Captain's Log

Archive for the 'RDV2017' Category

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Captain’s Log – Sailmaking

By Purser Allison Steele

Today as we make our way to Norris Point, Newfoundland, Captain Sikkema led a workshop on sail making.  PICTON CASTLE is one of the few ships left that still sews her own sails on board and often by hand, as opposed to sending them out to be made in a sail loft. Occasionally we take over a parking lot or a gymnasium to stretch some of the larger canvas out but for the most part, it is done on either the quarterdeck of the ship or in the hold when the weather is less favourable.

PICTON CASTLE uses only canvas for sails as opposed to the newer synthetic materials and travels with at least one extra full set as well as another set in production. A sailmaker’s job is never ending as there are always maintenance projects to keep current sails in good working order as well as creating new ones. Sometimes an awning, net or bag is required and with help from the crew, it is a sailmaker’s responsibility to create!

A detailed record of all sails is kept as they are not all uniform in shape and size. All waters in the world have varying types and strengths of wind that are typical for that area and a good ship knows how to take advantage of this variance by adjusting the complement of their canvas, using their lighter sails in the trade winds or other places with more favourable conditions and switching them out for the tougher, heavier sails in places where gales or strong gusts are more likely.

The history of sail making has been an important consideration when designing today’s sails. Although materials have changed and technology has streamlined many aspects of the industry, there are hundreds of years of experience and knowledge to rely on in modern sail making. Contrary to many layman’s beliefs, sails are not, in fact, flat but are curved in specific ways depending on the configuration of the ship but one constant is that they are designed to take full advantage of every breath of wind. There is a considerable amount of pride to look up into the rigging and see something that you helped to create and knowing that for years to come, others will rely on this creation to take them around the world.


Sailmaking on Picton Castle


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Day’s Run – 25 July, 2017


By Purser Allison Steele

With calm waters and a nice breeze, the crew fell back into the ebb and flow of the ship quite easily after our busy time in Quebec. We were able to set sail and practice drills with the new crew to help them familiarise themselves with sail handling. More experienced crew were happy to help spend time teaching newer people their lines and the order in which things are done. In calm waters, it is often easier to show the “why” of things rather than just giving orders so that is easier to remember for next time.

This afternoon was spent in a workshop on splicing, including a sailmakers splice and a chain splice. Crew was able to break off and practice their own splices so that they are able to put it into practice during ship’s work.

Splicing is the way in which you would attach pieces of rope by weaving it back on itself or another rope. In some cases as the Captain explained, you are able to weave a wire on to rope but most importantly is the correct use of splicing and which method is best for which situation. It helps the crew to understand the rigging a little better when you are able to learn why it works better in some applications than others.

The sunset this evening over the now calm waters was spectacular as it has been most nights along the St. Lawrence River as we make our way towards Norris Point, Newfoundland.

Noon Position: 49°17′.1N. 067°10.6W

Course: SExE 1/4 E  4.1kts

Wind Direction and Speed: SE Force 2/3

Day’s log: 90nm

Passage Log: 241.8nm

Voyage: 4615nm

Distance to Port: 382.5nm


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Captain’s Log – Tall Ships Rendezvous at Quebec City

With 40 ships, 3,000 sailors, the Prime Minister of Canada and a massive fireworks display, Rendez-vous 2017 in Quebec City was a huge success!  We can’t begin to estimate the number of visitors to the event and our ship as it seemed at times the stream of people was endless.  Picton Castle drew many crowds as our appearance comes on the heels of a popular French Canadian television series, “La Grande Traversée” in which our ship and a few of our crew appeared, Picton Castle playing the part of L’Esperance.  Our own chief mate, Gabriel St. Denis, who was featured in the television show, was very popular and many came out to see him and take a few pictures.

The Tall Ships event itself took place at the foot of Old Quebec and spread upward throughout the city.  Founded over 400 years ago, this UNESCO World Heritage site is unlike any other city in Canada and is the only fortified city north of Mexico. The cobblestone streets lined with beautiful gardens, churches, and heritage buildings housing boutiques, restaurants all teamed with wanderers taking in the sights.  You could spend hours just walking and taking in the European-style culture and so many of the crew did just that.  It’s nice to get out and stretch your legs after being on the ship and the people were always friendly and helpful.  With the shoreline filled with Tall Ships like Picton Castle, it was like stepping back in time.

The tall ship event itself was very well organised and it was great to catch up with friends and shipmates from other ports.  Our Liaison Officers Bob and Marilyn made sure we were set with whatever we needed and Marilyn, being a professional tour guide of Quebec City, provided some extra special insight into the “must dos” in the city including the funicular car connecting the lower town to the upper part for those less inclined to hike up to the Cap Diamant.

After four very busy days, it was time to leave.  As we departed this morning and said goodbyes to Quebec, friends and family, the view was spectacular as the tall ships passed back and forth under sail along the waterfront in the Parade of Sail until we headed back down river to our next ports.  Although we are sad to leave, it’s time for us to get back out to sea, back into the rhythm of the ship and what we are here for.

Next Port: Norris Point, Newfoundland.

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Day’s Run – 24 July 2017

By Purser: Allison Steele

After leaving the busy Port of Quebec at 0700 yesterday, participating in the Parade of Sail as we went, we began making our way down the St. Lawrence River towards our next port. The St. Lawrence has some very strong current so we often don’t make significant distance despite our speed but we enjoyed the opportunity to set sails giving the new crew a chance to learn at a reasonable pace. We try not to motor much as we are here to sail but in times like these, it sometimes becomes necessary. We did, however, enjoy the silence of sailing for the day as we started to shake off our land legs and get back into routines at sea.

Thanks to Ghislain Côté for the photo!

Later in the afternoon Captain Sikkema and Mate Gabe St. Denis held a workshop for the crew on splicing and ropework. It was a chance to introduce new crew to the different ways ropes can be utilised and a good opportunity for other crew to practice. It’s nice to watch the crew who have been on for a while master the skills they have been learning throughout the summer and lend a hand to new crew. It’s the evolution of a sailor and rewarding as a sail training vessel. Often you can see the excitement on a person’s face when certain concepts or skills seem to click and they start to understand the whys and hows of things as when you first sign on things can seem overwhelming. Often we hear departing crew tell us that it was not enough time to learn all they wanted to and are intent on returning… or sometimes they stay on!

As we fired up the engines at 1900 the silence is replaced by the gentle hum and slight vibrations from the engine. We have miles to go to our next port, which will be Norris Point, Newfoundland.

Noon Position: 48°31′.7N 069°04′.7W

Course: E 1/2 S  4kts

Days Run: 115.0nm

Voyage: 4525nm

Distance: 463.6nm

Wind: SxW 2kts

Weather: Warm

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Quebec City – The Pinnacle of the Rendez-vous

Quebec City has rolled out the red carpet, so to speak, for all of the tall ships gathered here now including Picton Castle. This is the largest gathering of tall ships in Canada this year, all here to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation. The last time Quebec City hosted a major tall ships event was in 1984, so this is a rare and special event.

The tall ships’ visit to Quebec City is part of a larger regatta taking place around the Atlantic. Back in April the regatta began in Grenwich in London in the UK. From there, the ships sailed to Sines in Portugal, then to Bermuda, then Boston, then a number of “guest ports” in the Canadian Maritimes and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In the meantime, a separate fleet of ships met up in the Great Lakes and sailed west, making guest port visits as well. All of the ships have met in Quebec City, arriving earlier this week. The regatta will continue on to Halifax, then back across the Atlantic to La Havre, France.

On Thursday, after the crew parade where crews of all the vessels marched through the streets of Old Quebec, some in their formal military uniforms and some in brightly coloured costumes (Picton Castle crew, of course, were brightly, tropically coloured), prizes were awarded in various categories. During the prize giving ceremony, a letter from Her Majesty, the Queen of England, which has been carried across the Atlantic on board a different ship each leg of the voyage, was read aloud. A copy of the letter was given to each of the five ships that are making the full regatta, including Blue Clipper, Jolie Brise, Rona II, Wylde Swan and Peter von Danzig.

Quebec is a fantastic city and the crew are enjoying it. The waterfront area is bustling with activity and our crew have been visiting the other ships. They’ve also been making their way into Old Quebec, checking out the historic walled city and enjoying the festive atmosphere.

We have been welcoming the public on board the ship for deck tours, as much as the tides and the angle of the gangway have allowed. The crew on watch have been keeping a close eye on the gangway – at high tide it slants slightly up from the dock, at low tide, which is 7 metres lower, the gangway is at a fairly steep angle, and because of the difference it requires close tending.

Behind the scenes, we’ve been doing all the usual things we do in port – taking on fresh water, fuel and provisions, saying goodbye to trainees signing off at the end of their leg, saying hello to trainees signing on here and getting them settled and oriented on board.

When we leave Quebec on Sunday, we’ll head down the St. Lawrence River bound for Norris Point, Newfoundland, then to a number of ports in Nova Scotia. Want to join us? Trainee berths are still available, no experience necessary.

Picton Castle gangway at high tide

Picton Castle crew at the prize giving ceremony after the crew parade

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Day’s Run – 17 July, 2017

By Purser Allison Steele

As we make our way up the St. Lawrence Canal towards Quebec, crew is enjoying somewhat warmer weather, sunshine and the ever present curious wildlife! With seals and whales, including the majestic white beluga, there is always something to see looking out over the water. Today the Captain held a workshop on making baggywrinkle. Seafaring is filled with all sorts of interesting terms and for the most part these words can be traced back to some sort of explanation…..except baggywrinkle. These interesting creations guard the sails against chafe on the stays and are best made with manila strands. When finished they look very much like a long, nicely trimmed lions mane but can stand a fair amount of wear before needing to be replaced. Prevention helps keep us in tip top ship shape and learning new things constantly!


Noon Position: 48°34′.0N 068°48′.2W

Day’s Run: 68.9NM

Average Speed: 3KN

Voyage Distance: 4288NM

Wind: Force 3 East

Weather: clear and sunny




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Captain’s Log – Sept-Îles, Quebec

July 10/17 – by Purser Allison

After hoisting anchor at La Petite Basque the morning of July 7th we made our way through the bay towards the Port of Sept-Îles, the largest volume port in the Province of Quebec. We were quite surprised at the welcome we received, it being such a busy port that regularly receives large cargo vessels and cruise ships, we thought the sight of a few more large vessels may not be such an attraction. We were wrong! We were greeted by enthusiastic crowds and townsfolk who had heard the PICTON CASTLE was arriving and came down to greet us.

PICTON CASTLE has gained quite a bit of notoriety in the Province of Quebec since the Radio-Canada television series, La Grande Traversée, aired a few weeks ago. In the show, PICTON CASTLE’s name is changed to L’ESPERANCE to play the part of a ship carrying colonists from La Rochelle, France to New France (which is now Quebec) circa 1700. The television series was filmed while actually sailing across the Atlantic last summer. Several of the current crew were on board during the filming and were immediately recognised and treated as TV stars with pictures snapping. While sharing the dock with other ships participating in the Rende-vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta, over 4000 people (in a community of 26,000) came to see the ships and throughout the town, the crew were treated with warm hospitality.

Sept-Iles lobster!!

Sept-Îles is a lovely port protected by seven small islands: Île Grande Basque, Île Petite Basque, Île du Corossol, Île Petite Boule, Île Grosse Boule, Île Manowin and Îlets De Quen.  First documented by Jacques Cartier in 1535, the area is rich in First Nation, Innu and European cultures surrounded by beautiful, rugged scenery and historical significance. The area is primarily French-speaking but the people of Sept-Îles were eager to help or chat and translate where needed. Sometimes it is just fun to try to figure things out, which leads to some humorous interpretations!

We can’t, however, say enough about the people of Sept-Îles. From the event organizers, Harbourmaster Shawn Grant, Chef d’Escale Marie-Ève Duguay,  and our Liaison and tour guide Guy, to the shopkeepers, wait staff and people of the town, it was truly a delight to spend time here. The joy of smaller ports is the ability to connect with the community if only for a few days. There is mutual appreciation for hospitality shown.

We were somewhat sad to leave this beautiful port but hundreds of people came out to say goodbye so we showed our appreciation by hoisting canvas and sailing past the town under full sail, sounding our horn in farewell.


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Captain’s Log – The Purser’s Summerside

By Purser Allison Steele

The PICTON CASTLE came into Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada after a great passage up from Boston, USA and received a warm East Coast Canada welcome! It was a short visit to this very colourful and pleasant town but was certainly a highlight with several thousand visitors crossing the decks, including former crew members, family and friends.

The PICTON CASTLE is well known throughout the Canadian East Coast but is often on voyages taking her far from home so it was a special treat for our host port. Many visitors were familiar with the ship having followed her for many years so the chance to come and tour her was not to be missed.

Summerside itself is a sweet town with bright coloured buildings, friendly and gracious people and incredible seafood. Everywhere the crew went, residents and visitors were excited to talk about the ship and our travels.

Several crew went into Charlottetown to visit shops, restaurants and visit with other ships and friends we have made along the way. PEI is steeped in traditions of the East Coast and famous for potatoes, Anne of Green Gables, and a rather large lobster that is stationed at the wharf.

July 1 marked Canada Day, a very special one for Canada as it’s the 150th anniversary of Confederation.  With Canada Day celebrations lasting the whole weekend, there were concerts, vendors, attractions and lively street musicians along the walkways. Saturday night in both Charlottetown and Summerside there was a great show of fireworks over the water that went late into the evening rounding out a great weekend.

As we left the town wharf around noon on Sunday, people still came out to get a last glimpse of the ship and her crew as we conducted safety drills in preparation for our voyage. Some of the crew that have been with us for a while now departed to return to their daily lives knowing that this experience has enriched their lives. As much as we will miss them, we take on new crew that will quickly learn the ways of the ship in hopes that they too will learn and develop as sailors.



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Day’s Run – 4 July, 2017

The crew woke to a somewhat chilly morning as we make our way towards the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is an odd feeling for the 4th of July. We wished our American crew members happy Independence Day from within our sweaters and scarves, but this is typical for North Atlantic waters.

Crew spent the day keeping warm by tacking the ship, rig work, varnishing wood and additional aloft training for new crew. There is always something new even as we wait for the wind to shift allowing us to continue towards Sept-Iles, Quebec. For those of us who have been on board since Lunenburg, it’s rather odd to see land around us but the lights at night just add to the beautiful spectacle above for it’s the more remote areas like the passage between mainland Quebec and Ile D’Anticosti that are best for stargazing. During longer voyages, crew of the PICTON CASTLE learn celestial navigation but on shorter summer voyages we are happy to sit back and enjoy.

Noon: 48°57′.0N 063°13′.4W

Day’s Run: 91.7NM

Passage: 209.5NM

Voyage: 3938NM

Course and Speed: SWxW 2 knots

Wind: WNW <1

Weather: Overcast and chilly

Swell height and direction: WNW 1 metre


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Captain’s Log – Boston to Summerside

At about 1300 on the 22nd of June PICTON CASTLE stood out past the Boston Light, set to the t’gallants. After five busy days in the port of Boston we are sailing out to join the Tall Ships fleet for the start of Sail Training International’s race number 4 of the Rendezvous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta from Cape Ann, Massachusetts to the northeastern end of mainland Nova Scotia.

Warm summer weather had been on order while we were in Boston but as we motor sailed out with the light and building southerly into Massachusetts Bay the crew quickly felt the cold breeze off of the 65° F water and ran to put on some warmer clothes. 19 vessels gathered for the race start, which was set about 10 miles to the east of the storied fishing town of Gloucester. It is always quite a sight to see a fleet of ships this size sailing in close quarters, especially on occasions such as this with a moderate breeze that allows the ships to set much if not all of their sail and get a good turn of speed going as well.

In an only somewhat serendipitous nod to the latter half of the Age of Sail, amongst the fleet are the Barque EAGLE, ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT II, GUAYAS, EUROPA, the 4 Masted Barque UNION and of course PICTON CASTLE making seven out of the nineteen ships in the fleet cut quite a scene of square riggers standing offshore until the fading evening light. To cap off the evening a spectacular sunset over Cape Ann bid the fleet farewell from the USA on our way to Canada.

Winds went fairly light on the first night, we kept all but the flying jib and gaff topsail set. Most of the fleet dispersed during the night, a group of ships like this with very different sailing qualities don’t stay together for long. The next day the Gulf of Maine began to show its true colours and as the day went on the wind began to increase, the air got colder and the fog set in.

Of all the times I have been across the Gulf of Maine, I don’t think I have ever actually seen it, there is almost always fog here. By midday we were shortened down to the main t’gallant in a Force 6 breeze. In this sort of weather, charging through the fog, extra care must be taken with the navigation, extra lookouts posted and a close watch kept on the radar and AIS. We are passing just to the north of the George’s Bank, and there are many fishing vessels in the area, over the years more than one vessel has come to grief from not paying close enough attention around these waters. A sobering reminder that we must be on our game.

As the day wore on the seas began to build and by evening we were shortened down to topsails and the foresail. Even though the weather is cold and wet the gang is kept busy about the deck, we had a full third of the crew change over in Boston so there are many new hands to teach the way of the ship to, learning lines, bracing, sail handling evolutions, all of this must be done in order to sail the ship. As it is, the ship comes first and we must sacrifice some comfort for the good of the ship and all onboard.

Two days we spent with a fresh fair wind and almost zero visibility, until the morning of the 25th when off of Halifax the wind eased, hauled southwesterly and the fog lifted. We again set to the royals and as the black hull of the ship began to warm the off watches came up from below to enjoy the sun. After two days of staring into the fog it felt good to get back the fair weather routines of work in the rig and about the deck. The on watch getting tar into the rig, oiling blocks and renewing ratlines, a carpenter finishing up our new fruit lockers and the sailmaker roping our new outer jib. In the afternoon we had an all hands workshop to teach seizings, allowing more of the new crew to get their hands on some of the ship’s rigging work.

On the afternoon of June 26 we crossed the finish line for the race and wore ship to bring us into Chedabucto Bay, the head of the waterway that separates Nova Scotia from Cape Breton Island. As our pilot for the Canso Strait and lock wasn’t due to board until the next morning we stood on towards an anchorage just outside the town of Arichat on the south side of Cape Breton. As the sun got low in the sky over Nova Scotia, PICTON CASTLE took off across the bay. With a fresh breeze but no seas to slow her down in the calm water of the bay we were able to carry every stitch of canvas full and drawing, clicking off 6.5 to 7 kts. It’s in these conditions one can really feel the power of a sailing ship rig like this and the energy it takes to get a heavy ship like this moving under wind power alone.

As we neared our anchorage for the evening the wind began to die off and we squared away for Arichat Harbour. At about 2230, just after last light the ship very quietly glided up to the anchor, apart from the soft spoken commands and the light rattle of sheets as the hands got in all sail forward it felt almost as if the ship were suspended in space, quite a contrast to the afternoon’s sailing. As the main yards squared away and the ship brought into the light breeze the sound of the anchor chain thundered out and all remaining sail was taken in. Arichat is a familiar spot for PICTON CASTLE from years past and it’s always good after a fresh passage to be anchored in a peaceful little spot such as this.

As morning dawned clear and flat calm, the engineer fired up the trusty B&W Alpha main engine and we hove back anchor to pick up our pilot for the Canso Strait. While the Strait is a natural channel it wasn’t really navigable until a lock was put in near the town of Port Hawkesbury to keep the currents down to a minimum. It was a pretty morning running up the Strait and the crew kept busy shining up the ship and getting ready for our next port visit. Just after 1200 PICTON CASTLE cleared the lock and dropped off the pilot as we steamed into St George Bay, now on the Gulf of St Lawrence side of Novas Scotia. Not too long after a light breeze sprang up from the east and the crew, now getting more confident with handling the rig, quickly made all sail and the main engine was shut down.

That evening we wore ship around Cape George and shaped up for the Northumberland Strait to the south of Prince Edward Island. While the Northumberland is pretty wide it’s still a lot more confined than sailing in the open ocean and as a result, it takes a little more effort and attention for everybody onboard. While passing Pictou Island in the night the breeze came on to a southerly Force 5 and the watch on deck quickly got in the royals and upper staysails. But with the wind easing a bit toward morning and the current setting the ship to the north the next watch got all sail set again to keep the ship on course.

Having made good time up the Strait it was decided to anchor for another night before passing under the Confederation Bridge, which connects Prince Edward Island to the mainland at New Brunswick and entering the Port of Summerside. As PICTON CASTLE approached Cape Tormentine all hands were called to be the ship ready for sailing onto the anchor. Though the same manner as had been gone through the other night, there was more wind this time and the evolution had to happen more quickly. But as we approached the anchorage at Rock Reef under Cape Tormentine the wind quickly shifted, in a short scramble the ship was made ready to come about and tack back up to the spot most ideal for the ship to anchor. It’s not an easy task to marshal 46 people to complete a manoeuvre most have never even heard of before. But the mates and lead seaman did a good job and this ship got through stays quickly without a hitch. As the ship began to gain speed on the other tack it was soon time to bring her head to wind, down with the headsails, in fore upper and lower topsails, midships the spanker and hard down the helm, as the ship came up smartly into the wind hands aft squared the mainyards to put on the brakes and the starboard anchor was let go. After all remaining sail was taken in the crew swarmed up into the rig to get sail securely stowed for the night.

As is always the case, a ship like this is more about the journey than it is the destination. As exciting as it is to come into a new place it is always good to be able to have a night at anchor before going into port with the hustle of going alongside and the hectic excitement that can be at the start of a new tall ships festival. It’s important to have a moment, to be able to sit with the ship at rest without any outside distractions, to look up at the rig, ready to spring to life again at the call to loose sail, and say “we did that, we sailed this ship here” and as Irving Johnson said “with our own hands”. That’s the accomplishment, and that is the important part of this journey.


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