Captain's Log

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Captain’s Log – 14 May, 2017 – Along the Coast of North Carolina

Written by Purser Allison Steele

Waking at 0700 to a beaming sun was a far cry from the overcast and rainy morning of yesterday. Gone were the 10-foot swells and foul weather gear as some crew donned shorts and sandals today and spent extra time during their off watch to pitch in on deck. A ship like Picton Castle, with all her miles at sea requires perpetual maintenance and care. If we treat her well she will take us far.

Today the crew is bending sails on the fore mast. The process of bending on sail takes many hands, the crew is excited to participate. The sail is hoisted by hand, block and tackle, up to its yard. The crew will spread out along the yard and fasten the sail by hand using sturdy bits of rope or ‘robands’. Although everyone is harnessed in and clipped in while aloft, common sense and communication are first and foremost. Bending on sail is not a daily occurrence and is only done when the sails are sent down for repair or maintenance so it’s a great opportunity for the crew to get some practice working aloft. Many hands make light work!

As we sail on a SWxS course towards Charleston, South Carolina, we are passing by Cape Hatteras that is famous for her tricky weather. The Captain explained how the remnants of the cold Labrador current are squeezed between land and the much warmer Gulf Stream. Combining this clash of ocean temperatures with the accompanying air currents makes a recipe for some challenging conditions. Fortunately today we are blessed with a nice brisk breeze and minimal swells, perfect for sailing!

Just after lunch today we had some excitement on the aloha deck (at the rear of the ship) as our fishing line had hooked a small Great White Shark! We often fish while at sea much to the delight of our wonderful cook, Donald, as he is known for his ability to whip up a wonderful meal of Wahoo, Tuna or Mahi Mahi but today’s catch was released back into the ocean to continue on. Cue the Jaws soundtrack.

The crew is excited to be sailing. The sound of the waves has replaced the dull thud of our diesel engine and the sun has broken through the days of overcast sky. It is a good day to sail this beautiful ship.


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Captains Log – 13 May 2017 – Approaching Cape Hatteras

Well, the Picton Castle has had a pretty good run down from Lunenburg, bound for Charleston by way of close in to Cape Hatteras.

We have been under power the whole way, sad to say. We steamed out of Lunenburg and headed southwest to skirt south of George’s Bank east of Cape Cod. We did this to avoid all the busy fishing traffic and strange currents of George’s Bank. Then we kept going like this skirting Nantucket Shoals.

Why? The hint is in the name; “shoals”. Don’t want much to do with shoals.

Now it is getting warmer. 2 degrees Celsius was the sea temperature upon leaving fair Lunenburg and in two days it was 5 degrees. Wow! Now as we are off the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay by about 90 miles the sea temperature is up to 20 Celsius or 65 Fahrenheit – much warmer indeed. But the cold was good for crawling under heaps of covers in your bunk and sleeping cozily.

And we have also skirted just north of the Gulf Stream which sets almost due west near here, did not want to get set to the Azores at a rate of 4 knots, now, do we? No, so we stayed north of that meandering hot water river right in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.

This morning we had a small low-pressure system pass overhead and our strong headwinds became light headwinds and are now veering (aka clocking) around to become a fair sailing breeze. This, of course, is welcome, looks like we can shut down and set sail soon to pass the famous and daunting Cape Hatteras under sail tonight.

Why is this cape so notorious? Well, a lot of factors weigh in. One: the Gulf Stream comes very close in here and the cape sticks pretty far out. And then you have all sorts of weather systems barrelling off the coast. So a cold northeast storm against a hot 4 knot current setting to the ENE is a cauldron of trouble. There is more to it than that, but that’s a good start.

But we have a fair breeze it looks good to slip in between the Stream and the shoals off the Cape for a nice passage south, or so we hope, then around the corner southwest towards Charleston.


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Captain’s Log – 11 May, 2017

By Allison Steele, Purser

As we steam south and westward, towards our rendezvous with other tall ships at Charleston South Carolina, USA, the Picton Castle has shaken out the cobwebs after her winter alongside the wharf in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and is operating as the stout sea-going vessel she is.  Today we are skirting just north of the Gulf Stream towards Virginia Beach where the seas are not as choppy as if we tried to pass through the Gulf Stream.  The weather remains cool but dry and we are looking forward to warmer weather! Water temperatures are going up from about 40 degrees Fahrenheit to now 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

After getting underway and some stowing for sea, we broke into watches which means each crew member is on duty for 4 hours and off for 8 rotating throughout the day. Each watch has specific duties that correspond with the needs of the ship during that time. Every hour a new person from the watch takes the helm and stands lookout. There is much variety to working at sea and at a moment’s notice you may be called upon to help with sail handling taking advantage of a change in wind or course. Night watches are often not as active as during the day but the crew is always on alert for anything that might arise.

During passages, the Captain will conduct workshops to help introduce new skills and yesterday the crew learned about mousings. Mousings are a method of wrapping wire around a shackle or a hook to keep the pin from backing its way out over time, or a hook coming off. Shackles are used throughout the ship and need to be relied on to hold rigging and sails in place so this is an important skill to have. As a training vessel, crew of the Picton Castle are constantly learning and putting these skills into practice. From identifying dolphins coming to investigate the ship to bending on sail, steering and keeping a good lookout, knots and splices to small boat handling, there is always something new to learn and practice.


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Captain’s Log – May 9 2017

Anchored in the beautiful old fishing port of Lunenburg Harbour, Nova Scotia, the Picton Castle crew woke up at 0715 to a cold drizzle and overcast day but spirits were high as we knew we were preparing to get underway and head to sea. We had left our dock and gone to anchor two days ago but high seas had kept us in port, 12 to 16 feet swells were the reports just off the coast and even the lobster boats were staying in the harbour. Kind of rough for starting out. The weather had finally turned more favourable with seas laying down and it was time to head south to Charleston, South Carolina. We had been stowing, lashing and drilling for days. Several crew members have sailed aboard the Picton Castle before, but for others, this is their first time at sea. Assistant Engineer Liz has been working and living aboard the ship for almost nine months now and nothing could beat her smile as we heaved up the anchor and headed for warmer weather!

At 1100 the crew was set to haul up the 1,500 lb port anchor. For some vessels, this is done with the press of a button but on our ship, it is the press of sweat and strong backs using a big iron 100A1 “Norwegian Steam” hand powered anchor windlass. The Picton Castle is steeped in tradition including the fact that “many hands make light work”. With 4-5 people on each side of the windlass, sailors “see-saw” on big iron bars until the anchor breaks off the bottom then comes to the surface of the water and can be stowed. Each up and down motion lifts one link of our very large chain, so with two and a half shots or 230 feet of very heavy chain lifting a very heavy anchor, I’m sure you can imagine the strength required. Often chants break out to help keep momentum but our spirits don’t need for much as a secured anchor means we are heading back out to sea. But as one wiseguy said, “can you imagine how hard it would be without the windlass?”

Today the seas are a bit sloppy after the large seas of yesterday, making for cautious footing but we are starting to get into the ebb and flow of the ship. Soon it will be second nature. Getting used to the new and unfamiliar movement, especially in choppy weather can sometimes take a bit. During our aloft training we learn the importance of three points of contact between yourself and the ship. This also rings true when navigating the decks while she rides over the 4 to 8 foot swells!

To some, this may sound like a lot of work and you are right. But when you stand at the bow of the ship, looking back at the tight-knit unit we’ve become in such a short span of time, every time we have scrubbed the deck or stood at the helm, we are reminded that we are a part of something much greater than just ourselves. We are sailors in a great sailing ship.



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New Mizzen Topmast

Most of the crew have now arrived aboard Picton Castle in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada for the Rendezvous 2017 voyage. It’s always an exciting time when a voyage begins. There is a flurry of activity around the ship as people move aboard and get settled, ship’s work picks up speed as the number of hands increases. Training and orientation is a big part of what’s going on as well, learning the ship and how everything works.

One of the projects we’ve been working on is replacing the mizzen topmast. Each of Picton Castle’s three masts have multiple parts, they’re not each just one solid piece. The mizzen mast, the mast farthest aft (closest to the back of the ship), is made up of two parts. The lower part is made of steel and the upper part, which is called the topmast, is made of wood.

Picton Castle carries a number of spare timbers so that we have materials to use if we ever need to replace any of the spars. We’ve been carrying a telephone pole from Saint Maarten in the Caribbean for a while now. We’re saving it from a life of mediocrity, just staying in one place and holding up wires. Instead, this long straight timber has been crafted into a new mizzen topmast by local all-around-boat-guy Mike Gray and the crew put it into place yesterday, high above the steel lower mast, where it will support sails and rigging while Picton Castle sails the world.



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Captain’s Log – 18 April 2017

This summer, Picton Castle will take part in the Rendez-vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta.  Events of this kind are quite rare; they involve tall ships from around the world racing from port to port on both sides of the Atlantic and appearing in festivals in various ports in between the races.  Rendez-vous 2017 kicked off this past weekend in Royal Greenwich in England on what appears to be a wonderful Easter weekend with tall ships moored along the River Thames. 


Ships can choose to sail on some or all of the race legs of the Regatta.  From Royal Greenwich, the ships will race to Sines, Portugal, then to Bermuda.  Picton Castle will start in the feeder port of Charleston, South Carolina, USA then meet up with more of the fleet in Bermuda. 


The next race is from Bermuda to Boston, and we’ll race again from Boston to the Canadian Maritimes.  Once in Canada, the fleet will divide to visit a number of ports in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence River, gathering together again in Quebec City for the largest tall ships festival in Canada this summer.  Before we get to Quebec City, Picton Castle will visit Summerside, PEI; Sept-Iles, Quebec; and Baie-Comeau, Quebec. 


After Quebec City, the fleet will divide again, with some ships heading for Halifax and then back across the Atlantic to Le Havre in France.  Other ships will continue visiting a number of Canadian ports in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  Picton Castle will be bound for Norris Point, Newfoundland; Louisbourg, Nova Scotia; Lunenburg, Nova Scotia; Digby, Nova Scotia; and Saint John, New Brunswick. 


So, although we haven’t yet joined up with this majestic international fleet, the Rendez-vous has begun! 

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La Grand Traversée Airs Starting April 11, 2017

Picton Castle played the role of L’Esperance last summer as the French-language documentary La Grand Traversée was filmed on board while crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

We will get to see the first episode when it airs tomorrow night, Tuesday April 11, 2017 on Radio-Canada.

La Grand Traversée tells the story of ten “colonists” who made the voyage from France to New France much as their ancestors would have done in the 18th century.  They wore clothing, lived in accommodations, cooked and ate food appropriate to the period.

Colonists sailing from Europe to the Americas at that time would not have participated in sailing the ship, but on this recreated voyage they certainly did.  The colonists stood watches alongside Picton Castle crew and contributed to sailing the ship.

The passage from La Rochelle, France to Caraquet, New Brunswick, Canada, which was the ship’s first port of call in the Americas, took 39 days.  From there, Picton Castle sailed on to Quebec City, where the colonists signed off.

We’re eager to see how this exciting voyage is portrayed on film.  Be sure to tune in tomorrow night to watch!

Picton Castle as L’Esperance in Quebec City 2016


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We’ve Added Two New Legs To This Summer’s Voyage!

This summer Picton Castle will participate in the Rendezvous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta, one of the biggest and most exciting gatherings of tall ships in many years.  We’re looking forward to being part of an international fleet of vessels, our crew in company with sailors from around the world.

We have just added one more port to the voyage, which means two more legs of the voyage.  Charleston, South Carolina, USA has come on board as a host port and we’re eager to visit.  Picton Castle has been to Charleston before and we had such a wonderful time that we can’t wait to go back!

Leg A begins in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site with rich seafaring history (it’s also Picton Castle’s North American home).  Join Picton Castle in Lunenburg on April 22 for training, orientation and preparations in Lunenburg before setting sail for Charleston.  Experience a North Atlantic passage, sailing deep water on our route to the southwest.  Leg A ends on May 19 in Charleston.

Leg B begins in Charleston, South Carolina on May 19.  You will join us during Tall Ships Charleston, a wonderful event that celebrates maritime heritage and culture.  In Charleston, Picton Castle will join a number of other tall ships coming from North America, South America and the Caribbean.  We will be in port together, then race together from Charleston to Bermuda on another deep water North Atlantic passage.  Once in Bermuda, we’ll be part of Tall Ships Bermuda, a major celebration that will happen in Bermuda at the same time as the America’s Cup.  Leg B ends on June 2 in Bermuda.

Trainee applications are now being accepted for Legs A & B (as well as all of the other legs of this summer’s voyage to Boston, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick).  No experience is necessary to become a trainee aboard Picton Castle, just good health and a desire to be a working part of the crew.  With the guidance of our experienced professional crew, you’ll quickly learn the ropes!

Please visit our website for more details and to apply.

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Tall Ships America Conference

Captain Moreland and I were at the Tall Ships America annual conference in Boston last week.  Picton Castle is a member of Tall Ships America, whose mission is “to encourage character building through sail training, promote sail training to the North American public, and support education under sail.”

We try to make sure that Picton Castle is represented every year, especially in the years leading up to a tall ships event summer.  Picton Castle will be taking part in a number of tall ship festivals and events in the summer of 2017, so it was important for us to be there for the general learning that takes place at the conference as well as some specific sessions that relate to planning and logistics of these upcoming events.

And, my goodness, are we excited about the upcoming voyage this summer!

There is still work to be done, but we were able to meet with port organizers from many of the ports we’ll be visiting as part of the Rendezvous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta.  Meeting them in person and talking with them about the events they have planned makes us think our crew are going to have a fantastic time this summer.  From a reggae concert in Bermuda to the hospitality of Charleston, the crew parade in Boston to fireworks in Quebec City, we’re in for a treat!

The packed conference schedule kept us on our toes.  Sessions started at 0745 or 0800 and ran until about 1800 most days, followed by receptions or dinners most evenings.  Wednesday’s safety forum and education forum, which are aimed specifically at ship operators, covered topics ranging from ship stability to managing crew fatigue to individual donor fundraising.  On Thursday and Friday, ship operators were joined by host ports, suppliers and others interested in the business and sailing of tall ships.  Session topics included tips on sailing to Cuba, financial management and shared resources, how to produce a series of promotional videos (go check out SeaMester’s webpage for some videos that made me want to go sailing!), human resources, weather for passage planning, and so much more.

The Captain often tells me that while the sessions are good, meeting and talking with people is what it’s really all about.  We both had a chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues, find out what they’re doing now and share some old memories.  We also both met lots of new people and made new connections.

As I kept seeing shipmate after shipmate, I realized that this particular conference had a high concentration of current or former Picton Castle crew present.  Although I may have forgotten someone, I counted at least 21 Picton Castle sailors either attending the conference or visiting during the conference.  While I didn’t quite manage to coordinate a photo with all of us, it was great to see so many people who have spent time aboard with us still working or somehow engaged in the industry.

Captain Moreland was asked to speak twice during the conference.  Once was a lunchtime presentation about Picton Castle’s upcoming seventh world circumnavigation voyage, which I recorded and hope to get uploaded soon to share with you.  As he spoke, a slideshow of tropical images from previous voyages played behind him, in sharp contrast with the snowstorm that kept us all inside the hotel and conference centre that day.  His second talk was at the very end of the conference, wrapping up the official business of the conference before the gala dinner.  In that short talk, he wisely pointed out that every ship and every program does something better than you, so you should learn what that is, adapt it and adopt it on board.  One of the points of a conference like this is to talk with our colleagues to find out how they do things, share how we do things, and learn to do things better.  As I’ve heard Tall Ships America Executive Director Bert Rogers say a number of times, “the rising tide floats all ships.”

The conference ended with a gala dinner and dance, commonly referred to as the “prom.”  Those of you who have seen photos from crew parties or receptions know that sailors clean up well, and those at this conference were no different.  Everyone put on their finest outfits for a classy sit-down dinner (did I mention that the food all week at the Seaport Hotel in Boston was wonderful?), followed by dancing to music by a live band until well into the night.


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January 30, 2017 – Sending Down the Mizzen Topmast

Yesterday was as good a day one could ask for in Lunenburg in January to do some rigging work.  The temperature was above freezing, the sun was shining and there was almost no wind.

Picton Castle is currently in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada and we’re getting some maintenance work done aboard.  We had sent down most of the running rigging as part of Bosun School last fall.  The one remaining thing that we wanted to send down for inspection was the mizzen topmast.

Picton Castle’s fore and main masts are made up of three parts, the lower mast which is made of steel, the topmast which is also made of steel, and the t’gallant mast which is made of wood.  The mizzen mast, the one farthest aft, is made up of two parts, the lower mast which is made of steel, and the topmast which is made of wood. 

We have sent down the mizzen topmast a few times in the past few years, always inspecting it, repairing it as necessary and sending it back up.  Our intention this time is to send it down, inspect it, and likely replace it.  We have a telephone pole aboard, lashed in the port breezeway, that is an excellent blank spar for this kind of project.

Although we only had a small number of hands to help get the mizzen topmast down, they used mechanical advantage to get the job done.  The majority of the weight of the mast was supported by a line that ran all the way from the mizzen mast to the capstan on the foc’sle head.  Anything that could be removed from the mast was removed and sent down to deck, then started the slow and careful process of lowering the mast through the cap while working the rigging secured around it to the top so it could eventually be removed by lifting it over the top of the mast.

Now that the mizzen topmast is down at deck level we can assess its state, look at the previous repairs and how well they’re holding, and likely use it as a pattern for making a new one.

Why not watch the video!



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