Wednesday, May 9th, 2007
The crew of the Picton Castle have been sitting on a big secret the past few months, but now the secret is out and we are very excited to acknowledge we’ve been a part of it.
The winter months have been filled with island paradises and remarkable sailing experiences and our trainees have learned the ropes surrounded by postcard-perfect white sand beaches and volcanic islands that dot the lagoon-blue Caribbean waters of the West Indies. The warm sun, clean sailing breezes, and quiet, relaxed lifestyle of the islands has rubbed off on the crew. The delightfully hot days and sweaty nights quickly thawed our bones and sail commands and shipboard terms such as galleys and ladders quickly erased the words for the kitchens and stairs in our homes. After I rejoined the ship in early February, we painted her 179-foot-long hull and her clean clipper-bow an imposing shade of black while at anchor in Bequia and in Martinique. Instantly she looked longer and faster and all who witnessed her transformation remarked on how much she looked like the pirate ship of childhood fantasy. Strangers motored out to the ship in the small boats, which is not uncommon, but this time the energy was different and the crew felt it too. I still get tingles when I have the opportunity to see her from the water or shoreline. Sailors are notorious for holding fast to tradition, but this change is an exciting one.
In March we were joined in the Commonwealth of Dominica by CBS’s best-of-the-best for the creation of an exciting new reality-adventure show called Pirate Master, featuring 16 of America’s most persuasive Pirate wannabes. We had the opportunity to experience a little bit of Hollywood’s magic and our naturally pretty little barque was given a little “make-up.” We had our superstructure, chart house and galley house painted with such skill that the decks of our 1928 steel ship were transformed to the wooden deck structures of a pirate ship from 200 years ago. And I never knew there were so many options for decorating with canvas!
We had a rather monstrous figurehead mounted on our bow which our crew watched with morbid curiosity when we took the ship for a sail in any sort of wind or swell, and she stared ahead with her cold, dead eyes and clung tenaciously to the skull of someone we imagined could have conceivably crossed paths with a gang of pirates. The figurehead was seriously fierce and thrilling, but being the sailors we are, we couldn’t help but wonder whether the production’s art department could produce and then properly lash a truly seaworthy fiberglass figurehead to our ship’s bow. It held up beautifully.
We also received a bit of a movie-makeover on our stern. The Aloha rail was built up to meet the quarter deck and the space was enclosed to just aft of the boat davits in the breezeways, eventually taking shape as a fairly elegant transom with pane-glass windows and beautifully detailed woodwork. What took weeks of hammering, drilling and painting to create took only 48 hours to take apart with crowbars and grinders.
The Pirates lived, worked and sailed aboard our fine barque and they very much became a part of our ship, performing the heavy, dirty, and challenging tasks that a ship requires from her crew daily. Most importantly, they learned to sail our ship alongside her more experienced crew; a fine job they did of it, too. After many weeks aboard our vessel the Pirate crew could virtually hold their own in most sail handling maneuvers. Captain Moreland and our crew worked very hard to teach them all of the skills that we know, but if we did our jobs well, you will not see our crew in the weekly episodes.
It was a tremendous learning experience for our ship’s crew—and also for the seasoned professionals at CBS, who have never before taken on such a large-scale marine-based project! We were graced with the presence of hundreds of men and women who rotate through CBS’s highest-rated programs such as Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Contender, The Apprentice, and so on! On every level from sound, lighting and camera operators to segment producers and the big-time executives, they were eager to learn about and share our world (which revealed itself to be outside the comfort zone of many, but they are an adventurous lot who were up to the challenge) and were patient in helping our crew to become accustomed to the significantly more fast-paced and intense world of TV production. It goes without saying we had a soft spot for the men and women in the Marine department who accompanied our ship everywhere with their ridiculously over-powered boats. We were lucky enough to work closely with one boat operator in particular named Dan, whose home is in Halifax, NS! He was a good friend to our crew and kept us supplied with local news and Trailer Park Boys episodes throughout the production.
It is incredibly exciting for the Picton Castle crew to be part of something that is going to be shared with a literally global audience, a glimpse of our very real lives aboard this very beautiful training tall ship. I won’t hold my breath for a cameo of myself, but for all of our proud parents and easily excitable family and friends, press your nose close to the TV and you just might recognize those rough hands trapped in a close-up frame or perhaps a familiar silhouette against the sun-drenched sail canvas.
It was a great deal of fun for us to participate in this production, but after several months in one location (initially a struggle for our crew, who are accustomed to short visits in port and longer passages at sea) it was time to say goodbye to the very good friends that we had made in Dominica (Mr. Rudolf who took us everywhere!) and head back to sea (well, we took Frederick with us)! We’ve since revisited Martinique (and Martine, the tattoo artist) and the crew’s all-time favourite Caribbean island, Jost Van Dyke, and are presently making our final passage of the winter training season, bound for Charleston, South Carolina, the first stop on the Picton Castle summer trip, the 2007 ASTA East Coast Tall Ship Challenge!
These sailors are very tired but contented and after months in the Caribbean, we are again faced with the necessity to assimilate ourselves back into the fast-paced Western society from whence most of us came. Nine more days and we’ll be in the USA! Pirate Master airs on CBS at 8:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday, May 31. Watch it in your home and then come see us in person!