Both prudent ship management and logical marine regulation call for ships to be drydocked from time to time and have their hulls inspected and looked after. This is only natural as most vessels are in a somewhat corrosive environment of salt water. Freshwater is different and much kinder to steel, not so much to wood, but that’s another story. And things grow in salt water: weeds, barnacles, coral, all sorts of things. If they grow on your hull, eventually the ship will be barely able to move through the water. All this plant and animal life can clog up engine cooling water intakes too. Meaning no cooling water to the engine or generators and so on. And wood or steel, even fiberglass and ferrocement can corrode or develop undesirable defects over time. So, we haul ships out of the water, inspect them closely, make such repairs or affect maintenance as required and launch them again.
If a vessel is subject to regulatory oversight by a Maritime Administration such as is this ship then it is also required to have the ship’s hull checked over by a qualified, competent third party independent surveyor/inspector. Anyone with an inspected American, Canadian, French, Danish flag (and many more) vessel goes through much the same process. And it is quite an interesting process for those keen on learning more about taking care of boats and ships, as our crew tends to be. Now it was time for Picton Castle to get drydocked and looked after, which we did in the city of Suva in Fiji. Two years ago we drydocked in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada (our home base) at the venerable Lunenburg Foundry, which had such a big role in refitting this ship into a world voyaging barque years ago. And two years before that we had drydocked here in Fiji. All went well four years ago here in rainy Fiji so I was optimistic about slipping again this time.
Last Friday just before noon and after a big big barge got launched, we heaved up the anchor and headed over to the shipyard. Suva is a large harbour with all sorts of vessels including freighters, tugs, and plenty far eastern long-liners fishing for Japan, China and Korea. We quietly made our way to the shipyard bulkhead and got tied up and set up lines to position the ship on the railway cradle. About 1500, the normal cool order of the ship became controlled chaos as we warped Picton Castle to center her over the unseen invisible cradle which we could see was heading into the water to fetch us. With all the lines just so, the cradle went under the ship at high tide, was lashed to the cradle and hauled up. By 1730 the Picton Castle was high and dry.
I was pleasantly pleased to see what good shape the bottom of the ship was in. But on we go. First, a high-pressure fresh water blasting to get rid of any weed and the last layer of bottom paint, now worn out. Captain Hugh Munro from New Zealand, who represents our regulatory body Maritime Cook Islands and the Ministry of Transport, was on hand to conduct the independent survey and inspections. A thorough inspection of the hull below the waterline is first on the list. Any defects to be noted. Check the wear on the zinc anodes, inspect the propeller and shaft. Open and inspect all through-hull fittings. Carry out a comprehensive shell thickness survey. Then get on with the work of getting the ship repainted for another two years in tropical waters. A primer coat of two-part epoxy paint anywhere there is bare steel, followed by a full coat of anti-corrosive paint on top of that and then two coats of anti-fouling paint. Also must paint the draft marks bow and stern, as well as the load line marks amidships.
What else? We fixed a chock damaged under the intense strains of the ‘mules’ of the Panama Canal transit, replaced a plate up on the bow, cleaned off the transducer (for the depth sounder) and replaced some drain bolts. By the end of the day Sunday, a mere two days after coming up, all was almost done. At this point senior staff (all hands are welcome) take a forensic round tour together (sort of like “cross-checking” on airline flights) of the bottom of the ship walking around her on the lift, check every inch, check everything that got done to make sure she is all buttoned up before she goes back into the sea. She looked great. All in all the Suva shipyard had done an outstanding job and in only two days. Very impressive.
The next morning, Monday, we turned to at 0500 and were headed down the ways by 0600. And all anchored by 0700 with a shiny clean hull all checked out and passing muster with flying colours. Now to restore the ship post shipyard (shipyards can be dirty) and to provision, fuel up, get what deck and engine room supplies the ship requires and look to getting back to sea again.