Captain's Log

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Arriving in Denmark

After passing through the Kiel Canal, our stay in Kiel was perfectly pleasant with lovely weather. We took this chance to re-provision the Picton Castle with fresh fruits and vegetables in this famous naval seaport. As a major shipping artery and transit port they are well set up here to look after ships on the go. A very efficient ship chandler got us all we needed quickly and cheaper than if we shopped for ourselves. We had up to then remarkably good sailing the whole way from Ireland, from Nova Scotia too it must be said.

Kiel has always been an important German Naval base and was pretty much levelled during the Second World War by Allied bombers, thus modern buildings everywhere. It is hard looking around today to think that only two generations ago this part of the world was devastated and little more than smoking rubble. In Kiel we dried sails, painted the topsides and tarred rigging as well wandered around this very old but new in appearance city. Some crew found a very friendly and traditional beer hall with lots of singing and all sitting at long oak tables, good German fun.

These things done we sailed from Kiel. It is a large natural harbour open to the north and the Baltic Sea. Modern freighters, container ships and large ferries to Scandinavia steamed by us coming and going as we sailed under sunny skies out of the harbour past the German Naval base and the grand German Naval Sail Training Ship, the Gorch Foch at her moorings.

We were bound for Svendborg, Denmark in southern Fyn, a large island of Denmark, a nation of islands. “Fyn” is sort of pronounced ‘‘foon’ but as if you had cat hairs up your nose for the correct effect. Svendborg was only a day sail away. Svendborg is a fine, salty seafaring town and I was keen get the crew there to take it in. Soon we were sailing among small low Danish islands covered with fields, patches of forests with charming farm cottages with either red tiled roofs or thatched. I don’t know when last a square-rigged ship of our size had passed through here under sail.

We sailed along up the pretty narrow channel right into the small harbour of Svendborg only to find our carefully arranged and reserved berth at the town wharf occupied by a big gleaming Dutch schooner who was not overly impressed with the large bold sign stating “Reserved for Picton Castle -1800″ in large letters. As there was nowhere else to go we anchored right there in the middle of the channel. The harbour master came down blistering mad at the schooner and they left soon enough only to have another pretty black ketch slip in to the same spot as we were getting our anchor up. This ship (the exquisitely restored West Country Ketch Bessie Ellen) was owned by an old friend and all was sorted out quickly and we went in stern first for our stay.

Coastal Denmark and certainly around Svendborg is a very ‘‘old time’ shippy sort of area and thus perfect for the crew of the Picton Castle. We must start with the J. Ring Anderson Shipyard. This small but bustling shipyard has been in business for a century or two but unlike other wooden shipyards around the western world, this one is still going strong. Rebuilds, refits, overhauls of wooden, steel and iron schooners, ketches and three-masted schooners, annual dry-dockings of dozens of wooden vessels all going on all the time. There are about 40 operational large wooden historic sailing vessels built, restored and based in Denmark that come to this yard from time to time. Around the yard, while listening to the ring of caulking irons or the buzz of band-saws, one wanders around piles of old hawsers and rigging, past old discarded teak deck-houses removed as vessels got converted back to sail and old clinker-built boats. Old spars, anchors and windlasses lie about everywhere while vessels are rafted up waiting their turn for renewal. On the two railways and the floating drydock are vessels hauled out getting new planks or just getting caulked and painted. Norwegian, Swedish, German, English as well as Danish flags fly from these various craft at Ring Anderson. It is quite a sight to see so many sailing ship masts in one place silhouetted against the sky . The Brigantine Romance in which I sailed for four years in the 1970’s was built here in 1936. In the charming wood paneled office of the yard is a photo, painting or model of almost every ship built here. It is a museum on its own.

The town of Svendborg itself is on hills surrounding the landlocked harbour with winding cobblestone streets and any number of places to sit a spell for a nice lunch or dinner ashore; proper seaman’s pubs too, with live jazz or blues many nights. And it is all very, very clean.

Some crew took the ferry over to Aero, an off-lying island, for the day. Aero is perhaps an analog to Nantucket but I think Nantucket would end up being jealous if set next to this island. Aero is truly beautiful. The island of Aero, being somewhat offshore has a legacy of being both very dependent on their own ships and quite independent minded of their association with mainland Denmark, particularly so when it comes to cooperation with federally regulated customs fees and charges and the like. Basically it seems that the Aero Islanders were generally of one mind against the whole idea of paying customs duties to Copenhagen. It seems that when the customs inspector was coming to Aero on his random but weekly visits to the island the ferry-boat bringing him gave a specific, loud and very cheery set of toots on his whistle as the boat was puling into harbour thus saving the local citizenry undue embarrassment with said customs officer (and expense).

The trip to Aero starts with literally a 40 second walk to the ferry from our ship for the hour and 15 minute passage out to the island. All in smooth seas the ferry steams past little islets, some with sheep grazing. Aeroskobing, the town into which the ferry pulls, is a gorgeous old seaport with tiny brightly painted houses some of which date back before the 1500’s. Cobblestone streets, cafes and little shops everywhere. The next thing to do is rent a bicycle to ride around and maybe visit Marstal which is the more working seaport of Aero with more coasters and a shipyard. We had dry-docked here in the Picton Castle in 1993. Down hard packed country dirt roads through fields of ripe grain and corn over rolling hills the scene becomes quite idyllic.

Marstal has a superb maritime museum cram packed with fascinating and very local historical stuff. Dioramas, paintings, a full foc’sle set up even with dirty laundry, sea-chests, tools, models, imports from all over the world and souvenirs brought back by sailors and on and on. And they bring the museum exhibits up to date with exhibits on motor coasters. There even is a full bridge and salon of a 500 ton coaster and delightfully un-restored, looking a bit worn as they would have done when at work. In a gravel yard between the ochre buildings two very old painted up wooden rowboats are set in the ground for kids to row and even a short mock-up of a mast and yard for kids to “climb aloft” and clamber about on, finest kind of jungle-gym it is. On the 8 mile bike ride back to the ferry there are plenty a beautiful spots with lovely views of these inland seas for a small picnic of rye bread, cheese, pickled herring and maybe some Danish salami, frighteningly pink.

Back in Svendborg former Danish shipmates of mine were trying to convince me to join up with the Fyn-Rundt (means ‘‘around Fyn’) sailing ship race in commencing in a town called Korsor. The second ‘‘O’ in Korsor is that funny O with a line through it from 2:00 to 8:00 and is pronounced close to the vowels in the French word for sister “soeur”, good luck pronouncing it. This keyboard does not have that letter. There would be thirty or so 100′ plus wooden and iron sailing ships starting their annual cavalcade around Fyn with a ship/harbour festival there for a couple days. The Picton Castle would fit right in with these veteran ships while being larger than all of them. Many of these mariners had heard a lot about this barque and were keen to see her. Or so I was told.

Aero
aero islands
aero KBHN
aero pasture
Aero tour
aero-bike
Areo Museum
MJM-Aeroskobing house
museum-focsl
PC - Svendborg

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Motoring Towards Gaspe

The Picton Castle is back where she belongs—at sea level in salt water. We made our way down the St. Lawrence River, passing through seven locks that brought us about 300 feet lower. As was our experience in the Welland Canal, most aspects of going down the locks are easier than going up. The only part that was significantly trickier this time was actually getting the ship positioned in the lock. On the way upbound in the locks ships enter an enclosed space where current and wind have little effect on getting the ship alongside and stopped in the appropriate place. Entering a full lock on the way downbound there is no protection from wind or current, and with the wind on the stern for most of our passage it made it tricky to get the ship to stop in a specific location (and before the gates that mark the end of the lock). Thanks to the ship handling skills of the captain, along with Danie’s quick response on the engine controls and Kathleen and Andrea M. on the helm, we made it safely down. The rest of the crew were quick to get hawsers ashore to the seaway’s line handlers, hauling and easing as required.

We had the luxury of taking the St. Lawrence at a more leisurely pace than we did on the way into the Great Lakes in July. Wednesday we passed through the Iroquois Lock, then anchored shortly after for the night. Thursday we made it through the remaining American locks, Eisenhower and Snell, as well as two Canadian locks, Upper Beauharnois and Lower Beauharnois, then stopped and anchored again for the evening. On Friday we tackled the two remaining locks (both Canadian), Côte Ste. Catherine and St. Lambert in Montreal. In the St. Lambert lock we picked up our first pilot, who got us safely across Montreal harbour. We had four more pilots with us, two who worked alone and a pair, who got us from Montreal to Escoumin. The pilots were all excellent—cheerful and friendly, and most of all very knowledgeable about the river. One of them, from Quebec City, had been on the Picton Castle going the opposite way two months ago.

We had some excitement on Friday evening as we spotted a small boat that seemed to be in need of assistance. The pilot asked the captain if we wanted to help. Yes, of course, he answered, so we slowed the ship down and gave a hand. The channel in that part of the river is reasonably wide, but just outside the channel towards shore the depth shallows considerably to only 3 or 4 feet. The channel is well marked, and we were very careful as we turned within it to go back and assist the little pleasure craft. It turns out that they just needed a jump to start their engine, which we provided gladly before continuing on our way.

One of the highlights of the trip down the St. Lawrence River has been traveling with the current. On the way upriver two months ago we were lucky to make 6 knots, often only 5, motoring against the current. Heading down means the current is with us, and pushes us faster. It’s been quite normal for our speed to hover around 9 knots, and Saturday night we may have set a new Picton Castle record as the GPS reported our speed at 15.6 knots!

We slowed down a bit on Sunday afternoon, but it didn’t matter much to anyone as we set sails and turned off the main engine for the first time at sea in a few weeks. The trainees have been hard at work studying their lines and how to set and take in sails, but there’s nothing that can compare to the experience of actually doing it. There was a normal amount of confusion for a group that has only ever practiced sail setting in port, but they are starting to really grasp how it all works. There is a lot that can be seen better once the sails are set and yesterday afternoon and evening saw lots of people looking up and pointing, often with notebooks in hand to record the details. The watch had the experience of taking in and furling all sails in the dark late Sunday night as the wind shifted and we had to turn the main engine on once again.

There has been lots of ship’s work going on lately, from tarring the rig to spot painting. There have also been a number of opportunities for impromptu workshops to happen as jobs come up that need to be done. This group of trainees is particularly keen on ship’s maintenance and are eager to learn new skills and try them out.

The weather was wet and chilly on Friday and Saturday, turning downright cold on Sunday and Monday. I believe the temperature Monday morning was 3 degrees Celsius, and the forecast was calling for a risk of frost. Crew have been digging out extra blankets to keep warm in their bunks, and trying to layer clothing for maximum warmth on watch. This has led to some interesting fashion statements, but it doesn’t matter much if it keeps the wearer warm. Long underwear has become valuable, along with layers of sweaters, jackets and socks, hats, scarves and even gloves. People have been comparing numbers of layers worn, and the average number on top seems to be somewhere between five and eight. Even the world voyage crew have all broken down and put on socks and shoes or boots, which means it’s really cold. They hate wearing anything on their feet.

Just now we are motoring along, turning towards the northwest into the Bay of Gaspé. The coastline here is stunningly beautiful. We plan to pay a short visit to the town of Gaspé, which should be beautiful. The coastline is high and rocky, lots of cliffs covered with seabirds and forested green hills rising behind.

After Gaspé the Picton Castle will head to Summerside, PEI on the weekend and then home to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Thoughts are quickly turning towards home especially for the world voyage crew, many of whom haven’t been home in almost a year and a half. As at the end of the world voyage, crew conversation has turned to airplane tickets, luggage, and future plans. Of course we’re also looking forward to seeing our friends in Lunenburg soon, enjoying dessert at the Grand Banker and a pint at The Knot. It won’t be long, and now that we’re back in salt water it feels like we’re homeward bound.

Bentley takes a break from paiting the overhead.
John on helm on the way to Gaspe
Kolin s warm coat and gloves on the way to Gaspe
Look at the speed! On the way to Gaspe
Pania teaches how to overhaul a block on the way to Gaspe
Tarring the rig on the way to Gaspe

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Chibley’s Summer Adventures

While all of you were on summer vacation, Chibley was hard at work being the ship’s cat on the Picton Castle. She traveled to some places she has been before (like Chicago) and also to some new cities and towns as the Picton Castle took part in a series of tall ships festivals in different cities on the Great Lakes. Chibley certainly had lots to keep her busy—checking out all the new trainees, promoting the hats and note cards with her picture on them, doing media interviews and greeting visitors. She is looking forward to getting home to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, so she can meet up with old friends, hang out in the warehouse, see her buddy Rocky the famous Dory Dog and relax for a while.

By the time this summer voyage is over, the Picton Castle will have been home to 136 trainees and 25 staff crew. That means a lot of work for Chibley because she needs to meet each person when they arrive. She usually approaches quietly within the first few minutes that they’re on board to introduce herself. Once they have their bunks made up and their gear unpacked and put away, she will do a thorough bunk inspection to make sure everything is neat and tidy, and to see if anyone has brought cat treats (not many people do). She tends to spend more time with the people she knows well and has been particularly excited to have Erin back on board for a few weeks. Chibley shows her excitement by sleeping in Erin’s bunk most nights, curling up on top of Erin’s feet to help keep them warm.

Chibley likes to meet visitors who come to the ship to take tours, but usually is shy with large crowds. All summer long people have been amazed that a cat has sailed around the world four times. It is a pretty amazing accomplishment and Chibley occasionally shows up on deck to greet people who have just been talking about her. Lots of guests this summer have told the crew that they have cats at home, but none as brave as Chibley. One of the highlights of Chibley’s summer was meeting the governor of the State of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm. All of the ship’s officers lined up next to the Captain to welcome the governor, and Chibley joined the line in Pania’s arms. The governor was suitably impressed by Chibley’s accomplishments and Chibley only squirmed a little in Pania’s grasp.

The Picton Castle was selling t-shirts, hats, sarongs, and a bunch of other things this summer and Chibley helped promote her own line of apparel and merchandise. There are baseball hats with her profile on the front and note cards with her picture and the words “Chibley, the only cat with a barque.” People are surprised to find out that there really is a Chibley and get quite excited when she walks through the tent where we sell stuff. Chibley decided she should be more involved with the sale of her merchandise while we were in Port Huron, Michigan, and she jumped up on the table and lay down next to her note cards. She attracted quite a crowd but refused to sign autographs.

Appearing on the evening news in Chicago was another highlight of Chibley’s summer. The reporter and camera operator arrived at the ship in the morning to interview both the captain and Chibley. The captain’s interview went smoothly, but when it was Chibley’s turn she decided to play hard to get. She jumped off the ship and ran down the dock, faster than the news crew could follow her. They waited about an hour until they saw Chibley again, and then followed her through the gardens on the dock with the camera held at human knee height. They probably got about 20 minutes of film which they edited into a news story that aired that evening. Later that night and all the next day, people stopped by to ask about the amazing sailor cat. Chibley was famous!

This summer hasn’t been all work for Chibley; she has had a chance to do some of her favourite playtime things as well. There aren’t any flying fish to catch in the Great Lakes but there have been lots of birds to chase. Chibley has also played tag with some squirrels and rabbits. With all the crew around there has been no shortage of people to rub her belly and dangle strings in front of her. Of course she has also taken plenty of naps in the sun. And she has enjoyed walks in the green grass. Chibley the sailor cat has a very good life!

Captain and officers greet Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan in Bay City.
Chibbley does her stretches, too!
Chibley checking things out on the way to Green Bay
Chibley sits beside her merchandise, Port Huorn.
Chibley, the only cat with a barque.

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Kingston and the Cargo Sale

Kingston was a busy port stop for the Picton Castle, the highlight of which was our South Seas Cargo Sale. On the world voyage, the ship collects all sorts of interesting treasures—cannibal brain-forks from Fiji, whale carvings from Tonga, Zulu beaded jewelry from South Africa, teak-wood furniture and sea chests from Bali, and so much more. We sold a lot of these things at our cargo sale in Lunenburg in June (the same weekend that the ship returned from the world voyage), but still had a number of fantastic items left and decided Kingston would be a great place to host another of our famous Picton Castle “Your Ship Has Come In!” dockside sales.

The ship arrived on Wednesday afternoon and went alongside the old stone wharf and dry-dock behind the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes. The wharf looked a little tight and there were no soundings on the chart so the captain anchored the ship first and we sent in a boat to take soundings. All was well so in we went. First order of business was to get our cotton sails dry and get a little practice in setting and furling them, too. The folks at the museum were generous hosts and helped out greatly with many of our pre-arrival details, and then got us oriented once we were there. Across the grassy pier from us was the Alexander Henry, a Canadian Coast Guard ship that is permanently moored at the museum. She served, among other things, as an icebreaker and now is open daily for tours and overnight as a bed and breakfast for those looking for an authentic marine sleepover. The collection and exhibits of the museum are truly excellent as well, and the staff and volunteers were helpful and friendly.

Thursday the crew set up for the big event, unloading cargo from the ship’s hold and from the truck that met us there from Lunenburg. It was hard work for all, but worth it once the tents were set up and the cargo was arranged inside. As the day went on the world voyage crew got a bit nostalgic, remembering when certain items were bought or traded and telling stories about where they came from. On Friday the sale finally opened to the public, and it was a very busy day. Thursday evening we hosted a reception for museum members (it was very well received), and on Friday we hosted the crew of the St. Lawrence II, a brigantine based in Kingston that offers sail training for teenagers. They offer an excellent program for young people ages 14–18 that has been going for more than 50 years. Over the few days we got to see Kingston, which is a beautiful small city that was once capital of Canada—lots of busy shops, cafés, diners, restaurants, pubs, bookstores, and things to do.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great on the weekend; in fact it was terrible. Kingston was expecting a gale on Saturday, the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto. Winds of up to 60 km/hr/h were predicted and in preparation for it we had to take down one of the tents and the banners, and generally secure the ship. Because of that we weren’t able to open the sale for the day, but did open the decks for tours later in the day. The wind and rain came Saturday evening, and because of our preparations the ship and the cargo were safe. By Sunday morning things had settled a bit (although it was still drizzly and overcast) and we were able to open for business again.

Sunday and Monday we were back on track with the cargo sale all day and deck tours in the afternoons. Extra experienced crew assisted with the sale during the days, and we found that the new trainees we picked up in Toronto are quite a friendly bunch and good with visitors on deck tours. In fact, all the trainees sailing with us from Kingston to Summerside, PEI, are men, which may have never happened before in Picton Castle history. Tuesday we took most of the day to pack the hold again, filling it up with unsold cargo and rearranging the regularly used items we keep there. The packing process went very smoothly, and to my amazement everything fit in easily.

With the hold packed, we backed out from our berth at the museum late in the afternoon, heading for a quiet anchorage off Cedar Island just east of Kingston. We anchored there for the evening and most of the crew went ashore to have a big barbeque. We sent the grill (a “braii” as Danie, our South African engineer, calls it) ashore in the skiff along with hamburgers, corn, and potatoes. After a filling meal people found some firewood for a small fire. It was no late night, though; the crew were back early to get ready to tackle the first lock in the St. Lawrence on Wednesday.

Alex Brooks assists at the gangway, Kingston
Bali quilts for sale, Kingston
Browsing in Kingston
Busy shoppers in Kingston
Cargo sale at Kingston
Ian talks with guests on deck tours.
Kathleen at the cash register, Kingston
Learning to furl sail, Kingston
Shopping for sea chests and cinnemon dishes, Kingston.

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Toronto and Beyond

After a smooth transit of the Welland Canal the Picton Castle stopped for the night in Port Weller, alongside a wharf at the north end of the canal. We were pleased to find that going down the locks seems to be easier than going up. The ship was jostled around much less, and easing head and stern lines is much easier than hauling them in. It did take us most of the day to pass through the Welland Canal, including three stops where we had to pull over and go alongside to wait our turn in the flow of traffic. We locked through with a sailboat much smaller than we are—better company in a lock than a giant lake freighter. In the course of one day we descended 300 feet closer to sea level, and closer to home. At Port Weller we tied up at a salvage yard with two tugboats and lots of ships’ gear lying about. Chibley went ashore but we did not.

As soon as the Picton Castle got out into Lake Ontario on the morning of Saturday, August 26, we had a clear but distant view of Toronto’s skyline. We also felt the easterly wind that was causing 5–6 foot waves on the lake. Normally waves of that size aren’t anything to be too concerned about, but the shape of the waves in the Great Lakes means that a 6-foot wave here feels like a 12-foot wave in the ocean. The waves come much more quickly and make for a weird motion on board. Quite a few folks found that the conditions didn’t agree with their stomachs and soon their breakfasts were coming back up. They were especially glad when we entered the inner harbour at Toronto about 3 and a half hours later.

Toronto’s inner harbour is protected by the Toronto Islands, which curve around opposite the downtown core. There is quite a bit of traffic in the inner harbour; we were surrounded by small boats in a race, sightseeing cruises, small yachts, little motor boats and police boats. Just after noon we were alongside at John Quay, Harbourfront Centre, a recently renovated dock on some of the best real estate in Toronto, nestled between Pier 4 restaurant and the Toronto Police Marine Unit. Clearing in with Canada Customs was quick and efficient, and the crew got right to work on the usual tasks when arriving in port—stowing sails, getting chafe gear on the dock lines, setting out the gangway and net, coiling down all the lines evenly, and generally tidying up the ship. We were greeted warmly in Toronto by former shipmates and family members of crew aboard. Lots of followers of our “Tall Ship Chronicles” television show from the second world voyage came to see the Picton Castle, too. The Captain even has “fans.” Chibley has more fans. Famous little kitty-cat in Canada is Chibley. We had crew from all four world voyages stop by and catch us up on their doings.

There was a lot of activity on the Picton Castle in Toronto, including a business reception hosted by Steve Nash (a trainee on WV4 from Cape Town to Lunenburg), two afternoons of open decks, two live broadcasts on local television, and lots of maintenance. We made the ship look like she normally does again, taking down all of the fenders used in the locks, putting the skiff on the dock to be hoisted into the davits just before we left, and leveling the fore and main yards back to their normal horizontal positions (they had been cock-billed to reduce their width to less than that of the hull).

The crew found lots to do away from the ship on time off as well. A few groups found their way to Niagara Falls to see what they missed by going through the Welland Canal instead. Others took in a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game, ate at different ethnic restaurants, went shopping, and discovered Toronto’s night life. Many of the crew have friends and family who live nearby who came down to visit the ship.

I was particularly excited to be in Toronto because it’s very close to my home town of Brampton, Ontario. My sisters greeted us on the dock with big colourful signs welcoming the ship and welcoming me home. I was inundated with visitors all weekend, going home to sleep in my own bed at night and waiting at the ship all day to see who would show up next. Going home after being away so long (16 months!) was overwhelming and surreal, but also kind of comforting. The Picton Castle sailed from Toronto on Tuesday morning, and I stayed home until Friday to spend some extra time with my family. With help of an excellent friend of the ship Captain Adrian we “swung ship” and adjusted our compass on Tuesday morning, which, after sailing around the world twice and in both north and south hemispheres, was getting a bit dizzy. On our way out the three-masted schooner Kajama gave the Picton Castle a canon-shot salute.

Kingston was the next stop for the Picton Castle, and an exciting one as we held one of our famous “South Seas Cargo Sales”. The ship arrived in Kingston on Wednesday afternoon and docked behind the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes. This is a lovely city and quite a remarkable museum, but this will wait for the next log entry.

Andrea Moore on helm, Toronto
Gates open at lower level in Welland Canal
Getting headline out in Welland Canal
Locking through with sailboat in Welland Canal
Nadja and Brandon stand by to ease in Welland Canal.
Pania eases the headline in Welland Canal.
Toronto skyline
Toronto skyline 2
Welcome Home signs in Toronto

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Port Huron

Leaving Port Huron on Monday morning meant the completion of the main part of the Picton Castle‘s summer voyage. We have been part of a fleet of tall ships for the past six weeks, and we all went our different ways as we parted company in Port Huron. We have successfully completed our Tall Ship festival circuit, with over 60,000 visitors touring the decks. The ship is sure to seem quieter as we make our journey home to Lunenburg.

One of the highlights for the crew this summer has been getting to know the crew of the other ships. The camaraderie is instant, because we have so much in common. When our new friends talk about being on helm in the middle of a thunderstorm we understand because we’ve been there, too. Several of the ports this summer have put on events for crew, and these have been great opportunities for everyone to meet each other. Toward the end of the summer it was impossible to walk home to the Picton Castle inside the festival grounds without saying hello and stopping to chat at different ships on the way.

The festival in Port Huron had fewer ships participating than at other festivals this summer, but it was still a huge success. The Picton Castle was alongside the Seaway Terminal in the St. Clair River with the US Brig Niagara, Pride of Baltimore II, and Highlander Sea, which is based here in Port Huron. A trolley ride away, the Unicorn and Royaliste were alongside in the Black River. The event was organized by Acheson Ventures, an organization under the direction of Dr. Jim Acheson that has done huge amounts of work developing the town’s waterfront and generally doing very good works for the town. Instead of buying a ticket, admission to the festival was either a non-perishable food item or a cash donation to the local food bank.

As in all our port stops this summer we have been selling Picton Castle merchandise. Chibbley, the ship’s cat, made a guest appearance in the merchandise tent on Saturday afternoon. She hopped up on the table and curled up right next to the greeting cards and gift cards that bear her image. She always attracts quite a crowd, as she is a celebrity in her own right. I promise you that these photos below were not staged or digitally altered—Chibbley struck all the poses on her own. She must have used her television appearance on the evening news in Chicago as a warm-up for this—the camera crew there chased her around Navy Pier with cameras rolling for more than 20 minutes.

At Port Huron we also hosted a reunion of the crew of the Brigantine Romance. The Romance sailed from 1966 until 1989 under Captain Arthur M. Kimberly and his wife Gloria on voyages all around the world, including two circumnavigations, teaching many young mariners seafaring and the ways of a ship. Capt. Kimberly had gone to sea in schooners in 1939, sailed as an ordinary seaman in a Swedish four-masted barque, and later as mate in three-masted schooners. He sailed in tankers in WWII, worked at Ted Hood’s original sail loft, sailed as skipper of the Brigantine Yankee and worked as Chief Rigger at Mystic Seaport Museum before getting the Romance and sailing her for 23 years. In Port Huron the former Romance crew convened aboard the Picton Castle for a good get-together. Captain Moreland had been the Mate in the Romance in the mid 1970s before sailing in the full-rigged ship Danmark. He says that it was his most formative sea experience by far, and the Picton Castle is a direct result.

The current in the St. Clair River is quite strong, up to 5 knots in places. The Picton Castle was flying along on the way into Port Huron as we passed under the Blue Water Bridge that connects Canada and the USA. I noticed we were going faster than usual and when I checked our speed I was amazed to find that it was 11.5 knots! We made it up to 11.7 knots just before we turned around a bend in the river. The Picton Castle hasn’t moved that quickly since we rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the Agulhas current last February.

And so we continue on out of the Great Lakes, moving with the current towards Nova Scotia. There is still a lot for us to do. We stopped briefly in Erie, Pennsylvania, and today we’ll go through the Welland Canal. This weekend we will be at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, where a new group of trainees will join us on Sunday. The first weekend of September will bring us to Kingston, Ontario, for another of our famous South Sea Cargo Sales where we will offer exotic goods collected on our world voyage. Following that, we’ll be off for Gaspé (Québec) and then to Summerside (Prince Edward Island) before returning home to Lunenburg. The summer voyage of the Picton Castle is far from over, but it’s nice to be heading downbound in the Great Lakes with the current behind us.

Brigantine Romance
Chibbley among the merchandise, Port Huron
Chibbley makes herself at home, Port Huron

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On the way to Toronto

The Picton Castle left the Seaway Terminal in Port Huron on Monday morning, turning around and moving with the current in the St. Clair River. Being so close to shore is still a novelty the deep ocean sailors on board, and we can all entertain ourselves by watching the scenery. It’s been quite varied as we passed huge homes with beautiful gardens, small cottages, industrial plants and refineries, and GM office towers in downtown Detroit.

We finally had some favourable sailing weather on Tuesday and set all sail as we traveled east in Lake Erie. The entire ship breathed a sigh of relief as we turned off the main engine, heeled slightly on a port tack and proceeded under sail. We have a full ship at the moment between Port Huron and Toronto, so it’s great that we actually got some sailing in on this short passage.

The Picton Castle arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday afternoon. Erie is the home port of the US Brig Niagara, one of the ships in the fleet participating in the festivals with us this summer. The Niagara had another stop to make before returning home so she was not in port at the time we were. Still it’s nice to have people come down to the dock to check out the Picton Castle who have a bit of an understanding about square-rigged ships. And many did. It seems there are a lot of supporters of the Niagara in Erie.

The crew have been up to their regular “in port” activities—doing laundry, checking e-mail at the library, eating out in restaurants, examining other boats in the harbour, finding the local pub, indulging in ice cream, and so on. Most made it up to the Erie Maritime Museum, home of the Niagara, and returned with rave reviews. There’s a picture of our own Captain Dan Moreland in the museum next to the giant window that overlooks the Niagara‘s berth, taken when the Captain served as Mate on the Niagara.

Our stop in Erie was the first real maintenance day we’ve had in port in a while, and there was a flurry of activity on board. The decks were desperately in need of oiling after millions of footsteps falling on them this summer. We received a shipment of rope that required a complete reorganization of the salon sole in order to fit all the new stuff in. The majority of the rigging received a fresh coat of tar, several lines of running rigging were replaced, long-lost items in the hold were found, the exhaust manifold in the engine room was cleaned, and a super duper domestic cleaning was done.

The ship also had to be prepared to transit the Welland Canal. Just as we did a month and a half ago when we went through the canal in the other direction, we have to move everything that hangs outboard of the hull inboard. We moved the skiff onto the cargo hatch amidships, and turned inboard the davits where the skiff previously hung, along with all their rigging. The boomkins, which hold the blocks for the main braces all the way aft, had to be removed and the brace blocks moved inboard on strops attached to the taffrail. All the yards were braced up sharp on a starboard tack, the lower tops’l sheets were removed and the fore and main yards cock-billed with their starboard sides pointing down to the deck.

This afternoon we motored across Lake Erie towards Port Colborne and the beginning of the Welland Canal, which bypasses that pesky Niagara Falls. We plan to transit the canal Friday during the day, ending up 300 feet closer to sea level than when we started. The crew are resting up between watches tonight for the big day tomorrow. The canal will be an excellent exercise in ship handling for all hands, requiring careful maneuvers and quick response. It is said that going down is easier than going up. We will see.

Detroit skyline.
Detroit towers on the way to Toronto.
Great Lakes traffic on way to Toronto.
Passed by a tanker on the way to Toronto

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Doctor Postion Available

Serving as the ship’s doctor on board the Picton Castle is an interesting way to combine being in a ship and medicine says Grady Barnwell, currently the ship’s doctor. In addition to being on call for the medical needs of the crew, Grady knows all his lines and knows how to set and take in all the sails. The ship is well stocked with medical supplies. Fortunately, because of our attention to safety, we do not have to use them all that often. Providing medical care for the crew can be an adventure, with the work as varied as the personalities on board.

Grady has been the doctor on the Picton Castle several times before. He and his fiancée Judy have been on board since we left Lunenburg this summer and are heading home shortly to prepare for their wedding. The Picton Castle will sail from Toronto to Kingston, Ontario, and continue down the St. Lawrence Seaway, passing through all the locks that take ships down to sea level. We will call at Gaspé, Québec, and Summerside, PEI, before heading home to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

We seek applications from interested doctors for this three- or four-week passage beginning in Toronto on August 27 or Kingston on September 3 and ending in Lunenburg, NS, on September 23. Join the Picton Castle at no cost for a fascinating passage through this great fjord of North America and into the Atlantic Ocean. Come, join our crew and stand by just in case.

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Beaver Island

Sailing in fresh water at 600 feet above sea level is not normal for the Picton Castle. Dropping in, unannounced, on small out-of-the-way islands is. After a summer full of strictly scheduled port calls in big cities we were glad to return, if only for a short while, to standard Picton Castle operating procedure where we find a cool little island with a decent anchorage—sail in, drop the hook, go ashore to meet local people, explore and have a good time. Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan was just the right place for us to get back to normal. In fact, Beaver Island was awesome. The Picton Castle approached under full sail making good time. As this harbour was new to the Captain, we took in sail just outside the small bay entrance. As soon as we were inside, locals were coming out in their boats inviting us ashore. Just like the South Pacific!

We arrived in St. James Harbor on Monday evening and, after a conversation with the helpful harbourmaster, let go the anchor. Even anchoring is a bit of a novelty these days as we have been alongside in every festival port so we can do deck tours. When we got ashore we found a beautiful small town filled with very friendly and engaging people. Many of the year-round residents of Beaver Island are of Irish heritage (and Native American), apparently they all arrived independently and then realized once they had settled on the island that they were all from the same county in Ireland. The island also has an interesting Mormon aspect to its history—a breakaway group with their own King lived on the island for a while. People from Beaver Island are all very proud of their island, commenting frequently on how it feels like a community and that people on the island care for each other.

The crew found lots of things to do on Beaver Island, and it was quicker to see and do them all by renting a bicycle. Most of the bikes were bright colours, and many featured big wire baskets on the front. All that they were missing were bells, but we took care of that by shouting hellos and waving madly as our shipmates zipped by. The toy store and museum was not to be missed. It was a small house whose main floor was filled with every kind of old-fashioned novelty you could think of—lots of stickers, beads, foam airplane kits, whistles, harmonicas, toy cars, plastic animals, marbles and other fun stuff. Just down the road was Skip, the guy who catches and smokes fish and carves totem poles. David, our cook, bought several pounds of smoked whitefish for us to eat on board this week. Ice cream is always a popular treat ashore for the crew, and it was particularly good on Beaver Island with a kiddie-size sundae being bigger than an average adult needs.

We also checked out the huge hardware store, a museum with a trade-in bookshelf outside, and the playground at the beach. Kornel was smart enough to bring his bathing suit. Many of the rest of us looked at him with envy as he went for a swim in the cool, shallow water. In the evenings the crew gathered at the Shamrock Restaurant & Bar, which one night featured a live band playing popular country cover tunes. The two bars in town are owned by the same folks. Picnics and hanging around with local fishermen and then dancing to Patsy Cline in the night time adds up to a whole lot of fun!

The folks of Beaver Island are very hospitable and friendly, and we thank them for making our short stay relaxing and memorable. Should the Picton Castle ever find her way into Lake Michigan I am sure that another stop at Beaver Island will be in the plan.

Lake Michigan seen from Beaver Island
Lynsey on bicycle on Beaver Island
Picnic at Beaver Island on way to Port Huron
Picnicking in view of the ship, Beaver Island
Picton Castle at Anchor, Beaver Island, on the way to Port Huron

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Under Sail to Port Huron

After delaying our departure from Chicago by a day due to weather, the Picton Castle finally left Navy Pier and headed out into Lake Michigan on Friday morning. There were some nasty thunderstorms predicted on Thursday and the wind was blowing fairly strongly from the northeast—exactly the direction we were planning to go. In addition the sea state was quite lumpy, and we decided that it was best for all concerned to wait until things laid down. It’s strange how conditions in the Great Lakes can change so quickly—by yesterday afternoon we were still heading into the wind but the waves were several feet smaller, and today we have next to no wind at all.

With all sails set the ship is averaging about 1 knot an hour this afternoon. Normally this would drive the crew crazy, but it’s actually kind of relaxing right now. This is probably the first time in our busy summer schedule where we don’t have to rush to be in the next port on time. Of course we do have a date on which we must arrive, but there’s enough time between Chicago and Port Huron that we can sail leisurely instead of firing up the main engine to make our deadline.

The atmosphere on board this afternoon is a quiet one. The watch is diligently working away on tarring the rig, varnishing the fly rail around the bridge and painting in the breezeways. Most of the crew who are off watch have their noses buried in books, finding comfortable spots on the hatch and the well deck to enjoy the warmth of the sun.

We were sad to say goodbye to Andrea Deyling, Greg Bailey, and Billy Campbell in Chicago, they will certainly be missed. On a happy note, Amanda Graham has come back to re-join the crew.

After a week of excitement in Chicago, we are glad to be at sea once again. And this sea is made of fresh water!

Alyssa on helm on the way to Port Huron.
Amanda varnishes on the way to Port Huron.
Olivia relaxes amidships.
Stacy reads on the hatch.
under full sail on the way to Port Huron

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