Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Story of the Picton Castle' 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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From Panama the Picton Castle had mostly headwinds and we thus motored plenty more than we would have liked – must have been due to all the pollywogs aboard, now thankfully all gone – we did manage to sail across the Equator under full sail anyway.

Being in the Galapagos is a multileveled treat. First, we are in the “Enchanted Isles”, legendary islands of the Equator and Darwin, that’s pretty good; then being in Galapagos puts us at the jumping off point for a classic trade wind passage. At the edge of the South Pacific Ocean the delightful South East trade winds will draw us along for many thousands of miles to come.

But back to Galapagos. In addition to wandering among the many natural wonders for which these islands are so justly famous, our port, Baquerizo Moreno (aka-Wreck Bay), is also simply a delightful small, friendly and accommodating Latin American, Ecuadorian seaport town. Here we found lovely little hole-in-the-wall eateries, a remarkably well stocked hardware store, excellent inexpensive laundries, fruterias and pensiones for staying ashore – and any number of friendly guides and helpers willing to help us or show us around.

Of course, there are sea lions everywhere. I really mean ‘everywhere’. This is their town. They nap on the pier, or in your skiff, or anywhere else they have a mind to but they are just as likely to wander a bit into town if they find a reason. And marine iguanas have free reign of the rocks along the shore. If you get too close in their opinion, maybe 5 feet, they amble a bit away. Inland and in other bays and coves we found turtles to swim with, whales, big land tortoises and all that National Geographic stuff you would expect. We could shop for fresh provisions, top up our fuel and pick up last minute items for
Pitcairn as well. All in all, a very satisfying visit to the “Las Islas Encantadas”.

Each crew member had two days off and one day on duty, as we have done in every port. The on duty watches were busy with bending on more sail – we now have a flying jib, main t’gallant stays’l
and mizzen stays’l. We expect that these new sails will add some speed to our upcoming trade wind passage.

During their time off duty, the crew have been exploring San Cristobal and discovered for themselves the reasons these islands are famous – sea turtles, frigate birds, marine iguanas, giant tortoises, blue footed boobies and sea lions. The crew have toured the island by bike, scooter and truck taxi, going diving, snorkelling and surfing. One of the more interesting spots some of our crew found was a farm where we bought bamboo -they also grow all kinds of fruit (we provisioned the ship there for fruit) and are the official supplier of food to the Galapagos tortoise breeding sanctuary.

rsz lauren checks out a papaya in galapagos - copy
rsz loading fruit and bamboo aboard the ship in galapagos - copy
rsz lunchtime for tortoises in galapagos
rsz sea lions seek shade in leonards shadow
rsz skiff loading at the wharf behind sleeping sea lions

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Making Southing

Until this point, the ship’s log has been kept by the watch officers while the ship is underway. Starting today, trainees are filling in a rough log after their turn on helm. They’re learning that we record our position every hour, on the hour, and that we also make hourly notes on true wind direction and force, swell height and swell direction, barometric pressure, visibility and weather including clouds. Of course they all have to learn how to make all these assessments. They have a bit of experience from doing this on night watches in Lunenburg, but now that we are at sea there is much more keep an eye and now they get to learn how it’s all properly observed and recorded.

This is our second full day of motoring consistently southward. Some wind has picked up, but it’s from the direction we want to go. According to the forecast, it is supposed to back towards the east, making it much more useable for us. We continue to check in with Herb of Southbound II for his weather forecast broadcast daily on the single side band radio for vessels at sea in the North Atlantic, the weather fax consistently spits out drawings of North Atlantic wind and wave and surface forecasts and we’re getting weather by email as well. Somewhere around 25-26 north latitude we should pick up some tradewinds. With all the other vessels we heard Captain Tom Gallant in the mighty Schooner Avenger north of Bermuda bound for Lunenburg too.

Chibley seems to be back to her usual cool indifference, stalking around the deck and experimenting with naps in different bunks. We had a small bird as a passenger for most of yesterday afternoon, flying around the ship and landing on the transom to rest between flights. Chibley was unaware of our feathered passenger, which is just as well. She is pretty hard on small birds.

Donald made one of his specialties for breakfast – meat doughnuts – these are Grenadian/West Indian specialty. They are called “bakes”. You may wonder how meat and doughnuts go together, but it’s like a jelly filled doughnut, except the jelly is corned beef. There were cheese doughnuts for the vegetarians, and this morning the doughnuts were accompanied by oatmeal and sliced cantaloupe. Lunch featured one of my favourite Donald soups, rich with beans, potatoes and squash, along with homemade bread, pasta salad and leftover pasta with tomato sauce. Apart from headwinds the weather is fine and seas aren’t big either. So everything is good.

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42-42 / 65-03 May 12, 2010

By Captain Daniel D. Moreland

Just before dawn the sky was light in the NE with a tiny fingernail moon against a clear starry sky tugging the sun up to the horizon – breeze making up from the NW so looks like we will shut down the ME and get some sail on her, seas small. Sailed all day we did and took in sail again when it got very light – good drill for the gang anyway – now, all our weather information encourages us to slow down and let this low pass below us – then we can take advantage the fresh northerly and NWly winds on its trailing side – seas are smooth just now – this can change – this will change – change is the constant. So we have stopped and we will wait – Lunch was cream of mushroom soup and tuna melt sandwiches on home-made bread – dinner remains to be seen – just checked – dinner is roast pork, roast potatoes, broccoli, green salad and chocolate cake – not too bad – water temperature has gone up about 5 degrees C since early morning. This is good.

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Raid on Saint Nazaire in 1942

The humble old trawler/mine sweeper but none the less H.M.S. [or H.M.T.] Picton Castle was apparently one of 17 (or 19) vessels that constituted the first Allied surface raid on mainland Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. We expect that, being a mine sweeper, our ship was sweeping for mines. Possibly she was carrying out other tasks and duties as well. It is difficult or impossible for most of us to grasp the sense of duty, sacrifice and horror for those involved. Our Barque Picton Castle was laying in Saint Nazaire, France, a short walk from the dry-dock that was the very target of this raid. It has been fixed up since the raid and all is forgiven.

Along with many other steam trawlers, the Picton Castle was conscripted into the Navy in 1939 to fill an emergency need for mine sweepers and convoy escorts in and around the British Isles. While crewed largely with grizzled old salts of fishermen who, while perhaps lacking Naval discipline and polish, needed little training in handling mine sweeping gear, so similar to fishing gear it was. And seamanship? There wasn’t much any six week naval boot camp was going to teach these fishermen about the sea. These prosaic small vessels were often captained by young reserve officers with limited experience. Headquarters for the service were at Lowestoft at a place called “the Sparrows Nest”. A pretty rough and ready, rag-tag crowd they were. Dangerous, demanding work was their daily lot. Our little ship may well be the last HMS Royal Navy vessel from WWII in full active condition. She is the only one under sail, that’s for sure.

The Raid

In March of 1942, in the dark days of heavy trans-Atlantic convoy losses, the British executed a raid at Saint Nazaire which was the first surface attack on German-occupied France in the war, in order to deny to the German Navy an Atlantic dry-dock for their two big Battleships the Tirpitz and the Bizmark. If they could put this dock out of action then these very scary ships would have to steam the long narrow waters past Denmark and Sweden to get to a dry dock in Germany and back again, making them much more vulnerable to Allied destruction. These two ships were of particular interest due to their ability to run ragged over desperately needed Atlantic convoys with impunity. The raid took place and is considered one of the outstanding acts of British heroism in the war. More Victoria Crosses were awarded in this raid than any other comparable action in the Second World War.

However, for the Allies this raid was not easily done or even conceived. The big dry dock at Saint Nazaire is not on the coast, it is way up a river. A force would have to approach Nazi-held France deep in the Bay of Biscay undetected and then steam miles up the River Loire. The river has strong tides, currents and sand bars and it is all very exposed. Alternately, bombing the docks successfully would have required pinpoint accuracy against a facility heavily defended with anti-aircraft weaponry. Area bombing might not have worked and would have been sure to inflict an unknown but certainly large number of civilian casualties. A conventional naval assault looked doubtful as well – submarine nets made a sub attack not on. Thus the raid on Saint Nazaire, “Operation Chariot,” was cooked up with Lord Louis Mountbatten at the head. It was to be a commando raid. And on paper, very, very bold. Their best advantage was that the Germans probably knew this and had thus dismissed the possibility of a raid of this nature in their planned defences.

The plan was to ram a fast ship full of explosives into the dry dock doors and blow the dock to pieces. Sounds simple, but simple and easy are not the same thing, they rarely are. They took one of Roosevelt’s fifty old “Lend Lease” WWI destroyers, the HMS Cambletown (formerly USS Buchannen, I think), and stripped her down, altered her enough to pass for a German destroyer as best they could and packed her with tons of explosives in the bow and set out from Falmouth, England with a bunch of support craft including, we are told, our Picton Castle. She must have gone ahead to sweep for mines as she was never that fast.

At 0130 in the morning the destroyer rammed the dry dock at 20 knots almost jumping over the gates and crushed and sliced about 40 feet of her bow. The commandos jumped ashore and ran off to do their work blowing up bits and pieces of the dockyard, quickly figuring out that getting back to England by their attending launches wasn’t going to happen as most of these launches didn’t make it. They were either captured or found clever ways to get back to England (by way of Spain), the ones that lived. It was probably a diversionary air raid that tipped the Germans off that something was happening. Anyway, by 1000 in the morning most of the survivors had been captured by the large German force. While they were being rounded up, the ship exploded. The Germans must have thought the wrecked ship was safe as there were about 250 aboard looking around, taking pictures or nearby, that died in the explosion. The blast also put this dry dock out of business until 1947.

The raid worked – the Tirpitz was effectively trapped and was destroyed before she could sink a ship. It was brave, audacious, horrible and successful. Many Allied supply ships got through to England that might not have. There was another consequence as well – sometime after this raid, Hitler issued an edict that any and all commandos, in uniform or out, surrendering or not, wounded or not shall simply be shot. This resulted in many dead commandos, and later, hung German officers at the end of the war. But the Germans who fought and picked up the commandos of Saint Nazaire were unanimous in their admiration of those warriors who had taken part in this infamous raid.

locking into St Nazaire, hopefully the last lock for a while
PC alongside the huge and virtually indestructible submarine pens
The Bracken brothers
the very large drydock that Picton Castle helped take out of commission in WWII

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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 6

What follows below are the first Captain’s Logs that were written back when just getting the ship and working at seeing this dream come true. The story begins in Norway in May of 1993. We hope you enjoy the tale.

The Story of the Picton Castle

The Captain’s Running Letter
Captain Daniel D. Moreland

England to Spain – March 1994

We steamed out of Falmouth Monday, March 28, after a little over a week’s stay and crossed the western approaches to the English Channel, bound for Madeira. The western approaches along with the Strait of Dover can be the worst part, the roughest part of the Channel. This time, the conditions were “fair to good.” We steamed SSW into a fresh southwesterly breeze. The sky was leaden and overcast. It was spitting rain, but the barometer was steady. The weather forecasts were such that I was convinced that if we didn’t sail now, we could be gale bound another week with a coming front.

All went well enough for the first couple of days. The main engine ticked over without complaint, giving the ship a steady eight knots. The crew got on watch routine. Meals and coffee came off the wood stove in the galley in regular pattern. She steamed well; all of the gear worked. We passed Ushant well offshore, as the sailing directions instruct. We carried on to pass Finisterre the same way, that is, well offshore Finisterre, land’s end on the other side of Biscay.

Around noon Monday, about 90 miles from Finesterre, at the southern side of Biscay, the barometer started to go down about one millibar per hour. It kept dropping into the afternoon and picked up in fits and bursts. The seas built up steadily. There was a severe gale forming south of Ireland that was going to slash its way up the English Channel. It turns out that it slashed more than that. I remember thinking I was glad we weren’t in the western approaches for this one. I’m still glad.

By late afternoon, the wind was screaming out of the southwest, we were in a full gale and the Bay of Biscay was living up to its reputation as a nasty place to be during a blow. Seas picked up to about 20′ and were pretty close together. It would have been worse had we been closer inshore, deeper in the bay. It looked worse to the south as well so we hove her to while we still had sea room to leeward. Even if we could have gotten around Finisterre, that would have put us on a lee shore. Not so fine. We set a sort of storm stays’l forward to help her lay off the wind and not wallow in the wave troughs. We secured the main engine too. As it got dark it was blowing force 9 and increasing. That night it got up to force 10 in my estimation. That’s not far below hurricane strength.

Around eleven that night, it was at its worst. The ship was rolling hard, with the wind and seas just a point or so abaft the starboard beam. She is ballasted pretty stiffly just now to keep her up upright, with big seas staying off the decks and cargo hatch. This, however, gives her a pretty snappy roll period and makes her pretty uncomfortable for human habitation. The cats and dog didn’t like it much either. But she didn’t scoop any real green water and that was the idea. How did she ride? Why, she shamed the gulls…

Just after midnight, with the crew keeping lookout on the bridge wings with flares standing by to alert bigger ships to our presence, the barometer went up a bit. A weather report spat out of one of our little black boxes stating the wind should go to a force 7 “for a time” before veering into the northwest and picking up to storm force 10. Good news-bad news. With the wind out of the SW, we had 300 miles of sea room into Biscay to the coast of France. We could stay here for several days if we had to. With the winds out of the NW we had about 60 miles of sea room and a lee shore on to the rock bound north coast of Spain. Not so fine. But it let up a bit. The Engineer got the main engine going again. We hooked her up and hammered our way for La Coruna, Spain, the closest port of refuge. We hadn’t drifted so much in 10 hours hove to. Fifteen miles or so. As dawn broke, we could see the high coast of Spain and feel the seas become low rolling swells on the rising shelf of land. We surfed into La Coruna, swung around the 30′ high stone breakwater and let go both the anchors. An hour later the wind out of the north was roaring again. We could see the tops of the seas breaking over the stone wall to windward of us. Then, just about all of the crew turned in for some well-deserved sleep. The cats chased each other around in the warm sunlight on the cargo hatch.

Quite a seaport, La Coruna. While gales blew outside, large wooden draggers and other fishing vessels streamed in. While we were there, freighters and tankers came and went. A lone yacht left one morning and got towed in dismasted the same afternoon. It would be an interesting place to come back to as a Barque with a shipload of crew. The yacht club took good care of us with their powerful hot showers.

La Coruna is a big city and carefully managed harbour. A section reserved for every type of vessel including an anchorage for ours. Small fishing vessels, large ones, small yachts, large ones, cruise ships, freighters and supertankers.

The lighthouse called the “Tower of Hercules” is claimed to be the oldest in the world established by the Romans ages ago. While here and in the first sunlight we’d seen for months, we made a jib for the Picton Castle and started painting her up.

The weather was getting better. Slowly the barometer crept up and it looked as if we were in for some decent weather.

Early one morning, after two weeks, the day came in fair and clear with some mist rolling down to the sea off the mountains. We got underway in the light land breeze. All hands were anxious to get going. I couldn’t help thinking that if she were rigged, we would have sailed off the hook and made our way to sea, piling canvas on her. Next time.

Once well offshore, the wind backed around in a northerly direction and slowly picked up. By the time we had Cape Finisterre on the port beam and we were sailing SSW, we had a good force 6 on the stern. We set out our little jib and talked ourselves into believing that it was really pulling us along. Slowly the coast of Spain and Portugal slip-slided over the western horizon as we knocked off 8 ½ knots for Madeira.

Four days later, we let go our big hook just off an old fort in the eastern part of the city of Funchal, Madeira some 600 miles off the coast of Morocco, Northwest Africa.

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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 5

What follows below are the first Captain’s Logs that were written back when just getting the ship and working at seeing this dream come true. The story begins in Norway in May of 1993. We hope you enjoy the tale.

The Story of the Picton Castle

The Captain’s Running Letter
Captain Daniel D. Moreland

Voyage Across the Atlantic – March-July, 1994

After five months alongside the quay of the inner harbour of Ipswich, England, the crew was ready to go. On March 7, 1994, the Picton Castle (which we bought as the Dolmar) passed through the ancient lock gates of the wet tidal dock into the River Orwell. This was the beginning of a 5,000 mile voyage to the USA and Canada where she will become a square-rigged Barque for world voyaging.

It was a cold and blustery winter’s morning but it was time to get moving. After months of fretting over budgets and fixing things on the ship, we were underway again. We steamed slowly down the River Orwell, lashing down things on deck, checking the engine and double-checking the barometer. The Castle glided serenely past eight miles of farms, cottages, fields, little towns and shipyards, with laid up Thames sailing barges and other gaff-rigged vessels along the riverbank’s low grey countryside. A gale started to blow outside, so we brought her to anchor off Harwich for the night. It would be good just to get used to being on a ship in commission again for a night before we put our toes into the North Sea, an anchor watch to hear her ticks and groans.

One side of Harwich Harbour is a bucolic English country scene complete with thatched roof farm buildings and cows spotted about. The other side is a complex of the most modern marine industrial steel works with gantries, loading-unloading platforms and roll on-roll off facilities. What with the sister port of Felixstowe, this is the biggest container port in Europe. North Sea passenger and cargo ferries would be coming and going to and from Holland, Germany, Denmark, France and the deep sea all day and all night. We anchored on the farm side of the river.

The next day we steamed out into what they specialize in around here: a grey leaden heavy water headwind, just like all those nasty old European marine paintings. We were outward bound down the English Channel. All was well enough crossing the broad mouth of the Thames estuary, still a windward shore with the wind blowing off the land and across the subaqueous delta that makes up the hazardous approaches to the River Thames. We left that all well to starboard, passed a lightship or two and into the North Sea. As we made our course more southerly, the wind naturally came ahead. Rounding Ram’s Gate heading for the Straits of Dover, she started butting her head into a building sea. The weather for that day was advertised as force 5 or 7 and now it was all of that.

Dover approach.About the time we were abeam of Dover, and it was the narrowest part of the English Channel, it was pretty rough. The breeze was kicking up to a force 8 or 9, with seas tumbling through the straits, crowding and piling upon each other after their run in from the wintry North Atlantic. With the wind against the tide, we were still making pretty good headway over the bottom, but we were starting to take a pounding. The bow is 18′ high and it was starting to go under occasionally, with gross, grey, foaming breakers spewing as far as I could see. We were still pitching into it pretty hard even after the engine was brought back to half speed. It was getting dark, this was our first day at sea, the barometer was still dropping, and the 7½-second light at the entrance breakwater at Dover was winking at me through the gloom. I decided that after almost six months alongside, none of my crew nor the ship needed this kind of punishment. I put her hard right to steer north through the darkening dusk for Dover Harbour five miles away. This, of course, took the jarring seas off our bow and put them on our beam. Until now, we had been pitching and shuddering as she came out of the head-on seas. Now she began to roll. I forgot to tell the cook about this, and the galley took some punishment. Anything not iron riveted down, took a trip across the ship.

Oh well, an hour later we were at anchor inside Dover Harbour, behind the massive breakwaters. We twisted and yawed our way right up to the harbour entrance where a pilot boat met us and led us to our anchorage. It became suddenly still as Bosun Tara steered her in and we shot into the lee and slowed down. We stayed on the hook for two days of fog and gales. We watched as gales boiled and churned outside. In the daytime, the white chalk cliffs and castles dominate the scene when we could, in fact, see them through the fog. At night, the huge cross channel ferries took over. The weather didn’t bother them much, but then, every once in a while, one rolls over too.

Drug sniffer--friendly and cute.We could see the breakers through the cut in the breakwater and waited. While we waited, Her Majesty’s Customs Service wondered what this old black trawler was doing at anchor in Dover Harbour. They got so curious about us that they sent a boat out to inquire and maybe take a look around. They brought a drug-sniffing dog. I asked if this was a search and they said yes, in fact, it was. The dog was cute and he ended his visit by putting his paw print in the guest book. His name was Daniel. It was a cold morning, so HM Customs all had a cup of coffee before they left. It was nice to have visitors.

On our third day there (no shore liberty), the early morning anchor watch woke all hands with reports of calm winds, clear weather, and a sunny day in the offing. A high-pressure ridge was passing over us and we glided serenely out into the English Channel once again. It’s amazing how still waters around the world look much the same, but tortured seas take on their own distinctive characteristics: Long Island Sound; the North Atlantic; South Pacific; the Baltic Sea; the Grand Banks; the English Channel; all different when rough, similar when calm; but now it was calm.

I hugged the north coast of the Channel, having taken a hint now about the weather and its changes. It was, after all, the English Channel in winter. We steamed along, leaving Dungeness Folkstone (terminus of the channel tunnel – the “Chunnel”) and the Isle of Wight about three miles starboard. That night the barometer started to drop with the advance of the next low-pressure system lifting her skirts to trundle up the Channel as they are wont to do. The forecast was calling for gales again. Yea. Gales aren’t so bad in the middle of the ocean with lots of sea room and deep water to keep the seas spread out and almost no traffic. That, however, does not describe the English Channel.

We pulled into Tor Bay off Devon and anchored off the old fishing town of Brixham in the southwest corner of the bay. We ended gale bound here for a week. In Tor Bay that is. We didn’t stay at Brixham. We alternated between anchoring off Brixham when the gales were west to southwest and then shifting to an anchorage off Torquay at the northern end of the bay three or so miles away when the gales came out of the northwest. The crew didn’t get ashore to speak of. We dragged anchor once and the Mate Jeff got a second anchor down promptly. Screaming gales in the lee of Devon, the land of Drake and Hawkins as well as where my mother’s family came from a long time ago. It was kind of beautiful in a savage sort of way standing all those watches in the wind; straining at the anchor chains, sun and shooting clouds. Brixham, famous for its fleet of ketch-rigged sailing trawlers, is an enchanting old seaport that, with the exception of a new yacht marina where JW & A Uphams Shipyard used to be, is still a crowded old fisherman’s harbour. The “Crown and Anchor” pub saw our custom for pints as it has for untold generations of seafarers. The Uphams Shipyard built the Mayflower replica now in Plymouth, Massachusetts and sailed there in 1957 by Captain Alan Villiers. The Brigantine Yankee fitted out here for four world voyages just after the war. It also built the Brixham trawler ketch in 1935. That became my first ship in the Caribbean when I was fresh out of school those many years ago. They remembered her launching when I asked around, the Maverick ex-Cachelot.

Finally, we got a gale warning that lacked the usual confidence that we had been accustomed to and the barometer wasn’t doing its expected nose-dive. So the anchor watch woke all hands. Doug, the Engineer, rolled over the rumbling beast of a main engine and at two o’clock in the morning, we got underway again so we could make a daylight harbour entrance (always nice to do) in our next harbour, Falmouth.

At 06:00 we were three miles or so due south of Salcombe Bay, the resting place of the magnificent four-masted Barque Herzogin Cecelie, wrecked in 1936 on her way back from Australia with grain. Years ago, as Mate in the Brigantine Romance, put into Cape Town on a world voyage, I met some who had been crew on her, including Pamela Erikson, the skipper’s wife.

We were also pushing along pretty well into a force 5 or 6 with seas not too built up yet and with good visibility. We were headed for Falmouth, but I took her close to Plymouth on the way just in case the weather forecast was more accurate than I believed it was going to be. We passed north of Eddystone Light. It didn’t blow more than force 7, and by then we were in the lee of Cornwall. We got to Falmouth in eleven hours, 90 miles. That night it blew like hell. It turns out they were right after all, but we were happily on a mooring designed for huge ships in Falmouth’s inner harbour.

Falmouth is a lovely place, well known as a landfall for ships bound for England as well as the last British and European harbour for ships bound for deep water, like us. The last large commercial square-riggers bringing grain from Australia often made for Falmouth in the 1920’s and 30’s to get their orders for a port of discharge. There was no radio in those days. We found Falmouth very hospitable and it was a good place to lay out the weather. It was an excellent safe harbour, with a short row to the town dock, fine pubs and folks genuinely interested in the ship. In fact, a couple of old Navy salts said they recognized her and asked if she was the old “Picton Castle“. It turns out she participated in the raid on St. Nazaire. The raid on St. Nazaire in March 1942 was an attempt to put out of action the Normandie Dock in Nazi occupied France. This dry-dock was the only one that could take the German battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz. This, I think, was the first amphibious assault on Europe. While in Ipswich, we were put in touch with Tom Gamble who had served in our ship during World War II. One night he came aboard for dinner and regaled us with life aboard the HMS Picton Castle in the Royal Navy while Europe was in flames.

The steam-fishing trawler Picton Castle was one of five sister ships built for Consolidated Fisheries out of Grimsby. She had a triple expansion Amos & Smith 91 horsepower steam engine with 9-foot propeller. She was fishing mostly out of Swansea. In September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and the natural fertilizer hit the ventilating system. Later that month, our ship and many others were requisitioned into the Royal Navy. She was fitted out as a minesweeper with, among other things, an acoustical hammer projecting from the bow. The weld marks for this can still be seen on each side of the bow, forming a sort of Maltese cross in welding bead. I expect we’ll leave it there. She served as both a minesweeper and a convoy export vessel, since she was capable of 12 knots under full steam. She was also armed, with a 12-pounder on the foc’s’le head, a .30 calibre Lewis machine gun on each bridge wing, a double .50 calibre machine gun aft of the pilot house and a couple of racks of depth charges on the stern. Her crew was made up of fishermen and reservists hastily mustered into service and made up a pretty rag-tag crowd. They called this fleet “Harry Tate’s” Navy, after a popular vaudeville comedian who was pretty scruffy and vulgar. I can understand why. The reservist officers were often not terribly acquainted with the Navy, ships, sea or war. They were also called the wavy Navy for their wavy uniform stripes. I understand this was not a compliment. It seems that efforts to get the old fishermen into uniforms were dropped early on.

Our friend, Tom Gamble, was regular Navy and he was the telegraph operator. He was also dyslexic. Apparently, both the British Navy and German forces thought the Picton Castle was using some extra secret code. No, Tom was just getting his letters and words mixed up. It seems this kind of curious situation was quite common, especially early on in the war. Tom told us of a time when a mine went off under her, sending her further into the air than she was designed to go. They choked her boilers with coal and steamed her to a dry-dock as fast as they could to repair her, but upon inspection, the only thing damaged was the nerves of her crew. The hull was fine. Tom showed us where his bunk was and described the ship and accommodations to us and showed us pictures of her in those days. The Picton Castle was otherwise employed while the evacuation of Dunkirk was carried out. During D-Day in 1944, she was working as a support vessel for the invasion escorting ships down the North Sea to various staging areas in England for the jump to France. One story, nay, claim to fame stands out as the night grew long in our mess room that night in Ipswich with Tom bringing the story of our ship to life. It turns out the HMS Picton Castle is single-handedly responsible for the liberation of Norway.

As the Allies advanced across Europe and Germany, Norway remained occupied by German forces. Without a major invasion but with plenty of resistance fighting, the German leadership figured out things weren’t going their way and pretty much took it upon themselves to back out of Norway. As the Germans retreated, the Allies figured they probably needed to clear the fjords of mines, etc. So at some point, a fleet of these naval mine sweeper/trawlers were sent to Norway to do the job, our ship among them. She developed engine trouble one night and fell out of the flotilla. Once they got it going again, the skipper calculated they were going to miss their rendezvous and their mine sweeping assignment. He had a chart of Bergen, Norway and he had to go somewhere, so to Bergen it was.

I can picture her now: a lone, bedraggled, grey steamer, streaked with coal dust, puffing and winding her way up the Bergen fjord unchallenged. An unkempt, makeshift crew of independent fishermen ignoring naval discipline, reservist officers hopelessly trying to instil some. Perhaps it was a kind of standoff. Quietly, she would have steamed into the deserted harbour of Bergen. She tied up in town. I doubt if much brass was polished and her dirty old Navy Ensign snapped grimly at the peak. All was quiet. Slowly, people started to come out of buildings to see this strange little vessel.

It had been a long time in Bergen since they had seen anything on a flag besides a swastika. The mayor decided to do something. He and the city council solemnly marched down to the ship and requested to come aboard this vanguard of the mighty Royal Navy. Finding the skipper, they shook his hand, holding it, and thanking him and the crew of the HMS Picton Castle “…for liberating Norway!” From that day in the mid-forties, she has been and forever will be known as:
The Liberator of Norway
(frelser av Norge)

She mustered out of the British Navy in December 1945 and was fishing again in 1946. She might well be the only British naval vessel from World War II still in active sea going commission. There was another thing Tom Gamble told us when he saw our wretched mutt. He started by saying it had been so long since, that he checked himself, realizing it had been 50 years. Our dog Yankee is the very image, an exact replica of the dog of the Picton Castle during the war. I asked Tom if he was as dumb as this one.

To be continued…

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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 4

What follows below are the first Captain’s Logs that were written back when just getting the ship and working at seeing this dream come true. The story begins in Norway in May of 1993. We hope you enjoy the tale.

The Story of the Picton Castle

The Captain’s Running Letter
Captain Daniel D. Moreland

Passage to England – November 15, 1993

On a bright, clear, sunny Danish morning in early September, the crew let go the heavy hawsers, the Dolmar backed down on a stern spring and nosed into Svendborg Harbor bound for England. This was to be the first leg of a 4,000-mile, transatlantic voyage to New York, New England and then Nova Scotia.

The crew, including Mate Jeff, Engineer Doug, Bosun Tara, Cook Henrik, Deckhands Scott and Dave, along with others, had been working diligently for three months getting our staunch vessel ready for sea. We were joined by Danish Heidi Baatz, whom we had met in Svendborg. She came from the north part of Jutland. Her father was the skipper of 400-ton coaster and she had a desire to see the watery part of the world. She is also a rust banging fool, unstoppable with a rust hammer.

So we steamed northerly out of Svendborg Sound in between pretty and low wooded isles, passing yachts and coastal freighters to the “Great Belt,” the piece of water between the island of Fyn and the principle island of Zealand, home to Copenhagen. Denmark is a country of islands, and much of Denmark’s charm is a result of that. Now they’re building a huge bridge to Zealand from Fyn. It will be the largest suspension bridge in the world by a large factor. When done, it will connect the capital of Denmark with land traffic to Europe. Cost a bazillion dollars. Put a dozen ocean-going ferryboats out of work. Most Danes don’t seem to want it. I didn’t meet any Danes who thought the European Union was going to be good for Denmark, either.

The ship was performing well. The engineer developed and trained the crew in the minute details of engine checks of the fairly sophisticated engine room. Cylinder temperatures, cooling water discharge, lube oil cooling, voltage, and injectors, grease cups, bilge level, oilers and a lot of things were checked at fifteen minute intervals. The engineer kept a very close eye on his machinery while we started to get used to it all. The steering gear, radios, and safety gear were all up to date and we had conducted all the appropriate drills. The gang was glad to get under way. Smooth sailing in the lee of Jutland.

Rounding Skagen, the Dolmar started punching in the rolling remnants of a spent westerly North Sea gale. Stiffened with 60 tons of ballast, she had a pretty snappy roll. Good news for future sailing ship stability. Pretty tough on crew new to the sea, let the heaving begin. Things started looking pretty snotty. We had been land-bound for months, we were still learning the ship. Discretion being the better port of valour, I ducked here into the last harbour for a while, Hanstholm, and spent 24 hours there working on electrical system repairs and monitoring the weather. We poked back out the next morning, the seas were down and we started across the North Sea.

We had gotten this little black box called a Navtex and it spits out weather reports and predictions for the region the ship is in. A long tape of flimsy fax paper with terse pronouncements is its contribution to my mental health. Things were going fine, smooth seas; crew no longer throwing up, grey and light overcast as we steered southerly courses into the North Sea. We were buzzed frequently by fighter jets on manoeuvres. I don’t know from what country. Twelve years ago or so, when we were homeward bound in these waters in the full-rigged ship Danmark, and Breschznev was head of the Soviet Union, NATO manoeuvres used to be pretty thick around here. We heard later on the VHF radio that a fighter plane splashed near us and rescue operations were under way.

It was strange and amusing, listening to the radio on the bridge while on watch motoring along. As we passed in and out of range of commercial Norwegian, Danish, German, Dutch, French and eventually, English AM/FM radio stations, the languages changed but the bravado of the disc jockeys stayed the same. Picking up BBC Radio, I was reminded of old black-and-white war movies, and then of all the war that had been fought in these waters. We chugged along in these ancient European waters.

All was going well, the engine was going fine, the watches turning over, etc. I was aiming to make a daytime transit of the narrow part of the English Channel between Dover and Calais. Seemed like a good chance along for Plymouth. Our little weather box was reporting all kinds of lows and gale warning north and south of us with nothing special in our area.

But the wind was picking up and seas building. Then out spat a description of a very low-pressure area charging out of the North Atlantic into the English Channel. I figured it was the tail of the hurricane that had just danced around the western Atlantic. Still, no big deal until the black box spat out “Extreme Force 9 gale warnings English Channel 25′ seas in western approaches.” We had a chart for Harwich, a major port on the north side of the Mouth of the Thames on the southeast coast of England and fifty miles away. There we headed. By the time we were off the approach for Harwich, the weather had gotten pretty rotten and the ship was pitching and rolling in the nasty chop of the Channel. Past a couple of light ships and into Harwich harbour. Traffic control sent us to Ipswich, seven miles on up a smooth snaking river, past moored Thames sailing barges, into a locked-in wet dock. There we lay and glad of it. The gales shrieked outside and there were reports of shipping losses.

Here in Ipswich we learned that the Dolmar, as the HMS Picton Castle, has been in the Royal Navy as an armed mine sweeper from September, 1939 to December, 1945. It’s hard for me, in 1993, to imagine the deprivation, loss and courage of those times and in ships like this. I suppose I get a little taste at sea. We’re looking into the Picton Castle‘s routes, convoys and activities during WW II. The crew are working away during the day, and at night can be found promoting international good will at the Lord Admiral Nelson Pub as part of the Picton Castle‘s “philanthropic” international adopt-a-pub program.

So, after a few days in Ipswich, with endless frontal systems rolling up the English Channel, and with hurricane season in full flower, it seemed a good chance and wise idea to fly back to the States to do some serious fundraising and develop this little Barque project a little further. So I left the mate in charge and took a bus to Heathrow International Airport. Kuwait Air, no bacon, no booze, very good security and plenty of fuel.

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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 3

What follows below are the first Captain’s Logs that were written back when just getting the ship and working at seeing this dream come true. The story begins in Norway in May of 1993. We hope you enjoy the tale.

The Story of the Picton Castle

The Captain’s Running Letter
Captain Daniel D. Moreland

The Plot Thickens – August 9, 1993

Sitting in my small but cozy cabin in the 290-ton motor ship Picton Castle and after only two and a half months on board, I find that the story of our project has already become rich and many layered.

We’re alongside the quay in Svendborg harbour in southern Denmark. The crew are banging rust like mad. A surprising number of beautiful Baltic schooners come and go in the course of a few days. The weather is dreadful for any kind of ship work, but it gets done anyway. They have a saying in Danish, “We have two kinds of winters here in Denmark, one white and one green.” This is the green kind. I don’t know how the natives get so tanned. We’ve lost what tan we had.

The heart of this ship right now must be the engine room. It is huge and has one of the world’s finest marine diesels as its impressive centerpiece. When quiet, it appears solid, patient and indestructible. When fired up, it’s a deep, rumbling beast of 690 horsepower. They must be Clydesdales.

The Engineer, “Dr. Motor”, my cousins Tim Viereck and David Brumm, have rarely seen the light of day as they peel back the ten years or so of neglect and let us say “highly economical” repairs and patches. The Burmeister & Wain Alpha is the Rolls Royce of her kind, and has a reputation for running and running and running. This one, installed in 1965, is not considered old. Most of the schooners around here still have their original Alphas from the 1930’s with pipes, floor plates you could eat off, and sometimes potted plants in the skylights. Someday…

The engineering department has done a sterling job of diving into that big engine. Skilled, dedicated and excellent at trouble shooting – if you want to know what they look like, watch the film “Das Boot”. Tim, with his eternally creative solutions when trained experts were stuck, was an enormous asset until he had to head home to take care of business. My other cousin Dave, from Oregon, came for adventure and has had plenty, maybe not what he planned on. He personally cleaned out the inside of a 10-ton fuel tank that had not been used in years.

Jeff Simmons, from Connecticut, the mate and veteran of the brig Niagara, schooners Spirit of Massachusetts, Pride of Baltimore I, Mary Day, Victory Chimes, Brilliant, Tole-Mour, the cargo ketch Edna and relief skipper of the sloop Providence, keeps the crew going on, getting the Picton Castle looking like something. Scraping and banging and wire brushing, priming and painting acres of topsides and bulwarks, charthouse, pilot house, poop deck stanchions, etc. The topsides are done, and were transformed from a rust-streaked blue to an elegant black, with a light yellow buff for the fo’c’sle head and deck houses. (I got 50 gallons of the stuff for $150, so you can bet we’ll use it lots). Jeff brings with him an impressive patience, a dedication for the life, an endless supply of salty jokes which eventually makes us beg him to stop and an ability to get elbow deep into his work, which makes him a tremendous help to me.

Tara Topley of Philadelphia, Bosun of the Picton Castle has been trying to learn Danish. “What for?” is the first question and “how?” is the second. I enjoy being able to speak Danish, but I don’t recommend trying to learn it. Tara’s maturity and integrity belie her youthful years. At 22, she has already been to sea most of the last five or six years, in some of the above mentioned vessels. She is a Bosun, and that means don’t cross her path and you might as well work to midnight if you want to make points with her.

Scott S. of Lancaster, PA is also dedicated to the life before the mast, and has the tattoos to show for it. The four masted Bark Sea Cloud and Schooners Spirit of Massachusetts and Te Vega have been graced with his profile, and now he has signed on as Apprentice to learn in depth the arts of a sailor.

Captain Carl Brown of New York, my bosom buddy and colleague in Affairs Maritime and Styling Pontification, has deigned to keep us on the straight and narrow with his insightful, take-no-prisoners, illuminating humour, as well as lending a hand on the bridge, not to mention swinging a mean rust hammer. Carl has taken a little time off from a blossomingly successful career as a playwright to help his old friend pilot this ship about. Carl has sailed in the Schooners Ernestina, Bill of Rights, Pioneer and Harvey Gamage, much of the time as skipper.

Phil Simmons, Jeff’s dad and a civil engineer, draws upon years in the Navy and as Chief Mate in the merchant marine, to come here and lend us a hand making meticulous repairs to various wooden parts of this mostly steel ship.

Jim Brink, Sailmaker of long standing, is here. The brigantine Romance, bark Charles W. Morgan, full rigger Danmark, brigantine Eye of the Wind, three master topsail schooner Capt. Scott, four masted Bark Sea Cloud, schooner Ernestina, bark  and others have all set his beautifully crafted creations. Quiet (most of the time) and steady, Jim has been my shipmate off and on for 20 years, and a first-class one at that.

Henrich has just signed on as cook, to leave the other hands free to pass the watch and keep the machinery. A desire to see something of the world other than Svendborg seems to be his big motivation.

We spent six weeks at the most excellent shipyard, Thomsen & Thomsen in Marstal on Aero, and island, a small one, off the main island of Fyn, an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland. There we dry-docked the ship, sandblasted and painted the bottom, attached 40 zincs, scraped and greased the 5 ½’ prop (original prop was 9′), removed an ancient WW II depth sounder transducer, drained and cleaned the 20 ton fresh water tank and the 20 ton ballast tank, drained 800 litres of waste oil from the engine room bilge, cut in the water line, trimmed the ship with ballast. 10,000 small and large jobs were done in the engine room, including testing all of the injectors, replacing a section of exhaust pipe, installing an air pump cylinder head, overhauling the pumps for fresh and sea water, attempting to make sense of the electrical system, re-establishing fuel lines, recommissioning unused tanks, lubing the controllable pitch prop and shaft, checking the bearings and cylinder walls, overhauling all the seawater and cooling pumps, and got the electrical panel working. Endless cleaning and mucking out of black greasy holes that had not seen the light of day since her rebuilding in Haugesund, Norway in 1955. Endless tracing of bilge lines, fuel lines electrical lines. Getting electronics – GPS, SSB radio, radar – on line. Jeff Bolster took over setting up the navigation department – charts, tables, almanacs, etc. – all with an eye to efficiency, safety and of course economy. Jeff and Molly and little Ellie and Carl were great sports, crammed into a mate’s cabin designed for one.

The upshot is that the ship’s hull is very strong and thick, and that the engine is also superlative. The electrical system is pretty antiquated, but I’ll see if we can keep it going. It seems strong enough. Lots of water tankage.

I’ve also managed to find here a worm drive steering gear at a fraction of the cost of a new one. From an old auxiliary sail ship of our size and laying someone’s garden in Jutland it was, my nautical spies had been eying for sometime, waiting for the right ship to come along. Boat davits, an anchor, spare parts for the engine, plus mahogany and teak doors off scrapped ships to go below.

The season is getting on, but it seems to have been worth it to get our machinery in order and at the same time get her banged and painted. I love steel! Take a rust hammer to something that hasn’t been stripped in forty years, and then sand and prime, it’s almost as good as new. Wood would be gone. She is also of that pre-war steel that by ship’s classification standard is considered more superior to modern.

This week we are loading a 19 ton extra fuel tank, complementing our existing 20 tons, to make the crossing in one go. We’ll take on 30 tons of ballast, re-deck the cargo hatch and spread and batten down a new weatherproof industrial strength hatch tarp. A weather fax is going on line as I write.

The plan at this point is still to take the Southern route, watching the weather carefully. Svendborg, Denmark to Brixham, England, to the Azores, by Bermuda and on to New England where we will throttle back a little, give the crew a breather, and collect rigging, masting and sailmaking supplies. Then by late October, early November, press on to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia where we’ll set up the Windward Isles Rigging School. There we will take would-be apprentice riggers to join in with our crew to rig this vessel into a lofty Barque. A turn of the century square rigged sailing ship. It is not every day that anyone gets to rig such a ship from the keel up. I expect I’ll take four or so apprentices and then the work, the real work, shall begin. We’re all looking forward to Lunenburg on board, to stop making ready for the sea and get on with the job of rigging and sail making. I’ve got a new clipper bow drawn up, and it is sort of halfway between the Balclutha and the Tusitala, the last American flag steel full rigger (also built in England).

A Final Note – Svendborg, Denmark

The fuel tank is aboard, a re-certified 16-person life raft is in its cradle, and a kind of weather fax is spitting out prognostications. The sun is up and the sky is clear. We’ve taken on 30 tons of sand ballast tonight to settle her down in the water in case of heavy weather. Our worldwide Single Side Band Radio speaks to us in a funny language. A few of the crew have new tattoos, fuel is aboard, and water is, too. Need some food. We’re ready to sail.

To be continued…

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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 2

What follows below are the first Captain’s Logs that were written back when just getting the ship and working at seeing this dream come true. The story begins in Norway in May of 1993. We hope you enjoy the tale.

The Story of the Picton Castle

The Captain’s Running Letter

Captain Daniel D. Moreland

Chapter 3

Kopervik, Norway is a little seaport like many a Maine or Maritime coastal port in Canada, but without any tourist traffic to speak of. A few old coasters much like Dolmar tug half-heartedly at their slack hawsers when a puff of breeze or ship’s wake comes their way. Kopervik, which means “Copper Cove” from ancient Viking days, is a pretty harbour, a deep cove lined with stone bulkheads. The town crawls up the surrounding hills. Small, pretty houses with glazed tile roofs and pine trees all around. Norwegian pine, Norwegian wood, and the prettiest varnished pine work boats up to 50′-60′ trawlers.

For 10 days we stayed in Kopervik, cleaning, scrubbing, airing, banging things loose. Discovering the ship a layer at a time. The Dolmar was built as the Picton Castle in 1928 in Selby, England with a large steam plant and fished out of Swansea and Grimsby, I think. During WW II she was used as some kind of armed minesweeper. Maybe she was at Dunkirk; I’d like to find out. The year 1955 finds her being rebuilt and converted to diesel in Haugesund, Norway. Still for fishing. Then she went through a bunch of names – Steinfrost, Tungstein, Utstraum and Bergfrost – and the current 690 HP diesel was installed in 1965. At some point she stopped fishing and started freighting all along the coast of Norway from and across the Russian border down to Denmark and a far as Portugal.

There are layers of paint 3/8″ thick. Some places on the upper works it seems the rust is that thick, although when you measure it it’s much less. What we’re finding is that she is pretty much as advertised. She has what is generally conceded to be one of the most seaworthy hull designs of a vessel of her class, the North Sea trawler – and one of the finest marine engines ever built, the Burmeister & Wain Alpha.

The 10 days in Kopervik went slowly. All systems were a mystery. Long days in the sun up all the time. Made some friends who helped us run around and find stuff.

The “Snofteventil”

Now, you may not know this, but a “Snofteventil” is a very important piece of gear. It’s pronounced “SNOOfta-venteel” and it was a mystery to us. Stale had to run his other ship for a few days (I still secretly considered Dolmar his). He said we needed a Snofteventil, and that he had it, and would get it to us. I called him on the radio. He said it was in his pocket. Couldn’t be too big, I figured. It was a big deal, though. We waited for our Snofteventil. And waited. Soon we were calling all things that were mysterious Snofteventils. A lot of things were mysterious. Then we started calling things we knew Snofteventils. I won’t get into that. “Snofteventil” was the joke of the century. I guess you had to be there. Turns out its a little brass thing on a water-cooling pump. It means Sniffle Valve. I don’t think I’ll try to translate any more Norwegian jokes. Maybe it’s the air.

Chapter 4

Stale and we became good friends, and he joined us down to Tananger – a five-hour steam in perfect weather, clear and crisp. Tananger is a small ship harbour just west of Stavanger. Then we carried on. Fixing of pumps, getting lifeboat davits to work, the list is endless. From Tananger we steamed overnight to Kristiansand, a large industrial port and home of the full rigger Sorlandet which I sailed in briefly. Dolmar’s lines and proportions are very similar to hers. In Kristiansand we tied up by a salvage yard which made us feel good, because the Dolmar was the best looking vessel there. It’s amazing the vessels they are breaking up in Norway. Their seafaring economy must be shot. While we were lying there, two beautiful vessels steamed in under their own power, with plenty of good gear, simply to be cut up and thrown away. Here I got a double-ended wooden lifeboat for $80. Teak doors, engine spares, a small capstan, 200 litres of paint, mattresses, galley stuff, a rigging vice, oars, 40 life jackets, a signal flag kit, etc. Time to push on. We had come into Kristiansand in a sightless curtain of fog with Jeff Bolster helping me pilot her in. Leaving, we had a crystal clear day, bound for Copenhagen. Getting underway in the afternoon, we made a compass table for our wildly erratic compass. One of the “Navigator’s Balls” had fallen off years ago and had never been replaced. We stole one from the standard compass binnacle atop the charthouse. It calmed it down a bit. Need to adjust the compass soon. Out of Kristiansand harbour and made course on due West bound for the Skaw.

The transit to Copenhagen was largely uneventful except for a couple of things. Steaming down wind in a Force four to five breeze following us. Dark blue sea as the late night sun edged lower to the horizon. White caps in orderly rows following along. I remember the last time I was this way in the Oslo-Copenhagen ferry. It was a dark winter’s night and there were westerly gales. In the middle of the night the sky broke and I was the only one on the aft deck to see the Northern Lights glowing up above. The ship was full of Scandinavians taking this chance to party and be inside. It was beautiful, the peaceful heave of the ship in the seas, a blustery gale abeam, occasional gusts of ice cold biting rain, and in between the aurora borealis playing out its secret ballet for me.

Back to M/S Dolmar. Half an hour into the 12 to 4 morning watch – the “graveyard shift” – the engineer comes up to the captain on the bridge and announces, “The water is coming in faster than I can pump it out.” Now, traditionally that is the definition of a vessel sinking. This, it occurred to me, was an advantageous moment to demonstrate utmost cool. “Is that so, Doug? Do you have any solutions or alternatives to sinking?” the captain queried. It seems we did. Added a bolt where one had fallen out of a seawater pump and off we went. No problem, but a good call.

After rounding the Skaw early in the morning, the weather turned foul and sloppy. The Dolmar pressed on, headed south. Around midnight that night we passed Elsinore Castle, leaving it on starboard. This is a very special moment for homeward bound Scandinavian ships, especially Danish ones; “Kronborg on Starboard” is a cry after many miles and in many cases many years. It had been many years for me, too since last I had dipped the white cross from Danmark‘s spanker staff at the end of the voyage homeward bound. But this was very much the beginning of a voyage. It was another murky, windy night. Ferries steering across our path, and big freighter coasters and tankers abeam and astern. Much traffic in this narrow slot between Denmark and Sweden. Three hours later, in the darkest part of the night, we chugged into Copenhagen harbour.
To be continued…

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