Captain's Log

Archive for the 'St. Lawrence Seaway' Category

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Gaspe, Quebec to Summerside, Prince Edward Island

The crew of the Picton Castle enjoyed a short stay in the town of Gaspé, sailing in late Monday afternoon and leaving Wednesday morning. The ship was anchored in the middle of the bay and skiff runs dropped us off at the yacht club behind a stone breakwater. From there it was a short walk over the bridge into the commercial centre of town. Most of the downtown area was under construction, which slowed tourism for this summer, but they have hopes of drawing more people in future summers with the improvements. Many of the crew found the local bakery and a few other shops, and had a chance to practice speaking French. Those who can’t speak French didn’t have much worry though; most people in Gaspé also speak English very well.

The whole Gaspé peninsula was a beautiful sight from the ship, with leaves on some of the trees just starting to turn bright red and orange. We were lucky to have light wind from the northwest for most of the day on Wednesday, which meant we could sail out of the Bay of Gaspé. Most hands felt it was a slow sail, especially compared to the speed we had been making in the St. Lawrence River, but were happy to sail nonetheless. Just before dinner the wind shifted and we took in all sail, turning on Big Blue (the trusty diesel engine) once again.

We motored through the night and most of Thursday, arriving in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, late on Thursday afternoon. We received quite a welcome in Summerside from Ron Casey of Downtown Summerside and the Youth Ambassadors who were dressed in period costume. Ron, who is a great friend of the Picton Castle and of the Captain’s, had a ton of great things planned for us. He offered to take people out to dig clams, pick potatoes, and see the island. He also arranged a dinner on Saturday night, showers at the Silver Fox Yacht and Curling Club, and burlap potato sacks full of local maps and information for every crew member.

Friday morning I went digging for clams with Ron, the Captain and Dave (the cook). Ron took us to a good spot near the Confederation Bridge at low tide and taught us to look for the holes in the sand, stick our shovels in and carefully extract the clam. It is more difficult than I imagined because it takes a while to find the clams, and it’s tough to not crunch their shells with the shovel. Imagine hiding raw eggs in a wet sandbox and having to find them and dig them out whole with a spade. After two hours of work we had almost two buckets full of whole clams and a scattered mess of wet, sandy holes and smashed shells. We went farther down the coast to see if we could also get some oysters and mussels. They attach themselves to rocks, so instead of digging we were prying them off. Filling the bucket went more quickly this time. We took all three buckets back to the ship and let them sit with water added to them for 24 hours so the sand would come out of the shells and settle to the bottom.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons we opened the decks for tours, and we had a huge turnout of visitors. We also happened to be in Summerside the weekend of the air show, which ran both Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1430 until 1530. The show began with a demonstration of a sea rescue by the Coast Guard; then a single F-18 did a series of acrobatics, followed by a show from the Snowbirds—the Canadian military precision flying team of nine planes who do all sorts of tricks while flying very close together. A number of the crew watched the show from aloft, and at times the planes flew so close to the ground that people aloft on the royal yards were looking down on them! We had to stop deck tours during the air show, but we were a very popular attraction before and after the show.

Saturday night we enjoyed a traditional PEI corn and mussel boil. The corn and mussels were boiled and steamed in giant pots on propane burners on the pier, then brought aboard for people to eat. The mussels and the corn came from a local farm, and the food was fantastic. Almost the entire crew was there, along with a few invited guests. We even had entertainment with a local musician set up on the bridge to sing and play while dinner was prepared. The whole dinner was a great treat for the crew because the company was interesting, the food was hot and tasty, we could eat the whole meal with our hands, and the cleanup was minimal because we had paper plates.

Most of the crew were able to get away from the ship and see some of the island. With its red sand beaches, farms everywhere, and small fishing villages, PEI really is a beautiful place. The whole island province has only about 135,000 people. Fishing, farming and tourism make up their main economy, with most of their tourists coming in the summer. They have a few different driving routes laid out on tourist maps to include the best sights—everything from Anne of Green Gables attractions to natural scenery and quaint settlements. Definitely there is a lot to see and do on PEI.

Unfortunately it was time to say goodbye to our new friends in Summerside on Monday afternoon, as the Picton Castle headed out on the final leg of our summer voyage. We steamed out of Summerside harbour into a light easterly wind and headed out into the Northumberland Strait, passed under the new Confederation Bridge, and are now headed for the Strait of Canso and eventually Lunenburg.

Andrea, Ryan, Alex, and Ian
Being welcomed at summerside by Ron Casey and youth ambassadors
Captain Dan cuts the welcome to Summerside cake
Dave digs for clams, Summerside
Music from the bridge, Summerisde
Mussels booiling, Summerside
PEI coast
Ruth has mussels in Summerside

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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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Getting Ready for Locks

St. Lawrence Seaway between Quebec City and MontrealShortly after 0300 this morning the Picton Castle anchored off Quebec City and said goodbye to Francois and Benoit, our pilots from Escoumin. I awoke this morning to a beautiful view of this historic city, founded in 1608. The Chateau Frontenac, the famous castle-like hotel with a green copper roof, was an easy landmark to spot. Quebec City is known for its historic buildings, narrow streets and old world charm, but it is clear from our angle that there is more modern stuff going on there. Behind the old stone buildings are huge glass office towers, across the river is a container port, a big Coast Guard icebreaker sits at a dock, roads and traffic run along the water and inland. The old fort is visible on top of a cliff on a point that sticks out into the river and, as someone said this morning, with all the cannons up there nobody would have been able to sneak past.

Around 1100 we took on two new pilots and a pilot trainee, heaved up the anchor and passed the fort without incident. The watches have been busy today preparing the ship to transit the locks further up the river near Montreal. Our efforts have been directed toward making the ship as narrow as possible and also protecting the outside. The yards are braced up sharp on starboard tack, the fore and main yards have been cock-billed (really, really tilted) so that they fit entirely within the width of the ship. Everything has to be inboard. The ship’s rigging was designed to be able to do this; it’s the same technique we use when going through the Panama Canal. We will hoist onboard the boat currently hanging in the starboard davits on to the cargo hatch and turn the davits inboard. The giant wooden fenders which have been prepared in the past few days were greased and installed today, lashed over the t’gallant rail and through the scuppers below. Rubber tires have been brought out on deck and wrapped in old rope to be lashed to corners of the ship that might touch lock walls when they are filling and we are going up. We will be ready for the locks tomorrow. We have 13 locks to go through before we get up to Lake Erie, 7 in the seaway and 6 in the Welland Canal which connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. That makes 14 including Canso lock. Before long all hands will be lock experts.

Alex makes a fender on the way to the lakes
fenders secured on the way to the lakes
Luc and Ryan lash a fender on the way to the lakes
main yard cockbilled on the way to the lakes
Nadja and Kathleen go hard right in Quebec City
Quebec City waterfront on the way to the lakes

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At Anchor, Pointe au Pic, St. Lawrence Seaway

This morning at 0700 the Picton Castle took on two pilots at Escoumin who will be with us until we reach Quebec City tomorrow morning. Any vessel over 500 gross tons, as well as any foreign flag vessel over 100 feet long, must use the services of a pilot while in the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Picton Castle flies the flag of the Cook Islands and we fit the length requirement so we must take a pilot. In fact, we currently have two pilots on board, Francois Pouliot and Benoit Frenette. This is because we have an open quarter-deck and don’t steam at 13 or more knots. We are pretty excited to make 8 knots. They tend to work in pairs on the Escoumin to Quebec City section because it takes a while to cross and they can take turns. The training and apprenticeship to become a Seaway pilot is two years long, at the end of it they have to know their section so well that they can draw an accurate chart of it from memory. These guys are certainly the local experts. They have to be experienced mariners with large tickets to begin with before they can start their pilot training.

We are currently anchored off Point au Pic, Quebec, a small tourist oriented town on the north shore of the river. As the tide flows out from here the current runs at about 3 knots, around the next bend it can increase to 4 or 5 knots. Considering the wind is also coming from upriver it makes sense to not waste diesel trying to fight it now. We will wait until a bit later this evening and carry on up the river with the flood tide. We should be in Quebec City tomorrow morning where we will anchor again to await the flood tide, and also to switch pilots. We will do one more pilot switch even further up the river at Montreal.

At Montreal we will have more locks to go through, carrying us ever higher up towards the Great Lakes. Today chief mate Kim and some helpers have been preparing 6″x6″ timbers to become fenders for our lock passage. These giant pieces of wood will be lashed vertically to the sides of the ship, seven on each side, to prevent the ship scraping directly on the lock walls.

Wildlife sightings have been in abundance over the past few days. People are still talking about the thousands of birds we passed perched on the cliffs of Ile Bonaventure. At dinner last night we were entertained by a pod of whales spouting about 500 feet off the port side. The 4-8 watch was extremely lucky this morning to see a beluga whale. Apparently there are a lot of whales in this area, and a lot of whale watching boats. It was quite foggy through most of the day so we didn’t see as many as we had hoped, but we will keep looking.

The crew of the Picton Castle love to eat and David Matthews, our cook, has amazed us with two special dinners this week, one for Canada Day and one for the 4th of July. Last night the cargo hatch looked like most peoples’ living rooms after a giant Thanksgiving dinner, strewn with bodies lying down rubbing their bellies and groaning about how much they just ate. Dave stuffed us with hamburgers, corn on the cob, hot dogs, roasted potatoes and salad, and Stephanie (trainee and baker) made kaisers for the burgers and apple pie for dessert. We paused between the main course and dessert for a rest and a musical interlude, Ashley serenaded us with the American national anthem.

As new trainees learn their lines and practice their watch keeping skills, they are also taking cues from the experienced crew on how to amuse themselves at sea. Almost everyone has a book to read, many of them books on seafaring. On the silly side, beard fashions seem to be the latest trend amongst the male crew members as they trim, tuck and twirl them into different styles. At anchor this afternoon we launched the Danie Bailey, a wooden toy boat built on the world voyage by Ollie Campbell. It came back from one knockdown in a big wave and floated upright for quite a while, but eventually was overcome by several waves in a row. Maybe it will wash up on shore nearby and make some Quebecois child very happy.

From the serene to the absurd, all on board is well.

Bruce serves Canada Day cake on the way to the lakes
Kolin with beard pigtails on the way to the lakes
our pilots, Benoit Frenette and Francois Pouliot on the way to the lakes
Stephanie, Bruce and Emmanuel prepare lock fenders on the way to the lakes
the launch of the danie bailey 001

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