Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
After a fair passage from Boston, Picton Castle sailed around Chebucto Head, boarded our pilot Captain Shawn Dauphine and sailed into grand Halifax under grey skies on Thursday afternoon. We sailed the whole way under sail in the fair breeze, only taking in sail off Georges Island right by the downtown waterfront. We quickly got tied up bow in, port side to alongside Purdy’s Wharf at the north end of the lovely Halifax waterfront. We shared this wharf with the Dutch barque Europa during our stay in Halifax. Europa is a beautiful ship, exactly the same size as Picton Castle and also barque rigged – they look almost like sister-ships. We have had crew, including Nadja and Christian, who have worked on both vessels. We sometimes say that she is a cold weather version of our ship or that we are a tropical version of theirs. She is a lovely and sea worthy ocean going vessel, very well operated. Europa has spent a good part of the past few years making voyages to Antarctica, so she has a few different features (like heating) than Picton Castle as we sail mostly in the tropics.
Purdy’s Wharf is quite high above the water, so we set the gangway on the quarterdeck between the two life rafts and also served the teak taff-rail on the quarterdeck so we could rest the gangway there when the tide was low. With Halifax being our first port back in Canada after our visit to the US, we also had to clear in with Customs and Immigration, which went smoothly as usual. With the whole fleet arriving from Boston, the officers were very busy clearing in all the many vessels and crew. There were a few other vessels in Halifax that had not been in Boston, mostly Canadian vessels, and they met up with the fleet there.
The on-watch wasted no time in Halifax, getting to work right away on Thursday afternoon to host a private reception on board the ship. A catering company brought some great food and the guests seemed to enjoy the spirit of the Tall Ships event. The off-watch headed straight for the Cunard Centre where there was a welcome party and BBQ for crew of all the ships. The party featured Nova Scotia entertainment, including our friend, Lunenburg-based fiddler Anna Ludlow, who, by the way, is just awesome. Anna played at a party we had in Lunenburg when the ship returned from the Atlantic Voyage and it was great to see her again on a bigger stage. Did I mention that she is awesome?
We had three days of deck tours in Halifax, and enthusiastic crowds of visitors on all three days. Friday was foggy and Saturday it rained most of the day, but that didn’t seem to stop visitors from coming out to tour the decks. It takes more than a little rain to keep Nova Scotians indoors. We rigged an awning amidships so that there was some shelter from the wet weather. Sunday was sunny and beautiful. We loosed and set all the sails to dry and we continued to have lots of people visiting the ship.
After Halifax, the fleet was scheduled to part ways with some of the ships, like us, sailing onward to more Nova Scotia ports, some ships setting out across the Atlantic on the next leg of the Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge race to Belfast, Ireland, and some ships carrying on with their own schedules or returning to their programs. While our crew did some visiting with other vessels in Boston, Halifax was our last chance to see some of these great ships. I made time to tour some of the other ships and was particularly impressed by Kruzenshtern, the four-masted barque from Russia. Apart from Sedov, another Russian vessel, Kruzenshtern is the largest working sailing vessel in the world. At 376 feet in length, she is more than twice as long as Picton Castle. Part of her foremast came down earlier in the Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge, so her fore t’gallant and royal yards were stowed on deck along with the mast. I first saw a yard that was about the size of our lower tops’l yard and figured it was the t’gallant, but then later saw a larger yard on deck, one so big I could barely fit my arms around it, and discovered that the yard I saw earlier must have been the royal.
On Saturday morning there was a crew parade, which is not to be confused with a parade of sail. A crew parade is an event on land, where the crews of all the ships march together up and down some streets. This is an opportunity for the crews of military ships to show off all their fancy uniforms and their precise training and sharp coordination. Ships from different countries will often have some of their crew in traditional costumes and some ships even have bands. Picton Castle crew have a lot of fun in crew parades, but we are a bit hopeless so we usually take things more lightly and dress in bright colours, carry all sorts of international flags and bring a stereo to blast music. Our marching patterns are also unique and mimic sail handling moves made on the ship.
The parade on the water, the Parade of Sail, took place on Monday as the ships departed Halifax. Naturally the Schooner Bluenose II led the fleet; we were fourth in the parade after Amistad and Peers Fancy. We backed off away from the dock shortly after 1000 and followed towards the mouth of the harbour while the other ships maneuvered in behind us. We made one big loop of Halifax harbour, then continued around for a second loop to go back and drop off the guests we had aboard for the parade. The amount of people on the shore watching the parade was incredible – quite a crowd on both sides of the harbour. Lots of salutes, cannons, blowing of deep ships’ horns, dipping of flags and the ships with as much sail as they could carry under the conditions with the breeze freshening.
Now we’re heading for Port Hawkesbury, the first of our out-port visits in Nova Scotia. We’ll be in the company of a few other ships for the next few ports, including Pride of Baltimore II, Fair Jeanne, and Roseway who will be in Port Hawkesbury with us; then a few more vessels who have gone to Louisburg will meet up with us again in Sydney.
Note from the Captain: We have to say that Halifax outdid themselves this time – this was a great sea-side event, the best ever in Halifax in our experience, very well planned, managed, led and a great time had by all, ashore and aboard the ships. Onward…