Fitting out a large sailing ship to prepare it for a voyage is a monumental task.
Even a small vessel is a lot of work; it takes me around six weeks of working 2-4 days
per week to get my little yawl ready to launch. A ship like the Picton Castle is a
thousand times more work.
When I arrived much had already been done: work had been gong on all winter to
renew rigging, make some new yards, install new safety equipment, and renovate two of
the four heads, (on a ship bathrooms are called heads), and the engineers had been
working steadily in the engine room in the bowels of the ship on all manner of projects.
Shortly before I arrived the ship had been hauled out of the water to have its bottom
cleaned and painted. Despite all this work it was immediately apparent when I arrived
that the ship had a long way to go to be ready for sea. I expected this, and knew that
helping to fit out the ship would be an important part of my training.
Painting was the predominant task of the first ten days. A steel ship has to be
constantly painted to slow down the rusting process. But before it can be painted the
rusted areas must be chipped, hit repeatedly with special pointed hammers to flake off the
rust in the worst areas. Then it must be gone over vigorously with a wire brush to scour
away the surface rust. After that it should be wiped down with a rag and some turpentine
and—ideally—painted with a sealer, primer, and paint. In some of the less crucial areas
we skipped the sealer and primer in the interest of time. It will need to be painted again
before too long, and any areas that were skimped on can be dealt with more thoroughly.
On of the reasons the ship needed to be pained it that a little over a year ago its
color scheme was completely changed to allow it to represent a pirate ship for a reality
TV show called something like Pirate Master. The show was filmed in Dominica in the
Caribbean in the winter of ’06 and, although it contained some wonderful shots of the
ship under sail, it was a particularly awful example of a dreadful genre, and was
cancelled after only a few episodes. So part of painting the ship was to “de-
Hollywoodize” her. This meant painting the hull white to cover the black she was
painted to be a pirate ship. Ironically, I helped paint her black, bobbing alongside in a
work skiff painting with a roller on a mop handle in the lovely harbor of the little
Caribbean island of Bequia. When I arrive the hull was about two-thirds white and the
rest had still to be painted. The deckhouses, which had been painted faux wood, had to
be returned to their usual buff with green trim (the color scheme of traditional Lunenburg
fishing dories.) Other trip had to be painted red, and the overhead in the walkways
tropical blue. In addition there were all sorts of other bits and pieces to be painted. So I,
like most of the crew, have spent many days painting.
One day we cleaned out the ships hold. This first required opening the big cargo
hatch, which involves knocking out wedges that hold battens that hold down the edges of
a tarp, pealing back the tarp, and removing the heavy wooden planks beneath. Then
everything had to come out of the hold. We formed a bucket brigade and passed along
The Picton Castle as she looked in January, 2008
item after item up out of the hold, across the deck, and up on the wharf. Up came many
big plastic totes of breakfast cereal, canned goods, and other foodstuff, crowbars, a
generator, old odd pieces of pipe, scrap metal, and hose. The motto on the Picton Castle
seems to be “waste not, want not,” and all sorts of things get saved in case they might be
needed that most people would throw away. Literally tons of stuff came out of the hold.
When all this incredible assemblage was arrayed along the length of the dock my
comment was “where are the garage sale signs.” Then everything had to be sorted, culled,
scrubbed, repacked, and put back into the hold via the same bucket brigade, and arranged
in better order.
Near the end of this process a big tractor-trailer truck arrived to deliver literally a
ton of food. It had to be unloaded and all the boxes, cans and big sacks of food had to be
passed from person to person along the wharf to be stacked alongside the ship. Then it to
had to be organized, often unpacked, and passed down to be carefully stowed in the hold.
It is amazing what 30 or 40 people can do working together in a relatively small amount
of time. It gave me a new understanding of how the pyramids must have been built.
The Picton Castle last week
Other tasks fell into the general category of cleaning the ship, both the daily
chores of cleaning the living spaces and scrubbing the decks, and “spring cleaning” of
pretty much the entire ship.
Interspersed with painting, packing, and cleaning, we had sessions of safety
training: fire fighting, abandon ship, man overboard, and the use of emergency
equipment. This has been quite extensive training involving instruction, practice, and
drills to see how well we have learned. For instance one afternoon we all traipsed to the
local indoor pool. There we changed into bathing suits and tried out life jackets, survival
suits (Know to the fishermen as “Gumby suits,” after the wearer’s resemblance to the
cartoon character.), and a small life raft. My job in a fire situation is to retrieve certain
fire extinguishers and bring them to the source of the fire. In an abandon ship situation I
assemble emergency flares and food to be put in the life rafts. And in a man overboard
situation I get extra blankets to help warm the retrieved person. We keep repeating these
drills until we can all do our tasks quickly, efficiently, and automatically.
One day I was on galley duty, which involves setting up for meals, delivering
meals from the galley, and washing dishes afterwards.
Along with everything else we have started to learn the almost 200 line that are
used to control the sails on this ship. We repeatedly go over all the lines to memorize
what they are, what they do, where they are, and how to use them. We have had drills to
practice using the braces, lines that swivel the square yards around the masts to allow the
sails to catch the wind.
We are up at 7:00 am, have breakfast at 7:30, start work at 8:00, have 45 minutes
for lunch, and stop work at 6:30 in time for supper. Then we have a few hours to catch
up on phone calls, email, shower, and maybe go the local bar. Since it is hard physical
work, I am always tired at the end of the day, with aching muscles. I keep expecting to
wake up in the morning unable to move from locked-up muscles, but so far it hasn’t
happened. We work six days per week, with Sundays off to do laundry, shopping,
correspondence, and maybe a few minutes of relaxation.
So there you have my life for the last few weeks. We have just started bending on
sails, and are now projected to sail for Ireland on the 20th of May, if everything is done
and the weather cooperates.