Captain's Log

Archive for July, 2017

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Captain’s Log – The Purser’s Summerside

By Purser Allison Steele

The PICTON CASTLE came into Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada after a great passage up from Boston, USA and received a warm East Coast Canada welcome! It was a short visit to this very colourful and pleasant town but was certainly a highlight with several thousand visitors crossing the decks, including former crew members, family and friends.

The PICTON CASTLE is well known throughout the Canadian East Coast but is often on voyages taking her far from home so it was a special treat for our host port. Many visitors were familiar with the ship having followed her for many years so the chance to come and tour her was not to be missed.

Summerside itself is a sweet town with bright coloured buildings, friendly and gracious people and incredible seafood. Everywhere the crew went, residents and visitors were excited to talk about the ship and our travels.

Several crew went into Charlottetown to visit shops, restaurants and visit with other ships and friends we have made along the way. PEI is steeped in traditions of the East Coast and famous for potatoes, Anne of Green Gables, and a rather large lobster that is stationed at the wharf.

July 1 marked Canada Day, a very special one for Canada as it’s the 150th anniversary of Confederation.  With Canada Day celebrations lasting the whole weekend, there were concerts, vendors, attractions and lively street musicians along the walkways. Saturday night in both Charlottetown and Summerside there was a great show of fireworks over the water that went late into the evening rounding out a great weekend.

As we left the town wharf around noon on Sunday, people still came out to get a last glimpse of the ship and her crew as we conducted safety drills in preparation for our voyage. Some of the crew that have been with us for a while now departed to return to their daily lives knowing that this experience has enriched their lives. As much as we will miss them, we take on new crew that will quickly learn the ways of the ship in hopes that they too will learn and develop as sailors.



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Day’s Run – 4 July, 2017

The crew woke to a somewhat chilly morning as we make our way towards the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is an odd feeling for the 4th of July. We wished our American crew members happy Independence Day from within our sweaters and scarves, but this is typical for North Atlantic waters.

Crew spent the day keeping warm by tacking the ship, rig work, varnishing wood and additional aloft training for new crew. There is always something new even as we wait for the wind to shift allowing us to continue towards Sept-Iles, Quebec. For those of us who have been on board since Lunenburg, it’s rather odd to see land around us but the lights at night just add to the beautiful spectacle above for it’s the more remote areas like the passage between mainland Quebec and Ile D’Anticosti that are best for stargazing. During longer voyages, crew of the PICTON CASTLE learn celestial navigation but on shorter summer voyages we are happy to sit back and enjoy.

Noon: 48°57′.0N 063°13′.4W

Day’s Run: 91.7NM

Passage: 209.5NM

Voyage: 3938NM

Course and Speed: SWxW 2 knots

Wind: WNW <1

Weather: Overcast and chilly

Swell height and direction: WNW 1 metre


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Captain’s Log – Boston to Summerside

At about 1300 on the 22nd of June PICTON CASTLE stood out past the Boston Light, set to the t’gallants. After five busy days in the port of Boston we are sailing out to join the Tall Ships fleet for the start of Sail Training International’s race number 4 of the Rendezvous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta from Cape Ann, Massachusetts to the northeastern end of mainland Nova Scotia.

Warm summer weather had been on order while we were in Boston but as we motor sailed out with the light and building southerly into Massachusetts Bay the crew quickly felt the cold breeze off of the 65° F water and ran to put on some warmer clothes. 19 vessels gathered for the race start, which was set about 10 miles to the east of the storied fishing town of Gloucester. It is always quite a sight to see a fleet of ships this size sailing in close quarters, especially on occasions such as this with a moderate breeze that allows the ships to set much if not all of their sail and get a good turn of speed going as well.

In an only somewhat serendipitous nod to the latter half of the Age of Sail, amongst the fleet are the Barque EAGLE, ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT II, GUAYAS, EUROPA, the 4 Masted Barque UNION and of course PICTON CASTLE making seven out of the nineteen ships in the fleet cut quite a scene of square riggers standing offshore until the fading evening light. To cap off the evening a spectacular sunset over Cape Ann bid the fleet farewell from the USA on our way to Canada.

Winds went fairly light on the first night, we kept all but the flying jib and gaff topsail set. Most of the fleet dispersed during the night, a group of ships like this with very different sailing qualities don’t stay together for long. The next day the Gulf of Maine began to show its true colours and as the day went on the wind began to increase, the air got colder and the fog set in.

Of all the times I have been across the Gulf of Maine, I don’t think I have ever actually seen it, there is almost always fog here. By midday we were shortened down to the main t’gallant in a Force 6 breeze. In this sort of weather, charging through the fog, extra care must be taken with the navigation, extra lookouts posted and a close watch kept on the radar and AIS. We are passing just to the north of the George’s Bank, and there are many fishing vessels in the area, over the years more than one vessel has come to grief from not paying close enough attention around these waters. A sobering reminder that we must be on our game.

As the day wore on the seas began to build and by evening we were shortened down to topsails and the foresail. Even though the weather is cold and wet the gang is kept busy about the deck, we had a full third of the crew change over in Boston so there are many new hands to teach the way of the ship to, learning lines, bracing, sail handling evolutions, all of this must be done in order to sail the ship. As it is, the ship comes first and we must sacrifice some comfort for the good of the ship and all onboard.

Two days we spent with a fresh fair wind and almost zero visibility, until the morning of the 25th when off of Halifax the wind eased, hauled southwesterly and the fog lifted. We again set to the royals and as the black hull of the ship began to warm the off watches came up from below to enjoy the sun. After two days of staring into the fog it felt good to get back the fair weather routines of work in the rig and about the deck. The on watch getting tar into the rig, oiling blocks and renewing ratlines, a carpenter finishing up our new fruit lockers and the sailmaker roping our new outer jib. In the afternoon we had an all hands workshop to teach seizings, allowing more of the new crew to get their hands on some of the ship’s rigging work.

On the afternoon of June 26 we crossed the finish line for the race and wore ship to bring us into Chedabucto Bay, the head of the waterway that separates Nova Scotia from Cape Breton Island. As our pilot for the Canso Strait and lock wasn’t due to board until the next morning we stood on towards an anchorage just outside the town of Arichat on the south side of Cape Breton. As the sun got low in the sky over Nova Scotia, PICTON CASTLE took off across the bay. With a fresh breeze but no seas to slow her down in the calm water of the bay we were able to carry every stitch of canvas full and drawing, clicking off 6.5 to 7 kts. It’s in these conditions one can really feel the power of a sailing ship rig like this and the energy it takes to get a heavy ship like this moving under wind power alone.

As we neared our anchorage for the evening the wind began to die off and we squared away for Arichat Harbour. At about 2230, just after last light the ship very quietly glided up to the anchor, apart from the soft spoken commands and the light rattle of sheets as the hands got in all sail forward it felt almost as if the ship were suspended in space, quite a contrast to the afternoon’s sailing. As the main yards squared away and the ship brought into the light breeze the sound of the anchor chain thundered out and all remaining sail was taken in. Arichat is a familiar spot for PICTON CASTLE from years past and it’s always good after a fresh passage to be anchored in a peaceful little spot such as this.

As morning dawned clear and flat calm, the engineer fired up the trusty B&W Alpha main engine and we hove back anchor to pick up our pilot for the Canso Strait. While the Strait is a natural channel it wasn’t really navigable until a lock was put in near the town of Port Hawkesbury to keep the currents down to a minimum. It was a pretty morning running up the Strait and the crew kept busy shining up the ship and getting ready for our next port visit. Just after 1200 PICTON CASTLE cleared the lock and dropped off the pilot as we steamed into St George Bay, now on the Gulf of St Lawrence side of Novas Scotia. Not too long after a light breeze sprang up from the east and the crew, now getting more confident with handling the rig, quickly made all sail and the main engine was shut down.

That evening we wore ship around Cape George and shaped up for the Northumberland Strait to the south of Prince Edward Island. While the Northumberland is pretty wide it’s still a lot more confined than sailing in the open ocean and as a result, it takes a little more effort and attention for everybody onboard. While passing Pictou Island in the night the breeze came on to a southerly Force 5 and the watch on deck quickly got in the royals and upper staysails. But with the wind easing a bit toward morning and the current setting the ship to the north the next watch got all sail set again to keep the ship on course.

Having made good time up the Strait it was decided to anchor for another night before passing under the Confederation Bridge, which connects Prince Edward Island to the mainland at New Brunswick and entering the Port of Summerside. As PICTON CASTLE approached Cape Tormentine all hands were called to be the ship ready for sailing onto the anchor. Though the same manner as had been gone through the other night, there was more wind this time and the evolution had to happen more quickly. But as we approached the anchorage at Rock Reef under Cape Tormentine the wind quickly shifted, in a short scramble the ship was made ready to come about and tack back up to the spot most ideal for the ship to anchor. It’s not an easy task to marshal 46 people to complete a manoeuvre most have never even heard of before. But the mates and lead seaman did a good job and this ship got through stays quickly without a hitch. As the ship began to gain speed on the other tack it was soon time to bring her head to wind, down with the headsails, in fore upper and lower topsails, midships the spanker and hard down the helm, as the ship came up smartly into the wind hands aft squared the mainyards to put on the brakes and the starboard anchor was let go. After all remaining sail was taken in the crew swarmed up into the rig to get sail securely stowed for the night.

As is always the case, a ship like this is more about the journey than it is the destination. As exciting as it is to come into a new place it is always good to be able to have a night at anchor before going into port with the hustle of going alongside and the hectic excitement that can be at the start of a new tall ships festival. It’s important to have a moment, to be able to sit with the ship at rest without any outside distractions, to look up at the rig, ready to spring to life again at the call to loose sail, and say “we did that, we sailed this ship here” and as Irving Johnson said “with our own hands”. That’s the accomplishment, and that is the important part of this journey.


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Day’s Run – 3 July, 2017

By Ship’s Purser Allison

With 8 new trainees on board from Summerside the new crew are becoming familiar with the ways of the PICTON CASTLE. It can sometimes be a bit overwhelming when we first head out to sea but the excitement often prevails. There is so much to learn and remember but soon it becomes easier and other crew members are always available to help guide them through the learning curve. Today the new crew learned about the correct and safe way to use a harness and began their aloft training. It can be very exciting when going aloft the first few times but you are not alone nor are you required to if you are uncomfortable. Being aloft, however, is the best view around and when the command is announced, crew immediately snap to attention and begin their ascent. The view is particularly nice today as we travel up the coast of New Brunswick, past Gaspe towards the Miscou Banks towards the St. Lawrence. This is a short passage but some very good sailing!

Noon Position: 43°52′.4N 064°15′.1W

Day’s Run: 117.8NM

Voyage: 3847NM

Distance to Port: 203NM

Course + Speed: NE 4-8 knots

Wind: Force 3 WSW

Weather: Good, cloudy

Swell Height and Direction: <1 metre SW


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