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Pugwash

Manoeuvring a big ship in and out of the harbour in Pugwash is a bit of a challenge. Small, narrow and there is a strong current running through the harbour at about five knots for a good part of the day – the only time that a ship like Picton Castle could enter and leave the harbour particularly safely is about 45 minutes on either side of high tide. Salt mining is a big industry here so they load salt into pretty big freighters here, about 50 times a year, with two powerful tug-boats big salt ships get pulled in backwards to load. They get pulled in backwards as there is not room in Pugwash to turn them around. The sailing was good on the way from Pictou to Pugwash so we arrived at the entrance to the harbour before nightfall and anchored until high tide the following morning. Early Friday morning we heaved up the anchor, got underway, followed the narrow, winding channel into the harbour and got the ship tied up for our next and last Tall Ships Nova Scotia 2009 event.

The Tall Ships visit in Pugwash was combined with their annual HarbourFest, which meant there were all sorts of events going on. The duty-watch, of course, looked after the deck tours aboard the ship. The off-duty watch took in musical performances, beach volleyball, the across-the-harbour golf ball driving contest, the Nova Scotia Arm Wrestling championships and other fun events. No shortage of lobster-rolls, fried this and grilled that, cotton candy and Johnny Depp “Capt Jack Sparrow” look-alikes wandering about brandishing plastic swords and groaning that pirate “arrrr” that seems so necessary. We had three pairs of crew entered in the dory races, Sasha and Jason, Buddy and Bub, and Julie and Gratia. The two men’s teams ended up racing each other in the consolation finals. Our women’s team, Julie and Gratia, came second in the womens’ division and received medals. We take these sort of things in stride.

Pugwash is home to a giant salt mine, which supplies most of Atlantic Canada with salt, as well as markets in Quebec and the US. The wharf where the ships were tied up belongs to the Canadian Salt Company and is where they load salt onto large bulk carriers for distribution. Being a working mine, it is not usually open to visitors, but they arranged a special tour for a handful of crew with the mine manager, Grant Sutherland, and two supervisors, Gordon and Peter. After a safety orientation and being outfitted with safety gear, we went 1,000 feet underground in a small elevator, and stepped into a strangely quiet and dry underground world. The mine is made up of long tunnels that are wide enough to accommodate three big trucks side by side, with the overhead either 30 or 60 feet up, depending on what stage of mining that particular tunnel is at. Our group got into the back of two trucks and rode around on some of the 62 miles of underground roads through the mine. On the well-travelled main thoroughfares there is plastic mesh bolted to the overhead to prevent dust and other bits from falling, and to keep the wires that run through the mine supplying electricity out of the way. Big tubes also ran overhead in some areas, supplying fresh air to the mine. While some sections were lit by bright overhead lights, there were some sections that were completely dark, except for the lights we wore as part of our safety gear. We were told that miners are trained to look up every time they move into a new area in the mine to make sure that there is no danger of anything falling on them. There is a big machine with one pointy end that scratches the surface of the overhead every four to six inches to loosen and remove any bits that may fall before that area is opened up for people not in big, protected machines to work in. The machines they use are huge and powerful. We drove through the underground repair shop to see where they are all fixed. There is next to no moisture in the air in the mine, so equipment made of metal, covered in salt, does not rust. Because there is so much salt on them, those same pieces of equipment, if brought to the surface, would rust completely within days to a point where vehicle doors won’t even open and the equipment is absolutely useless. Everything goes in and out of the mine in the same elevator we rode in, including all the new equipment which must be dismantled, shipped down and reassembled below ground, and all the salt coming out of the mine. The whole tour was quite amazing.

Pugwash was also the setting of some of the very first informal nuclear arms limitation talks in the late 1950’s between the east and west. Quite famous back in the day for this, the town won the Nobel Prize for hosting these talks.

Pugwash being the last port of Tall Ships events, we figured we should host a party on our last night there for the crews of all the ships in port including Pride of Baltimore II, Roseway, Mist of Avalon, Fair Jeanne, and Theodore Too. We had been sailing company with all these fine ships and their excellent crews for a while at the different ports and now this was all coming to an end. The dress code was semi-formal so most of the girls were in skirts and dresses, the guys wore button down shirts with ties and even a few suit jackets. Pride of Baltimore II crew are a musical bunch and have formed a band, complete with guitars, banjo, fiddle and bass, who played two sets at the party. There was dancing on the hatch, great music and conversation, a good way to bid farewell to our little fleet. That same evening we had a reception for the Jost Vineyards family and staff and invited to them all to stay for our crew party – good time had by all. The next day, promptly with the tide, one by one, all the ships motored out of the harbour into the Northumberland Strait and then scattered to the winds. A salt ship lay at anchor waiting for us all to make room so the wharf could get back to is normal business. And thus ends Tall Ships Nova Scotia 2009.

Crew on the mine tour at Pugwash
Tim on lookout as MIST OF AVALON sails by

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