The Picton Castle

History of the Barque Picton Castle

First Life as a Welsh Trawler

The Picton Castle was built in 1928 as a Swansea fishing trawler (motorized) and for years operated out of Wales. She was one of five trawlers built at that time for the same company — all very modern for their day (the local paper reporting on her maiden voyage marveled over her electric lights and depth finder) — all named after castles. (The namesake castle is located in Pembrokeshire in Wales and was built in the 11th century.)

World War II

At the start of WWII she was conscripted into the Royal Navy and became the HMS Picton Castle , a minesweeper. According to Tom Gamble, the radio operator who served aboard her during that time, "The minesweeper service lost more ships than any other branch of the Royal Navy as sweeping mines was very dangerous work. In fact, one day while on patrol a mine exploded under the ship and lifted her clean out of the water — all 300 tons of her. Fortunately, no real damage occurred."

Liberator of Norway

Soon afterward, while sweeping mines in Norwegian waters, the Picton Castle developed a problem and it was determined that she would have to put into the nearest port: Bergen. The Germans had just decided to abandon Norway rather than fight and so decamped. The next day the HMS Picton Castle appeared in the harbor flying the Union Jack and has since been hailed by the Norwegian people as the "Liberator of Norway."

Adoption and Refit

After the war she eventually began hauling freight working in the North and Baltic Seas. She underwent a name change and for a while was known as the Dolmar. In 1992 and 1993, Captain Daniel Moreland was scouring various ports looking for a ship that could be converted into a square-rigger. He found the Picton Castle in a fjord in Norway. He and a small crew cleaned her, got the big 700 HP Burmeister and Wain diesel engine running, and took her across the Atlantic to New York City where she was berthed at the South Street Seaport Museum. In 1996, she was taken to Lunenburg in Nova Scotia, Canada, to begin a two-million-dollar refit. A clipper bow was welded in place, three steel masts added, and slowly — like a caterpillar undergoing metamorphosis — she became a square-rigged barque.

Ten Stories and Lots of Care

The Picton Castle is 179 feet long, displaces 300 tons, and carries 12,500 square feet of sail. When her coed crew goes aloft to furl sail, they are working ten stories above the deck and they must come to master 175 different lines — and be able to handle them deftly on the blackest of nights. Participating in the ship's sail-training program, the crew learns knotting ropes, sail making, celestial navigation, oceanography, meteorology and responsibility for all facets of maintenance. During her first world voyage (1997-1999), the ship was completely scraped and repainted four times and certain parts varnished ten times in 19 months.

Redemption

During UNESCO's "Year of the Ocean" in 1998, the Picton Castle served as flagship for the OCEAN98 organization. She distributed school supplies provided by NOAA and the EPA throughout the South Pacific. Later, she entered into a joint venture with SPREP (South Pacific Region Environment Program, which serves as a planning arm to 22 island nations) to deliver a variety of environmental course materials to schools in that vast area. At certain remote locations such as Pitcairn Island (where the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers still live) and Palmerston Island, her doctors would go ashore and set up medical clinics, working until all of the inhabitants had been examined. Later, while in the Indian Ocean, Kate Menser and three other educators came aboard and sent educational programming back to some 2,000 schools in North America and around the world.

As trawler, minesweeper, freighter, barque, and schoolroom, the Picton Castle has acquitted herself well as is the case when men and women live to serve their ship under sail.

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