Thursday, July 30th, 2009
Picton Castle sailed out the long fjord-like river from Sydney on Monday morning with our Sydney harbour (and all of Cape Breton) pilot, Captain MacKelvie, aboard. All in a flat calm. We would have sailed the night before but we could not get the required pilot to take us out. Pictou, the next port on our Tall Ships tour of Nova Scotia, was 200 nautical miles away. Some of the ships in the fleet had chosen to sail through the Bras D’Or lakes in Cape Breton, some, like us, who have rigs too tall for the high tension wires over the lakes, would be heading around Cape North, the tippy-top of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia and along the northwest coast of Cape Breton Island. It was a bit foggy as we rounded the Cape, but shortly after the skies cleared we were amazed by the beauty of the coastline. Giant cliffs rising out of the sea, heavily forested hills, sections of shale that looked like they were sliding into the ocean, even a long and narrow waterfall. Most of the land we saw is uninhabited, except for the occasional farm or small village. Breathtakingly gorgeous in the summer, probably a difficult place to live in the harsh winter conditions they must experience here.
We sailed into Pictou at 2:00 on Tuesday afternoon with a big crowd on the wharf to welcome us in and within an hour, we had the ship tied up and ready to open for deck tours. I have been amazed by the number of people who come out to see the ship in these small Nova Scotia towns. Some are repeat visitors, having seen the ships in Halifax a few weeks ago or in previous years, some are new to tall ships, having never been aboard before. There’s something about these ships that excites people and wraps them up in the idea of sailing, ships, the sea and adventure. Maybe it’s the heritage angle as once upon a time these small ports were regularly serviced by schooners and square-riggers about the size of the Picton Castle.
Pictou is home to its own tall ship, Hector, a replica of the original ship which brought the first Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia from Scotland in 1773. The original ship was built earlier in the 1700s, so she was an older type ship when she left Scotland for the New World, bringing people who were looking for new business opportunities, particularly in the forestry industry. They were also motivated by the idea of owning their own land and getting away from a tough life in Scotland. The replica was built over a period of about seven years, about ten years ago. Captain Moreland was chief rigger in 2003, getting the ship rigged up as you see her today. Hector was blown onto the rocks in Hurricane Juan in 2004, and again had drama in 2007 when one of her masts was struck by lightning. Hector is tied up at the Hector Heritage Quay, which also has an interpretation centre, a blacksmith shop, a carpentry shop and a small gift shop. Captain Moreland says she is one of the best replica / display ships anywhere.
The organizers of the Tall Ships event in Pictou hosted a breakfast for the crew on Wednesday morning at the Hector Heritage Quay. The food was great and our crew was joined by the mayor of Pictou, who introduced himself simply as Joe. As the morning went on, Joe mentioned that a woman from Pictou had sailed on Picton Castle. Mary Anne was shipmates with of a few of us aboard, and Donald and Ben mentioned to Joe that they had tried, unsuccessfully, to get in touch with her. Joe knew exactly where Mary Anne lives and drove Donald and Ben to her house. Imagine Mary Anne’s surprise when, at 8:15 in the morning, two old shipmates and the mayor turned up at her front door.
On Thursday morning, it was time to get underway and sail from Pictou to Pugwash, the next and final stop on our Tall Ships tour of Nova Scotia. The wind was good and strong on Thursday morning, making it a great day for sailing. All of the ships got off the dock, one after another, and hoisted their sails to parade out of the harbour. We parted ways here with Amistad, as they headed back towards the USA to continue on with their program. Sail were set up to the t’gallants and the helmsmen steered full and by as we sailed up the Northumberland Strait along with Pride of Baltimore II, Roseway and Mist of Avalon.