Captain's Log

Archive for August, 2006

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Port Huron

Leaving Port Huron on Monday morning meant the completion of the main part of the Picton Castle‘s summer voyage. We have been part of a fleet of tall ships for the past six weeks, and we all went our different ways as we parted company in Port Huron. We have successfully completed our Tall Ship festival circuit, with over 60,000 visitors touring the decks. The ship is sure to seem quieter as we make our journey home to Lunenburg.

One of the highlights for the crew this summer has been getting to know the crew of the other ships. The camaraderie is instant, because we have so much in common. When our new friends talk about being on helm in the middle of a thunderstorm we understand because we’ve been there, too. Several of the ports this summer have put on events for crew, and these have been great opportunities for everyone to meet each other. Toward the end of the summer it was impossible to walk home to the Picton Castle inside the festival grounds without saying hello and stopping to chat at different ships on the way.

The festival in Port Huron had fewer ships participating than at other festivals this summer, but it was still a huge success. The Picton Castle was alongside the Seaway Terminal in the St. Clair River with the US Brig Niagara, Pride of Baltimore II, and Highlander Sea, which is based here in Port Huron. A trolley ride away, the Unicorn and Royaliste were alongside in the Black River. The event was organized by Acheson Ventures, an organization under the direction of Dr. Jim Acheson that has done huge amounts of work developing the town’s waterfront and generally doing very good works for the town. Instead of buying a ticket, admission to the festival was either a non-perishable food item or a cash donation to the local food bank.

As in all our port stops this summer we have been selling Picton Castle merchandise. Chibbley, the ship’s cat, made a guest appearance in the merchandise tent on Saturday afternoon. She hopped up on the table and curled up right next to the greeting cards and gift cards that bear her image. She always attracts quite a crowd, as she is a celebrity in her own right. I promise you that these photos below were not staged or digitally altered—Chibbley struck all the poses on her own. She must have used her television appearance on the evening news in Chicago as a warm-up for this—the camera crew there chased her around Navy Pier with cameras rolling for more than 20 minutes.

At Port Huron we also hosted a reunion of the crew of the Brigantine Romance. The Romance sailed from 1966 until 1989 under Captain Arthur M. Kimberly and his wife Gloria on voyages all around the world, including two circumnavigations, teaching many young mariners seafaring and the ways of a ship. Capt. Kimberly had gone to sea in schooners in 1939, sailed as an ordinary seaman in a Swedish four-masted barque, and later as mate in three-masted schooners. He sailed in tankers in WWII, worked at Ted Hood’s original sail loft, sailed as skipper of the Brigantine Yankee and worked as Chief Rigger at Mystic Seaport Museum before getting the Romance and sailing her for 23 years. In Port Huron the former Romance crew convened aboard the Picton Castle for a good get-together. Captain Moreland had been the Mate in the Romance in the mid 1970s before sailing in the full-rigged ship Danmark. He says that it was his most formative sea experience by far, and the Picton Castle is a direct result.

The current in the St. Clair River is quite strong, up to 5 knots in places. The Picton Castle was flying along on the way into Port Huron as we passed under the Blue Water Bridge that connects Canada and the USA. I noticed we were going faster than usual and when I checked our speed I was amazed to find that it was 11.5 knots! We made it up to 11.7 knots just before we turned around a bend in the river. The Picton Castle hasn’t moved that quickly since we rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the Agulhas current last February.

And so we continue on out of the Great Lakes, moving with the current towards Nova Scotia. There is still a lot for us to do. We stopped briefly in Erie, Pennsylvania, and today we’ll go through the Welland Canal. This weekend we will be at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, where a new group of trainees will join us on Sunday. The first weekend of September will bring us to Kingston, Ontario, for another of our famous South Sea Cargo Sales where we will offer exotic goods collected on our world voyage. Following that, we’ll be off for Gaspé (Québec) and then to Summerside (Prince Edward Island) before returning home to Lunenburg. The summer voyage of the Picton Castle is far from over, but it’s nice to be heading downbound in the Great Lakes with the current behind us.

Brigantine Romance
Chibbley among the merchandise, Port Huron
Chibbley makes herself at home, Port Huron

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On the way to Toronto

The Picton Castle left the Seaway Terminal in Port Huron on Monday morning, turning around and moving with the current in the St. Clair River. Being so close to shore is still a novelty the deep ocean sailors on board, and we can all entertain ourselves by watching the scenery. It’s been quite varied as we passed huge homes with beautiful gardens, small cottages, industrial plants and refineries, and GM office towers in downtown Detroit.

We finally had some favourable sailing weather on Tuesday and set all sail as we traveled east in Lake Erie. The entire ship breathed a sigh of relief as we turned off the main engine, heeled slightly on a port tack and proceeded under sail. We have a full ship at the moment between Port Huron and Toronto, so it’s great that we actually got some sailing in on this short passage.

The Picton Castle arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday afternoon. Erie is the home port of the US Brig Niagara, one of the ships in the fleet participating in the festivals with us this summer. The Niagara had another stop to make before returning home so she was not in port at the time we were. Still it’s nice to have people come down to the dock to check out the Picton Castle who have a bit of an understanding about square-rigged ships. And many did. It seems there are a lot of supporters of the Niagara in Erie.

The crew have been up to their regular “in port” activities—doing laundry, checking e-mail at the library, eating out in restaurants, examining other boats in the harbour, finding the local pub, indulging in ice cream, and so on. Most made it up to the Erie Maritime Museum, home of the Niagara, and returned with rave reviews. There’s a picture of our own Captain Dan Moreland in the museum next to the giant window that overlooks the Niagara‘s berth, taken when the Captain served as Mate on the Niagara.

Our stop in Erie was the first real maintenance day we’ve had in port in a while, and there was a flurry of activity on board. The decks were desperately in need of oiling after millions of footsteps falling on them this summer. We received a shipment of rope that required a complete reorganization of the salon sole in order to fit all the new stuff in. The majority of the rigging received a fresh coat of tar, several lines of running rigging were replaced, long-lost items in the hold were found, the exhaust manifold in the engine room was cleaned, and a super duper domestic cleaning was done.

The ship also had to be prepared to transit the Welland Canal. Just as we did a month and a half ago when we went through the canal in the other direction, we have to move everything that hangs outboard of the hull inboard. We moved the skiff onto the cargo hatch amidships, and turned inboard the davits where the skiff previously hung, along with all their rigging. The boomkins, which hold the blocks for the main braces all the way aft, had to be removed and the brace blocks moved inboard on strops attached to the taffrail. All the yards were braced up sharp on a starboard tack, the lower tops’l sheets were removed and the fore and main yards cock-billed with their starboard sides pointing down to the deck.

This afternoon we motored across Lake Erie towards Port Colborne and the beginning of the Welland Canal, which bypasses that pesky Niagara Falls. We plan to transit the canal Friday during the day, ending up 300 feet closer to sea level than when we started. The crew are resting up between watches tonight for the big day tomorrow. The canal will be an excellent exercise in ship handling for all hands, requiring careful maneuvers and quick response. It is said that going down is easier than going up. We will see.

Detroit skyline.
Detroit towers on the way to Toronto.
Great Lakes traffic on way to Toronto.
Passed by a tanker on the way to Toronto

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Doctor Postion Available

Serving as the ship’s doctor on board the Picton Castle is an interesting way to combine being in a ship and medicine says Grady Barnwell, currently the ship’s doctor. In addition to being on call for the medical needs of the crew, Grady knows all his lines and knows how to set and take in all the sails. The ship is well stocked with medical supplies. Fortunately, because of our attention to safety, we do not have to use them all that often. Providing medical care for the crew can be an adventure, with the work as varied as the personalities on board.

Grady has been the doctor on the Picton Castle several times before. He and his fiancée Judy have been on board since we left Lunenburg this summer and are heading home shortly to prepare for their wedding. The Picton Castle will sail from Toronto to Kingston, Ontario, and continue down the St. Lawrence Seaway, passing through all the locks that take ships down to sea level. We will call at Gaspé, Québec, and Summerside, PEI, before heading home to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

We seek applications from interested doctors for this three- or four-week passage beginning in Toronto on August 27 or Kingston on September 3 and ending in Lunenburg, NS, on September 23. Join the Picton Castle at no cost for a fascinating passage through this great fjord of North America and into the Atlantic Ocean. Come, join our crew and stand by just in case.

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Beaver Island

Sailing in fresh water at 600 feet above sea level is not normal for the Picton Castle. Dropping in, unannounced, on small out-of-the-way islands is. After a summer full of strictly scheduled port calls in big cities we were glad to return, if only for a short while, to standard Picton Castle operating procedure where we find a cool little island with a decent anchorage—sail in, drop the hook, go ashore to meet local people, explore and have a good time. Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan was just the right place for us to get back to normal. In fact, Beaver Island was awesome. The Picton Castle approached under full sail making good time. As this harbour was new to the Captain, we took in sail just outside the small bay entrance. As soon as we were inside, locals were coming out in their boats inviting us ashore. Just like the South Pacific!

We arrived in St. James Harbor on Monday evening and, after a conversation with the helpful harbourmaster, let go the anchor. Even anchoring is a bit of a novelty these days as we have been alongside in every festival port so we can do deck tours. When we got ashore we found a beautiful small town filled with very friendly and engaging people. Many of the year-round residents of Beaver Island are of Irish heritage (and Native American), apparently they all arrived independently and then realized once they had settled on the island that they were all from the same county in Ireland. The island also has an interesting Mormon aspect to its history—a breakaway group with their own King lived on the island for a while. People from Beaver Island are all very proud of their island, commenting frequently on how it feels like a community and that people on the island care for each other.

The crew found lots of things to do on Beaver Island, and it was quicker to see and do them all by renting a bicycle. Most of the bikes were bright colours, and many featured big wire baskets on the front. All that they were missing were bells, but we took care of that by shouting hellos and waving madly as our shipmates zipped by. The toy store and museum was not to be missed. It was a small house whose main floor was filled with every kind of old-fashioned novelty you could think of—lots of stickers, beads, foam airplane kits, whistles, harmonicas, toy cars, plastic animals, marbles and other fun stuff. Just down the road was Skip, the guy who catches and smokes fish and carves totem poles. David, our cook, bought several pounds of smoked whitefish for us to eat on board this week. Ice cream is always a popular treat ashore for the crew, and it was particularly good on Beaver Island with a kiddie-size sundae being bigger than an average adult needs.

We also checked out the huge hardware store, a museum with a trade-in bookshelf outside, and the playground at the beach. Kornel was smart enough to bring his bathing suit. Many of the rest of us looked at him with envy as he went for a swim in the cool, shallow water. In the evenings the crew gathered at the Shamrock Restaurant & Bar, which one night featured a live band playing popular country cover tunes. The two bars in town are owned by the same folks. Picnics and hanging around with local fishermen and then dancing to Patsy Cline in the night time adds up to a whole lot of fun!

The folks of Beaver Island are very hospitable and friendly, and we thank them for making our short stay relaxing and memorable. Should the Picton Castle ever find her way into Lake Michigan I am sure that another stop at Beaver Island will be in the plan.

Lake Michigan seen from Beaver Island
Lynsey on bicycle on Beaver Island
Picnic at Beaver Island on way to Port Huron
Picnicking in view of the ship, Beaver Island
Picton Castle at Anchor, Beaver Island, on the way to Port Huron

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Under Sail to Port Huron

After delaying our departure from Chicago by a day due to weather, the Picton Castle finally left Navy Pier and headed out into Lake Michigan on Friday morning. There were some nasty thunderstorms predicted on Thursday and the wind was blowing fairly strongly from the northeast—exactly the direction we were planning to go. In addition the sea state was quite lumpy, and we decided that it was best for all concerned to wait until things laid down. It’s strange how conditions in the Great Lakes can change so quickly—by yesterday afternoon we were still heading into the wind but the waves were several feet smaller, and today we have next to no wind at all.

With all sails set the ship is averaging about 1 knot an hour this afternoon. Normally this would drive the crew crazy, but it’s actually kind of relaxing right now. This is probably the first time in our busy summer schedule where we don’t have to rush to be in the next port on time. Of course we do have a date on which we must arrive, but there’s enough time between Chicago and Port Huron that we can sail leisurely instead of firing up the main engine to make our deadline.

The atmosphere on board this afternoon is a quiet one. The watch is diligently working away on tarring the rig, varnishing the fly rail around the bridge and painting in the breezeways. Most of the crew who are off watch have their noses buried in books, finding comfortable spots on the hatch and the well deck to enjoy the warmth of the sun.

We were sad to say goodbye to Andrea Deyling, Greg Bailey, and Billy Campbell in Chicago, they will certainly be missed. On a happy note, Amanda Graham has come back to re-join the crew.

After a week of excitement in Chicago, we are glad to be at sea once again. And this sea is made of fresh water!

Alyssa on helm on the way to Port Huron.
Amanda varnishes on the way to Port Huron.
Olivia relaxes amidships.
Stacy reads on the hatch.
under full sail on the way to Port Huron

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Dawn had just broken as I returned home to the Picton Castle after an early morning errand, and somehow the walk down Navy Pier seemed almost tranquil. As I walked past the man with the power washer hosing down the sidewalks, getting ready for another busy day here, I realized why things seemed more calm: I didn’t have to fight my way through a crowd, the music that always plays in the background here was silent, the stages with hourly live performances were empty, the big signs with the flashing lights were off, and even the Ferris wheel had come to a stop. As nice as it was to have a moment’s peace in the big city of Chicago, I have to admit I missed all the excitement that happens every day on Navy Pier here in Chicago.

The Picton Castle arrived in Chicago on the morning of Thursday August 3, participating in the customary Parade of Sail on the way into the port. We had a good Great Lakes thunderstorm early on Thursday morning before heading in, but the ship and her crew had no problems making it through. The morning continued overcast, cloudy, and threatening more rain, but the parade continued anyway. The ships participating in Tall Ships Chicago are more spread out here than we have been at other festivals. We share the South wall of Navy Pier with four-masted schooner Windy as well as the US Coast Guard cutter Mobile Bay. On the Southwest wall of Navy Pier are Nina, Unicorn and Pride of Baltimore II. The rest of the ships had to pass through a lock and head up into the Chicago River, turn around, and go starboard side to along the south bank of the river.

Navy Pier is quite an interesting place that feels like an old seaside amusement park from the 1920s. We were able to spot it from several miles out on Lake Michigan, largely due to the huge white Ferris wheel that kneels in the foreground of Chicago’s impressive skyline. Navy Pier draws thousands of people to Chicago’s waterfront every day with its carnival rides, shops, restaurants, conference and convention facilities, harbour cruise boats, outdoor theatre, and magnificent view of the city. Apparently Navy Pier is the biggest destination in the Great Lakes.

Chicago is the biggest city the Picton Castle will visit this summer, and there’s no shortage of things to see and do here. Lynn and Marilyn, our ship liaisons, are great ambassadors for their city and have all sorts of suggestions on places to go. Lynn calls herself “The Queen of Free,” offering a daily list of suggestions for free local activities. Chicagoans have been universally warm, friendly, gracious, and even funny! Even all the traffic directors have been very personable and friendly. The event organizers have also secured complimentary tickets to a number of city attractions and shows which the crew have taken advantage of during their days off, including the Sears tower, Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Navy Pier Ferris wheel, Second City and Cirque Shanghai. Chicago is full of interesting buildings, many of which are very tall, and downtown has to work around the winding of the Chicago River. The crew have been busy exploring it all!

Also at Chicago trainees who joined us in Green Bay departed, and new trainees have joined us for the sail to Port Huron, where we arrive on August 17. So goodbye old trainees; hello new ones!

Alongside at Navy Pier
Chicago skyline
Sailing into Chicago
The big Ferris wheel at Navy Pier

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Green Bay

Green Bay is more proud of their football team than any other city could be proud of their local sports team. So proud, in fact, that the Captains’ Breakfast (a big event where the captains of all the tall ships in the festival meet) was held at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. I don’t know how many tall ship captains are also football fans, but it seemed to work. And a city that loves its NFL entry also loves their tall ships.

Picton Castle arrived in Green Bay on Thursday, July 27, to participate in a Parade of Sail, beginning in the bay and heading up the Fox River to where the ships were berthed. We sailed past areas that looked mostly industrial, and came alongside our berth in Leicht Park just past several giant piles of gravel and a large ship unloading area. The park itself was quite nice and apparently quite new. Green Bay has done a lot in recent years to try and bring some life back to their waterfront, including building three parks on both sides of the river where all the tall ships were berthed. Bringing the tall ships to Green Bay has helped the city attract people to its waterfront.

We had to do some carpentry work in Green Bay to get people on board. The dock was nearly level with the top of the t’gallant rail and our regular gangway would not have worked. We added a wooden step from the dock down onto the ship and that seemed to solve the problem. Through the course of the festival we found that the level of the river rises and falls about a foot, but our design continued to work. We welcomed thousands of people aboard for deck tours during regular opening hours, as well as during two evening receptions. Many of our young guests, as you can see in the photos, were sporting balloon fashions as there were an army of clowns around the festival working their balloon creation magic. People in Green Bay were very friendly and welcoming, especially as this is their first time hosting the ASTA Tall Ships Challenge.

Jay Szymanski, a trainee on the Picton Castle, sailed with us from Bay City into his home port of Green Bay, and we couldn’t ask for a guy with better local knowledge. Jay was the best guide to Green Bay we could have asked for, taking people to the airport and bus station, booking Judy a hair appointment with a hair stylist friend, taking David to the farmer’s market very early Saturday morning, welcoming off-duty crew to his house, and running random errands on our behalf. We were also welcomed in Green Bay by a familiar face from Cleveland—Roberta Kacenjar, ship’s liaison extraordinaire. She did such a fantastic job in Cleveland that they invited her to Green Bay to help coordinate the volunteer ship liaisons there. We had several liaisons for the Picton Castle—apparently more than 70 people from the Green Bay area volunteered for the job and they couldn’t turn anyone away, so they split the job among many. We were lucky to have a great crew, including Robin, Helen, Vanessa, Paul, Jeff, and a few others.

Weather was a popular topic of conversation in Green Bay, where it was sweltering hot all weekend. Even those of us who have spent the past year in the tropics found it oppressively hot. The temperature rose up over 90 degrees Fahrenheit each day we were there, and it was quite humid. We give a lot of credit to the crowds who came out to see the ships in the heat, in a park with precious little shade. We had another extreme of weather on Sunday morning as a big thunderstorm came through around 0700. The wind was strong enough to push the ship out from the dock a foot or two and blow to pieces many of the tents and awnings ashore. All hands responded quickly and closed hatches, took in our awnings on board, put out additional dock lines, and secured flag halyards. After the worst of it had passed, we waded into the now-mucky field to claim the scattered pieces of our merchandise tent and put it back together (including straightening out some bent poles and applying an ample amount of duct tape). We got the gangway and steps secured again, and offered some extra assistance to vendors in the park whose tents and umbrellas had tumbled away in the storm.

We left Green Bay on Tuesday August 1, heading towards Sturgeon Bay to take the shortcut into Lake Michigan and on to Chicago. Just now we’re sailing along in the lake, about 60 miles from Chicago. This short one-week leg from Green Bay to Chicago has been our most popular so far this summer, and we have a full ship. Our 25 new trainees who joined us in Green Bay are all adjusting well to life on board, whether they are giving deck tours in port or walking around a rolling ship out in the lake. They experienced ship handling in close quarters as we passed through the canal in Sturgeon Bay, helped to set all sail this morning as we finally turned off the main engine, and then took in some sails quickly as a thunderstorm approached just before dinner. This short week will give them a taste of life on the Picton Castle, and because they’re a fun bunch we hope they’ll come back for more!

Alongside at Leicht Park, Green Bay
Crew and guests watch for river traffic, Green Bay
Festival in Green Bay
Judy and Kimberly on the way to Green Bay
Kyle ocnducts deck tour, Green Bay
NIAGARA jibboom close to our spanker boom, Green Bay
Ships alongside at Green Bay
Young visitor in Green Bay

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