Written by Ashley Mulock
Being someone who sailed on the last leg of the PICTON CASTLE’S sixth world voyage and then immediately signed on for the Tall Ship Festivals along the northeast coast of the United States, I have certainly noticed some differences between the two trips. Taking into account what has changed for me – the addition of Purser duties; dayman schedule in ports; ship’s photographer; more experienced deckhand (in comparison to most of the new trainees); and someone to have a few answers instead of just questions – there remains a different feel to the trip. The fundamentals of the ship have not changed, rather the focus of the ship’s journey.
Travelling around the world in any way is an education. It this case, it is a full emersion into the way of life aboard a tall ship that sails as it would have a hundred years ago. Your ego is checked at the gangway as even if you know sailing you don’t know this kind of sailing. Much as you would in the military, you learn not to question the orders but to follow them. It is easy to say that ‘the Captain is King’ until you realize that this individual person is actually responsible for your life while aboard the ship. For your life. Let that sink in for a moment. Is any task too menial to complete if it means the Captain can keep his focus on the sailing and safety of the ship instead of whether or not the heads are clean? I think not. Your individual self must be pushed dormant as the needs of the ship come ﬁrst, above all. You may wonder why the chain of command has you scrubbing dishes instead of up on the yards until you realize that we all must be willing and able to do everything the ship demands of us. We don’t get the glory jobs if our hands aren’t already callused from the ordinary ones. For some this pill is a little hard to swallow while for others it’s not a problem at all. From personal experience, the moment I fully learned, appreciated and surrendered to this lesson I was given more interesting tasks to complete.
Travelling up and down the coast is a little different. The needs of the ship still, and always, comes ﬁrst – that is not the change. Instead it is the continuity of life aboard. I’ve come to learn that during the tall ship festival circuit there are many port and anchor stops to make, often only days apart. The legs of the journey are usually shorter and the crew changes larger. The orientation, ship life and sail handling lessons come fast and furious. By necessity, a huge whack of information is thrown at people incredibly quickly, of which the most important are the safety drills and how to coil a line properly. It’s not at all unusual to see a seasoned crew member take a newbie aside and say ‘ﬁnd someone to shadow, someone you connect with – they will not say no and you will understand and feel more in control of what is happening around you if you do so’. This was certainly the best advice I received during my ﬁrst few days aboard.
During the world voyages the ship is crossing massive bodies of water for weeks at a time. Routines form, stress eases and the feeling of being completely overwhelmed begins to dissipate as life out at sea takes over. This is in fairly sharp contrast during the tall ship festivals because we are never too far from land. For most, it is harder to get into the routine of the ship when there is not a block of time away from the distraction of land. Captain Sikkema certainly seems to be of this thought as well for whenever possible we are not attached to a dock or land of any kind. Cell phones are limited to a small area of the ship and resources must be treated as they would be if replenishment was not attainable. What it comes down to is attached to land we are, in a way, tall ship sellers whereas out to sea we are purely tall ship sailors.
Tall ship festivals themselves are a world unto themselves compared to what I would normally be doing when out to sea. There, one of the highlights of my day may be to go to the royal yard to let loose sail while the sun is peaking over the horizon. During the festivals I count myself lucky if I fall asleep the instant my head hits the pillow instead of in my dinner bowl. Holy wow, are they busy days! We have just ﬁnished the last of our four festival stops for the season – Cape Charles VA, Philly PA/Camden NJ, Greenport NY and Portland ME. I can safely say that the organizers and visitors of these events are utterly amazing. Each festival has, from our perspective, gone seamlessly. Any problems we did have were over before they really began. Transportation for provisioning or ships laundry was always at the ready and the location to hot showers, ice cream, coffee and beer all but drawn out on a map for us.
From my location at the ship’s store we set up on the hatch, I am fortunate to be able to speak to almost everyone who passes me by. What I like the most is that our guests are genuinely interested in answers to their questions. At times, they listen so intently that when I tell them the large uncut timber beams on board are cat scratching posts or that a ﬁd is a sailor’s toothpick, it takes a heartbeat or two for them to realize that I am joking! Over the combined total of 12 festival days I have found there are two overall comments repeatedly stated. One, how amazing and ‘real’ the ship seems. With the Bosun, and perhaps a few crew members, often working on ship’s projects during tours many people get to see ﬁrst hand how, for example, a serving is done. Not a single other ship I have visited has had such activity going on during deck tours. Two, most folks are often in awe that we are brave enough to spend our time living this adventure. Personally I think being married and having kids is a scarier adventure than what I’m doing, but hey, to each their own.
Sponsor receptions are interesting events aboard the PICTON CASTLE. Normally they are catered affairs with musicians, alcohol and a whole tonne of people. It is our job to not only make sure the attendees remain safe but to also give a good name to the ship by our behaviour. Our crew has done an amazing job. Depending a little on the ‘dress’ of the evening, it is not unusual for our watches to show up at work in their crew t-shirts and sarongs, and the party goers love it. This is, after all, the personality and spirit that the PICTON CASTLE is known for and we do well to showcase honestly who and what we are. Besides, it’s not like any of us have much in the way of tidy clothes aboard, never-mind fancy ones!
Off land, one of the most amazing things we did this summer was compete in the tall ships race between Philly/Camden and Greenport. To me the coolest part was actually when all the ships participating met at the start line which was nothing more than some GPS coordinates. It’s not like there are any other distinguishing factors to go by when you cannot even see land. No coffee house or book store to meet up outside of…nope, just those coordinates and a whole lot of nothing. And yet, out of nothing comes the feeling of meeting up with old friends when we all came into view of each other. Four ships, SAGRES, L’HERMIONE, LETTIE G HOWARD and PICTON CASTLE all toeing the starting line together, waiting for that proverbial gun to go off. When it did, SAGRES left us all in her wake. Hard to be bothered though as it was one of the best sailing days we’ve had all summer. Plus, if we’re totally honest, there is a reason the slogan of the PICTON CASTLE is ‘We may be slow, but we get around’. This is a ship built for rugged beauty rather than outright speed. So off you go all you other speedy vessels, we’ve got some ﬁshing to do.
As the summer season draws to a close I realize yet again that when you sign aboard the PICTON CASTLE you experience so much more than you realize upon reading the words ‘tall ship adventure’. There is more scrubbing to be done than you ever dreamed possible while at the same time the term ‘sheet home and loose the t’gallants’ now has a place in your vocabulary. You have seen sunrises and sunsets that demand silence and pods of whales that demand laughter and awe. Of the people who have spent time on the ship, some will have taken home a new way of thinking while others perhaps a new focus in life. One thing is for sure, if you let it, the PICTON CASTLE will provide for you a wealth of new memories, some of which will make you laugh so hard you’ll cry.