las Palmas seems to be a Mecca for every manner of bohemian and alternative lifestyle. You see some of the most remarkable outfits on people and the little dogs too. Best dressed dogs we have ever seen. All was friendly and peaceful and pleasant.

Isla Gomera

We just sailed from the island of Gomera in the south of the Canaries group here. After a fine overnight sail from Las Palmas we anchored at a little place called Vueltas or Punta Trigo on the SW coast which was quite dramatic. We have the Christmas music playing all the time in the hopes that it will become annoying to all onboard, therefore fulfilling a longstanding Christmas season tradition. We have a little tiny Picton Castle Christmas tree with little red maple leaves on it and all the ship pins collected at tall ship events on it as ornaments including Schooner Bluenose II pins and a little uniform-cap gold fouled anchor from the Russian 4-masted bark Sedov at the top – looks pretty sharp. It is, however, a bit odd to listen to the Platters sing Jingle Bells out here at sea off Africa, this is so on so many different levels. Crew have been baking on night-watches so there are plenty of Christmas cookies about.

Work Onboard

Sailmaking is proceeding apace with the bending of a new hand sewn spanker, just finished. The forward head on the port side of the focsle got stripped down to bare metal and is being smoothly overhauled. Soon at work on a new topmast studding sail boom. Our 20 foot wooden skiff just got a complete overhaul bottom-side up on the hatch and caulking, now tight like a drum. We have a good gang aboard, all keen about the ship and seagoing. We should be on the edge of the tradewinds but we have an upper level low developing over us promising light southerly winds. So we may need to motor a day to get to a breeze. It’s about 800+ miles to Senegal and should be a good sail and conserving fuel is a huge priority these days. We topped up on diesel at Gibraltar and want that gas stop to last the rest of the trip… this just in – winds have faired and picked up and now the ship is bowling along to the SSW as she should be.

Canaries – A Classic Transatlantic Port of Call

All said and done the Canaries are alright – all the eastern Atlantic islands are weak on good anchorages and are very European even off Africa. Our crew have had a really good and interesting time here. Pretty logical to put in here if making a western-bound Atlantic passage from Europe or the Med and do not really have a taste for adventure. There really is not a hint here that you are off Africa – this is a Spanish Mediterranean sorta place with all the tiled piazzas, architecture and sidewalk cafes. More Africans in Copenhagen than here. Lots of dramatic scenery, though. Gomera reminds us of St. Helena, which is not a complete shock as it’s part of the same geological system, the mid-Atlantic ridge. High steep volcanic rocks (astern of us not more 150 yards the cliff goes straight up to 1400 feet in dry striated brownish rock). It’s all dry and shrubbery except curious little damp micro climates here and there with both cactus and palm trees. Seems that there is a patch of unique pre-Ice Age forest on the top here, the last anywhere, very special woods is this. We can only imagine what rare Galapagos type uniqueness must have been specific to all these islands a long time ago. Mauritius had the Dodo, what was on these islands including Madeira and Azores a heap of years ago before we paddled our canoes out here? Plenty of northern Europeans trying to stay warm here, a few stalwarts from the 1960s holding fast to lifestyles and ideals, winter and full time residents here, all very nice and friendly though rarely a word of Spanish to be overheard. Exquisite wooden fishing boats here, 20-30 foot open launches beautifully modeled and put together and beautifully painted and kept up.

Back at Sea

Now, in good winds out of the ENE and fine balmy temperatures of 22c /71f and sea temps to match we are happily at sea under all sail. Seas are modest and the sky is plenty blue with a enough puffy white clouds to be encouraging. The mates are starting celestial navigation classes. We have broken off ‘daymen’ to work and thus learn more about sailmaking, rigging and engineering. Christmas preparations are moving ahead as we sail onwards.

Bound Ever South and Westward

Many vessels, when sailing for the West Indies, make the Canaries their last eastern Atlantic port before heading off to the west. This was Columbus’s plan and route and he made four such voyages over twelve years. There must be ruts in the ocean hereabouts from all the ships of the 19th century and yachts later from this passage.

Beautiful valley and beach, La gomera
Danmark and Picton Castle alongside in Las Palmas
Dave lays out a t gallant, Las Palmas
Dry, terraced hills, La Gomera
La Gomera countryside
Local craft, La Gomera
Putting the finishing touches on the skiff, Las Palmas
The stunning anchorage at La Gomera

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Sailing Home Into Lunenburg

Anchored in serene Port Motoun the day came in blue, crisp and clear. The gang got up bright and early to heave up the anchor for the passage of the last few miles of this amazing voyage round this world of ours world back into Lunenburg. Decent winds had been forecast but the sea was calm with barely a breath of wind, so we motored on to keep to our appointed rendezvous off Cross Island at 1300 with the jib-boom of the Picton Castle to round Battery Point at 1400 and into the harbor, hopefully under sail.

The crew scrambled aloft to loose all sail in the hopes of catching a sailing breeze later on. Sure enough, as we puttered down the coast, off the Le Have Islands a SWly breeze filled in and the gang set all sail in the Picton Castle for the last time on this circumnavigation. Soon the Picton Castle was sliding along sweetly on a sunny Nova Scotian sailing day, all sails set and drawing, all flags hoisted and snapping brightly. To say that the energy onboard was “high” would be something of an enormous understatement. Soon enough Walter Flowers whale watching boat was alongside with shaking signs, hands and arms waving madly. As we steered north-west into Lunenburg’s outer harbor, naturally, the wind picked up and the ship surged ahead. Rounding Battery Point close hauled under full sail braced on the port tack was a thrill for all of us, somewhat less so for me (or perhaps more so) because as we bore off three points into the channel this gave us more and a fairer breeze adding speed at much the same point when a good skipper would be wanting to slow down. But we had talked about this with all hands and they were all ready to get sail off in a hurry. Our barque galloped down the channel as the crew got sail off her and the Picton Castle came beam to the wind just off our pier head braking the ship in a sliding fashion, then we backed into the wharf crowded with eager friends and family, somehow remembered to put our hawsers on the pilings, squared the yards, up and stowed the canvas sail hanging and flogging in the clew and buntlines and the fourth world voyage of the Barque Picton Castle from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia was done. That will do the watches.

As the Picton Castle was sailing around the Point Lynsey had set up the Cargo Sale on the wharf. We had forwarded all our world voyage exotic cargo ahead so it could be ready when we arrived. We had wanted to do this before couldn’t figure out how. After all many of the folks who would be keenest to get some of this crazy stuff would be there when we arrived. So this was done with a lot of help from a lot of people and the 4th World Voyage Cargo Sale was a big success. We do, however, have a goodly hold full to share the joy up in the Great Lakes this coming summer. Lynsey and her helpers set out beautifully displayed mahogany sea-chests, beautiful teak garden furniture, Sarongs, bamboo wind-chimes, bowls inlaid with cinnamon, colourful Bali kites, Pitcairn Island shark carvings, Fiji jewelry, dug-out canoes, Masai spears, Zulu bead-work, Tonga tapa cloth, Rodrigues baskets, big wooden spoons, woven fabrics from the Galapagos, carved chess sets, flutes and xylophones. And maybe a million other things. It was also fun for the crew show all these trade goods to their families and tell stories about them. And then we had our night at the “Oscar’s”.

All hands gathered at shipmate Alan Creaser’s “Old Fish Factory”. All received “Awards” of some sort, lots of hugs, some tears and lots of laughs as crew told stories on each other and had their last moments together as a crew. The next day crew unloaded sea-chests, ditty-bags, sea-bags and began the long trek home. This fourth circumnavigation of ours may have come to an end but their voyage that they started here in the Picton Castle will carry on forever.


30,000 miles sailed, 19 anchorages, 138,700 pounds of anchor and chain heaved back, 400 miles of braces hauled, 239,616 dishes washed, 1,630 watches stood, 257 days at sea, 127 days in ports, 1 royal yard shaped and crossed, 13 sails made by hand, one stunsl boom carried away, a three foot stack of charts used, two cyclones dodged, zero anchors dragged, 1200 coconuts consumed, 384 jars peanut butter scoffed, 25 ports visited in 20 different countries, 61,440 cups of coffee drank, 10 tons of school supplies delivered, 6,850 packages of instant noodles eaten, 4,000 tours given to guests on board, 250 gallons of paint applied….

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Arriving Lnbrg 107
on way to bermuda 418

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Sailing for Cross Island

Last night Rebecca steered and Greg conned the Picton Castle into the bay at Port Mouton to anchor for the night. Soon we were surrounded by cool still waters and rocky pine-covered islands with a big orange sun setting gently in the west. It was a perfect crystal sky evening. Joe got out a fine dinner of barbeque pork while all hands stowed sail. After supper we had a quiet last “marlinspike.” As it is considered bad luck to take a whole group photograph of a crew (with exceptions) before a voyage is done, we took pictures of the crew in two groups. Brent took a picture of all the lads. This we did up on the foc’s’le head. Then all the women of the ship had a group portrait, but up on the quarterdeck. Probably some symbolism there on who and which gender runs this ship. We have a stomach bug running around the ship that we picked up in Bermuda, so Laura missed the group picture. Instead of Polynesian drum songs and Bob Marley Reggae music, we listened to Stan Rogers and Great Big Sea and other music from Newfoundland. Of course, we had popcorn and some Stella Artois beer contributed by my brother Jon at Bermuda.

This morning all hands were roused at 0600 to heave up the anchor and make our way down the coast towards Cross Island and Lunenburg Harbour. Another brilliant morning. We got the Picton Castle under way in a perfect calm, and it was very beautiful passing the small islands and a pretty lighthouse. Before breakfast all hands scrubbed the deck down and loosed all sail, soon to set and sail for the last 40 miles of this voyage around the world in the Barque Picton Castle.

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on way to bermuda 409
on way to bermuda 411
on way to bermuda 413
on way to bermuda 417
on way to bermuda 420
on way to bermuda 422

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Shelburne in TS ALBERTO

At about eight o’clock in the evening our tempest blinked and started to ease up. The Picton Castle stopped heeling on the roar in the rigging softened to a low whine. The wind backed into the northwest and the barometer started to go up. The storm was passing. We heard that a joint US and Canadian Coast Guard rescue operation got the folks off the sinking yacht that was in the worst part of the storm. We had been all hands, but now we could break off into watches. We would get going again early in the morning to get back underway for Lunenburg. The radio was promising a nice day and weekend for our passage down the coast and arrival at 1400 Saturday.

Shelburne is a lovely and historic old ship-building town. Initially settled by post–American Revolution Loyalists as well as freed Black American slaves, Shelburne has broad streets and many beautiful old houses from the 1700s. Many of the crew walked around town in the abating rain on the way to the pub—The Sea Dog Saloon—which took good care of us. There were some very pretty windows including a stained glass window of a bounding square-rigger.

This morning we had a perfectly still wind and a bright clear day and a small container-ship headed up harbour who wanted our berth. We cast off and headed south for the last time on this voyage. On our way down the shore we have a lot to do. John Kemper is in charge of sending up the fine new royal yard. Of course, we have loosed and set all sail to a pleasant SW breeze. All the flags have to be organized for tomorrow. Spot painting is needed here and there. Susannah and Morgan are putting the finishing touches on the upper topsail for the Charles W. Morgan, sticking in grommets and reef points. And we have bent on the fore royal and flying jib. Lots of little jobs are getting done. All I have to find a place to anchor for the night. Tomorrow we get up very early and sail for Lunenburg. It is a beautiful day on the southwestern shore of Nova Scotia.

Afoot in the murk.
Bending sail on the new yard.
Boats in Shelburne Harbour escaping Alberto.
First Mate Sam Heyman checks the penants for arrival.
Morning dawns clear.
On our way Home!
PICTON CASTLE alongside in Shelburne.
Putting finishing touches on the sail for C. W. MORGAN.
Royal yard goes up.
Safely ashore in the Sea Dog Saloon
Sending up the new Royal Yard.
Shelburne village window
Shelburne Village window 2
The pleasures of a Nova Scotia shoreside tavern.
Touching up a few spots with paint to look our best!

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Blowing Hard

Day before yesterday the Picton Castle and crew were enjoying a lovely day sailing along homeward bound in the warm Gulf Stream—fine balmy west winds, small seas, sunny skies—not so bad. We had been making a good passage north from Bermuda without any problems. But this is the North Atlantic so we have the keenest interest in weather reports and predictions.

All this time a Tropical Storm called ALBERTO has been brewing and boiling in the Gulf of Mexico, which would properly seem pretty far away. But for a storm ready to hook up to 20 then 30 knots in forward motion while spinning around at 50 knots, it really isn’t so far at all. The predictions had been pretty far off for when it was going to break out of the Gulf, but all agreed that when it did, it would move fast and furious for right along the south shore of Nova Scotia. This makes it sound localized, but the system would spread gales from the Bay of Fundy to Georges Banks all the way down to Bermuda. So, being within rock-throwing distance of Nova Scotia, we fired up the main engine and paddled north as fast as we could, the idea being to get into a safe harbour and lashed alongside the closest secure wharf right away.

We made Shelburne yesterday in a light southwesterly wind on the port quarter. I was set to come sailing in under the lee of a low, rocky, pine tree–covered Nova Scotian headland, this time Cape Roseway of McNutt’s Island (McNutts = son of Nutts?). After a year of tropical fragrances, it was a delight to inhale the ambrosia of pine saltwater tide, seaweed and even a little wood fire smoke of the North. Harbourmaster Don Faye called us up and gave us a fine berth to wait out the predicted blow. We got the ship tied up starboard side to the pier with plenty of hawsers. Customs Canada graciously adapted to our changed port of entry and cleared us in along with a small container ship and a yacht dodging the same weather. A few big North Atlantic deep sea trawlers steamed in after us with much the same idea in mind. The short-term forecasts all called for a still night with winds to pick up in the morning. So, we set the watches and headed off to the “Wreck-Room,” the local pub. It might have been 8:30 in the evening when 30 or so Picton Castle crew wandered in. Apparently thinking about closing early due to light business on a rainy Tuesday night this all changed as we filled the place up. The friendly publican, Al, made us all feel welcome and at home. We took over the pool table and paid close attention to the Oilers / Carolina Hockey game on the big screens. We rooted for our Canadians to beat their Canadians.

One of the problems with predicting storms, of course, is that they don’t always do what you predict. Sometimes they are less intense than predicted, in which case people make fun of the weather forecasters. Sometimes a storm does exactly as predicted, which doesn’t seem to surprise anyone. And then sometimes the storms are a bit worse than forecast. That seems to be becoming the case with ALBERTO. While not coming right out and calling this a full-on hurricane, the latest warning that came over one of our little black boxes called this a storm with “hurricane-force” winds. Today, at four o’clock in the afternoon alongside in Shelburne, it is blowing very hard out of the NNW after doing the same from the NE a couple of hours ago. The Picton Castle is heeling away from the wharf as if we were sailing at about 5+ degrees and straining hard on all her lines. There is a roar in the rigging this crew has never heard before. All hands are standing by to do what is needed for their ship, but at this point there is little to do. The good news is that ALBERTO is blasting through pretty fast; tomorrow it should be gone to torment the south shore of Newfoundland and then off to Ireland. The weekend in Nova Scotia is predicted to be nice and sunny. Let’s hope so. We have just heard a MAYDAY from a yacht “Dad’s Dream” that left Bermuda with us bound for Halifax. Then we heard partial transmissions of a joint US Coast Guard / Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue operation. It is very, very rough out at sea south of us. We are anxious for their safety.

The weather has not stopped a small stream of visitors to the wharf including Mr. Milford Buchanan, who is making the finest little models of the Picton Castle for our shop in Lunenburg. Mr. Buchanan came down the wharf with his son and presented me with one of his handsome little wooden Picton Castles. I hope he comes back when he can come aboard for a “mug-up,” so we can show him around the real thing and thank him properly.

Cute models of the PC will be on sale in our store!
Dirty weather brings in other ships.
We arrive safely at Shelburne.

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North Atlantic: Lows and Squalls
and Tropical Storms, Oh, My! Gulf Stream too!

The Picton Castle is sailing due north at about 40 degrees North latitude just now. With a little help from a Gulf Stream eddy we are making 11 knots. The sun is coming out and we have a fresh west wind on the port beam. Lunenburg is at about 44 degrees 20 minutes north latitude. Now, bear in mind that 45 degrees is halfway to the North Pole from the equator. If we go much further north we stand the danger of slipping right over the top.

The latest on Tropical Storm ALBERTO—which has been churning around in the Gulf of Mexico—is that it is going to break loose along the eastern seaboard and head for Lunenburg, muy rapido, just like the Picton Castle. And get there more or less the same time we are supposed to. So we are paddling pretty hard to duck in somewhere along the southwestern shore of Nova Scotia by Wednesday night and get secured to let old AL pass by. Now 50-knot winds may not be a hurricane, but they’re nasty enough for me. It looks like we will have nice weather for sailing into Lunenburg on June 17, anyway.

The HMCS Preserver was heading south and dutifully sent a helicopter over to check on this mysterious pirate ship headed into Canadian waters. Finding out it was the Picton Castle they hailed a happy return and carried on with their duties patrolling the seas. Crew got pretty excited to see a Canadian Navy ship checking us out.

Yesterday we were still in the Gulf Stream only 200 miles south of Lunenburg. The water was 74 degrees F. and it was a sweet summer, even tropical day. Passing over the northern boundary of the Stream (and through a lot of fishing vessels working “the wall”) the water temperature dropped by 24 degrees, and thus did the air a great deal, too, and then the fog socked in. All our tropical flower crew are wigged out with how cold it is (it isn’t that cold).

Logan has his new royal yard ready to send up and so we won’t feel underdressed sailing into Lunenburg. Sailmakers are hard at it stitching away in the salon. Sea bag makers are hard at it as well. Deck watch has double lookouts in the fog, “a right tic dungeon o’ fog.”

Somehow a picture of the Picton Castle at anchor at Palmerston Atoll, deep in the South Pacific Ocean, in the warm gentle trade winds, turquoise waters, balmy breezes, soft sand in between the toes got in here. How could that happen?

Cold and foggy as we leave Gulf Stream behind
Crew work on seabags.
Headed north--and home.
Keeping an eye on the weather--14 June
Picton Castle at anchor as seen from the beach, Palmerston
Putting finishing touches on new Royal yard
Royal yard in progress.

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Passage North

The Picton Castle sailed from St. Georges, Bermuda with an eager crew excited about the last sea passage to Lunenburg, friends and family and the end of our voyage around the world. Most of the gang aboard sailed in this barque from Lunenburg just over year over a year ago. Now 30,000 miles later, they are homeward bound. The day came in with a fresh SW breeze and some sunshine and blue sky in between the low scudding clouds. All hands aboard, dropped off the pilot and soon we were steering due north under all sail but stuns’ls making a nice turn of knots. The night was fine with a murky moon hazily glowing through racing clouds.

This morning our wind was making up just a couple points aft of the port beam. The sky is getting thicker and we got in some sail. Spanker, main royal, flying-jib, main t’gallant staysail, gaff topsail and at last, the spanker all taken and stowed and we are still making a nice 7.5 knots. The seas have gotten pretty lumpy though so we are swooping along with plenty of motion. Storm handlines are rigged even though this is not a storm, just a fresh bit o’ breeze. Turns out we have a big low pressure system centered over the Bay of Fundy that reaches all the way down to south of Bermuda; this is what is giving us our strong and favourable winds. Not bad. The more important news is that we have a first Tropical Depression, now called Tropical Storm Alberto, developing in the Gulf of Mexico that the weather folks seem to think is going to scoot rapidly our way. I think this year we all need to keep an eye on the Gulf; the water is hot there, and that’s what cooks up a hurricane.

The crew are all good: excited and spooked at the same time to be headed home. Not much to be done about that. Signing on a ship is hard enough; sailing around the world in a 180′ square-rigger with 49 other people is challenge enough but it is harder still to go ashore. And it’s impossible to properly explain to anyone who hasn’t really gone to sea under sail for an extended period of time. We can list some of our ports: Panama, Galapagos, across the broad South Pacific to famous Pitcairn Island, Mangareva in French Polynesia, Rarotonga, Palmerston Atoll, Vavau in the Kingdom of Tonga, Viti-Levu in Fiji; Esprit, Malekula, Pentecost, Maewo in the Vanuatu Islands; through the treacherous Torres Straights to magical Bali, Christmas Island off Australia; Rodrigues and Reunion in the Indian Ocean; took a pass on Madagascar due to a pesky cyclone; around the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town, South Africa; tried to put into Namibia and got blown out by a violent gale then onto St. Helena, Fernando de Noronha off the corner of Brazil; Grenada, Bequia and Jost Van Dyke in the sweet West Indies. And that’s the time we spend ashore. Going to sea is something else altogether. Steering (and learning to steer), hauling braces, taking in stiff canvas sails in a squall, learning the 175 pieces of running gear, splicing, sewing, tarring, painting, oiling, varnishing, washing dishes, keeping forward lookout, aloft to furl out on the yards, sunburn, mildew, sunsets, sunrises, burning sun, crossword puzzles, star sights with a sextant, weather reporting, playing guitar up on the well-deck, rubbing the cat’s belly, keeping the log, packing your bunk, making a sea bag, stuffing a sea chest, learning your shipmates as they learn you.

The wind is still picking up and blowing 25-30 on the port quarter and the Picton Castle is going just about as fast as she can, bound for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Five hundred miles to go.

A fresh breeze for Nova Scotia
Flying the Canbadian flag
Making all sail

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Bermuda Interlude

The island or actually islands of Bermuda are an interesting phenomenon. A coral island formation growing off the top of a sunken volcano like this should be somewhere out deep in the South Pacific Ocean or maybe in the Maldives. These islands and cays of Bermuda most closely resemble the Vava’u group of the northern Tonga islands, yet here is Bermuda high up in the North Atlantic Ocean with New York City and Nova Scotia not even 700 miles away. It is a low archipelago surrounded by broad coral reefs lurking in an area of weather convergence; many ships sailed for their end when they might not have been looking for an island at all. The Portuguese, Spanish, and finally the English stumbled upon Bermuda in the 1500s and 1600s.

For us, Bermuda is delightfully placed due south of Lunenburg and about halfway to the Caribbean Sea. After sailing for a year in trade winds and warm palm-tree and volcanic covered islands with relaxed tropical island cultures, Bermuda is a port call of transition for us. It all appears very tropical with its distinctive architecture and pastel shades and palm trees everywhere. The people of Bermuda are a rich mosaic of folks with an accent particular to the island—a bit West Indian, a bit southern, and a bit English, all mixed up together in a pleasant tempo, each variation depending upon where the speaker may have gone to higher education. Bermuda is startlingly expensive, but that only serves to ease the shock of re-entry into North American and European cost of living soon to hit us. We find we spend more at the cheap islands anyway. Why? Because they are so cheap!

Our visit to Bermuda begins with taking a pilot on just off Town Cut into St. Georges at the east end of the island. Captain Wendle did the job; he has taken us in before, and we have many friends in common. Soon the Picton Castle was anchored in “Powder Hole” with our heavy port anchor and three shots of chain out. Paulina, who has sailed many times with the ship, was there to greet us with my brother, Jon, in tow who also has sailed with this ship and was instrumental in helping get the ship across from Europe these many years ago. As is typical of this Picton Castle crew, all hands found much to do—laundry, movies, motor-bike rental, pubs, sweet little beaches, and get-togethers here and there.

We had some local excitement when a cruise ship went aground making the turn into Hamilton Harbour in a blinding squall. These are pretty big ships maneuvering in pretty tight corners sometimes; even with all the electronic aids in the world you still need to see where you are going. They got the ship off on the evening tide without much problem. Now they have to assess what kind of damage happened to the reef. The passengers seemed to think it was exciting.

I am often asked about the “Bermuda Triangle.” What is it? Is it real? Why are there so many mysterious marine accidents in this area, which is basically the western North Atlantic? Well, I suppose it’s much the same as asking why there are so many car accidents at the busiest urban intersection of a major city at rush-hour instead of, say, a national forest. This area of the North Atlantic is simply very busy and has ever changing and sometimes quite violent weather. That and being the front door to any number of naval training exercises and amateur yacht-sailors sticking their nose into the deep blue for the first time, it is a wonder that there haven’t been more accidents. The weather in this area has lows rolling out of the Gulf of Mexico and off North America, hitting first the cold water north of the Gulf Stream and then the hot water of the Stream itself. Small wonder it boils up around here. It can be a pretty treacherous patch of water. Enough said.

Our base in St. Georges is always Ocean Sails sail-loft, with Steve and Suzanne Hollis at the helm, always glad to see us and hear about far-flung sailing friends. They can be amazingly resourceful—internet, tell us where to go to solve problems, even had a band saw on hand so Logan could cut a new yoke for the royal yard he is finishing. Just as we arrived Paulina was making a new colourful pennant for the Picton Castle at Ocean Sails.

Bermuda is well known as a recreational travelers’ destination. But it is also an island steeped in British and American history dating back to the first English colonies in America. This is best witnessed in St. Georges which, following in the wake of Lunenburg, is also being designated a United Nations World Heritage site. Here are pretty little houses with white-washed roofs that catch the rain along winding, narrow, town streets. The cemetery illustrates the influx over the years of Canadian, American, British and souls from other nations and particularly the islands of the West Indies. St. Kitts has a lot of grandchildren in Bermuda. Sailing ships from all over put into Bermuda. In the window of Ocean Sails is a perfect tiny model of a sailing whale boat left over from the days when men whaled from these shores. St. Georges was very much a base for Confederate blockade runners during the American Civil war. This brought a burst of wealth to this end of Bermuda of which the results are all around us. Today you find many Canadians here in the business of managing lots of money, among other things.

One particular serendipitous meeting was with the hospitable and welcoming members of the “East End Mini Yacht Club.” A chance encounter on a pier turned into an invitation to come on up and mix at the EEMYC. Soon a few of us were dancing, painting (yes, painting, as renovations were under way), and making new acquaintances at this venerable, vibrant, and down-to-earth sailing club. They have plans afoot to build up their youth sailing program. You can’t ski or mountain climb in Bermuda, but you sure can sail. Wesley, Stevie Dickenson, and Commodore Patty Washington could not have made us feel more welcome. Hats off to the EEMYC and much thanks.

The famous and even notorious (in a good way) single-handed sailor Paul Johnson in his most able Venus ketch Cherub sailed in just as we were clearing out on Saturday morning. Our crew had had a fine time sailing with Paul at Jost Van Dyke in the BVI. We welcomed him with a bottle of the best rum in the world—”Goslings” Black Seal—and we regretted that we had to sail on just as he pulled in. We encouraged him to follow us to Lunenburg, where he is anxious to get a hold of some superior Dauphinee blocks. Perhaps we will see him in lovely Lunenburg, but sail we must. We have a fair wind and a good chance along. One thing around here: You take your chance when you get it because the weather is sure to change and soon.

After monkeying around getting the port anchor back and catted, we steamed out the way we came in and soon we had all sail set and were steering due north bound for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where many of our friends and family will shortly be gathering to meet the Picton Castle on June 17th (if all goes well) We are having our cargo sale at the same time, so come one, come all!

18th-century houses mark Bermuda
Captain (far right), Paulina and friends
Captain Dan and Paul Johnson
Having a good time is part of the mix.
Model of a sailing whale boat
Norwegian cruise ship in a bit of difficulty
Nova Scotian gravetone
Our hosts banner
Pastel houses give charm.
Paulina making penant
Picton Castle and pilot boat
View from the top!

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Steering for the North Star

At 25 degrees north latitude the Picton Castle sailed out of our beloved trade winds. The water temperature has dropped 5 degrees since the Virgin Islands and cloud patterns have shifted to those we remember from long ago over the northern hemisphere. We are maybe two days south of Bermuda, our last port before Lunenburg. But a couple of days ago all was as it has been for most of the last year.

The yards of the ship were braced up halfway on the starboard tack to catch a fine Force-4 southeast trade wind on the quarter. Sailmakers were stitching away on the main hatch sewing tablings on the sail we are making for the 1841 Whaling Bark Charles W. Morgan laying at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, USA. This sail is coming out quite fine and we are looking forward to donating it to the ship and museum. Susannah, Ivan, Morgan, Kathleen, and watch helpers have finished a new main t’gallant staysail that set very well, and they are about to finish a new main deck awning. That will be quite nice to have.

Logan, Bart, and JD are swinging adzes, draw-knives and planes at a 28-foot chunk of spruce shaping a new fore-royal yard. The first yard broke at the beginning of the last voyage. We made a new one by gluing up some planks we bought in Panama. A couple of the planks have softened up a bit (code for rotten) so now we get to make one properly out of a big piece of pine we have been carrying around for years in the port waterways just for this purpose. We hope to have it crossed before Lunenburg, of course. What traditional spar-making I know I learned from West Indian shipwrights in the Caribbean, from Mr. Ruben Petersen in St. Thomas and from Mr. Wesley “Bones” Pilgrim in Grenada. I enjoy seeing young carpenters gain these skills learned as young sailors did before the mast in wooden sailing ships.

Ollie, Tracy, Andrea D., and Shackle are rigging away. Almost all the lower shrouds have been completely overhauled since Cape Town. This is a big job. All the wire seizings laboriously clamped on in 1996 in the snowy Lunenburg winter have to be broken off to get at the serving underneath. It is the serving and the wire itself that needs to be overhauled, not the seizings; they are fine, just in the way. Then the 8 or 10 feet of 1-1/8-inch wire underneath gets cleaned and wire brushed, greased with viscous goop, parceled with fine canvas and reserved with tarred marlin. Then this stiff wire needs to be bent around the solid rigging thimble and secured. Lastly, four heavy wire seizings have to be passed around to hold the legs tightly together. This is old-time sailing ship rigging—hard and nasty at times—but the gang is good at it. Ratlines are being renewed and rigging screws overhauled at the same time. Pretty tarry crowd we have here.

After work is done for the day, Ollie, Shackle, and Torunn (from Norway) have been studying Scandinavian sailing ship terms, since they want to sail in the several Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish ships. They are all good sailors and seamen; they just need to learn this business in their own language. I help them by giving terms in Danish, which are mostly the same as Norwegian. We use a wonderful Danish book (still in print) called Haandbog af Praktisk Somaendskab by Jens Kusk Jensen; it is the best book of its kind. In the mid 1970s Captain Kimberly in the Brigantine Romance used to help me pour over his old copy of this book to learn Scandinavian sea terms. Learning these terms helped get me a four-year berth in the Full Rigged Ship Danmark. Not bad, I thought.

Amanda and Rebecca and all their helpers have been hard at it. Painting and varnishing was coming along in the fine weather. Pin rails got more varnish. The masts have all gotten painted out a nice buff. Oh, you can paint a ship forever…

Danie has Brett and Pania as his engine-room helpers. Brett is a veteran of the machinery, and Pania says she likes it a lot. They report that they have been doing lots of cleaning. Hot work sometimes but it’s important. Joe is putting out the meals and even more birthday cakes. Today it’s mac and cheese with lots of salads. Joe will be sailing in the Topsail Schooner Shenandoah this summer, cooking on. He is quite a talented musician, a guitarist and singer who writes his own songs that have a Celtic, Maritime, bluesy feel to them. He has three excellent albums out, so why does he cook in sailing ships? Says he likes the life.

A lot of hands are finishing up canvas sea-bags with certain urgency. Lunenburg and the 17th of June are not far away.

Carpenters among the shavings
Danie starting the Main Engine
Ivan the sailmaker
Kathleen on the wheel near JVD
Pania and Danie
Preparing lunch
Redoing the rig
Redoing the wire seizings
Sailors are carpenters, too.
Shaping the yard
Sunset on way to Bermuda

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