Captain's Log

Archive for October, 2017

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The Making of La Grande Traversée

Back in the summer of 2016, Picton Castle sailed on a transatlantic voyage where we filmed a television series on the way from La Rochelle, France to Quebec City, Canada.  The show was called La Grande Traversée and followed the lives of 10 “colonists” who lived life on board as it would have been for their ancestors coming from France to the New World circa 1700.

Well, mostly as it would have been for passengers crossing the Atlantic circa 1700. At that time, passengers wouldn’t have been involved in sailing the ship. But for the sake of television, the “colonists” stood watches alongside our crew and spent a lot more time on deck than their ancestors would have.

The passage from La Rochelle, France to Caraquet, New Brunswick, Canada, the ship’s first port of call in Canada, was 39 days. From there, Picton Castle sailed up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, where the “colonists” and film crew disembarked.

Picton Castle was crewed by her usual professional crew complement plus a number of trainees. They sailed the ship from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada to La Rochelle, then sailed back to Canada with the “colonists” and the film crew. In addition to the ten “colonists”, we also had eight film crew aboard.

The film crew had the main salon as their living and working area. We took out one of the tables that it usually there and replaced it with a sturdy plywood table so that they could screw their equipment down to it. The rest of the salon with filled with camera and sound equipment.

The “colonists” lived in the area where the cargo hold is, in a special set that was built for this project to resemble the area below decks on a wooden sailing ship circa 1700. The set was built sturdily in Lunenburg, finished on the way across the Atlantic to La Rochelle, and fitted out with all the items the “colonists” would need before they boarded in La Rochelle. It had doors and ports that could open so cameras could look into the set from a number of different angles. There was a temporary wall built just forward of the foot of the stairs down to the salon so that the “colonists” would be kept separate from the salon and could not see the film crew and their equipment.

Our professional crew and trainees had their accommodations in the foc’sle, forepeak and aft cabins.

The director, Francois Balcaen, has put together a few short films from this voyage that show a bit of what it was like behind the scenes.

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Doing Laundry At Sea

People ask all sorts of questions when they’re considering signing on board Picton Castle as a trainee. One we’ve been hearing a lot lately is about laundry. How do trainees wash their clothes on the voyage?

There is no washing machine on board, so any laundry you do on the ship needs to be done by hand. Because we do our best to conserve fresh water, the washing and rinsing is done in salt water, with a final rinse in fresh water.

Salt water soap is on the packing list, laundry is primarily what you’ll use it for. You can buy salt water soap at camping and outdoors stores. Alternately, we’ve found that many kinds of lemon dishwashing liquids also foam up in salt water and can be used for laundry.

Captain Moreland says the best way is to put your laundry in a bucket of salt water and soap and let it sit overnight. The next day, give it a light scrub, then rinse in salt water. Your final rinse can be in fresh water, to get the salt out.

To dry your laundry, we have laundry lines hanging over the well deck. Depending on wind conditions, you may need a number of clothespins to make sure your favourite t-shirt doesn’t blow overboard as it dries! We generally clear the laundry lines every evening before it gets dark so they’re empty overnight.

Alternately, many of the ports we visit have laundry services ashore, so some people on board will take their laundry ashore and drop it off on their day off duty, then pick up their nice clean, dry, folded clothes before returning to the ship.

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A Beautiful Day To Work Aloft!

October is usually beautiful in Nova Scotia, with all the leaves changing colours. This year, October has also been warm, sunny and wonderful for being outdoors. Bosun School is taking advantage of the weather to spend some time aloft on Picton Castle. Students learned yesterday how to lead “up and overs”, the process of taking new crew aloft for the first time. Today they’re getting set up to make ratlines, which are like the steps of the ladder on the shrouds.

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Why Train Under Sail?

From the mid 19th century until the mid 20th century, sailing ships were the incubator and hatchery for almost all deep-sea steam-ship mariners be they naval or merchant marine. This is what came to be known as “trained in sail” or later, “sail training”. This training service came about due to the extraordinarily rich seamanship acquisition environment that was the deep water sailing ship. In the rapid-fire extreme requirements encountered during WWII for instant mates, lieutenants, commanders and captains, “90 day wonders” they were called, this chain was broken on national scales – but though this chain of traditional training has been worn thin, the skills of a sailing ship seafarer remain critical to the safe and cost effective running and management of modern motor vessels. A well run sailing ship is, now more than ever, the best place to prepare for and begin one’s career at sea.

Sailing to sea in ships is an amazing way of life and can be richly rewarding in countless ways. Not the least of these ways is that mariners can make a good living from ships and the sea. Often well in excess of what they could make ashore. Additionally, every job taken by a citizen going to sea leaves a job open in their country of origin. And successful mariners tend to contribute directly to their home economies and do so disproportionately to the cost and length of time of their educations. There is a great international demand for the next generation of seafarers.

But make no mistake, the sea is an extremely demanding environment not particularly forgiving to the inept, untrained or ill equipped. Good seafarers have to be excellent at a broad range of critical skills. It takes years at sea, working hard, learning at every turn, before one can call oneself a seasoned pro. Recently among flag state marine regulatory agencies there has been a welcome insistence on having a basic and advanced safety and marine emergency training for professional mariners resulting in the United Nations International Maritime Organisation (IMO) mandated STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for seafarers) Basic Safety Training (BST) and certification. Training in firefighting, PFDs, first aid, immersion suits, life rafts etc. This is all to the good and is to be applauded. It is important basic familiarisation with what a mariner is to be able to do when things go all wrong aboard a ship at sea. This training and these skills, however, are quite a bit different from the broad seamanship skills and training a mariner needs to be both useful aboard a ship and to also seriously contribute to the reduction of the likelihood of things going all wrong. BST is established to have a basic standard of what to do when things go wrong. Broad and deep seamanship skills are what contributes mightily to preventing things from going wrong in the first place. BST is how to bandage a cut. Seamanship is not getting the cut. This is where the Picton Castle and the Bosun School come in.

In addition to adventurous sailing and traveling to amazing islands and ports all over the world, the voyages of the Cook Islands Barque Picton Castle are about learning, teaching and passing along the required skills of seafaring. And by direct extension, the essential skills required of any resourceful mariner sailing in todays cargo ships, passenger ships, tugboats, supply boats, fishing vessels, yachts, the Navy and marine related shore positions. These include marinas, maritime schools, museums, sail lofts, rigging lofts, boat yards, ship yards, dry docks and sundry others.

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Traveling to Join Picton Castle’s World Voyage

Picton Castle’s World Voyage itinerary is full of exotic place names, including some you may never have heard of before. We specialize in visiting exotic tropical ports, taking our ship and crew to some unique, remote places. But that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to make travel arrangements to join the ship for a leg of the voyage. We design the itinerary so that leg changeovers take place in ports with easy airport access and good flight connections.

Trainee crew members who sign on to sail on the world voyage and make the full voyage will join the ship and depart the ship in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. Those who sail for a leg of the voyage (or more than one leg) will join Picton Castle in one port and depart in another. Wonder where you would sign on and off each leg?

Leg 1 – join in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, sign off in Avatiu, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
March 18, 2018 to August 1, 2018

Leg 2 – join in Avatiu, Rarotonga, Cook Islands, sign off in Benoa, Bali, Indonesia
August 2, 2018 to October 29, 2018

Leg 3 – join in Benoa, Bali, Indonesia, sign off in Cape Town, South Africa
October 30, 2018 to January 28, 2019

Leg 4 – join in Cape Town, South Africa, sign off in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada
January 29, 2019 to May 18, 2019

How do you get to these places?

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada

Lunenburg is located on Nova Scotia’s South Shore on the Atlantic coast of Canada, about an hour and a half drive from the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Halifax Stanfield has multiple flights daily direct from most major North American cities as well as many major European cities. To get from the airport to the ship, there are a few local shuttle services including Kiwi Kaboodle and Cloud Nine Shuttle. Picton Castle docks on Lunenburg’s waterfront, on Bluenose Drive.

Avatiu, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is a country in the South Pacific made up of 15 islands spread out over almost two million square kilometres of ocean. Rarotonga is the largest and most populated island in the Cooks, while still small, safe and friendly, and is the one island with an international airport. Flights go daily to New Zealand with a few different airlines and weekly to Los Angeles with Air New Zealand. To get from the airport to the ship, you can get a taxi at the airport. If you prefer to book a shuttle in advance, you could check out Raro Tours or Tiare Transport. Picton Castle docks in the harbour at Avatiu.

Benoa, Bali, Indonesia

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The island of Bali’s major industry is tourism, so they’re all set up for visitors. The Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport has daily flights to a number of destinations, some within Indonesia and some to other Asian countries or to Australia or New Zealand. Getting from the airport to the ship is easy because there are so many taxis in Bali – just be sure to negotiate the price before you hop in. Picton Castle usually anchors in Benoa Harbour in Bali. We use our small boat to make runs between ship and shore every few hours, usually picking up from the Bali Marina (we will confirm this with anyone sailing on this leg closer to the ship’s arrival).

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is the biggest city we sail to on the World Voyage, located in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The Cape Town International Airport is located just outside the city and has daily flights to major centres in Africa, Europe and Asia. On previous visits, our ship’s agent in Cape Town has made arrangements to pick up incoming trainee crew members, but if that’s not the case on this upcoming visit, taxis are readily available at the airport. Picton Castle docks at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.

Exact details on where to find Picton Castle in each of these ports will be communicated to trainees closer to the ship’s arrival, as well as any updates or additional tips on traveling from the airport to the ship. While arranging flights and ground transportation is the responsibility of each trainee individually, our shore crew are happy to help provide details and advice based on first-hand experience in all of these ports.

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Second Layout of a Mizzen Staysail

On Monday, the Bosun School students went to the Lunenburg Community Centre to use the gym floor to lay out a sail. Actually, this is the second layout for this sail – it had its first layout back in 2015 when Picton Castle was in Cape Town, South Africa.

As Picton Castle sails to various ports around the world, we often look for suitable places to lay out sails. The area must be flat and open, big enough to stretch out the full sail. We’ve used gyms and lofts, but we’ve also used cement and wooden docks, grassy fields, parking lots, and pretty much anywhere else that has big open space.

We’re not the only ones who have used the Lunenburg Community Centre for laying out sails. Michele Stevens Sailloft has used this space when they were working on sails for the schooner Bluenose II and for the schooner Columbia. In fact, the mainsails for these vessels are too big to fit in gym so they could only lay out half at a time.

In comparison, our mizzen staysail looked quite small, taking up less than a quarter of the gym floor. By the time it’s ready for the second layout, the canvas cloths have already been seamed together. The purpose of a second layout is to sketch out the sail’s shape and cut off any excess fabric. Measurements are carefully made before the cutting begins, using both knives and scissors.

Once the trimming of the sail is complete, the second layout is done. Next up is putting on the corner patches, then putting the tabling around the edges of the sail, then making and sewing in all of the grommets.


Anders, Tyler and Annie trim the edges of the sail

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What is Ecotourism?

A very long time before Ecotourism was cool – before it was even a word – Picton Castle was an active ecotourism operator. But what does that mean?

Ecotourism is a word that seems to be popping up all over. The latest trend in travel, it is rising in popularity on an international level as we humans are finding it increasingly difficult to ignore the damage we have done and continue to do to this beautiful planet, and start trying to devise ways to lessen our footprint.

But what exactly is Ecotourism? People tell me it all relates to sustainable travel. Okay – but sustaining what: The environment? Animals? Cultures? The International Ecotourism Society defines Ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). And for to be clear: “Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.”

So Ecotourism is about travelling responsibly. It’s about having a minimum impact on the planet, while visiting and learning about destinations around the world. This means being educated regarding local cultures however unusual they might seem to the traveller; it means doing your utmost to not inflict any sort of damage to the local flora and fauna; it means helping out where there is a need, without any of the associated harm that can sometimes come from uneducated or misguided assistance.

Whenever possible, Picton Castle travels under sail and not engine; we have a water maker system on board the converts salt water to fresh; we bring aid to countries in need including delivering supplies and school books to remote islands; we know the remote islands and motus we visit quite well and have workshops dedicated to each stop as we head there, so that when we arrive each trainee is well-informed of any unique customs or traditions, and as well as any actions which might cause unintended offence; we barter and trade on these islands so that the local economy is getting a boost from our visit that is fair to all involved without any negative impact.

So what is Ecotourism? Well, when you boil it down to its simplest form I’d say Ecotourism is a fancy word for respect. Respect for the planet, for animals and plants that live on her, and for each other. And yes, it’s a very good thing.

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Bosun School Learns Sailmaking

For the past week or so, Bosun School students have been focused on learning sail making. Picton Castle is fairly unique in that we make all of our own sails on board the ship, so depending on which vessels our Bosun School students work aboard in the future, they may or may not have the opportunity to apply the skills of making a whole sail. But it’s important to learn the parts of a sail and how they’re constructed in order to better understand how they work, and also how to maintain and repair them as necessary.

Before working on any actual sails, the Bosun School students learned the basic hand skills of sail making by first making ditty bags. Ditty bags are canvas bags carried by sailors to keep their tools in. As a beginning sailmaker, a ditty bag is a great project because it contains all the fundamental skills required to make a sail, in a small, compact size. First the canvas is measured and cut, then edges are flattened and pressed, seams are sewn, the tabling on the top is folded over, grommets are made to fit and sewn in, and even the rope handle with its splices and servings replicate sail making skills.

Now that all of the students have ditty bags, they’ve moved on to learning repair techniques. They’ve learned different types of stitching, window patches, glue-on patches, replacing rope coverings, replacing seizings, and replacing grommets. They have put this knowledge to the test by making repairs on sails made of both natural fibres and synthetic fibres.

The students have also been working on some new sails. There is one we laid out in Cape Town back in 2015, a royal, that had the canvas cloths stitched together, but only with one seam. Using the big sailmakers’ sewing machine, the students have put additional rows of stitches on the seams, learning how to work together to get the big canvas sail through the machine in a coordinated way.


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Happy Thanksgiving!

One of the best things about sailing with an international crew, and having an international group of students at the Bosun School, is celebrating different national holidays.  This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada and the Bosun School students marked the occasion with a sit-down turkey dinner.

We have so much to be thankful for here.  We’ve had beautiful fall weather that has allowed us to get a lot of work and study done, a gorgeous and safe harbour here in Lunenburg, food to eat and a roof over our heads.  What we’re most thankful for is the people who make up our community; the students at the Bosun School, our professional crew and trainees past and present, friends and supporters of Picton Castle, and especially this year, the thousands of visitors who came to see our ship in the many ports we called at as part of the Rendez-vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta.

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Bosun School Launches and Rows A Dory

One of the main things we focus on at Bosun School is small boat handling. Students will practice handling boats of all kinds by rowing them, sailing them and driving them with motors. It’s one of the essential skills of a good mariner, being able to handle small boats. The best way to become proficient is to practice. A lot.

This past week, students at Picton Castle‘s Bosun School prepared and launched a Banks dory named Rocky. The boat was built at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia’s historic Dory Shop, which is celebrating 100 years in business in 2017. The students gave it a paint job and launched it from the beach at the Dory Shop.

Captain Moreland demonstrated how to row a dory. Students then had the chance to practice, followed by a more in-depth lesson.

Here are video clips of the launch and of Captain Moreland’s rowing demonstration.

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