Thursday, August 6th, 2009
The distance from Pugwash, Nova Scotia to Summerside, Prince Edward Island is only about 40 nautical miles. Picton Castle sailed from Pugwash on Sunday morning, following Fair Jeanne, Roseway, Mist of Avalon and Pride of Baltimore II out of the harbour at high tide into a sunny and very calm day. Pugwash was the final port of Tall Ships Nova Scotia 2009 and all the vessels were going our separate ways.
Picton Castle was bound for Summerside, on the other side of the Northumberland Strait. We had four days to make this 40nm passage, so our original plan was to sail around Prince Edward Island. We thought it would be a good objective for a four day sail at about 270 miles all the way around, but that would require wind. When we left Pugwash on Sunday, there was next to no wind, so our plan had to change. We motored east until we reached the North Shore of Malagash Point around noon, then anchored. So no problem, the next plan was good too, sail in the Northumberland during the day light hours and anchor at night and do plenty of maneuvers like tacking.
Sunday was declared Sunday Funday. We often take Sundays off from doing ship’s work while we’re at sea. Sunday Funday also has the added fun of swimming, rope swinging and generally relaxing together. The rope swing was rigged from the fore yard, crew took turns swinging out from the cathead and plunging into the ocean. The water was warm by Nova Scotian standards at 21 degrees Celsius and even those crew members who are used to swimming only in the tropics declared that the water temperature was decent enough to dive in. Inflatable pool toys were dragged out of the foc’sle and blown up. Most hands spent a good part of the afternoon floating about.
After a peaceful night at anchor, we got underway the next morning and sailed slowly for Summerside. First the gang scrambled up the rigging and loosed all sail, then they hove up the anchor and got underway under sail without using the engine. The wind was light, so our top speed was about three knots. We sailed out into the Northumberland Strait, then had to tack the ship in the afternoon to head back towards the Nova Scotia shore to anchor for the night. Tacking is a great exercise for the crew because it requires coordinated efforts and snappy sail handling. The helmsman first puts the helm hard over to turn the ship into the wind, then the heads’l sheets are let loose to take the pressure off the bow while the ship starts to turn. The spanker is hauled amidships, sometimes heads’ls are taken in and the clews on the courses get hauled up. The main topmast stays’l is passed to the new tack, main yards are braced around to the new tack and finally the fore yards come around and heads’l sheets are passed to the new tack as well. All of these movements need to happen quickly at just the right moment to get the ship to turn properly. To really get a feel for it, we tacked three times in a row with the crew taking different jobs each time. .
Monday night we anchored off Cape Cliff, about 8nm to the west of where we had been anchored the night before. On Tuesday we continued the routine of heaving up the anchor in the morning, getting underway, sailing out into the Northumberland Strait towards PEI then turning back to Nova Scotia and ending up just a bit closer to Summerside than we were the night before.
Day sailing has meant that we can be more productive with workshops and ship’s work because we have the full crew on deck all day. During Tall Ships events it can be difficult to get to the maintenance projects that take more time, or create mess or noise, because we have to keep the ship looking her best at all times. This passage has allowed us to chip, prime and paint different spots, to tar the rig, to get some painting projects done and to get Mr. Bones, the boat that we partly built, from a set of Grenadian frames and finished on board during the Voyage of the Atlantic, onto the cargo hatch for a fresh paint job and to be fitted with a sailing rig.
In addition to tacking practice, other workshops have been taking place on this passage. We’ve been cleaning up from ship’s work around 4pm, then holding workshops before supper. On Tuesday, Chief Mate Michael taught the crew about weather maps and how to read and analyze them, followed by a lesson and hands on practice with the lead line, which we use to take soundings to measure the depth of the water.
The wind was quite light on Tuesday, pushing the ship along, under full sail, at less than two knots, sometimes even slower. When the wind had almost died completely after lunch, we had another swim call. After bracing the yards on opposite tacks to stop the ship from moving forward at all (heaving-to), we put out a life ring, set lookouts and all the other things we do for an at sea swim call and the crew jumped into the water. We didn’t rig the rope swing, but jumping into the water from the bowsprit is just as much of a thrill and equally entertaining to watch.
Tuesday night we anchored off Heather Beach, about two and a half nautical miles away from Pugwash. Wednesday morning we heaved up the anchor again and continued on towards Summerside. The wind was stronger on Wednesday than it had been for the rest of the week, so we had a great sail. Shortly after lunch, Picton Castle passed under the centre span of the Confederation Bridge under sail alone. The Confederation Bridge links Prince Edward Island to the mainland, a very long bridge that was built in the 1990s. It’s amazing to be underneath it and see how thin and long it really is. After we passed under the bridge, the wind picked up a bit more and we were flying along at about 8 knots, a real thrill, especially for those crew members who have only been aboard a few weeks and who will be leaving us in Summerside.
We anchored once again on Wednesday night, across the Northumberland Strait from Summerside so that we would be close enough to get into port early in the day on Thursday. We sailed off the hook, then made our way across the Strait. As we approached Summerside, we sailed into the channel, bracing the yards as we needed to turn the ship to keep our course, and then dropped the anchor in Summerside harbour under full sail.