Captain's Log

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Why I’d Love to Sail to the South Pacific

This is Trudi writing. Someone who has never sailed in Picton Castle or any other sail training vessel. People wonder how on earth I ended up working for a tall ship being so entirely unfamiliar with sail training or sailing ships or sailing at all.  Living locally, I knew of the Picton Castle of course, but I still imagined ‘sail training’ was something along the lines of learning to drive a yacht.  Working here in the office and then eventually attending a Sail Training International Conference are the things that made me first discover what sail training actually is and then lead me to fall in love not only with Picton Castle but with sail training in general. And yet I’ve still not done it.

So, in the midst of posts about life-changing voyages before the old teak wheel and favourite South Pacific ports from Captain Moreland and Maggie and some to come soon from Tammy and Bronwen (all people who have sailed many times in Picton Castle), why the heck am I writing one?

I guess I provide a pretty unique viewpoint. Ha! No, not unique at all come to think of it. In this tall ship world I work in at the ship’s shore office, I’m the lone – the one and the only – non-sailor who has never visited (or even heard of) many of the ports Picton Castle will be visiting on this next voyage. So I tend to think of myself as one-in-a-billion. But actually that really makes me exactly like many of you who are reading this. Yes, I know: plenty of you have indeed sailed and/or visited some of these ports, but most of you have not. One step outside of this sail training world and I lose all my unique-ness.

Photos can show you why I want to go on this voyage far better than words can. Well, photos plus imagination. There are thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of photos on my computer and CDs here in the office. They’re outstanding. Living in a gorgeous part of the world like Lunenburg, I come to work some days in the midst of winter and see the smooth-like-glass ocean with sea smoke rising from it, and the glorious colours of the sunrise and the old historic buildings and I’m in awe, so I take a photo to share the beauty with the world – only to feel bitter disappointment because the photo I took doesn’t show what I actually saw at all. It’s like sitting down to eat what appears to be a delicious, dark, gooey piece of chocolate rum torte, only to find it is one of those mass produced, sweet brown-flavoured cakes; no rich chocolate, no rum .. just sweet and brown and full of chemicals. It’s like finding cilantro in my salsa. Frustratingly disappointing.  So all these photos I see from past voyages? I know they don’t come close to what the people on that ship were looking at when they took the photos.  These snapshots make my heart race, yet the photographer looked at them and thought “dang, that’s not anywhere near approaching the majesty of this moment”.  

Sunset on the way to Bali

I want to see the real thing! I want to be there and see what I’m missing.

I’ve not done it. I’ve not sailed a barque or any other ship. But looking at endless photos of the sails going up and going down – can’t you just imagine the wonderful sound they’re making? Like sheets snapping in the wind on the clothesline on a sunny summer day, but so much more. All-encompassing. I’ve never heard the sound in real life, but I see the photos and I imagine it clearly.  That glimpse through the rigging of a stunning sun setting on the ocean horizon .. the colours in real life must be completely indescribable and they don’t just stop at the edge of the photo. They carry on in both directions as far as you can see. Ah!! I need to know if my imagination is anywhere near approaching what people on ships see and smell and hear and feel. Ooh. Goosebumps.

Trying to describe these feelings in words makes my eyes leak a little bit. Can you imagine all this heart-stopping gorgeousness all around you, but then there’s more? And even more after that? Every day something to take your breath away, and then you arrive at a place like Pitcairn Island. Or the Marquesas – anywhere in French Polynesia. Anywhere on this entire voyage. These fabulous islands with people so friendly you feel like you’ve always known them, and they want to show you why their home is the best. And they’re all right – every place the ship is visiting is the best, and there is still more beauty to come around every single corner. And then, at the end of your day of discoveries ashore, you head home to your own home, in your bunk below decks on the Barque Picton Castle, and as you drift off to sleep you get to remember all the reasons why all of this is the best.

I’ve never gone on a sailing ship. But I want to.

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Why I Love Sailing to the Caribbean

Sailing from Nova Scotia southbound for the tropics can be quite the treat as well as a challenge in a big old school square-rigger. Any kind of vessel really. We sail southbound for the Caribbean Sea in the Picton Castle in June. South to the Caribbean for the summer? Is this crazy? Not at all. In fact, the very best practical time for a sailing vessel to head south from up north hereabouts is actually April, May, and June. The only reason most yachts or big schooners and sailing ships do not normally do this, and usually can be found sailing north at this time instead is because the summer-time is THE TIME to be sailing in New England or around Nova Scotia. So they all come north for the summer. Nice time to come north too. Just not so delightful heading back south in the late fall. But that is another story. But for pure passage making smarts, head to the Caribbean in May or early June. And so we do.

It is almost 2,000 miles from Lunenburg all the way down the North Atlantic to Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean, our first planned stop and we all just love the island nation of Grenada, The Isle of Spice and so much more. But wait, first there is the passage south. Our first blue-water passage under sail. And that is what this voyage is about. That and islands. And learning to be a seafarer. And a shipmate. A good one.

The first few days at sea out of Nova Scotia can be pretty cool sailing. Your first time at the helm, trying to get the lubber’s line on compass near the big S as it seems to dance and swing around in front of you as you learn to steer the ship. You are at the teak wheel all the way aft on the quarterdeck turning her massive worm screw steering gear that has kept this ship on track for maybe 300,000 nautical miles over the last 24 years. The same wheel that has been handled by a couple thousand crew on those many deep-sea miles. Only 250,000 miles to the moon.

Yes, we will be bundled up for a few days, seeing our breath and the like. Maybe wondering if it was such a good idea to do this.  By ‘cool’ I mean cold. Or so it seems anyway. It won’t be snowing anyway. And it will stay this way for a few days. Until we cross the famous Gulf Stream. Then in short order, we will be peeling off the layers and getting sun-burned. Quite astonishing is the shift. The Gulf Stream is quite literally a river of very warm water that that formed in the Caribbean basin, all those seas having been blown in from Africa. It piles up and heats up in the Caribbean Sea. It piles up so it must go somewhere. So it gets shoved north between Yucatan and Cuba, makes a circle, filling and heating up more in the Gulf of Mexico before sneaking around Key West and starting a rapid slide right along the coast of Florida and it’s moving fast. Around Cape Hatteras (North Carolina along the east coast of the USA) this powerful and pretty hot ocean river gets a bump offshore. The continental shelf guides the Stream from a northerly direction and gives it a kick to more of an easterly direction. This current will cross the Atlantic Ocean as it spreads outs and cools off in due course. But not so much that palm trees do not grow in southern Ireland and SW England, because they do. If ever the Gulf Stream gives up, the British Isles and northern Europe are going to freeze up hard. Even Iceland is made livable by these warm African/Caribbean waters warming that island up. But we cross this Gulf Stream well east of Cape Hatteras and due south of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Now we are in teeshirts and shorts most likely.

After we get through a high-pressure system, which can bring calms, that often (not always) lingers over the central Atlantic, there we should pick up some easterly tradewinds. Well, not much that I love more in this ship than a good tradewind passage. Warm, with sparkling seas and blue skies. Them soft fluffy clouds scooting overhead. The wind is in from Africa and we are headed for the islands. You are learning to steer, finding your sea legs, the 200+ pieces of manila running rigging becoming more familiar every day. Knots and splices. It’s warm now so we can again smell the Stockholm tar of the rigging. Ambrosia. Maybe we will see dolphins and flying fish for the first time. We will be learning to do all the things that watchkeepers in a sailing ship must do. Starting with walking. Some have to learn walking all over again it seems, as the ship rolls. Learn the lines, the sails, how to brace the yards, set up for meals, help in the galley, turn to for the four-hour watch on deck. Keep a good lookout and the points. It will all come. It always does.

After a while at sea, we will make landfall. That’s what mariners call seeing land for the first time and heading in. And we will be heading into one of my favorite places anywhere, right off the bat, Grenada, at the bottom of the chain of the eastern Caribbean. Most northern people think that they can see and experience the Caribbean any old time – or if they have been to St Thomas or bare-boated in the BVI, they have ‘done’ the Caribbean. Nice places to be sure but the answer is NO, you haven’t even scratched the surface. And, NO, the Caribbean is not actually all that accessible unless you enter the right way. That’s what we do. Frankly, the best way to see and learn these islands is to sail to them, earn our way we do. Be of the islands. Once we get anchored and cleared in at Grenada or Carriacou, one watch will look after the ship and the other two can head ashore to start exploring. Forests, boat building, dances, reggae and calypso music, BBQ by the side of the road, the best you have ever had, rum shops (not just rum but community pubs), dominoes, beautiful turquoise waters, diving, swimming, small boat sailing, waterfalls in beautiful bays, old slave era sugar plantations still harvesting cane and making rum with gear from the 1700s, jungles, waterfalls, markets, fresh drinking coconuts, and yes, palm-fringed sugar beaches so perfect too. But the best thing is the people. That’s always the best thing wherever we sail. I will leave it at that. Do not want to give it away completely, do I?

Cold and snowy here in Lunenburg right now. Stacking firewood, taking out the garbage for pick up early in the morning. Scraping ice off the truck. Dripping slush off my boots coming inside. Thinking about the passage to and being at Grenada warms me up.

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Galapagos Islands

Galapagos, Even Better Than I Imagined

Maggie here, from Picton Castle’s shore crew.  I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have sailed with Picton Castle to the Galapagos not once but twice.  When I was first interested in sailing as a trainee, the Galapagos Islands was one of the ports I was most excited about.  Why?  To answer that, we need to go back to my childhood.

When I was a kid, I had a subscription to OWL Magazine, which is a Canadian science and nature magazine for ages 8-12.  I remember being so excited to check the mailbox each month to see if it had arrived.  The last page of the magazine always had a series of close-up photos of different items and readers had to guess each photo, and there was a different science experiment every month that you could do at home.  OWL Magazine did a whole series of issues on nature in the Galapagos.  I remember thinking that this place must be just filled with interesting and unusual animals and that it must be very, very far away because the landscape didn’t look like anything this nine-year-old girl had ever seen before. 

Fast forward almost 20 years and there I was, aboard Picton Castle, sailing into the harbour at Baquerizo Moreno, also known as Wreck Bay, at the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos.  My immediate first thought was that there were more buildings and streets than I expected.  Of course people live there, but I was surprised to see a thriving small town and a number of vessels at anchor in the bay.  The landscape had always been described to me as barren, and it certainly was dry but it wasn’t empty.

Galapagos

Even in town, nature is everywhere.  Sea lions swim in the bay, sun themselves on the beach in town, or on the concrete jetty, we brought Picton Castle’s skiff to, or even on some of the unoccupied boats at anchor.  Blue-footed boobies and frigate birds fly overhead.  Tropical plants of all sizes and descriptions grow neatly in gardens or not so neatly in vacant lots and outside of town. 

Adult sea lions are louder and smellier than I expected.  Young sea lions are as playful as I imagined.  One evening, getting into the skiff from the jetty to return to the ship with a number of my shipmates, a young sea lion put its flippers up on the gunwales and was starting to push itself up and into our boat in the same spot where I was about to sit down.  The chief mate came to my rescue, by instinct he reached his hand out and gently pushed the young pup back into the water.  Likewise, on night watch, instructions, as usual, included bailing the skiff, but with the added precaution of checking it with a flashlight first for sea lions. 

Seeing marine iguanas and other reptiles was interesting, but for me the big highlight was seeing Galapagos tortoises.  It’s incredible to think about their age, they routinely live to be 100 years old in the wild, even longer in captivity.  In order to ensure they can reach a ripe old age, there’s a tortoise sanctuary on San Cristobal where baby tortoises hatch and are kept in a wild-like environment but with protection from potential predators.  Being in the presence of creatures that are so rare definitely felt magical to me. 

On my second visit to the Galapagos Islands in Picton Castle, I was sailing as the purser so I saw less of the natural world and more of the town and the people.  People were friendly, and they tried to help as best they could with anything we wanted to find.  We were able to provision the ship there with fresh fruits and vegetables, including some really delicious bananas and oranges.  We also picked up some bamboo, which we later used as clubs for stuns’ls or booms for small boat sails. 

Picton Castle will be sailing to the Galapagos Islands again on this upcoming Voyage to the South Pacific.  As usual, we’ll be sailing to Wreck Bay at the island of San Cristobal.  We’re now accepting trainee crew applications for the full year-long voyage or for a three-month leg of the voyage (Galapagos is on Leg 2). 

Approaching Galapagos WV7
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Will I Get Seasick?

Maggie here, from Picton Castle’s shore crew.  I wasn’t always shore crew, I first joined Picton Castle as a trainee back in 2005.  One of the things I was concerned about was seasickness.  As it turns out, my concerns were valid because I did indeed suffer from seasickness. 

There’s no way to know who will be seasick and who won’t.  There’s a pretty good chance that at some point you’ll feel at least a bit queasy.  Even the most experienced mariners have admitted privately that they’ve felt the mal de mer in certain conditions. 

The good news is that except in very rare cases, seasickness doesn’t last forever.  Although you’ll feel awful, it’s comforting to know that you’ll eventually get past it.  The other good news is that there are many remedies for seasickness.  As part of our crew packing list, we suggest bringing what you think will work for you just in case you’re seasick.  You might never need it, but it’s better to have it just in case. 

So what does it look like/feel like to be seasick?  Some people just feel tired.  Some feel nauseated.  Some people throw up, some don’t.  At the time, admittedly, it feels pretty miserable. 

In my case, I started to feel poorly a few hours out from our first port and continued to be seasick for the next four days.  I still stood my watches and participated as best I could, while taking the occasional break to go throw up over the lee rail.  Upon setting sail from our second port, I was seasick for three days.  Then the port after that for two days, then by our fourth port, I was sick only for a day.  Finally, by the fifth port, I felt fine when we set sail.  I do still get seasick every time I go back to sea after a break on land, but at least I know that I’ve always recovered in the past and will again. 

So how do we handle seasickness on board?  We start by asking you to bring whatever you think it is that will prevent seasickness for you.  If you’ve ever had motion sickness before and found something that works to help prevent or treat it, bring that.  If you haven’t had motion sickness before, you could try any number of potential remedies.  Different people have found different things effective, everything from scopolamine patches worn behind the ear to Gravol or Bonamine, wristbands that stimulate pressure points, ginger candies, lozenges or cookies, wristbands with magnets, and on. 

There are some other things that may be helpful too.  Fresh air, and getting on deck where you can see the horizon is helpful for most people.  Smells, particularly strong ones, can aggravate sea sickness, so fresh air on deck helps with that too.  Many people feel more ill when they’re reading, either a book or on a screen, so perhaps avoid that.  Avoid eating or drinking anything on board that ordinarily might upset your stomach on land too. 

We continually monitor the health of our crew, so when people are seasick we’re looking out for dehydration or other possible complications.  If all other options have been exhausted, we have medications in our ship’s medical kit that can be administered other than orally that will help deal with nausea so you can slowly resume eating and drinking. 

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Looking for some other ways to prevent or treat seasickness?  Check out this list of 50 methods on the professional mariner blog gCaptain. https://gcaptain.com/seasickness-ways-tackle/

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Sailing in the Tropics

Picton Castle and her shore crew are in the grip of winter here in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  On this Blue Monday, which is considered the saddest day of the year, we’re going to bring some sunshine into your life (and our lives) by writing about sailing in the tropics. 

First, let’s clear up what we mean by that phrase.  The tropics are geographically defined at 23 degrees north by the Tropic of Cancer and at 23 degrees south by the Tropic of Capricorn.  The band around the globe between these two lines are the tropics, and it’s generally sunnier and hotter here than anywhere else in the world. 

For sailors, the tropics are known for mostly good, pleasant sailing because of the trade winds.  They’re consistent easterly winds that in the northern hemisphere come from the east or northeast and in the southern hemisphere come from the east or southeast.  Sailing ship routes were established not because someone long ago decided that’s how they should be, but because of the consistent wind patterns.  We design our voyages to make best use of the winds, which is why we’ll be sailing from east to west in the tropics on our upcoming voyage and sailing from west to east much further south in the southern hemisphere.  It’s better, especially for a square-rigged ship to go with the wind than into it.

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Trade winds also push weather systems along, which is useful to know when looking at weather conditions and weather forecasts.  We keep a close eye on weather and forecasts while sailing to see what might be headed in our direction, carried by the trade winds, and how we can avoid it if it’s something we don’t want to experience ourselves. 

In terms of day to day real life on Picton Castle’s deck, sailing in the tropics using the trade winds to propel us forward is pretty pleasant business.  If the wind force is consistent, we can keep the same sails set and just adjust braces (which control the angle of the square sails) in slight shifts in wind direction.  Usually, we make these small sail adjustments in the mornings at first light and again before sunset, so the 4-8 watch takes up on any lines that have become slack overnight, or in cases where no adjustment is really required, they brace by just an inch or so in order to not have the lines of rigging feel friction at the same spot for days on end. 

It’s not to say that sailing in the tropics is always pleasant.  There are squalls, wind shifts, rain, even gales.  We dodge what we can, but we will experience some.  At those times, we’re required to be more quick and attentive to sail handling and to anticipating conditions in general. 

But for the most part, sailing in the tropics is pretty fantastic.  Weather is warm, we can wear shorts and t-shirts, sandals or bare feet on deck.  Maybe a long sleeve shirt on night watches.  When winds are consistent we can be under sail alone, so the sounds we hear are the rush and gurgle of water against the hull, the wind moving the rigging, and the voices of shipmates. 

Do you want to experience sailing in the tropics for yourself?  Trainee applications are now open for the Voyage to the South Pacific in 2020-2021. 

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Snow Day for the Picton Castle

While keenly looking forward to sailing in the balmy South Pacific…we take a moment to enjoy the winter here in Lunenburg.

Here in Lunenburg, we are preparing for our upcoming voyage to the South Pacific. Quite a bit of excitement. Crew and trainees are signing up. Making lists. Working on plans. Talking to our Panama agents. Contact with Pitcairn Islanders about bringing supplies to their ever so remote and delightful outpost island. Thinking about when to re-cross the yards on the foremast. Worklist for our winter ship-keepers. Planning your standard drydocking jobs and oh-so-many tasks associated with getting a ship like the Barque Picton Castle ready to return to sea and ready for a long tropical voyage. Thoughts of tee-shirts and pareaus in soft trade winds at the big teak wheel sailing across warm blue seas in our near future…just seems so far away…

But here in Nova Scotia (halfway between the equator and the North Pole), it was January 8th in this New Year and it snowed aplenty. There would be 20 cm by noon. That’s about 8 inches. With more to fall throughout the day. We were well warned of this large snowstorm by the increasingly excellent weather forecasting – the entire town was snug and put away for the weather – so Maggie called a “snow day”. All hands would work from home. Schools and many businesses closed too. The roads in town were fair quiet – apart from the occasional snow-plow rattling down the muffled lanes. Soft, fluffy stuff drifted gently down from the sky before dawn. Snow just damp enough to be perfect for snowballs and making a snowman, but not so damp to get you soaked. Light winds, trees were allowed to accumulate and balance quite a bit of this delicate stuff on their branches and even skinny twigs.

Despite the declaration of a snow day, and the delightful fire chuckling away in the woodstove at our warm cozy home, it seemed necessary to head out and wander abroad to inspect closely and at first hand this first snowfall of the new year, check on the ship and the waterfront too. Enlisting my 7-year-old son, Dawson, we suited up and set out along the snow-covered streets of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. He did much not want to go out on a forced march and told me so. I pulled rank. Later, of course, he did not want to come back inside – too much fun to be had out of doors. I did not pull rank. We walked through the quiet drifting whiteness up to the grocery store in town not far away known as Foodland. Here we provision the Picton Castle as have ships sailing from Lunenburg for generations. We needed eggs and bagels.

Lunenburg’s Dory Shop

Next, we ambled along pushing snow out of our way down towards the shore and the venerable Dory Shop perched atop pilings over the water, the boat-yard building dories and wooden workboats for the fleet since 1917. A few new dories in the yard were well covered with a blanket of cold white sparkly down, as well as a schooner, a friendship sloop, a Tahiti Ketch (as if we needed a hint) and a large stack of boat building lumber. Across the old Railway Warf with snow-covered lobster boats alongside tugging gently at their lines was our Picton Castle, well moored against winter storms with many hawsers secure to the pilings and her best 1,500-pound bower anchor firmly in the tough bottom mud with 250 feet of heavy chain well out in the harbour to hold her against South-Easterly swells of a storm. This takes a big strain off the wharf in a swell and blow and used to be standard winter practice for the laid-up schooners, bow out, anchors out, chains swollen with ice. No swells today. Slate gray was the surface of the harbour – and as smooth as a piece of slate too in the calm waters as well. Only small ripples that would not even rock a swimming gull was all there was to be seen. With our eggs and bagels in our Pitcairn Island work-basket, and coats and hats covered in snow, home we trudged, Dawson being sure to make a flying leap into each and every large soft snow-bank he saw. He saw a lot of them. The surface of our wharf, for a few fleeting ephemeral moments, was home to snow angels made by himself.

Picton Castle at her wharf in Lunenburg

Warm, snowy, regards from Da Burg, Dan & Dawson Moreland

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Engineer Wanted!

Picton Castle Engineer Wanted For Voyage to the South Pacific

The sail training ship Picton Castle is bound for the South Pacific in May 2020 and is in need of an engineer to join the professional crew for the voyage. 

The voyage both starts and ends in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The itinerary includes ports like Grenada, Bonaire, San Blas Islands, Panama Canal, Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn Island, the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, the Tuamotus of French Polynesia, the Society Islands of French Polynesia, the Austral Islands of French Polynesia, Easter Island, the Pearl Islands, the Panama Canal a second time, Cartagena, the Yucatan, the US coast in the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas and Bermuda. 

While the voyage is about a year long, the engineer position will start in April 2020 and run until June 2021.  It is our preference to have the same engineer for the full voyage, however we would consider dividing the voyage into smaller sections for the right candidates. 

The engineer is responsible for operating and maintaining all of the equipment in the engine room and all of the ship’s systems.  Picton Castle’s main engine is a 690hp Burmeister & Wain Alpha diesel engine, which turns a variable pitch propeller.  There are two Lister generators and a Sabb generator which are run for about six hours every day and charge a bank of batteries.  There’s a reverse osmosis watermaker, bilge and fire pumps, freezers for food, DC and AC electrical components, plus plumbing and electrical systems. 

Picton Castle has a fantastic consulting engineer ashore who will help steer the ship’s engineer in the right direction, but we will be making long ocean passages to remote ports on this voyage which means that the engineer will have to be resourceful, with good troubleshooting skills and the ability to anticipate and prevent problems in the first place. 

Like all professional crew aboard Picton Castle, the engineer must have STCW Basic Safety Training.  In addition, we’re looking for someone with significant experience running and maintaining diesel engines, and knowledge of electrical and plumbing systems. 

To apply, please send your resume/CV and cover letter by email to info@picton-castle.com.  Candidates of all nationalities are welcome to apply. 

Does this voyage sound interesting to you but you don’t have the engineering skills and experience to apply?  As a sail training ship, Picton Castle’s mission is to literally teach adult trainees the ropes.  Consider signing aboard as a trainee crew member.  Details are available here: https://www.picton-castle.com/voyages/the-voyages/voyage-to-the-south-pacific-2020-2021.html

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Christmas Afloat and Ashore

If it has seemed a bit quiet around here in late December it’s for good reason, we took a bit of a break over the holidays.  It’s a rare treat for our shore crew to be able to do that – when Picton Castle is on a voyage we’re all on standby, communicating from shore to ship daily and ready to respond to whatever needs the ship has at any time.  At the moment, Picton Castle is securely tied to the wharf in Lunenburg and while we’re keeping an eye on her, there is no immediate, pressing work that needs to be done, so we’ve been able to enjoy a few days away from the office. 

Ship’s cat Fiji has had a bit of a break from the ship too.  She visited office manager Trudi’s house for a while (where Trudi lives with her husband, three children, and cat Aura).  Then she spent some time at the Picton Castle office, attending the annual Christmas open house and mixing it up with our local friends who dropped by.  Between Christmas and New Year’s she moved to my house where she’ll stay for a while in the coldest part of winter.  I am quickly learning that I simply can’t provide the same amount of love and attention as an entire crew can, but I’ll do my best to keep this cute, well-traveled feline happy. 

The holiday season always makes us think of others gone by.  Celebrating Christmas at sea is a different experience.  Each of our crew members have their own family traditions, and while there are some common elements, Christmas at sea in Picton Castle is all about making our own special day with our shipmates aboard.  It usually involves preparing days in advance by baking cookies and pies on night watches in the galley, then putting up some sort of decorations around the deck or in the various living compartments, the setting up the little artificial tree on the cargo hatch amidships.  On Christmas Day, crew members can put gifts they’ve purchased or made for each other under the tree.  After a bit of social time in the afternoon the presents are distributed and opened, followed by a delicious dinner.  And of course, no ship’s work aside from steering, lookout and sail handling as required. 

The holiday season also makes us think of those who have sailed with us.  Once you’re Picton Castle crew, you’re always Picton Castle crew!  We are wishing all of our crew a very happy holiday season, and a year of adventures ahead in 2020. 

Picton Castle’s Tree with sails in the background

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Bosun School Graduation

On Friday, December 13th Bosun School 2019 came to an end, and we held an end-of-year celebration at the Dory Shop here in Lunenburg. There was absolutely delicious food prepared by our Bosun School Cook Chantale, followed by a few speeches (by Luneburg’s Mayor Bailey, Class Valedictorian Gwen, Captain Lorenzen, and Captain Moreland) and then the presentation of certificates. It was a really wonderful night, and we here in the Picton Castle office can’t wait to hear about all of the wonderful things our students go on to do!

Congratulations to all the students, and a huge thanks to the three instructors: Captain Moreland, Captain Lorenzen and Gabe St-Denis, and as well to Mayor Rachel Bailey for taking time out of her very busy schedule to come and celebrate with us.

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Sail Training International Conference

The past week has been a whirlwind of connecting, meeting, learning and networking at the Sail Training International conference in Antwerp, Belgium.  Picton Castle was represented by Captain Daniel Moreland, Tammy Moreland, Bronwen Livingston and myself (Maggie Ostler). 

Based in England, Sail Training International (STI) is the worldwide body that promotes sail training, supports ships, encourages industry best practices, supports ports that host tall ships, and operates the Tall Ships Races and occasionally Tall Ships Regattas.  We don’t make it to the annual conference every year, but we do try to get there every so often.  Being in the presence of ship operators from all over the world helps with cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives.  We can gain perspective there on things we’re doing well and also on things we can take lessons from others to improve on. 

We arrived a day before the start of the conference to get acclimated from the transatlantic flight and rested up before the meetings and sessions began.  The first full day for us was Thursday when we attended a meeting of the Ships Council, a body made up of ship operators from all over the world including those in Europe, North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.  The Ships Council, made up of the Tall Ships Forum (which Picton Castle is a member of) and the Small Ships Forum, is for sharing knowledge and experience of best practices and addressing international regulatory issues.  At this particular meeting we talked about upcoming races and regattas, the Blue Flag scheme which recognizes environmentally responsible operations, European Union regulations for traditional sailing vessels, and safety aloft.  Captain Moreland led a panel discussing safety aloft along with Helle Barner Jespersen, long term Chief Mate of the full rigger training ship Georg Stage in Denmark (training mariners since 1882), Steve Moss of the Young Endeavour in Australia, and Marcus Seidl, Captain of the Bark Statsraad Lehmkuhl (from 1914) in Norway. 

Both Friday and Saturday were filled with sessions in the mornings and afternoons.  At each time slot there were a number of options offered, allowing each person to choose the session of greatest interest and applicability to their work.  One of the good things about attending with a number of us is that we could split up to attend many sessions at the same time (and share notes later).  Between the four of us we covered topics from social media marketing to security, mariner licensing to corporate sponsorship, scholarships to the environment.  Even more of us would be better yet.

After leading the well-attended session on safety aloft at the Ships Council, Captain Moreland made a presentation about Bosun School in one of the sessions.  Bosun School was designed to assist young professional mariners gain hands-on skills they need for successful future employment.  It also was designed to benefit our industry, as ships need well-trained mariners with solid technical seamanship skills.  We currently have a 100% placement rate for Bosun School graduates – everyone who has wanted to go on to find a berth on a ship or in a shore-based role in the marine industry has done so.  Captain Moreland’s presentation introduced the Bosun School to an international audience of industry peers, which we hope will attract more students in the future and open doors for our graduates.  It was very well received.

For me personally, I had the pleasure of representing Canada at this international conference.  I am on the board of directors of Tall Ships Canada and was recently appointed by the board as Canada’s representative to Sail Training International.  I attended the International Council meeting where every country that is a member of STI sends one representative, along with the trustees and directors of STI.  The meeting was mostly about sharing information, with updates from the Ships Council, the Youth Council, and the Port Advisory Group.  I also got to talk with representatives of other national sail training organizations to find out how they operate. 

Antwerp was a lovely setting for the conference.  The majority of the sessions were hosted in the Flanders Meeting and Convention Centre, also known as Elisabeth Hall, which is right next to the Antwerp Zoo and the Antwerp Central Station.  Elisabeth Hall is impressive from both the outside and the inside.  Parts are new, bright and well lit, parts are quite old and full of ornate décor and marble columns.  The gala dinner and dancing held on Saturday night was at a venue called Horta which is a very interesting art nouveau building.  The food at both venues was very good, especially the desserts that featured Belgian chocolate mousse. 

When we weren’t in conference sessions we got out to see the city and walked for miles.  The Antwerp Christmas market started on the last day of the conference so we got to enjoy the festive atmosphere and hundreds of small wooden booths each with a different vendor.  Most were selling food or drinks, everything from hot dogs to waffles, beer to gluhwein (warm mulled red wine – pronounced ‘glue-wine’), some were selling hats or mittens or jewellery or toys.  Most of the market was centred around the massive and impressive Cathedral of Our Lady, the largest gothic building in all the Low Countries, and for centuries the tallest.  Construction started in 1352 and was completed in 1521.  The outside is imposing and ornate, and the interior is like an art gallery with hundreds of carvings and paintings, including four by famous Flemish baroque painter Rubens.  To get there from where we were staying, we walked up and down the Meir, Antwerp’s pedestrian shopping district.  While I don’t think any of us are bringing home any of the diamonds that Antwerp is famous for, our suitcases on the return trip were a bit more full with Belgian chocolates and other little treasures. 

We want to say thank you to Sail Training International and the conference planning team for putting on an excellent event and welcoming us so warmly.  Although it’s a long way to travel from Lunenburg to Antwerp, it was definitely worth the trip.

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