Saturday, April 28th, 2018
For the past few weeks, Picton Castle has been taking part in a series of tall ships events called the Tall Ships Challenge, which is organized by Tall Ships America. Tall Ships America moves the Tall Ships Challenge around to different areas of the North American coast every year. This is the first time that the Tall Ships Challenge has ever taken place in the Gulf of Mexico. The host ports this year have been Galveston, TX, Pensacola, FL and New Orleans, LA.
For us with Picton Castle, it’s always interesting to go places we’ve never been before. This is our first voyage to the Gulf coast. Our crew have seen some interesting sights, like the oil rigs off the coast lit up at night, sailed the ship in new waters, and experienced what they mean by Southern hospitality. The crowds who have visited the ships in these cities have given our crew and the crew of the other ships a warm welcome.
We have been sailing in company with five other tall ships during this Tall Ships Challenge. There’s the barque Elissa, based in Galveston, that has the same rig as Picton Castle just bigger; the Oliver Hazard Perry, a relative newcomer to the tall ships fleet, based in Newport, Rhode Island; the lovely Dutch topsail schooner Oosterschelde; the topsail schooner Lynx with her raked masts; and the schooner When and If, originally built for General Patton.
One of the highlights of this series has been the trainee crew who sailed with us. We had many individuals come from all over North America to join us for a couple of weeks at a time, some with no sailing experience at all, to learn about life under square sail. There was also a group of people who came together to sign aboard Picton Castle as trainees – nine students/cadets and one teacher from the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy, a high school from here in New Orleans.
The first passage they were aboard, from Galveston to Pensacola, was a rough one with choppy seas and many seasick crew. Their teacher later told me he was glad they didn’t have it easy the whole time, he was glad that they were challenged on the voyage. As we know, the difficult times become the ones you tell stories about later, and make us appreciate the fair weather days all the more.
Before the cadets came aboard, they all did their STCW Basic Safety Training through their school’s partnership with Delgado College, a local community college that offers marine training, amongst other courses. Although it’s not a requirement on our part, I think it was a good experience for the cadets to get the classroom knowledge and then see it applied on a real sailing ship.
On board, the cadets were like any other trainees, standing watches and participating fully in the life of the ship. There was a big press conference the day after Picton Castle arrived in New Orleans and it was clear that the cadets and their families were proud of the experience they had on board, sailing up the Mississippi River to their own home port. I asked a few whether they would do it again, a few said no but there were also some very enthusiastic yesses.
New Orleans knows how to throw a festival – it seems like there is one every weekend around here. Tall Ships New Orleans was a wonderful, well-attended event. It seems like everyone we’ve talked to in the city knew about the tall ships visit, even if they didn’t make it to see them in person. We had good liaison officers in Mike and John, and the Tall Ships America team were great to work with as usual. Woldenberg Park, right near the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, is a lovely spot, just perfect for ships like ours to tie up near the old French Quarter in the muddy waters of the Mississippi.