May 9, 2010

New Location

Hey there folks. I am still blogging, but my writing has moved to the ASTA Tall Ship's Challenge blog site at
I have joined a new ship, the U.S. Brig Niagara, as an AB. Been a blast so far.
Take care and as my good buddy says, I'll be out sailing like you should be.

August 24, 2009


Have I been remiss? Have I been lazy? No. I was made bosun. The responsibilities of ship's maintenance fell to me, so there was little time for journaling little things like my thoughts and feelings, or how pretty clouds are. Instead, my notebook is full of things like rig survey notes, or line lengths, or scrape and paint the starboard veggie locker, or overhaul and reserve the starboard inner jib pennant.

Rather than stressing about prose style, or rhythm, or good word selection, I stress about deckhands taking an extra yard of our good, German, four-stranded seizing marline when they are replacing ratlines. When we bent on our sails before heading out for Gloucester at the beginning of the summer, I noticed the starboard main royal clew had a twist in it. We were a day out of Gloucester and the Captain wanted to bring Picton Castle in with all sails set, and the night before, I had a Groundhog's Day series of dreams where I was fixing the twisted clew, or asking Mike if I could fix the clew, or telling Mike that I did fix the clew, or some combination of the three.

All that to say, as bosun, priorities and interests take a dramatic shift from those of the starry-eyed, existentialist lead-seaman. My personal journal entries are much fewer, and far more terse these days, bullet points of observations, philosophical rifle shots.

Though, make no mistake, the summer has been a fulfilling and challenging one. The new position has widened my seaman's eyes and brought me a new intimacy with the ship. I take great pride in this ship, and her upkeep is the ultimate motivator, followed closely by the pursuit of more knowledge; I have lots yet to learn. The good news is, I am excited to be learning it.

As for the sailing this summer, it's been fine. Lots of tall ships events in the first half, touring the province of Nova Scotia, and seeing friends, which is a good time guaranteed. But the time between ports was less than sufficient, and while in ports the decks were open for public tours in lieu of ship's work, which I endured with gritted teeth – so much rust to chip off! But instead we're stuck monkey-shining the same thing every two or three days!

We went to P.E.I. and a few of us rented a car and saw AC/DC play a show for 88,000 people in Moncton, New Brunswick.

We sailed under the Confederation Bridge a couple times. It's 12.9 km long.

We went to the Magdalene Islands where we had a blast making friends and discovered another fantastic band.

We bent on Buddy's new main t'gallant. It's huge. Half and again as big as the old one. It has a reef band. It's huge.

We just finished waiting out Hurricane Bill here in Burgeo, on the south coast of Newfoundland. Sails were triple-gasketed and we put crazy Schwarzenegger chafe gear on all our mooring lines, but thankfully the storm didn't hit us that hard.

And now we're just a few days away from Lunenburg and the end of the summer season. Time flies when your rigging and painting, and shopping for seine twine in your dreams.

June 21, 2009


The glow of our homecoming, nearly a month past, has not left me. Coming into Lunenburg harbor, all sails set, light breeze astern, and the gorgeous golden afternoon sunshine, it was better than I had ever imagined it, and I'd imagined it many times. This was real. The ethereal mist of my mind's-eye was replaced with the unglamorous details of reality, making the day far more exciting than my daydreams could ever be.
The heaving line was actually in my hands, the weight of the monkey's fist pulling at my palm, and the black, oiled-pine decks were solid beneath me. My starched dress uniform chafed in my too-tight belt, my boots were rubbing my toes raw, blistering these feet which for so many months had grown accustomed to treading barefoot in the tropics. Walt Flowers' harbor tour boat came cruising past with old friends and shipmates cheering, waving and snapping pictures.

We could see the lighthouse, we could see the academy, the church steeples, the Grand Banker! And Lunenburg! It was a nifty move by captain to bring the ship alongside, warping her in around the edge of the dock, and we were home.
And the whole time, there were Mom and Dad, waving and grinning, and Mom was crying, and I waved and grinned back, but no crying from me because there was work to do. We stowed sail, secured our docklines, rigged the gangway, cleared customs, and then the flood of people, hugging and laughing, reunited after more than a year from home.

That night came the only proper way to bookend a voyage like ours: Dory Shop party. When we left Lunenburg, the aftershocks of our outbound Dory Shop party were still reverberating, with cautious anticipation of the next one, in 365 days. It did not disappoint.

Anna, our local South Shore fiddle-siren, who sent us off so well last year, played for us again, standing and stomping on a sailmaker's bench while she tore into her fiddle. Finn showed up. Stephanie showed up. I was not expecting to see either, and was elated to see both, two of my most favorite friends and shipmates and people and fellow human-being-earth-citizens ever. We Cakewalked, we put on Purple, we danced, we laughed, we met each others' families, and sometimes we just jumped up and down. And Mom and Dad were there with us until the small hours of the next morning. I've experienced cliche's in my life before, and our Lunenburg homecoming is one of them: one of the best days of my life.

After that, we had a quiet week of buttoning up the ship for some time off before our summer trips: getting ready for a safety inspection, unloading the timber, and sending down the all the sails, which we did in a record 1 hour 52 minutes, over ten minutes faster than the record set by the last crew.

As I said, the glow of our homecoming has not even begun to wane, but rather it's evolved into excitement for the coming months aboard, some tall ships festivals, old friends, downrig, and then, the great beyond, our next steps from there. There's a lot of exciting things in store for us, and we all know it.

May 13, 2009

Homeward Bound...


Departed Martinique this afternoon. We came here from Dominica, where we finished strong with a big blowout at the Ruins Rock Cafe in Downtown Roseau. You can see Martinique from Dominica, so the passage was a short little day sail -- full sail of course -- and before you knew it, our hook was down in St. Pierre, Martinique. 

The northern tip of Martinique

I have been here twice now, and it’s a distinctly, and pleasantly French town. At one point it was the hot culture spot in the

 Caribbean -- the Paris of the West Indies, but a devastating volcanic eruption in 1902 leveled it. Ruins are scattered throughout, and a walk around town yields a glimpse of what used to be there. Tall, narrow buildings along the main roads, charred shells now,  might have been general stores or cafes, but some have as many as four floors. The prison foundation still stands, which isn’t totally surprising as it was the sanctuary of the volcano’s only survivor, a prisoner locked in a cramped solitary confinement cell. 

Right next door is the remaining skeleton of what was once a first class theatre. Surviving were the orchestra pit, the great staircase in the foyer, the yellow tiled fountain at the head of the staircase, and, ironically, a statue of a woman, seemingly writhing in pain, as if the sculptor realized the horrors she would weather. It’s a breathtaking place, the catastrophic scars merely heightening the wonder at what a place St. Pierre must have been, and this theatre being one of the cultural epicenters. What music must have been played there -- I imagine something like Edith Piaf fronting a classical island calypso band. I’d love to take a time machine.

These days the main attraction in St. Pierre, at least for Picton Castlers, is L’Escapade, a French cafe, and tattoo shop, run by a woman who, during the first world voyage, was so impressed by the crew’s polynesian tattoos, learned the art and open her own studio in the back of her restaurant. She works primarily in the Polynesian mode, but it’s well peppered with her own personal style, including fine lines and shading, and a distinct French flair. No one else does work like hers. Fifteen of our

 crew were marked by her, and though I had hoped to get something done, she and I didn’t see eye to eye on what I wanted, so it didn’t work out. She was a bit too busy to try and adapt something from my drawings. Fine with me. There’s no point in rushing those kinds of things.

So today, Easter Sunday, we are headed north for the classic Yacht regatta in Antigua. It’s pouring rain, and we’re on a starboard tack, t’gallants set.


Antigua was great. Falmouth Bay was loaded with yachts of all sizes and rigs and insurance policies. The main focus of the week were the races. There were four, one single handed race and three crewed races. The object of coming here, besides showing off our barque, was to get our crew aboard some of the boats for the races. I participated in the Friday and Saturday races as crew of the Summer Cloud, one of the six Carriacou sloops in the race. These are the boats they’ve been making by hand on the windward side of Carriacou for many years now -- simple, seaworthy, fast, and totally unpretentious, which I guess in a way makes them a little pretentious, but who cares, it was a yacht regatta. 

The view of the other Carriacou sloops. They were winning... though we caught the one with the red transom.

Stress free yacht racing was what I wanted and it’s what I got.

Stephanie, Geoff, Susie and I signed on and met the skipper, Charles, who was actually involved in the marine department of the Pirate Master production crew two years ago in Dominica. Small world. His tactician and Chief mate was a professional racer called Droopy, which is short for Andrew.

The first day went great, and we had a blast tacking back and forth, sailing around, drinking beers, eating sandwiches, and hanging out all the way to the finish line. When you have a skipper who knows his boat, and a crew who do their best, you can do these kinds of things. We didn’t win, but it was a fun day.

Charles on the tiller

Steph and Susie catch a wave

The second day was fun too, though we were a bit slower. We rigged up a bamboo spar and went wing and wing in proper island form, with Droopy holding the spar together, and me sitting on the main boom as a preventer-weight.

Then, on another tack, the pin that holds the headstay to the stem gave out, and the whole rig fell down along with two-thirds of the mast. It was three seconds of terror, but thankfully everyone was on the windward side of the boat, and, the rig falling all to leeward, didn’t crush any of us. I jumped in the water and lashed all the dangly crap up out of the way, and we limped back under the crappy in-board motor. 

My first, and hopefully my last dismasting. The rig failure was the exact same one that took out Pride of Baltimore II’s rig a few years ago. It’s a powerful lesson in keeping up with the details, because they can kill you if you don’t. At least we were all lucky enough to be able to laugh about it.

The yachts were spectacular. Big J-Boats, with sails priced around the same as an Ivy League diploma, and made out of crazy NASA fabric. The belle of the show, I thought, was Eleanora, a stunning schooner, massive, and rigged for speed without any sacrifice in opulence. I was also excited to see Juno and When and If in attendance. They’re Martha’s Vineyard schooners, built in Vineyard haven, and some of the finest looking wooden sailboats I’ve seen. Pretty quick too.



Today we are bound for the Isles des Saintes, Guadeloupe, quiet little French islands. I’ve never been here before, but I’ve heard very good things.


These little Islands are gorgeous. A small chain of islands, just south of the big island of Guadeloupe, they are the pearl necklace of the Caribbean. Quiet, but not overly, and plenty of amenities and opportunities for relaxing, good food, wine, and a fantastic gelato shop right in town. I think the French Islands are some of my favorite. They take all the low stress charm of the Caribbean, and all the fine palated joys of French culture, and meld them into a colorful, friendly paradise.


Arrived yesterday in the British Virgin Islands. Our first stop was Virgin Gorda and the famous Baths, one of the most spectacular natural wonders I’ve ever encountered. Mammoth boulders, flung from the sea in some ancient catastrophe, landed here, arranged with such lucky precision that the result is a labyrinth of grottos and caves, lit up by the sun’s glow on the water. Some of the piles are nearly forty feet high, and the rocks all sit together as if each one is the keystone to the whole thing.


Jost Van Dyke, BVI’s, our last day here. Jost is the cool kid’s party mecca of the Caribbean, and it makes a fitting farewell to the islands for us. We’ve been here for six days, and it’s been nothing but wasted time, which is precisely why anyone comes to Jost Van Dyke in the first place.

They’ve preserved the sleepy Caribbean atmosphere of Petite Martinique or Maryeau, and imbued it with modern conveniences and services for the yacht charters and cruisers who are so common here in the Virgin Islands. The downside of this is that the beaches are usually crowded with an American Spring break atmosphere, which is tiresome at two in the afternoon, and everything is expensive. For example, a chicken roti here is $15 US. In Grenada it’s $2. A half-mile cab ride is $5 per person. You’ve got to be kidding me. I think one of the reasons the locals are so friendly here is that they are on the good side of one of the best and most prolonged practical jokes this side of papal indulgences.

I hadn’t been ashore for three minutes when some drunk, peeling-nosed yokel from a charter boat stumbled to our table  and shouted at us, “Hey! Are you guys from that Pirate Ship boat? That looks like a fun boat! Are you guys pirates? OK, bye! Yarr mates! Ha ha!” 

The plus side is that there’s always a party, and fun is never far. Two of the coolest beach bars in the Caribbean are here, Foxy’s and Ivan's. 

Foxy’s is possibly the most famous beach bar in all the West Indies. It’s huge. Two stories, three bars, a cigar bar, and a gift shop, but it’s completely concealed from view by palm trees. They grow out of the floor, through the roofs, between the tables; the bar is ensconced in palm trees. The only hint of it from the beach are the twinkling Christmas lights and the pulse of reggae. Foxy’s gigantic black lab, Taboo, is always around, and usually at the beach with Foxy’s grandkids, acting as babysitter and towing the kids around in the water with his tail. 

Ivan’s Stress Free Bar is cool on it’s own, less auspicious merits. The bar runs on an honor system, though occasionally patrons will step in and play bartender when they feel like it. Last time I was here some pot-bellied English tranny was playing barman/maid. The walls of Ivan’s are tiled with shells, a tire swing and hammock hang under the giant tamarind tree outside, and the beach is pristine and separated from the rest of White Bay. 


The anchor is stowed, sails set, and we’re off northbound for Bermuda, leaving behind the quasi yachtopia that is the BVI’s and heading into the open ocean. Seamen once more. The wind is whistling over our starboard rail and the crew are reacquainting themselves with the art of dodging waves.


Continuing north, into the same latitudes of Florida. The moonshine this morning was brilliant, lighting up the ocean, the ship resting in the glow like a silent obelisk on a plain, everything gilt in soft silver against the black depths beneath and above. It made splendid scenery for our 4-8 watch as we took the deck and slid into our regular routine of poop jokes, farting, and incoherent giggle-fests, proving that the greatest pleasures in life seem so often to come packaged with irony or shame.


Arrived in Bermuda. It’s getting colder. We are all excited to move on north.

April 6, 2009

Bequia, Maryeau, Anguilla, and Dominica


Yesterday Paul took another team of bushwhackers into the forest, this time in Bequia, and I got to be among them. In Grenada, the wood they brought was for the keels of two schooners to be built in Lunenburg. From Bequia, we searched out good strong pieces of hardwood for the stems. We climbed up the hill and found a white cedar tree with two big branches that were just the right shape. Paul and Joe worked the chain-saw, and after careful cutting, the branch fell safely to the forest floor, where the rest of us tackled the thing and dragged it down to the beach, returning just in time to retrieve the second branch. 

The branches weren’t nearly as large as the Grenadian keels, but they were plenty big, and our efforts weren’t without healthy doses of grunts and dirty words. It was a good, hard day. I’m glad I got to participate. Once we’d brought them to the beach, the skiff came and towed them back to the ship where the on-watch hooked them up to tackles and hoisted them on to deck. Our new mammoth hunks of hardwood have been distributed around the deck and lashed down, an

d now, there’s never been so much convenient seating on the Picton Castle!

This morning, after breakfast, we said goodbye to Bequia, sailed off the hook and headed to Maryeau, a quiet little part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It was a beautiful day-sail. All canvas full and driving. We arrived mid-afternoon, dropped the anchor, rigged the swing rope, and launched our expedition dory, Sea Never Dry, for her inaugural sail. We painted her up in Dakar, and had been working on the rig as well, getting everything ready to go and making the sails as we could. Sara put in a lot of her spare time to stitch together the bright African cloth we brought with us from Senegal. Finally, she was complete, and off she went around the harbor, just as the sun was beginning to set. We had dinner, cleaned up, and went ashore for the local karaoke night. Money Money, Rocket Man, Alicia Keys, cold beers, good friends, good times, lots of laughs. One of the better days I’ve ever had.


Yesterday Mike designated “Sunday-Funday,” and so we gathered ourselves up and obliged him, suffering through such tortures as snorkeling in the reefs, launching ourselves off the swing-rope, sailing around the harbor in Sea Never Dry, napping under the shady trees on the beach, cold drinks, and other various tribulations and inconveniences. 

After breakfast this morning, we sailed again off the hook, this time for Union Island, where we cleared out of customs and said goodbye to Joe and Queen, our shipmates and friends from Grenada. A quick lunch, and, for the second time that day, we sailed our barque off the hook, bound for Anguilla, a three-day sail away. Not many people get to be involved in a maneuver like taking a square rigger off its anchor and out to sea, using nothing but wind and sails, but we’ve done it nearly a dozen times this month already. Though that’s just first-rate Picton Castle sailing, which is really why we’re here, anyways. So we head for Anguilla and the legendary reggae festival, basking in a strange glow, either from Caribbean euphoria or sun damage, or more likely somewhere in between.


Busy morning. Snapped awake to the sound of a gunshot, followed by a deafening thunder outside. Kolin and I dove out of our bunks and jumped on deck. The flying jib was flogging in the gusting wind, violent flashes of white whipping canvas. Spenser was the lookout, the watch was still coming forward.

“Where’s the sheet?” I had to yell over the sound of the wild sail.

“It’s gone!” He yelled back, and then ran the downhaul aft. Kolin let the halyard go and we pulled on the downhaul along with Jon, Deb, and Nikki, and the sail came corralled in the headrig, thankfully undamaged. Notthe nicest way to be roused out of your bunk at 2:30 AM. 

An hour later and I got my wake-up for the 4-8 watch. The wind had piped up and we were making eight knots under t’gallants. We took and stowed the fore t’gallant almost immediately, and within an hour we were stowing the main as well. We continued on towards Anguilla, but the wind freshened and came ahead, and we were forced to take in and stow all square sails, rather than sail to Haiti. We dumped the outer jib and sheeted all remaining fore-and-aft sails in as flat as possible. All hands on watch then turned to beefing up the lashings in the hold as we buckled down for the remainder of the passage, steaming into four-foot choppy seas and bracing ourselves for a bumpy ride.


We departed Anguilla yesterday. Now, bound for Dominica, close-hauled on a port tack, the helmsman steering full and by the wind, we set the royals at sun-rise this morning. 

The reggae fest was fun, but otherwise, Anguilla has been the least interesting of all the islands. Donald put it best: it’s like being on a big cruise ship with sand. Everything is at least two to three times the price of things on other islands. The cab drivers are scam artists, and charge more for a five mile drive than the cabbies in Boston. It’s been recently developed by outside investors, and most of the business on the island seems to be geared towards entertaining and servicing vacationers with disposable incomes. Not exactly what a bunch of poor, dirty sailors are looking for.

But the music was good. The festival, called Moonsplash, is one of the biggest reggae festivals in the world, having previously featured icon’s like Toots and the Maytals, a fixture on the playlists at Picton Castle parties. This year the headliners were Duane Stephenson and Inner Circle, two big names in contemporary reggae. They did not disappoint, with Inner Circle playing as late as four in the morning, packing up the stage with Sunday’s first light breaking over the beach.

Dominica, one of my favorite islands, will be a fresh change.


Arrived in Roseau, Dominica April first. We have our port anchor out, and are stern-to, with mooring lines run aft and tied around a giant tree. Helping handle lines ashore were none other than Captain Greg Bailey and Mate Eric Welsh of the Spirit of Massachusetts, anchored just a short way north of us. Greg was the second mate on the Picton Castle’s fourth world voyage, and Eric is a friend of the ship, and shipmate of me and Mike. After we were all tied up and cleared in, we spent the remainder of the day catching up, and getting reacquainted with Roseau. It was good to see them again. I look forward to seeing them again in Boston and Halifax this summer, during the tall ships festivals.

It’s good to be back in Dominica. This is where I first joined the Picton Castle, and spent two months as the ship was the principal set piece of the doomed and dismal reality TV show, Pirate Master. We made a lot of friends here in that time, and it’s nice to come to a place like Dominica that is at once spectacular and unspoiled by tourism development, but also so familiar.

The Spirit of Massachusetts left the next day, after a tour aboard our ship for her students, sailing off the hook, swooping in close and firing off their signal cannon as they went by.

Yesterday we got organized and took a rowboat excursion up the Indian river, a beautiful nature preserve and filming site for Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3. At the end of the tour, we stoped off in a little jungle bungalow bar for a taste of what our guide called, “Dynamite-Saddam-Hussein-Explosion punch.” Dominica is an island with some of the best assortments of rum punches I’ve ever had. This one was not good. Oh well. Even a bad rum punch in the middle of the Dominican jungle after a row up a river is still a pretty good rum punch.

Jon samples the jet fuel punch as Maggie and Erin laugh. They knew it was bad.

After that we headed to a hot springs spa in the mountains and relaxed in a pool of volcanic mineral water. There’s not many better ways to spend an afternoon. Some roadside chicken and a Friday night calypso dance, and we rounded out the day in good form.

March 18, 2009

The Caribbean So Far


Carnival at Carriacou. Got ashore today with Kolin and Weronika. We were anchored just outside Hillsborough, the biggest town on the island. The streets were packed with people covered in paint and mud, little clothing, dancing to the throbbing soca beat coming from the two-storey tall speakers. It was 0800. Holy crap were we in for a time here! The party in the street ended a couple hours later. I had to push my way through the crowd to get to the ATM and get some cash, but I wasn’t quite up to the level of raging that was already taking place, so I found a quiet spot on a beach and worked at my second life as a writer. 

That night, as the Carnival recommenced, Donald and I sat out in front of a little rum shack sipping cold beer, talking and observing the crowd, until the sun went down and the parades started. He and Swiss Chris, our engineer, and I ate dinner at a little cafe with a balcony, and watched the parade start. Big feathery costumes, bright colors, satin angel wings, and for every beautiful girl in parade garb there were two older, mango shaped women who, though they exceeded no one in beauty, made up for it in lack of clothing and vigor. An A for effort, as they say, I guess.

And there was even a floatilla of Obama celebrators. It was remarkable. They may have been the most excited of all the paraders, though their costume was little more than pants, and Obama t-shirts. It’s been fascinating to see much of the world’s great enthusiasm for our new president. Everywhere, from England to Denmark and France, and especially in Morocco, Senegal, Cape Verde. In these places, where the language and culture barriers were strongest, a friendly outburst of “OBAMA!” was usually all it took to establish friendly relations.

Then, after the parade, came the steel drum bands. They were, without a doubt, the highlight of Carnival. Music from a skilled drum band doesn’t so much resonate as it glows. It’s a warm glow of sound -- melody and rhythm. And they played some old Culture Club, and Elvis too. Buddy and Donald and I just stood, enraptured.


My first day ashore in Grenada yesterday. We’re here for a while, but I wanted to get the tourist in me sated, so I hired a bus with WT, Bill, Sophie, Charlotte, Corey, and Sara. Larry, our driver, was a really friendly guy, and made for good company and a good guide. Our first mission of the day was waterfalls. The first waterfall was a literal tourist trap, and we didn’t stay long. The second waterfall was on private property, and required a two mile trek down muddy paths and under giant tree roots before we reached it. It was fantastic. A quick dip, and we hiked back up and got some lunch. The afternoon was spent on touring an ancient rum distillery, and then lazing on a beach on the northeast part of the Island. 

This is the old water wheel at the Rivers Rum distillery. They've been making rum here the same way since 1785. It's terrible.

Then we headed to Goyave for their weekly Friday night fish-fry. On the way we stopped at a place called “Leaper’s Hill.” All the surviving indigenous Carib people threw themselves off the cliffs here, rather than face subjugation under French colonialism. The name of the town there is Sauters, which I believe is French for “jumpers.” It’s actually a very pretty view up there, despite the grisly history.

The fish fry was spectacular. I had fried red snapper, fried plantains, cold beer, rum punch, and the best fish-cakes I’ve ever had, and for only $1 EC, too. We had to leave early, since our time with Larry was up, and as we were going another steel drum band was setting up. If I lived in Grenada (which I wouldn’t mind at all) I would be here every week. 


Little South African Nick always seems to be on eggshells with Kolin -- he’s right afraid of him, actually -- and today it was fun for everyone. Nick was driving Kolin crazy, in his own special way, while we were painting the bow of the ship, Susie sitting on the anchor flukes, Nick sitting on the whisker stay, Kolin in the net, and I hanging from the bobstay and painting the stem. Susie was painting away at the waterline there from the anchor flukes, and Kolin was getting as much as he could reach, alternating from paint brush to a roller on an eight foot pole. Little Nick was Kolin’s assistant, and everything he did seemed in some way to be the opposite of what Kolin wanted, and Kolin was generally pissed at him, and Nick had become a mighty rushing river of apologies. 

Kolin handed Nick his paintbrush and asked for the long roller. Nick handed him up the roller.

“Sorry.” He said as Kolin took the roller.

“Sorry for what?” Kolin snapped.

“Sorry, I mean, that took--I hesitated for a second before I handed you the roller there.”

“Nick,” Kolin said as he painted, calming his exasperation. “I want you to stop saying sorry. Just erase it from your vocabulary completely. Got it?”

“Yes, Kolin,” Nick said. “Right. I will.”

“Good.” Kolin said. He handed the roller back to Nick and gestured for the brush. Nick took the roller and as he turned to reach for the brush he swung the pole and whacked poor Susie square in the skull.

“Sorry Susie!”

We all just about fell into the harbor laughing. We love that kid. He’s a good one, and one of the sweetest, if not snarkiest, guys you’ll ever meet.


Donald hosted a party at his house last night. He barbecued chicken, the calypso was loud, and we hung out with him and his family all night. The best part of this job are the friends you make who come from all around the world, so no matter where you are, you can have that feeling of home, even if just for a little while.


I got these new boxer-briefs in Cape Verde, and they are way too small for me. I wore them all day yesterday, and was in a perpetual state of almost coughing.


Petit Martinique, a small Island just north of Grenada. It’s very quiet here. I sat in a little rasta

 bar all morning with Mike, Sophie, South African Nick, Buddy and Flemming, one of Captain’s friends, and a Danish master mariner, and we watched a sleepy cricket game that Nick assured us was already going to end in a draw (with six hour to go still!), and waited for the ferry that would bring fresh bread to the island. It was supposed to come at 11, but it never did. I ended up waiting there until 1:30 in the afternoon, when the local baker-woman up the road finished her first loaf. It was worth the wait. Warm, moist, and delicious, I could’ve eaten nothing but that loaf all day and been happy. 

Though I didn’t have to. 

Joe and Queen, shipmates and friends of ours from Grenada, were stewing fish over a fire on the beach. It was absolutely delicious, and we all ate and talked, and were joined by local kids who dug into the ample leftovers. Captain made his way down to the beach, and the kids were instantly fascinated by his tattoos -- he’s covered in Polynesian artwork, up both his arms and across his chest. The kids, ooh’d and aah’d as they followed the ink up his arm to his shoulder. “That’s all you’re getting,” he teased, and then handed out business cards with pictures of the ship to the kids. 

I left the crowd and found a quiet little beach, nestled under a tree, and snoozed for a while. Then I ate my fresh bread, scribbled in my notebook for a couple hours, and sat on the beach with Buddy and watched the sun go down and the stars blink into life. I took the skiff back to the ship and Joe was on his guitar, singing Caribbean folk songs. Eric, our new doctor, added his skills with the mandolin. We laughed and sang and told stories in between; the moon was full, and the breeze was cool. I’ve had worse days.


Back at Carriacou. We had a fantastic daysail here from Petite Martinique. We’ve had to move the ship around a few times, and went on probably the shortest day sail in the ship’s history, taking it around the point to Tyrrell bay, with royals set, barely a mile away. It was fun anyway.


Arrived yesterday in Bequia. The ship has taken on a different rhythm since we’ve arrived in the Caribbean. There’s still lots of good work going on, and the ship is being babied as much as ever, but most of our time is in port, as opposed to the sea-passages we’d become used to. We had an overnight passage here from Grenada, which was a fun tease, everyone falling very easily back into the sea-watch schedule. 

We had gone to Grenada from Carriacou because a few of our crew had stayed behind there to find wood for a boat-building project in Lunenburg. Paul and Matt, our two resident carpenters, took a small platoon of bushwhackers into the Grenadian jungle: Corey, Sam, Susie, Jackie, Marie, Job, and Rory. With the help of local guys, they cut down a tree, cut it into sections, each weighing 3000 lbs, and dragged them a mile-and-a-half through the jungle with block and tackles, a three-day endeavour.

The bushwhacking crew came back to the ship weary and mud-covered, but buzzing

 nevertheless in the glow of their efforts. We towed the logs out to our anchorage, and then, in a very cool exercise in seamanship, we lifted the massive logs out of the water and onto our deck -- safely.

The bushwhackers were right in their ecstasy; not many people these days can claim to do what they did. It was a rare and unforgettable experience for them, and now we have a frigging tree in our port breezeway. 

Paul and Job rig up the strops and tackles...The capstain crew heaves up the tree...
And now we bring it on deck.

February 26, 2009

Second Crossing


We're bound for Fernando de Noronha. The wind is fresh to port, and we're flying under royals on a broad reach. We left Mindelo this morning. The island was just beginning to buzz in preparation for carnival. There were impromptu parades daily, and yesterday the parade canvassed the city from just after lunch until sundown, growing each time it passed my little cafe perch, before finally the street was filled and the parade stretched the length of the block. Most of the paraders were kids, banging drums, blowing whistles, dancing and clapping. One little boy on the edge had a toy xylophone, other older boys were dressed in broad grass skirts, and carrying staffs. Their bodies and faces were painted charcoal black, and they seemed to be in charge of the crowd. Every time they passed our cafe they would stall the parade and put on a show until we tossed coins to them, which the little kids scurried after and gathered. They would even hold up traffic and surround the car until the driver either relented his coins, or got so pissed that would cleared the roads and stood silently until the car had gone.


Today we rigged up the studding sails, huge areas of the lightest canvas stretching off our windward fore yards on booms fitted and lashed into irons. The lower stuns'l boom is an oar from the dory. Paul, our 2nd mate, put it best: "We're in a barque, cruising along, full sail, in the trades, I'm taking sun sights, we're setting stuns'ls, people are fishing on the aloha deck, the sun is shining, this sucks, I want to go home."


Alan Villiers, one of the more entertaining 20th century maritime writers, and grizzled square rigger captain besides, hated stuns'ls. He said, basically, they were an unnecessary pain in the ass, and could be eliminated with wider yards. Today we got a taste of some of his sour outlook. We were setting the topmast stuns'l when the wind caught it funny and twisted it, impaling it on one of the stuns'l booms where in the wind it continued to flog and thrash before it was soon nearly shredded.

We ran aloft and shipped the boom in as far as we could. I shuffled out on the yard arm and had to cut the sail clear so we could lower it back to deck. 

Yesterday, while we were test-setting them, the topmast stuns'l yard gashed our fore upper tops'l, which we quickly sent down and bent on a replacement. Buddy is getting his work cut out for him. Even literally, I suppose.


My computer died today. 


Six degrees north of the equator. Funny grins keep popping up on people's faces.


We've had luxurious sailing this whole passage so far. Buddy finished repairing the topmast stuns'l, and we reset it today. We're making about five knots, stuns'ls set, in the gentle equatorial winds. Just a couple hundred miles north of the line or so. Should be there soon.


Crossed the line. Got my shellback yesterday.


We've passed through the inter-tropical convergence zone, aka the doldrums, aka the horse latitudes, and are now back in the trades, this time from the South East. Full sail set and trimmed close hauled. The helmsman is steering by the wind. 

We had to strike sail a couple times and push ahead with the main engine, but we were becalmed completely only once, and then not for very long. Our schedule dictated the motoring more than anything else. Captain says these SE trades are his favorite, some of the sweetest sailing you'll ever see. They certainly have been sweet.

A day or so out from Fernando de Noronha. Nadja will be signing off there and heading to the barque Europa, where she worked last winter, for a big voyage eastwards from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope, stopping at Elephant Island, Antarctica, and South Georgia Island -- all of the great Shackleton's old haunts -- along the way. Lucky girl. We will miss her a lot. She's like a sister to me.


We left Fernando de Noronha yesterday. The customs people turned out to be twits, and they changed the way they enforce their immigration policy for the island regarding vessels in transit. We did manage to get a few hours to tour the island, which was necklaced with gorgeous beaches, and had a great big volcanic obelisk jutting up from the trees that resembled the Easter Island face carvings, as if Jim Henson had helped form it. I half expected the giant face to open up and start singing Harry Belafonte songs as we approached our anchorage, but I don't do drugs. 

Our visit was cut short when the officials reneged on our clear-in, and we had to round everybody up. So it goes. Onward to the Caribbean. What are three days at one tropical island, when we're about to spend two months visiting a bunch of others anyways?

We're 2000 miles from Grenada, with the promise of fair winds and fair currents nearly the whole way.

I'm back in the 4-8 watch. Sunrises, sunsets, and deckwash every day. This morning the full moon, lit up like radioactive parmesan, set into a nest of periwinkle clouds, while behind us the sun rose and cast an golden-pink glow on everything. Another day at the office. 


A busy watch this morning. Woke up to a squall pouring rain and blowing fresh and we shortened sail the instant we were on deck. I barely had on my pants before the mate sent me running aloft to stow the flogging, sodden fore royal. The squall blew itself out an hour later at first light our watch loosed and set all the sail again. A good morning.


Squally weather without much break ever since we left Fernando de Noronha.

The view from my porthole. You can see the squall on the horizon, and the beginning of a sunset just tinting the sky.


Today is my two year Picton Castle birthday. This date, 2007, I joined the ship in Dominica with no clue of what I was getting into, and even less of the notion that, two years and a few miles later, I'd still be here. 


Arrived today in Carriacou, a small island just north of Grenada. Captain announced two days ago that our destination had changed, and our slight detour here allows us to get the ship shiny for our grand entrance into Grenada. As luck would have it, Carriacou just happens to be in the throes of Carnival. With plenty of work to do and Carnival, all after a spectacular passage at sea, nobody will be bored, I think. 

Plus, a few beloved members of our crew depart from here. Gary, our doctor, heads back to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Weronika heads back to school after spending her Christmas holiday with us, and Rich is off too, heading back to the States as well.