Captain’s Log – Approaching The Line

It’s all pretty sweet here with perfect tradewind conditions in the Picton Castle, 300 miles east of Recife on the Atlantic hump of Brazil. We were making westing, light winds fine on port quarter giving us about 4.8 to 5.5  knots. We wore ship to starboard tack here this morning to make a more northwesterly course towards the gap between Fernando De Noronha and the Brazilian mainland. From there we will head WNW along the Brazil coast not too far offshore to catch the swift and fair currents thereabouts. Winds should build along that way too. The Equator is about 800 miles and six days ahead along our planned course track line. Only 488 miles from us due north. It will be quite interesting as we pass the mouths of first the Amazon River, then the Orinoco. Throw a bucket over and haul up some agua and you can even taste the fresh water there is so much piling out of these rivers, even if you are ten miles or more offshore.

It has been fine sailing for the Picton Castle all the way from Namibia now almost 3,000 miles astern.  Another 2,300 miles until Grenada. Good decent tradewinds almost all the way so far. Kind of light just now but should pick up again soon, seas modest with few only a few over 6-8 feet. Once in awhile we have a bird or two land on the boat davits or braces. The cats dispatch any flying fish that make their way over the rails at night. Lucky cats.

We had our spanker gaff down for some remedial scarfing, gluing in a nice long piece of pine to eliminate a bad spot. The designated ship’s “chips” Dan did a great job on it, strong as new. It’s been painted, all its rigging overhauled including a new wire gaff vang pennant, and sent up again. Not that we need a spanker with the wind so far aft. The Bosun is keen to bend the ever-so-superfluous gaff topsail. She says that if we do not bend it we should cut it up for making bags or chafe gear… The head rig is getting some new whisker stays. New wire seizings on shrouds and backstays here and there. A deckhand with mate ambitions is leading a five day class in Rules of the Road. After a break of a week and doing more hands-on seamanship workshops, another deckhand will lead a class in Deck General using a USCG test prep study guide. We also have four or five big fish-boxes of books that were supposed to go ashore in Cape Town to sort, pack up and donate to a library soon. Maybe at Carriacou or St George’s, Grenada. They will find a home LONG before we get out of the Caribbean.

We are switching over to Duradon for sailmaking in Picton Castle. It is just so hard to find and get good cotton duck sail cloth these days. Turns out that we are well into the 21st century now! Shocking and disturbing. And the Duradon works almost like canvas and it’s not too expensive. Lasts longer too. We have made and bent on three new duradon sails so far with another 6 on the go, three or four almost finished. These sails, I must admit, are not professional quality as you would get from Nat Wilson, but as they say in Gloucester, “they will fish”… I always wanted to make our sails of flax. It is available but not cheap.

Got some main deck planking renewed in Cape Town and caulked and pictched. The deck is holding up well after all these years. We laid these decks in 1996. Simple 3″ white pine, oiled of course. The foc’sle head planks are of some Estonian pine I got in Denamrk in 1993 to cover the huge cargo hatch she had at the time. We used that up in one place to see how it would do. The engine room looks sharp and purrs along sweetly these days under our quiet engineer, Julien. Our Danish bosun Line (pronounced “leen-uh”) is one of the best we have ever had in that role. She started out as deckhand but grew into the job swiftly. She had been in Danmark for 6 months, 3 years in Christian Radich and other ships, even around Cape Horn in the big bark Statsraad Lehmkuhl. But as good as that experience is, being bosun is an attitude, a way of thinking and seeing things, not just experience, and she is simply outstanding. Organized, smart, excellent leadership talent she is. Thinks things through. Takes direction but has her own mind. Perfect.

We have had some light rain squalls from time to time the last few days. Sometimes wind stealers where we wallow a bit in the passing, but never anything with any real punch. In fact, this entire voyage we have not had much in the way of  one of those notoriously nasty, arching, terrifying, barbed-wire, hairball devils of a tropical lay-her-down squalls. We have been in very strong rain driven winds for half a day or so but it was not really a squall. I have yet to see one of the blilious lee bow, black nasties crawling up to windward on this voyage. This could yet change.

We are coming up to The Line, the Equator, with a number of pollywags aboard, all lovely folks too, but no doubt they have secret crimes that will be revealed at Neptune’s Court. Should He choose to convene His Royal Court on board.

11-year-old Dawson is getting along with his schooling. Purser Tammy is working on accounts in the messroom and helps on roping sails. We have the occasional Captain’s Dinner in the mess-room with a mix of crew. Nice to have a good sit-down dinner and chat about things. Donald gets to show off his cruise-ship culinary presentation arts at these dinners and that is altogether lovely.

Headed for the Lesser Antilles where I hope to to have a good four to five weeks in among some of the sweetest islands anywhere. Looking forward to that a lot.

Gaff topsail is bent and set by the way. Today we start to shape a new t’gallant yard. Clara is taking the lead on this.

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