Thursday, July 26th, 2012
By Kate “Bob” Addison
I’m sitting here amidships on the cargo hatch of the Barque Picton Castle under the awning, running the ship’s shop and using the moments of calm in between sales to type away on my laptop. It is a beautiful breezy summer day with SW winds blowing in off the sea. The hatch all around me is adorned with the hats and shirts that make up our shop, sailor tools and treasure from the South Seas too. Just one Bali sea chest left and it makes an excellent desk. We have some beautiful woven fabrics as well. The decks around the hatch are busy with dozens of visitors; they are milling about smartly, negotiating the ladders up and down to the quarterdeck and stopping here and there to ask questions of the crew or to coo over the cat. All types of people aboard: families with wide eyed children, young couples dressed up like they’re on a date, retired folks and the festival crowd in shorts and straw hats. The queues of people go way back along the dock, being directed and entertained by a delightful gang of volunteers. All signs indicate that we’re at another Tall Ships festival.
Tall Ships indeed. We’re alongside in Newport, Rhode Island for the Ocean State Tall Ships festival, the fourth big public event for the Picton Castle this summer. The fleet of Bounty, Pride of Baltimore II, Lynx, Summerwind, Gazela, Unicorn, Peacemaker, Mystic Whaler, Providence and Sir Martin II are spread out along the long, bustling waterfront, colourful bunting flying from their rigging, their masts standing out from the sea of yachts.
Newport is very, very yachty. It has ten yacht clubs based here in the harbour and the moorings out in the harbour and piers all along the town are chock-a-block with varnished wood beauties and sleek carbon fiber sailing machines. Just the shiny white gel coats on some of these boats look like they would cost as much as a small house. Ashore there are plenty of restaurants and bars catering for the shore-side yachtsman, and heaps of shops selling stuff for your yacht, yachting clothes and things for your house with pictures of yachts on them. These things are generally labeled ‘objet’ and priced accordingly.
Newport is justifiably proud of its sailing heritage, and local and international regattas are regular events here. The America’s Cup boats were in town last week: a fleet of 45-foot catamarans with 70-foot fixed wing sails. The boats (if you can even call them ‘boats’?) look more like windsurfers and fly as much as they sail. They were based over by Fort Adams on the other side of the harbour from Newport; their crews using cranes to take the masts and sails out of the boats for shipping when we arrived. Very different to the 145 foot mono-hull J-boats built for the America’s Cup in the 1930s, and 65ish 12 metre class sloops, several of which are still moored up in Newport Harbour. A world away from our lovely sea-going square-rigged sailing ship.
Picton Castle is docked in a really tight berth here at Bannister’s Wharf: right in the middle of town, with the famous Black Pearl and Clarke Cooke House both offering hospitality and refreshment less than a minute’s walk away, and our bowsprit reaching meters from an excellent coffee shop. It was tight enough to get in, but the Captain has had some experience at parking this barque and we got in sweet enough. Bannister’s Wharf has been a perfect place for our ship at this event and they have been very good to us. It helps being so close to all of these fantastic restaurants, cafes and ice cream shops!
The big private yachts all around us are mostly occupied by crew rather than owners, hard at work and they look very snappy in their matching white shirts and khaki shorts, all clean and ironed and smart. They are a nice bunch too, hard working, friendly and polite. But I’d much rather be one of our grubby gang than working on a shiny boat. Probably I’m biased, but I do think we have more fun. Although of course they get to sail to some amazing places too, and probably have the use of washing machines.
One of the awesome things we did over the weekend was to visit to the Surface Warfare Officer School, or SWOS. U. S. Naval Officers train here in big simulators to practice taking command of warships. Less hazardous to experience your first hurricane or enemy attack in a simulator than in real life, and any errors less expensive too. We were very well looked after by all at SWOS, who really couldn’t have been more accommodating, and it was fascinating for the gang to see the other end of the maritime training spectrum.
Then there was a Captains’ toast at the New York Yacht Club, very fancy. Though we were dressed up in our best uniforms of black and white aloha shirts, matching skirts or trousers and shoes(!), they wouldn’t let us in for the want of jackets and ties. But the necessary articles were procured and the view from the front lawn was spectacular once we were appropriately atired. This place is so famous that the seamanship textbook we study onboard defers to the NYYC in matters of dress and decorum. Our dress code on board is somewhat more relaxed, with ties strictly optional, so it was fun to see some of our gang scrub up for the occasion. We had no idea…
And then the festival was finished, just some precision manouvering to get off the dock, a parade of sail out of the harbour, and we call Newport job well done. Time for us to get offshore and spend some time on sail training, which is, after all our real purpose in life. At least until the next festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the 19th…. see you there?