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Final Preparations For A Voyage

New Orleans, LA, USA – alongside at the French Quarter – Preparing to set off on a voyage – April 27, 2018

Tammy, 5 year old Dawson and I rejoined our ship a week ago here in New Orleans. Under the able command of Captain Sam Sikkema the Picton Castle and crew had sailed from Lunenburg about two months ago bound for Bermuda and putting in to Turks & Caicos before joining a flotilla of a few fine sister-ships all sailing along the Gulf Coast in a Tall Ships America series of tall ship events in Galveston, Pensacola and New Orleans. Here in N’awlins many more new crew join this ship and soon we head out and off setting sail on our voyage around the world, westward bound for the South Pacific and beyond. The excitement is palpable. The excitement of being in New Orleans is too.

This warm day in April would not be the first time that this river-front of “The Crescent City” of New Orleans has seen an ocean going barque loading for sea. Square-rigged ships like ours, both wooden and steel built, used to line the waterfront of this famous seaport once upon a time. Crew from Canada, England, USA, France, Spain, West Indies, South Pacific islands, Scandinavia roamed these docks and watering holes of this friendly city in a time gone by – and do again from these same far flung lands when we are in port too. This city was built and served by the holds and crews of ships just like ours for many years. No doubt the truly delightful multicultural style of The Big Easy owes a lot to ships (and their crews) like this one sailing in from all over the world. But it maybe has been a long time since such a barque was moored here. And then the ship may have been pressing bales of cotton into her hold for English mills. Today the Barque Picton Castle is loading lawn mowers for Pitcairn Island (and dirt bikes, and root beer, mattresses and a satellite dish…) and untold numbers of tins of tomatoes, pears, sacks of flour, sugar, bottles of vinegar and propane and apples, oranges, bananas, potatoes, squash, onions – you get the idea – and it all has to be stowed aboard somewhere. Good thing she has a big cargo hold. On the busy wharf too the sailmaker is setting up to run bolts of canvas recently cut out through our big sewing machine to get a start on sail-making. All the while passersbys jog past either utterly oblivious or keenly interested in these now rare doings as a sailing ship readies for sea. One couple walking on the seaside wharf where we are moored leaned on the docks railing and jokingly offered me their three daughters ages 9, 11 and 13 – figured they might get their thumbs off the internet and maybe learn how to clean up their rooms. Maybe they could learn that….

The new gang of adventurers was all here and aboard and getting settled by Monday last. The apparent chaos slowly, then more rapidly, evolving into a semblance of patterns and order as this confusion seems to take on discernable, eventually identifiable, forms. Of course the form and order were there all along but naturally hard to see at first, as the new gang enters this new world of their choosing, some perhaps wondering if this all is even a good idea. But so far, so good. New bunks, large by ship standards but small by what they are accustomed to. Same with storage; lots for a ship like this, way less than at home. The gang has turned to with a will. And chaos is a thing we pass through, not to inhabit for too long. Tons of supplies on the dock, lube oil in barrels, rope, sail cloth in bolts, pallets of this and that, newly inspected life rafts get delivered and swung aboard. Fire extinguishers checked by experienced professionals. And lots of orientations, training exercises, drills and instruction to get us all ready for sea as well.

It has been fine weather here along the waterfront here in the French Quarter. My concerns of the possible effects of being overly close to the raucous sins of Bourbon Street have proven unfounded (so far) and great food and drink are nearby in any case. Frenchmen Street has the best music, but music is literally everywhere. The river, the Mighty Mississippi, narrows hereabouts but the shipping traffic does not. At a sharp bend in the river right here (remember “Crescent City”) huge ships making wild turns either with or against the strong river currents. A sight to behold to watch a high sided light 100,000 ton tanker, bereft of oil with bulbous bow riding out of the water making the down current turn to the east near us. More of a massive sliding skid than a normal turn. The big steam stern wheeler Natchez makes her way past several times a day blowing her ever so loud steam whistle frequently. The cry of gulls add to the cacophony of this richly audio waterfront. A big modern Moran tugboat ties up astern of us for a spell. The huge cruise ship Celebrity Equinox came in this morning and tied up below the bridge. Doubt she could fit under it. Chief Mate Erin mentions that this ship has a first female captain. I said, well good, Picton Castle has three female mates – and finer mates I could not find anywhere; Bermudian, French and Spanish as well.

We are doing well on our training, drills and stowing so the watches are getting some time ashore this weekend to see what there is to see in New Orleans…

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