Monthly Archives: May 2008



Saturday, May 31, 2008

We are now eight days out of Lunenburg, and have sailed around 700 miles.  For the first week we sailed southeast to find favorable winds, rather than the northeast course straight for Ireland.  The objective is to get below the axis of the jet stream, the upper air currents that do much to effect weather.  This would put us on the fair wind side of low-pressure systems and minimize the chance of storms and headwinds.  The southeast course will take us south of the Grand Banks, the famous shallow area of the North Atlantic that was such a productive fishing ground from the early 1600s until the fish were recently nearly fished to extinction.  The Grand Banks have fog, fishing vessels, and an occasional iceberg, all of which we would like to avoid.  Only in the last 24 hours have we gotten far enough south for the Captain to alter our course more to the east, towards a point somewhat north of the Azores.

This course has also brought us to the Gulf Stream, that great river in the sea that takes warm water from the Caribbean up between Florida and the Bahamas and then northeasterly across the Atlantic to warm Europe.  London is at the same latitude as northern Newfoundland, and Oslo the same latitude as southern Greenland.  Without the warming waters of the Gulf Stream these cities would be the same temperature as their counterparts on this side of the Atlantic, and much of Europe would be barely habitable.  The Gulf Stream will give us a boost of about 12 miles per day towards Ireland.  It also brings us the great benefit of warmth.  Temperatures have warmed nearly 20 degrees since we left Lunenburg. Yesterday, for the first time since I arrived in Lunenburg, I got by without long underwear.  Today, for the first time this year, I am comfortable in only a T-shirt.  Everyone’s mood has improved with the sunnier skies and warmer weather.

Most of the time we have had light to moderate winds.  The first four or five nights we reduced sail before nightfall to avoid worry about taking in sail in the dark with a novice crew.  Since then we have carried all appropriate sail.  The winds started out from the southwest and over a number of days slowly clocked around to the northeast.  For the last day or so, they have bounced back and forth between west and northeast.  Today, for the first time since we left Lunenburg, we used the engine to push us along for a few hours through calm, but now we are back to sailing.  As a result of the light winds our progress has been a bit slow.  Up until now, I might have sailed as fast and come as far in my little yawl, Tryphena Chandler, but we still have two thousand miles to go, stronger winds are almost inevitable, and there is a good chance of a gale or two.

Life has fallen into a routine, structured by our watches.  I am awakened at 7:00 AM, dress hurriedly to have breakfast at 7:30 and go on watch at 7:50 until noon.  During watch I may be assigned to lookout or helm (steering), or start the first hour cleaning below decks.  Then I may be assigned to chip rust, paint, do rigging work, or any other of a myriad of little jobs.  Of course any job may be interrupted by a scheduled hour at the helm, by lookout duties and ship checks, or by unscheduled calls to help with sail handling.  I am doing pretty well in learning the nearly 200 lines that control the sails, but remembering all of the procedures and the techniques for executing them are still a challenge.  We spend quite a bit of time learning the lines and try to help each other learn.

Matt and Kolin, both from Alberta, Canada, dressed for rain.

Matt and Kolin, both from Alberta, Canada, dressed for rain.

At noon our watch is over and we have lunch.  My afternoons are unscheduled, and I can talk to shipmates, help those on watch with occasional sail handling, write, read, do laundry or sleep.  Having a watch system with four hours on and eight hours off is much more conducive to sleep than four hours on and four hours off, which I have done at other times on other vessels.  I usually get a few hours sleep in the afternoon to supplement the sleep I get at night.

At six in the evening we have dinner, and at 7:50 I go back on watch until midnight, as I have described in detail in another journal entry.  Last night while I was on lookout, I stood on the fo’csle in the darkness of a moonless night and listened to the sound of the water rushing by the hull and watched the bow ware fan out from the bow lit by phosphorescence in the water.  The usual little birds were flitting about and chattering and for a while dolphins played around the bow, leaving blazingly erratic wakes of phosphorescence.  It was a beautiful scene.  I had the strong feeling that this was their world, this vastness of the deep.  They are the natives and we are the interlopers in our fragile little bark.

So far the captain has shown himself but little, being on deck only and hour or two per day, but he appears periodically and seems to be very much on top of what is happening and ready to intervene if his guidance is needed.  He seems content to leave the daily operation of the ship in the capable hands of the mates and professional crew.

Luke hanging out.

Luke hanging out.

Gary at the Helm

Gary at the Helm

The warmer weather of the Gulf stream has encouraged people to do laundry, washed in a bucket of salt water dipped up by a bucket dropped over the side with a rope on it, rinsed in another bucket of the same, and given a final rinse in fresh water, then hung on a clothesline in the rigging.

The outside world has receded.  We have no idea what is happening with Hillary and Obama, the stock market, or who has invaded whom.  Out here it seems to have little relevance.  Of course, I still think every day of Barbara, and wonder how she is doing with real concern.  But with no contact to know what is happening and no ability to affect anything that happens off of this ship, I feel a certain detachment from it. Life has become a regular cycle of watches and work, with an occasional party. What is important here is the weather, the ship, and my shipmates.  For now, I am content to live only in the here and now.

Kolin and Mary juggling.

Kolin and Mary juggling.

  Nicki giving Peter a Mohawk.

Nicki giving Peter a Mohawk.

WT in party mode

Bruce in party mode.


13 Night Watch



My night watch starts nominally at 8:00 pm, but actually it begins at 7:50 with a muster where everyone on the watch gathers on deck to make sure everyone is present and get our job assignments.  I start preparing 20 minutes before.  The night promises to be a cold one and I am determined to keep warm, so I layer on two layers of long underwear and add three layers of fleece on top under my foul weather pants and jacket.  Then I struggle into my safety harness and knife belt, add hat and gloves and I am ready.


When I arrive on deck I find that the previous watch has reduced sail for the night.  The t’gallant— the fourth up and highest sails we have rigged—have been furled; as well as the outer jib—the forward-most sail we have rigged; and the mainsail—the largest and lowest square sail on the mainmast; and the spanker—the gaff-rigged sail on the mizzen mast.  We didn’t really need to furl these five of our current total of a dozen sails, the ship would be able to carry them, but she will ride easier and this will greatly reduce the chance that we will have to take in sail in the darkness of the middle of the night with a neophyte crew.  Unfortunately, it also reduces our speed.  


At muster my only assignment is lookout during the third hour of the four-hour watch.  One of our watchmates has not shown up and I go below to check on him.  He is a big strong guy, but has been laid low by seasickness.  I call his name gently outside his curtained bunk.  The curtain parts and he looks pale and smells of having thrown up.


“Can you make the watch?” I ask.  “I’ll come up for a few minutes,” he says weakly.   “Stay in your bunk,” I tell him, “we’ll handle things.  Don’t worry, this happens to all of us at some time.”


When I emerge on deck the watch has dispersed.  I find Thomas, the mate of our watch with Kolin, the bosun, on the quarterdeck and report that our seasick colleague won’t be able to make it.  “We’ll have to find someone to take his second-hour turn at the helm,” Kolin remarks.  “I can do it,“ I respond, and it is decided. “For now, go help Nadja in the galley,” Kolin says.


The galley house is an 8 by 10 foot cube set on the deck, forward, in the common position where sailing ships had their galleys in the 1870 to 1930 era.  I step through the door and find that it is 80 degrees inside from the temperamental big old black cast iron diesel-burning stove that dominates the center of the small room.  So much for dressing warmly—in two minutes I feel like I am in a sauna, despite peeling off two jackets.  Nadja—who as far as I can tell can do anything—has started baking bread on our night watch while the cook is asleep and the galley is free, so we can have fresh bread every day.  At her direction each of two big bowls gets eight one-pound measures of flour, one white and one whole-wheat.  The white flour bowl gets a little powdered milk, cinnamon and raisins, and the whole-wheat bowl gets some granola and seeds, and both get four teaspoons of salt and a little oil.  In a separate small bowl go a measure and a half of yeast, warm water, and four teaspoons of brown sugar.  The yeast mixture is added to the flour mixtures and they are kneaded and left to rise.


I welcome a request to fill a galley bucket with all-purpose flour from the hold because it gets me out of the stifling galley.  I climb down the steps to the berthing area and through the watertight door into the hold and make my way to the area where bags of staples are stacked, search through stacks of bags containing sugar and powdered milk to find the flour.  I then struggle to work the 50lb bag up and through the narrow opening over the netting that secures the stacks and find a clear space where I can rip open the bag and fill the bucket.


By the time I return to the galley its time to get ready to go on the helm.  After a laborious stop at the head I climb to the quarterdeck.  The helmsman tells me that the course is southeast a quarter south, or 137 degrees, and I repeat it back to him and take over the big wheel.  The steering is fairly easy but seeing the compass is not.  The compass light that came with the new compass shorted out and died when wired up, and the one the engineer jury rigged lights the compass well except for the forward part and the lubber line that tells you where you are headed: the parts you most need to see.  I lean over and squint hard to see what the compass is reading. 


The wind is steady and the seas are not very high so the steering is fairly easy.  One trick I have learned regarding steering this ship is that because it is a very heavy ship, so it responds verrrrry slowly to the helm. I watch the compass intently.  When it shows that the ship has gotten a few degrees off course, I turn the wheel only about a half turn, and wait, and wait.  Sometimes it takes several minutes after I have turned the wheel for the ship to respond, and then the response is to turn very slowly.  Sometimes it doesn’t respond at all and I have to turn the wheel further. 


When the ship finally begins to turn it is vital to turn the wheel back to where I started before the ship swings to the course I want, to slow the turn.  Otherwise the ship will swing through the course I want and beyond it, and I will have to turn the wheel back further to correct and I can get into a cycle of over-steering where I swing too far to one side, overcorrect, and swing back too far the other.  It can then take a lot of concentration and effort to stop these oscillations.  Tonight I am doing well, steering with small corrections—rarely more than half a turn of the wheel—and good patience.  The hour passes fairly quickly as I struggle to see the compass and keep on course.


At the end of the hour I am relieved by my successor, give her the course—which she repeats back to show that she got it.  I then tell the mate that I have been relieved at the wheel and the course I was steering so he can be sure it is the right one, and hurry forward.  The fo’csle is the forward 25 feet of the bow that is raised 8 feet to make it harder for seas to come aboard over the bow and to provide space to house the crew beneath, as was customary in the old sailing ships.  The name is a contraction of forecastle, from the mediaeval warships that had castle-like towers at each end with parapets behind which sailors could find protection while they threw spears and shot arrows at their adversaries.  I climb the ladder to the top of the fo’csle searching in the darkness for the person I am relieving.  He appears out of the gloom and tells me that he has seen nothing during his hour and there is nothing current to watch out for.  With no mooon and some cloud cover it is a very dark night.  It takes a full five minutes for my eyes to fully adapt to the darkness, and for me to put on the two jackets I had removed and put on my gloves so I can begin to warm up.


The top of the fo’csle it roughly triangular, with curved sides coming roughly 25’  back from the bow, and the rear side roughly 20’ wide, with ladders leading down to the well deck below at either end.  Its perimeter is surrounded by a fence-like railing three feet high, with a railing on top and three more horizontal bars below it running between vertical stanchions.  It is a busy place.  At the rear of the top of the foc’sle is the anchor windlass, a great mass of cast iron gears and parts.  Running forward from it are the two great anchor chains.  Between them is the capstan, a great cast-iron vertical winch.  At its forward point is a stand where the headsail downhauls are made off to belaying pins with their coils hung from the pins.  At each rear corner are stands to which the headsail sheets are made off with their coils hung. Aft of the windlass is a large green-painted wooden chest that holds odd pieces of rope.  It is flanked by two cowl ventilators which stand about 5’high.  It seems like there is something to bump into or trip over almost every where, so I stay in the rear corners where I can lean against the railing and not fall over anything


Ahead of me the black spike of the bowsprit projects 30 feet forward from the bow.  Above it the maintopmast staysail and inner jib merge into one dark shape.  Over my head the foresail curves diagonally across the fo’csle, obscuring the sails above.  Looking aft I can see the main mast and yards silhouetted against the lighter blackness of the sky.  Only the topsails, the second and third sails up the mast are set.  The whole ship rolls methodically.  On lookout I slowly scan the horizon through 360 degrees, looking for any light or shape that might denote another vessel.  I see nothing, but keep on scanning every minute or two throughout the hour. 


Small birds dip and flit around the ship, making chattering noises as they fly no doubt to communicate with each other.  I have no idea what kind of bird they are,  where they go during the day, or what they are feeding on.  Since we are several hundred miles at sea, they must be some sort of bird that lives on the sea, but they seem small and frail to be so far offshore.


It is chilly in the wind on the foc’sle head, even well bundled.  But the nice part of lookout is that you are along and free to think your own thoughts for an hour.  My mind drifts far and wide, including thoughts of home and wondering how Barbara is faring.  She should be going to New York around now.  Fragments of songs float through my mind, like a tune I heard Gary practicing on his fiddle: “Speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing, over the sea to Skye.  Towards the end of the hour I am getting tired of standing and sleepy.  Finally my relief comes and I tell her  “Whole lot of nothing going on.” 


Now I must do a ship check, winding my way throughout the ship checking in each compartment for fire, anything loose and banging, toilets overflowing, or anything else out of place.  There is a lot of climbing up and down stairs and going through doors, trying to be a quiet as possible so as not to wake anyone.  The check takes about ten minutes, and when I am finished I climb to the quarterdeck and find Thomas, the mate of our watch, to tell him that I have been relieved at lookout and that all is well with the ship check.  I am told that there is fresh bread in the galley and make my way there.  Now its warmth is welcome, at least for a few minutes.  Even more welcome is the fresh cinnamon raisin bread, still warm from the oven, with margarine melted on it.  Nadja has worked magic with her baking and a steady stream of my watch mates come through to enjoy the fruit of her labor.  I talk to Nick for a few minutes before the heat drives me out of the galley.


Our watch is nearly over.  The next watch has had their wakeup call and are beginning to straggle on deck to congregate on the port side of the hatch.  My watch begins to assemble on the starboard side.  We wait while the other watch assembles, get organized, and send people to relieve my watch  mates on lookout and helm.  When the members of my watch who have been relieve finally join u, there is a brief discussion of any issues that came up during the watch.  My mind is distracted by fatigue and thought of bed.  At last the mate says the two magic words,  “Watch below,” and we are free to go.  I join the line of those descending the steps into the deeper darkness below.


In our berthing area we are silent, not wanting to wake the watch asleep, as we begin to strip off knife belt and safety harness to be hung on hooks at the foot of my bunk, foul weather jacket and pants to be hung on a hook near the steps, my shoes to be stowed in the locker beneath the bench in front of my bunk, three layers of fleece and my work pants to be stowed in the bin behind my bunk, and the heavier layer of long underwear which also goes beneath the bench.  The rest I will wear to bed.   I pull back the covers and crawl between cold sheets.  I am asleep before I have warmed them.   






Saturday, May 24th was an almost perfect day to leave Lunenburg.  To be sure, it was a bit cool, with the temperature never getting much above 50, and the wind was a little sparse.  But there was no rain, sun peeked out from the clouds periodically, and the breeze was favorable.

Around ten in the morning the Mayor of Lunenburg, a retired cleric, was ferried out in our skiff as we lay at anchor in the harbor for the third day.  He spoke briefly, giving the ship and crew a blessing for the voyage.  Around eleven we got under way.  One watch worked the anchor windlass, and ancient device powered by two lines of five to six people pumping up and down on two big opposing T-handles, like an old-fashioned fire engine.  While they were doing this backbreaking work, others were taking in the spanker, the sail at the stern that had been keeping us weather-vaned into the wind.  Still others were beginning to set the square sails and headsails.

When the anchor was off the bottom the square sails—back winded—pushed us backwards, the headsails pushed the bow off, and the rudder helped us turn.  When the ship had turned away from the wind enough, the yards were braced around to swivel the square sails to catch the wind, and the ship began to move toward towards the mouth of the harbor.

The Lunenburg waterfront with the schooner Bluenose II

The Lunenburg waterfront with the schooner Bluenose II

Nearly a hundred people stood on the end of the nearest wharf, waving and cheering, and fishing boats blew their horns.  A dory from the dory shop came sailing by with three people in it, and I was glad to see them.  Allison and Finn had both sailed around the world in the ship and had worked long and hard to help get her ready for sea.  They were staying behind, however, to further their educations.  The third person was Stephanie, who I had sailed with on this ship in the Caribbean in 2006, when we were trainees together.  Slim and youthful-looking, she appeared to be about 16 when we met, rather than the 23 she was then.  She sailed that whole voyage and had made the leap from trainee to “pro-crew.”   She was staying behind to care for her mother who is about to start chemotherapy for cancer.  They are typical of the intense loyalty that those who have sailed on the ship in the past feel towards her.  They had come and worked hard for weeks or months helping prepare her for a voyage they knew they could not take.  I felt sad for them, since I knew it was very hard for them to see the ship sail without them, and I was happy to see them sailing the dory to see us off, turning their sadness into something positive.

As we sailed out of the harbor we continued to set more and more sails: lower topsails, upper topsails, courses and t’gallants until we had set four square sails on both the fore and mainmasts, three headsails the maintopmast staysail, and spanker again. These were all the sails we had bent on. The highest square sails, the royals, have not been bent on yet, and the flying jib and gaff topsail as well.  Even with all this sail set we were moving slowly in the light breeze.

Near the mouth of the harbor we met the schooner Bluenose II, which had gone out ahead of us and was waiting to see us off.   As we passed they waved and cheered and fired their canon.  We all lined the rail and waved back.

I was assigned the first bow watch, standing up on the foc’sle to watch for anything which might effect our course.  This close to shore I was kept busy, walking aft periodically to report “Fishing boats three points on the port bow,” or “Yacht two points on the starboard bow,” or “Navigation buoy dead ahead.”

At 12:15 we passed the whistle buoy just west of Cross Island, the mark from which we would make our departure.  Its mournful groan was our final goodbye.  Our course was southeast, not the east-northeast that would be a direct route to Ireland.  The captain’s plan is to head southeast to pass south of the Grand Banks to avoid fog and icebergs further north, then due east for a while before sailing northeast for Ireland.  By this route the voyage will be around 2,700 miles.

As the day wore on the coast of Nova Scotia slowly sank behind us until it was a thin dark line on the horizon.  We were sailing close-hauled on the starboard tack, making slow but stately progress.  Watches were set, lookouts and helmsmen were assigned, deployed, and changed at the end of their hour.  We were slowly and haltingly establishing the routine of a ship at sea.

I looked astern with mixed emotions at the retreating land.  I was glad to be finally underway, but heartbroken to have my last slender tie to Barbara broken and to leave her behind.

By late in the afternoon the land was a thin dark line on the horizon astern.

By late in the afternoon the land was a thin dark line on the horizon astern.

Near sunset we sighted a ship approaching from the northeast.  It turned out to be the Queen Mary 2, one of the largest passenger ships in the world.  She passed a few miles behind us.  I suppose at least a few of her passengers who were not too engrossed in the buffet tables or the roulette tables must have seen us and been surprised and even delighted at the sight of an old square-rigger under sail.

                    At dusk the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 passed a few miles astern.

At dusk the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 passed a few miles astern.

At dusk the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 passed a few miles astern.

My night watch, from 8:00 to midnight, was as cold as I expected.  I was bundled up in regular underware and a T-shirt, long underware bottoms and tops, a second layer of expedition weight long underware tops and bottoms, work pants, two flannel shirts, foul weather pants, a fleece vest and a heavy fleece jacket, heavy wool socks, shoes, watch cap and gloves.  Even with all of these clothes I was none too warm.  Over my clothing I wore my safety harness and my “rig,” a special leather belt with my sheath knife and marlinspike on it. [For the non-nautically inclined, my marlinspike is a steel spike about 8” long, which tapers along its length from about 5/8” to a flat point.  It is used to pry open tight knots, open the strands of rope when splicing, or open paint cans.]   There is something about being so bundled up that inspires me to pee, and this time was no exception.

The watches are four hours long, but they are broken up into one-
hour segments, when we might be assigned to steering, lookout, sail handling, or other duties.  My hour on lookout was uneventful, with not a single other vessel to be seen, or anything at all to report.  It was, however, cold.  My hour on the helm was frustrating, since the wind had died to calm and the ship had slowed to the point where she would not respond to the helm.  Most of the hour was spent with the helm hard over, while the ship drifted up to eighty degrees off course.

By the end of the watch at midnight, I was cold and tired and more than ready to crawl into my bunk, the only place where I could get warm.  I was asleep in minutes.



Dear Friends,

Just a quick note to tell you that we are scheduled to sail tomorrow morning, before noon.  The weather prediction is for sunny skies and light westerly winds, just the direction we want.

Our planned course is to sail south, to somewhere around 200 miles north of Bermuda, then easterly or northeasterly.  This circuitous course is designed to bring us fair weather and favorable winds, and maybe even a little help from the Gulf Stream.  Our first port is planned to be Cork, Ireland.  It will take us around four weeks to reach there, depending on the winds and weather.  I am excited about the voyage and ready to go.

So you won’t be hearing from me for a while.  Hopefully, I can talk to some of the young computer geniuses on board and try to figure out why I have had such difficulty sending email attachments.

Until then, farewell,




So fare thee well, my own true love
We’ll meet another day, another time
It’s not the leaving of Lunenburg that grieves me
But my true love who’s bound to stay behind

This old sailor’s song—slightly adapted—has been playing in my mind for several days.  I find that as our departure approaches I am swept with a mixture of strong and conflicting emotions.  Of course I feel excitement at the adventure of sailing across the ocean in a square-rigged ship, and of visiting the ports of Europe.  That is why I came.  But I feel other emotions as well.

There is some dread at the cold we are likely to encounter in our crossing.  I have sailed to Newfoundland in the past, and stood night watches when eight layers of clothing was barely enough and a warm day was defined as one which only required one layer of long underware.  Cold and possible storms are not things I look forward to.  I have brought lots of warm clothing and bought more.  I hope they are enough.

Leaving means taking another major step away from the life I have given up and left behind.  Giving up my work and all of my professional relationships was very hard.  Leaving home was much harder.  Harder even than I expected.  Lunenburg has provided a relatively safe respite.  I have always liked Lunenburg; it is a comfortable town for me.  My old shipmate and friend Don Wilson and his wife Judith have provided a haven with company, moral support, dinner, and laundry that has been an absolute life-saver in the midst of my life changes and emotional turmoil. I feel extremely grateful to them.  Leaving the familiarity and comfort of Lunenburg will be hard.  The ship is nearly ready to leave and the captain said tonight that the weather looks good for Saturday.

Being away from the support of friends has been more difficult than I expected.  I miss a lot of you, and the support you have given me.  On a ship, relationships often develop quickly, but so far I have yet to find my place in the ship in terms of relationships and have not yet developed the kind of relationships that can provide much support.  I think that my transitions and emotional upheavals have probably made me less engaged with others and slowed the process of making new relationships.  I hope they will come in time.

Hardest of all has been being apart from Barbara.  Over the decades we have become a part of each other, and being separated from her has felt like missing a part of myself.  It is particularly hard because she is exhausted at the end of her semester and bedeviled by an eye problem and I wish that I could be there to give her more support than I can over the phone.  As the words of the song loop through my mind I miss her and occasional tears well up.  I grieve to leave my true love behind.  That is part of the price of taking such a trip.  Hopefully I will adjust and feel more on an even keel in time.  For now, it is not easy.

9. The Party

9. The Party

Our day begins with a wake-up call at 7:00 AM.  Breakfast is at 7:30, and there is an “All hands muster,” a meeting of the entire crew, at 8:00.  There we get announcements and job assignments.  The morning is then spent working.  We start with either washing and scubbing down the deck, or cleaning the living areas, before we get down to the tasks of the day.  Lately I have done painting, stowing food in the hold, stowing sails under the cabin floor, helped turn over a boat, sentry duty at the gate (a new activity, required by the Canadian government in emulation of Mr. Bush’s Homeland Insecurity policies) and galley duty setting up for meals and washing dishes afterwards.  Lunch is from 12:00 noon to 12:45, and then we work or do drills to learn how to handle the ship until 6:30, when we have dinner.  After that, if we are not on watch, we are free to do things like shower, do email, go out to the local bars—which I rarely do—or maybe even sleep a little.

Since this routine goes on six days per week, often with heavy physical work, by the end of the week we are tired and ready for some recreation.  We are ready for a party, and Capt. Daniel Moreland knows how to put on a party.  The first weekend it was a party on the wharf for the crews of the Picton Castle and the Bluenose II, complete with barbeque and plenty of beer iced down in a Polynesian dugout canoe.  I had a nice time, talking to some of my shipmates and some of the crew of the Bluenose II, a few of whom I knew from sailing with them or meeting them before, and some whom I didn’t know.

The second weekend was cold and rainy and miserable.  That weekend the party was in the dory shop.  This old building, surely more than 100 years old, was once a fish house where fish were stored while they were being preserved by being salted and dried in the sun whenever it wasn’t sunny.  Later it became a dory shop, where dories were built, the small rowing boats carried on the decks of schooners out to the offshore banks, then launched so the fishermen could use them to set and haul their trawls.  The still builds dories, though on a more limited basis, as one of the last production wooden boat building shops left in eastern North America.  It is a quintessential woodworking shop, with the tools, the wood, the smell of wood shavings, and a half-finished dory in the center of its one room.  Warmed by a woodstove, it was a perfect venue for a party on a rainy night.  It was overseen by the boat builder, a tall man with shoulder length hair, full beard, and the look of a Viking.

Once again, there were copious amounts of food and beer.  But at this party there was something in addition: entertainment.  This was provided by a young woman who was an excellent Celtic fiddler.  Nova Scotia isn’t called “New Scotland” for nothing.  Particularly in Cape Breton, the island that makes up the eastern third of the province, Scottish culture is very much alive in the music, dance and traditions.  The lilting, haunting tunes this woman played reminded me very much of the music I heard years ago sailing down the west coast of Scotland through the Inner Hebrides.  Several couples danced, most notably one shipmate from Isle Madame, an island near Cape Breton, and his visiting wife.  They danced with the perfect synchrony that some couples achieve after decades together.  The mate of the Picton Castle sat in for a while on his guitar.

During breaks from the live music the music and dancing were more contemporary, as if jumping back and forth between centuries.  As the evening wore on, more and more local people drifted in, following an affair at the Fishermen’s Museum honoring the crew of the schooner who just returned from sailing around the world.  One was my old shipmate and friend Don Wilson who has a shop in town where he does beautiful woodcarving and sells nautical antiques.

I am told that the party went on until 2:00 AM.  I don’t know; I left at 10:00 to go to bed.  I was tired.

8. Rigging the Ship Part 2

Rigging the ship part 2

Once the yards are all in place, the “gear” is rigged.  Square sails hang from yards.  They have various lines called clewlines, buntlines, and leachlines which all haul the sail up to the yard to bunch it  up under the yard when you don’t want it set.  When you set the sail, these lines must all be released, to let the sail fall, and lines called sheets are hauled in to pull the bottom corners of the sail down to the yard below.  All of these lines were rigged by the professional crew before we bent on (attached) the sails to the yards.
To bend a sail onto a yard, the sail is hauled up to the yard in a long bundle and then pulled out along the yard by crew on the yard.  It is attached at the top corners by lashings, and then the top edge of the sail is lashed to the yard with heavy twine called robands.  The Clewlines, bunts and leach lines are then attached to the sail.

In these pictures people are lashing the mainsail to the main yard.  After the sail is lashed on, it is furled by rolling it in a tight bundle and tying it to the yard with spiraled lines called gaskets.  The woman in the second picture is finishing tying the gaskets on the foresail in the foreground.

As we have assembled the rigging and bent on the sails, we have spent time almost every day learning what the lines do, and practicing using them.  With these drills we are slowly learning how it all works.

If all of this seems complicated and confusing, it is.  Everything has a new and strange name, which must be learned, and the rigging is an intricate web. Watching the spars, rigging, and sails of the Picton Castle be put together, and participating in it has been a tremendous learning experience. I am learning a great deal about the details of how a square-rigged ship is put together, and how it works.  Yes, it is an arcane art, but it is one that fascinates me and which I want to learn.