Captain's Log

Archive for August, 2016

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Toronto then Bound Down the St. Lawrence River

Picton Castle wrapped up a two-week stay in Toronto this past Sunday, casting off the mooring lines and heading out into Lake Ontario and then down the St. Lawrence River towards Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, which is our home base.

You may have noticed that Toronto wasn’t on our original itinerary for this voyage. We were approached just a few months ago with an interesting project opportunity, so we extended our voyage to include it. Although we can’t tell you much about it now, we promise to divulge more details at a later date when this project is shared with the public.

Many of our crew extended their time aboard as the voyage end date extended, gaining some additional sea time as well as experience with coastal navigation, seamanship in close quarters, identifying marine traffic, and transiting locks. There were some crew who had to sign off before the end of the voyage, so a few of our veteran Picton Castle crew have joined us for the passage from Toronto back to Lunenburg.

While in port in Toronto, watches were arranged so that each group had two consecutive days on duty and two consecutive days off duty. This allowed the crew to get a longer break and to make plans ashore for their days off duty. The crew enjoyed various attractions in Toronto including a Cirque de Soleil show (which was a ten minute walk up the street from where the ship was docked), the Distillery District (about a 20 minute walk up the street), the Royal Ontario Museum including the exhibit on tattoos, and a Toronto Blue Jays game.

While on watch, the crew also accomplished a lot. We started oiling the decks in Quebec City, getting the quarterdeck, foc’sle head, well deck and main deck amidships done. In Toronto, we completed the project by oil on the deck in the breezeways and the aloha deck. Varnish was a big focus of our stay in Toronto, where the main deck pin rails, pin rails on the quarterdeck, the top of the box that covers the steering gear and one of the tables in the main salon all got sanded down and coated with fresh shiny coats of varnish. We also sent down the spanker gaff for inspection and overhaul, then reinstalled it aloft. It rained quite heavily on a few of the days of our visit so we also had to dry sail, loosing each sail and flashing it out for the day so the sun could do the drying, then stowing it again at the end of the day once the cotton canvas was dry. We did all of the usual provisioning as well; filling the galley propane tanks, grocery shopping with the cook, and taking on diesel fuel for the main engine and generators.

crew work aloft aboard PICTON CASTLE to loose wet sails to dry

After our work was completed, Picton Castle got underway on Sunday morning. We had a good sail in Lake Ontario with favourable winds pushing us along. We made a brief stop in Clayton, New York, USA, on the south side of the St. Lawrence River in order to make our preparations for the St. Lawrence Seaway. Once again we tied on big 8’x8’ wooden fenders, five of them arranged vertically along each side of the ship to take the brunt of the contact between the ship’s steel hull and the cement lock walls. The upper yards were braced up sharp and the main and fore yards were cockbilled (meaning they were moved horizontally as far as they could go, then also moved vertically to bring them inside the width of the ship). Our ship’s boats are now all inboard and the davits they usually hang in have been turned in as well. When going through the locks, nothing can protrude beyond the width of the ship.
Captain Sikkema wanted to go through the series of locks, starting with the Iroquois lock and ending with the St. Lambert lock, with as much daylight as possible. In order to arrive at the Iroquois lock at dawn, Picton Castle got underway from Clayton at midnight. Today is the day that Picton Castle will transit through the locks, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of ship-watchers online who have been contacting us to share photos and ask questions. To follow Picton Castle’s progress through the St. Lawrence Seaway, look here:

Picton Castle’s next stop is Lunenburg, which is our home base. As always, there’s a certain excitement aboard before the ship comes home. Ship’s crew are looking ahead to their next personal adventures, shore crew are looking forward to having the ship home for a while.

PICTON CASTLE in the St Lawrence, photo by Brenda Benoit

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Captain’s Log – Bound for Toronto

Picton Castle set sail from Quebec City on Tuesday August 2nd, bound for Toronto.  The ship gained a number of admirers in Quebec City and some were on the wharf to see the ship get underway and wave goodbye.  We’ll be back in Quebec City again in 2017 for a big tall ships event called Rendezvous 2017, along with a fleet of other tall ships.  Although we weren’t able to welcome the public aboard on our visit this year, next year our decks will be open for people to come aboard.

Anywhere in the St. Lawrence River west of Les Escoumins and throughout the Great Lakes, vessels with a foreign flag that are over 35 metres long require a pilot according to Canadian regulations.  Picton Castle is flagged in the Cook Islands, which makes us a foreign flagged vessel, and is just over 47 metres long on deck (54 metres including the bowsprit), so we require a pilot.  Pilots are experienced, licensed ship captains with specialized local knowledge who come aboard to advise each ship’s captain on local conditions, currents, hazards to navigation, traffic schemes and harbours.  Every time Picton Castle has been underway since Les Escoumins, we have had a pilot aboard.  There are a few places in the world, like in the Panama Canal, where the pilot actually takes command of the ship, but in most places, like the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes, the pilot is an advisor and the ship’s captain has the conn (meaning he or she is in command).

We had pilots aboard from Quebec City to Trois Rivieres where we did a pilot exchange, and those pilots carried on to Montreal with us.  Picton Castle anchored in Montreal for an afternoon so we could have our inspection for the St. Lawrence Seaway.

All ships that go through the locks of the Seaway need to be inspected for seaworthiness and to make sure the ship is ready to transit the locks.  For Picton Castle, one of our biggest jobs to prepare for the seaway is to make sure nothing protrudes beyond the width of the ship.

The boats we usually have hanging in davits over the sides of the ship needed to be brought aboard so the monomoy was lifted atop the galley house and the skiff was lifted on top of the main cargo hatch.  The davits were then swung in to be flush with the sides of the ship.  All of the yards were braced up sharp to get them within the width of the ship, but even fully braced the main yard and fore yard still protrude so they had to be cockbilled.

Yards Cockbilled Photo credit to @SeawayNNY on Twitter

Yards Cockbilled
Photo credit to @SeawayNNY on Twitter

We also had to add fenders to the sides of the ship to keep the ship off the lock walls.  These fenders are made of 8″x8″ pine cut into lengths of about 5′ with holes drilled in the top and bottom.  The fenders are then placed vertically, four on each side of the ship, and securely lashed over the rail and through chocks or freeing ports.  The fenders take quite a beating, scraping along the cement lock walls as the water fills each lock chamber raising the ship, but it’s better to beat up your fenders than your ship.

After a successful inspection in Montreal, the crew went to bed early, spending a night at anchor in anticipation of a long day of transiting locks.  The next morning, all hands were woken early to raise the anchor and get underway, with another pilot aboard, at 0445.  We started the day early in order to use all the daylight for transiting the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway.  Before dawn, Picton Castle was at the first lock, the St. Lambert lock.

The locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 to allow ships to pass from the Atlantic into the Great Lakes.  The locks work like a series of elevators, raising ships from sea level to the level of the Great Lakes.  Each lock has two sets of doors.  On the way up the locks, the bottom doors are open, the ship advances into the lock and the bottom doors close behind it.  The lock is then filled with water to raise the ship.  When the lock is full, the upper doors open and the ship advances out of the lock.  While in the lock, there are lines going from the ship to the shore which are constantly tended.  As the ship rises, the lines aboard need to be heaved in to keep the ship snug against the lock wall.  Picton Castle passed through seven locks starting with the St. Lambert lock and ending with the Iroquois lock and the transit took a total of 22 hours.

Once through the locks, the ship carried on sailing in Lake Ontario and arrived in Toronto harbour on Saturday August 6th.  We’re docked at the eastern gap entrance to Toronto harbour, which means we see most of the traffic coming and going from the harbour including all of the bigger vessels.  There have been many tugs and barges, lots of sailboats, canoes, kayaks and other pleasure craft. From our berth we see the ferries going from the mainland to the Toronto Islands and we have an excellent view of the iconic Toronto skyline.

in Toronto

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Captain’s Log – Quebec City

Picton Castle made a grand entrance at Quebec City on Thursday July 28th.

As you may remember, we have been working on a project that involves a historical re-enactment, and this is the final port for that project.

Families of those aboard were standing on the shore at the harbour entrance, watching Picton Castle pass by with sails set up to the royals, shouting and waving at their loved ones aboard.  The ship continued up the St. Lawrence River to do a sail-past of Old Quebec, creating an iconic image for anyone taking photographs from the south shore of the river with a square rigger pictured in front of the old city walls and fortifications.  The ship then turned and came down the river, into the outer basin of the harbour, turned 180 degrees and came alongside the commercial pontoon at Quai 19 starboard side-to.


Picton Castle’s arrival in Quebec City marks the culmination of an epic voyage.  The passage from La Rochelle, France to New Brunswick, Canada took 39 days, following a route that took the ship as far south as 28 degrees latitude.  After a brief stay in New Brunswick, it was another six days at sea to reach Quebec City.  While this was a re-enactment, it was also very much the real thing.  Sailing transatlantic in a square rigger is rare these days and everyone aboard seems bolstered by the confidence of having done just this.20160728_095245_resized

Quebec City is a fitting end for a “historical” voyage.  It’s one of the oldest European settlements in North America, founded in 1608 by explorer Samuel de Champlain and it maintains much of its historic architecture and layout today, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Quebec is also the site of one of Canada’s few battles, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, where in 1759 the British defeated the French.

The walls around the old city, which still exist now, were first built in the 1600s and built upon and improved over the coming centuries by both the British and the French, including the construction of a citadel.

It’s also a fantastic port for a sailor on his or her day off duty.  The narrow streets and old stone buildings have many hidden corners and alleyways to discover.  The food and drinks are excellent and there seems to be something interesting going on at every corner.  We’ve seen street performers in the evenings juggling fire, slacklining and doing acrobatics (although not all at the same time).  Quebec attracts thousands if not millions of tourists every year so people are welcoming and readily offer assistance.


Our ship is drawing quite a crowd in Quebec, with a photo in the local newspaper on Friday with a brief story about our arrival.  Picton Castle will be back in Quebec in 2017 for the Rendezvous 2017 tall ships event, as part of a large fleet of ships.  Although we haven’t been able to welcome the public aboard during this visit, we look forward to doing that next summer.

As usual, ship’s work continues as the crew on duty look after our ship.

As I type this in the ship’s office aboard (my favourite work location!), the crew are taking advantage of the good weather to oil the decks on the quarterdeck and foc’sle head, after yesterday’s on duty watch sanded and varnished the two aft deck boxes and the taff rail at the forward end of the quarterdeck.20160730_114409_resized


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