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Two Big Square Riggers Meet Up In The West Indies

April 28, 2015

A little background: towards the end of the 19th century many steam ship companies refitted or built cargo carrying sail-training ships in order to train staff mariners for their steamship companies. Companies saw this as a cost effective way to train crew for their steam-ships with the value becoming clear right away and the savings becoming clear in the long run. Sailing ship trained sailors understood the wind, sea and how to prevent things from breaking very, very well. And they knew how to fix things and ‘make do’. Their seagoing experience was much different then those brought up in heated wheel-houses with pots of coffee but a ring to the steward away. No, seafarers that learned their trade hauling braces at every wind shift and steering their vessels by the wind were simply more a seaman than steamship gang. Huge sailing ships were tasked with this honourable calling of training up steamship mariners. The largest and most modern and up to date of these ships was the purpose-built 5-masted Bark Kobenhavn lost to ice (we think) in 1929. Of course, one did not need to be a square-rigger sailor to crew a steam ship or motor ship well, but the skills and training acquired under sail were (and remain) a most effective way to train seafarers in preparation for any vessel or service at sea or in marine industries ashore. Sail Training ships were and remain the best ‘boot camp’ of the sea for aspiring seafarers. In due course, governments took over the role of marine education and such ships were designed and built well into recent years.

It is important to point out that square-rigged sail-training ships were not established in order to produce sailing ship sailors, not in the least, but in every case to better train up steam and motor-ship seafarers. This remains both profoundly true and effective today. Perhaps even more so, as shipping has become more automated and tick-box driven with reduced opportunity to learn the ways of the sea.

The Royal Danish State School Ship Danmark is a steel full rigged ship launched in 1933 for the training of seamen and officers for the Danish merchant marine. She was built after the loss of the Bark Kobenhavn; the Danmark would carry no cargo – pure training. She is about the size of the famous clipper-ship Cutty Sark. During World War Two she sailed under the US Flag with her Danish Captain Knud Hansen and his crew and served as the training ship for the US Coast Guard. This lead to the USCG in to acquiring the Barque Eagle for seamanship training purposes after WWII. The Eagle sails to this day doing her good work. During WWII the conscripted HMS Picton Castle served as a mine-sweeper and convoy escort in the British Royal Navy participating in the raid on St Nazaire, France and getting blown out of the water once and shot up a few times by the odd Messerschmitt headed back across the English Channel for home. The Danmark is about 50 feet longer than the Picton Castle and takes 80 cadets to Picton Castle‘s 40 trainees. Between the two ships there has been a fair amount of crew and cadet exchange over the years to the benefit of both ships. The Danmark is in the middle of a four month voyage and we are wrapping up our 6th world voyage including a long interlude in the South Pacific, carrying cargo and supplies and getting island folks on and off their spread out Cook Islands. Captain Michael Moreland, a former petty officer in Danmark, skippered Picton Castle on these challenging and exciting trips in the Cook Islands. Captain Kurt Andersen has been skipper of Danmark for many years now, carrying on in the finest traditions and taking the ship into the future in a gracious style blending the best of the old with the new. Danmark‘s salty gung-ho Bosun Nadja got her start in Picton Castle sailing around the world.

The Picton Castle gang had a grand time sailing at Antigua and the Antigua Classic Regatta. At Antigua our crew all dispersed, trod the docks at the marina and got spots to sail in the many sweet classic yachts and Carriacou sloops assembled there for the Antigua Classic Regatta races as their ‘final exam’. From little gaff cutters, to lovely old yawls, to huge J-boats and island built fishing sloops, our crew got some interesting slots. This was great good fun, and good sailing seamanship too. But most importantly, this experience demonstrated to each crew member how much he or she had gained as sailors and seamen on this voyage in Picton Castle. Each and every skipper of the yachts they crewed in at the Antigua Classic Regatta complimented us, sometimes in effusive terms, on how good the Picton Castle crew were for them. I knew this to be true, but I wanted the crew to learn this for themselves. And they way to do this was to jump aboard another vessel and go for it. This they did. I was proud when the skippers praised our crew and asked for more of them. This is a good and accomplished gang.

While at Antigua I heard from the Captain of the Danmark who told me by modern satellite e-mail that they were crossing the Atlantic just now and were looking for a nice quiet safe Caribbean anchorage to hold classes and carry out small boat handling and exercises. They had been making good time from the Canaries. I recommended Carriacou as anexcellent spot for such activities and had the advantage of being part of the country of their destination; Grenada. So they set course for Carriacou. And so did the Picton Castle. We sailed from Antigua the 270 miles to that little island and met up with them there for a couple days. Being late in the yachting season, we had the anchorage to ourselves, just for both ships. It was quite remarkable to see these two strikingly similar large white age-of-sail steel square-rigged training ships at anchor in this sweet Caribbean palm fringed bay together, yards squared.

The crew were excited to see each others ship so we arranged tours. We had crew mingling and ship tours back and forth. Both ships had their small boat rowing and sailing out in the bay between the ships. A few of us were invited over for a sweet old school Danish luncheon in the beautiful early 1930s art-deco Captain’s salon aft of hand rubbed mahogany and frosted glass in this most beautiful ship. All under the eyes of their majesties Queen Margrethe II and her husband Prince Henrik, or at least their portraits on the bulkhead. Then later we had a BBQ on Picton Castle with reggae music and Polynesian dancing by some of our crew on the hatch in the evening with their officers and a few cadets.

It was very nice to show this wonderful Danish ship to the crew of the Picton Castle. We also took our very salty two and a half year old son Dawson over to the Danmark so he could run around on deck of his daddy’s old ship. And I think that the Danmark crew got a kick out of seeing a variation on the theme of what they do. Less formal in some ways, but no less demanding.

Then yesterday morning, almost by chance, both ships hoisted boats, hove up anchors, braced yards on starboard tack and sailed off the hook simultaneously, fore yards aback as the anchors were catted and sailed in company for a spell as sail piled on sail. A few miles out we hove-to off Kick’Em Jenny, a rock between Carriacou and Grenada, on a bright sunny tradewind day in blue Caribbean seas for some chitchat, cheers and salutes; they then sharpened up their yards for St Georges in Grenada, we squared away for Aruba to welcome the King and Queen of the Netherlands aboard at Sail Aruba.

Now we are under stuns’ls, sailing west in perfect Caribbean tradewind conditions, bound for Aruba, maybe Bonaire for a day or so if we make good speeds. After Aruba we point our jibboom north, brace up sharp on the starboard tack and head homeward bound for Nova Scotia.

All Picton Castle hats are off and much thanks to Captain Andersen and his gracious Danmark crew for an excellent surprise and interesting get-together for our Picton Castle crew. And congratulations to the powers that be in Denmark that see and appreciate the powerful priceless service that their White Swan of the Ocean provides.

PC and Danmark
Picton Castle in the foreground with Danmark behind, two square riggers at anchor at Carriacou, Grenada

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