Monday, April 06, 2009

More Sailing

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.
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