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Newport: True marine town

Posted by astamatt on June 30, 2007

Picton Castle arriving in NYC

June 29

It is the second day of the Tall Ships Rhode Island festival and a fairly fast-paced one at that. Newport is definitely a town for mariners. The sailing ships are nearly outnumbered by the sea food restaurants. The festival has attracted a lot of attention here. It is obvious to me that people in this area have a close affinity to their maritime heritage. It can be seen in the clothes they wear, the expressions they use in their language, in the food they eat and the way they choose to decorate their town and items within it. It is certainly different then people in my home city of Chicago. The people of Chicago, in comparison have very little connection to maritime traditions. The tall ships here don’t seem to be an oddity to be observed at the docks. Instead, they fit right into the architecture of the city itself, as if the city was built anticipating that their arrival would complete the picture. It’s that integral attitude of a semblence of familiarity that makes the tall ship visit to this city slightly different then the past cities.

I have discovered that I will be sailing on Picton Castle all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Very exciting! I wanted to visit Nova Scotia in particular. I have much to reflect on in regards to that, but little time to do so. The ship leaves early tommorow for a parade of sail and then on to the Atlantic! In the meantime I am updating my ship’s journal here:

June 18, 2007

Been awhile since I have written, been really busy. Right now it is after six and after dinner. I just finished my 12-6 sea watch. We have left Baltimore and are headed for the Atlantic. The water has become choppier, I can hear the swells of waves pounding through the scuppers. Baltimore was a good time – good city. Coming into the city was a fast-paced parade of activity. As we entered the harbor we were manuevering and bringing in sails while simulataneously making the ship ready to go alongside to dock. Very hectic, seemingly frantic, but it got done without incident. We got new people on ship in Norfolk. The most fun, so far is Charlie. He is a wisecracking lawyer from North Carolina who is also very hardworking. Between the two of us and David we spent all of yesterday afternoon attaching an emergency ladder to the aft “bat cave” entrance. We broke three drill bits trying to break through the steel of the ship. Took a while, but it got done. As much as I really enjoy the sailing aspects of this sail training experience I find that I can enjoy even the maintenance work of the ship. It can be fun if you are working with fun people, even if it does get long or tedious at times.

June 20, 2007

 We have just passed through New York, through the heart of it via the North River. Got to see New York in style – a grand tour from a tall ship! Very exciting, but also a bit of a tease – we can’t go ashore. New York harbor would not give us space to dock. Last night on my anchor watch at 1 a.m. I had to call “all hands to the windlass” to bring up the anchor. Apparently, the authorities of the harbor were upset about our anchorage and forced us to relocate. The crew was not at all pleased.

Going into New York Harbor yesterday afternoon was a marvelous sight. Great views of the skyline along the fringes of the expansive harbor. The highlight was, of course, the Statue of Libety which we passed by in close proximity as we worked our sails. The tall ship Pride of Baltimore was in the harbor as well. They passed us in salute.

New York really does appear to be as fast-paced as its reputation claims. I noticed that, unlike the other ports I had been to prior, very few New Yorkers stopped for a moment to notice our rare vessel. I could see a beehive of activity on shore from the relative calm of our steady river passage. Maybe it is a disguised blessing that we get to ease through New York without stopping long enough to get ensnared in its traffic.

Yesterday we passed through a canal to leave the Chesapeake Bay area and get into the Atlantic. The canal was not very wide and possessed numerous twists and turns. It had many bridges to pass under and many of them appeared too low for our masts from a distance. I got a turn at the helm in the fairly narrow canal. It was fun to steer and just move the ship through the river without having to maintain a course – just to follow the river.

June 21

After we left New York we had an unusual, but fun turn of events. It was completely unexpected. As we left New York’s North River and entered Long Island Sound we put up some sail. The water that morning was very calm, refletive and pearlescent. It mirrored the sky and the two seemed to blend into one. From my point on the helm during watch it seemed as if the ship was flying above a mass of color. A memorable view. 

My 12-6 watch just got off duty, been a long day. We worked the whole of the morning and afternoon until six. Not long after our watch was relieved we were called to duty to bring in and furl the sails. I felt sorry for the watch who was relieving us. We had been sailing all day and just as they came on it was time to bring in the sails and turn on the engine. I really enjoy those times when we turn off the engine for a bit.  We then came back on duty at midnight to work the night until sunrise. We had to bring in our sails because a cold front from the East passed over us bringing some nasty clouds and a bit of rain. We do not want to weather a squall if we don’t have to.

As we left New York we came upon an area of the Long Island Sound, and then anchored, much to everyone’s surprise. Apparently we were anchored very near to the Captain’s childhood home in Connecticut. He seems somewhat disappointed at how this once small mariner’s town has become a playground for the “Gold Coast” inhabitants of upper-class New York. We launched the monomoy and skiff to have an “expedition” to nearby Sheffield Island. Sheffield Island apparently once had a ritzy mansion for the celebrities in and around New York – all that we saw remaining was a ruined stone wharf among what is now a forest preserve. The other end of the small island has an old lighthouse from 1868. It’s caretaker, a young man named Brian invited our crew over to see the lighthouse and stay to have a barbeque. While the Captain and others went to the town to appropriate supples, the rest of us played games and explored the island. Ultimate frisbee, Croquet, volleyball and horseshoes were the most popular. The island was such a beautiful place. It was a picturesque, ideal setting. Perfect scenery, weather, food, company and conversation. It seemed to be one of those few snapshots in time where everything seems to be completely perfect and isolated from the rest of reality. We then had a bonfire on a rocky beach with plenty of s’mores. Silly campfire songs and smoke from burned marshmallows were in the air. When it came time to leave, our crew rowed the monomoy back better than ever.

I am really enjoying this lifestyle. Granted it is all certainly not as glamorous as the incident I just described, but those things happen often enough, and are so fantastic when they do that it justifies all the hard work it took to get there. I really love it when the ship is being plowed through the waves with only the wind pushing her forward. I have improved so much at working the ship. I can make myself useful most of the time, whether helping with sails, the skiff, working aloft, etc. There is still so much to learn, I have only really begun to grasp the tip of an iceberg of skills and knowledge. I’ve come a long way but there is still a far longer way to go – especially on tying my knots!

June 23

Big News! Today I was invited by the second mate to stay on the ship until Halifax. I will definitely take them up on that offer. Yesterday we arrived at Newport and anchored off the Rose Cliff mansion. We are here as a backdrop for a party. We on ship are gawking at the extravagence of their party just as much as they are at our ship. In spite of their lavish accomodatiions and lush catering, I would rather be on ship here, then on shore. If I was there I would probably be wishing that I was on the ship anyway. Since we were anchored here and could not leave we had an impromptu Seamanship Derby. The crew was organized into two teams: Green and Yellow (I was on Yellow). We all made silly costumes for the competition and spent a few hours brushing up on our nautical skills so that we could trump the opposition.  Our team name was the “Fore Heads” and we all dressed in sarongs, bright, obnoxious yellow headwear and toilet brushes (new ones!). The brushes and buckets were needed to fight off an expected ambush from the Green team who had cunningly stowed away all the water pistols on ship. It was a good fight.

The competition catagories were; knots, pin-rail location, boxing the compass, coiling lines, and throwing heaving lines. I did fairly well, but I really need to get better at knotwork. It was a lot of fun and the judges were accepting bribes of food and whatever other commodities we could gather on ship in such short notice. After the points for seamanship skills were tallied and the points for bribery calculated it was made clear that Yellow team won, but just barely. A large dinner was served after and it tasted especially good since we were chilled by the shifty weather of the day.

That was yesterday, today was a work/maintenance day. I did get to stow six sails today though, much more than usual. A good bit of practice and I’ll take all that I can get.

 June 26

Today we are in  Old Harbor Block Island, Rhode Island. Yesterday we came over from the mansions and docked in “New Harbor”. A tedious little harbor for our ship and a bit hair-raising to dock into (it has a very narrow entrance). The job got done though. Today was pretty cool and busy as usual. I did tours in the morning for Block Island schoolchildren who came out to see the ship. Then me, Lyndsey (bosun) and John (deckhand) went inland to a barn/house to bring back someones 1930’s-ish stove that they did not want. Apparently the Captain wants to re-hab it. It runs on coal and gas – very heavy! The next morning we left New Harbor and sailed around the island to anchor off of Old Harbor. I volunteered for the helm and I got to steer the ship for nearly two hours as we rounded the island and headed into our new anchorage. With some good pointers from the Rebecca the Second Mate we got the ship into her anchorage without a problem. Slightly stressful but very rewarding, fun work.

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