Tuesday, September 12th, 2006
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.