Captain's Log

Archive for April, 2018

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Final Preparations For A Voyage

New Orleans, LA, USA – alongside at the French Quarter – Preparing to set off on a voyage – April 27, 2018

Tammy, 5 year old Dawson and I rejoined our ship a week ago here in New Orleans. Under the able command of Captain Sam Sikkema the Picton Castle and crew had sailed from Lunenburg about two months ago bound for Bermuda and putting in to Turks & Caicos before joining a flotilla of a few fine sister-ships all sailing along the Gulf Coast in a Tall Ships America series of tall ship events in Galveston, Pensacola and New Orleans. Here in N’awlins many more new crew join this ship and soon we head out and off setting sail on our voyage around the world, westward bound for the South Pacific and beyond. The excitement is palpable. The excitement of being in New Orleans is too.

This warm day in April would not be the first time that this river-front of “The Crescent City” of New Orleans has seen an ocean going barque loading for sea. Square-rigged ships like ours, both wooden and steel built, used to line the waterfront of this famous seaport once upon a time. Crew from Canada, England, USA, France, Spain, West Indies, South Pacific islands, Scandinavia roamed these docks and watering holes of this friendly city in a time gone by – and do again from these same far flung lands when we are in port too. This city was built and served by the holds and crews of ships just like ours for many years. No doubt the truly delightful multicultural style of The Big Easy owes a lot to ships (and their crews) like this one sailing in from all over the world. But it maybe has been a long time since such a barque was moored here. And then the ship may have been pressing bales of cotton into her hold for English mills. Today the Barque Picton Castle is loading lawn mowers for Pitcairn Island (and dirt bikes, and root beer, mattresses and a satellite dish…) and untold numbers of tins of tomatoes, pears, sacks of flour, sugar, bottles of vinegar and propane and apples, oranges, bananas, potatoes, squash, onions – you get the idea – and it all has to be stowed aboard somewhere. Good thing she has a big cargo hold. On the busy wharf too the sailmaker is setting up to run bolts of canvas recently cut out through our big sewing machine to get a start on sail-making. All the while passersbys jog past either utterly oblivious or keenly interested in these now rare doings as a sailing ship readies for sea. One couple walking on the seaside wharf where we are moored leaned on the docks railing and jokingly offered me their three daughters ages 9, 11 and 13 – figured they might get their thumbs off the internet and maybe learn how to clean up their rooms. Maybe they could learn that….

The new gang of adventurers was all here and aboard and getting settled by Monday last. The apparent chaos slowly, then more rapidly, evolving into a semblance of patterns and order as this confusion seems to take on discernable, eventually identifiable, forms. Of course the form and order were there all along but naturally hard to see at first, as the new gang enters this new world of their choosing, some perhaps wondering if this all is even a good idea. But so far, so good. New bunks, large by ship standards but small by what they are accustomed to. Same with storage; lots for a ship like this, way less than at home. The gang has turned to with a will. And chaos is a thing we pass through, not to inhabit for too long. Tons of supplies on the dock, lube oil in barrels, rope, sail cloth in bolts, pallets of this and that, newly inspected life rafts get delivered and swung aboard. Fire extinguishers checked by experienced professionals. And lots of orientations, training exercises, drills and instruction to get us all ready for sea as well.

It has been fine weather here along the waterfront here in the French Quarter. My concerns of the possible effects of being overly close to the raucous sins of Bourbon Street have proven unfounded (so far) and great food and drink are nearby in any case. Frenchmen Street has the best music, but music is literally everywhere. The river, the Mighty Mississippi, narrows hereabouts but the shipping traffic does not. At a sharp bend in the river right here (remember “Crescent City”) huge ships making wild turns either with or against the strong river currents. A sight to behold to watch a high sided light 100,000 ton tanker, bereft of oil with bulbous bow riding out of the water making the down current turn to the east near us. More of a massive sliding skid than a normal turn. The big steam stern wheeler Natchez makes her way past several times a day blowing her ever so loud steam whistle frequently. The cry of gulls add to the cacophony of this richly audio waterfront. A big modern Moran tugboat ties up astern of us for a spell. The huge cruise ship Celebrity Equinox came in this morning and tied up below the bridge. Doubt she could fit under it. Chief Mate Erin mentions that this ship has a first female captain. I said, well good, Picton Castle has three female mates – and finer mates I could not find anywhere; Bermudian, French and Spanish as well.

We are doing well on our training, drills and stowing so the watches are getting some time ashore this weekend to see what there is to see in New Orleans…

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Tall Ships New Orleans

For the past few weeks, Picton Castle has been taking part in a series of tall ships events called the Tall Ships Challenge, which is organized by Tall Ships America. Tall Ships America moves the Tall Ships Challenge around to different areas of the North American coast every year. This is the first time that the Tall Ships Challenge has ever taken place in the Gulf of Mexico. The host ports this year have been Galveston, TX, Pensacola, FL and New Orleans, LA.

For us with Picton Castle, it’s always interesting to go places we’ve never been before. This is our first voyage to the Gulf coast. Our crew have seen some interesting sights, like the oil rigs off the coast lit up at night, sailed the ship in new waters, and experienced what they mean by Southern hospitality. The crowds who have visited the ships in these cities have given our crew and the crew of the other ships a warm welcome.

We have been sailing in company with five other tall ships during this Tall Ships Challenge. There’s the barque Elissa, based in Galveston, that has the same rig as Picton Castle just bigger; the Oliver Hazard Perry, a relative newcomer to the tall ships fleet, based in Newport, Rhode Island; the lovely Dutch topsail schooner Oosterschelde; the topsail schooner Lynx with her raked masts; and the schooner When and If, originally built for General Patton.

One of the highlights of this series has been the trainee crew who sailed with us. We had many individuals come from all over North America to join us for a couple of weeks at a time, some with no sailing experience at all, to learn about life under square sail. There was also a group of people who came together to sign aboard Picton Castle as trainees – nine students/cadets and one teacher from the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy, a high school from here in New Orleans.

The first passage they were aboard, from Galveston to Pensacola, was a rough one with choppy seas and many seasick crew. Their teacher later told me he was glad they didn’t have it easy the whole time, he was glad that they were challenged on the voyage. As we know, the difficult times become the ones you tell stories about later, and make us appreciate the fair weather days all the more.

Before the cadets came aboard, they all did their STCW Basic Safety Training through their school’s partnership with Delgado College, a local community college that offers marine training, amongst other courses. Although it’s not a requirement on our part, I think it was a good experience for the cadets to get the classroom knowledge and then see it applied on a real sailing ship.

On board, the cadets were like any other trainees, standing watches and participating fully in the life of the ship. There was a big press conference the day after Picton Castle arrived in New Orleans and it was clear that the cadets and their families were proud of the experience they had on board, sailing up the Mississippi River to their own home port. I asked a few whether they would do it again, a few said no but there were also some very enthusiastic yesses.

New Orleans knows how to throw a festival – it seems like there is one every weekend around here. Tall Ships New Orleans was a wonderful, well-attended event. It seems like everyone we’ve talked to in the city knew about the tall ships visit, even if they didn’t make it to see them in person. We had good liaison officers in Mike and John, and the Tall Ships America team were great to work with as usual. Woldenberg Park, right near the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, is a lovely spot, just perfect for ships like ours to tie up near the old French Quarter in the muddy waters of the Mississippi.


Captain Sikkema does a live TV news interview


New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy students and their families

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Day’s Run – April 17, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

We had the most amazing sail yesterday afternoon into the night, the stars were gorgeous. We starting steaming around midnight to be in time to pick up our pilot for the transit up the Mississippi River to New Orleans for the final tall ships festival in the Gulf of Mexico Tall Ships Challenge. Now as we approach the mouth of the Mississippi we found out there is more time than expected so we are having one last sail going a grand 0.6kts. Not much wind out here, but it is a good opportunity for new crew to set sail and then take it in. Sail is now being taken in and we are preparing to pick up a pilot and tug soon. The current in the river is so strong that the tug will help us push against the current to travel at a faster speed than we could without it.

Date: 17 April 2018
Noon Position: 28°51.6’N-089°22.9’W
Course + Speed: W, 5.8kts
Wind direction + Force: SE, F1
Swell Height + Direction: <0.5m
Weather: Sunny and dead calm
Day’s Run: 118nm
Passage Log: 174nm
Distance to Port: 110nm
Voyage: 4049nm
Sail Set: Set to the royals, no fore and aft

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Day’s Run – April 16, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Pensacola was fun! The city was beautiful and the tall ships festival we just participated in there over the weekend was a little smaller so all the ships were close together and it was easy to wander and see them. The crew made the most of their time off enjoying the sunshine and the eclectic eateries. We had a smooth yet early start this morning, taking on the pilot at 6:30am. Now we are enjoying this most amazing weather, sunny with a good wind, everyone is happy to be sailing for sure. As the normal day proceeds new crew are having the chance to bend on a sail as we bend on the brand new, just finished mizzen staysail, which is the one we have all been watching the Captain and the sailmaker work on throughout the voyage, so it’s pretty exciting to see it go up.

Date: 16 April 2018
Noon Position: 29°54.8’N-087°29.0’W
Course + Speed: SSW, 7kts
Wind direction + Force: W, F5
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, W
Weather: Sunny and chilly
Day’s Run: 32.5nm
Passage Log: 34nm
Distance to Port: 221nm
Voyage: 3909nm
Sail Set: Set to the t’gallants, no flying jib, no topsail

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Day’s Run – April 11, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Beautiful sunset last night, becoming the first sunny day of the passage. Now that the sun is out and conditions are calming down, the Chief Mate is making sure lots of teaching is happening, helping the new hands learn lines. The wind was in our favour for a little while today so we were able to set all the topsails, giving people a chance to work on their line handling. Now everyone including the ship’s cat Fiji is enjoying lunch and a sunny afternoon.

Date: 11 April 2018
Noon Position: 28°09.2’N- 088°47.0’W
Course + Speed: ExN 1/2N
Wind direction + Force: NE, F4
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, NE
Weather: Sunny
Day’s Run: 159nm
Passage Log: 1803nm
Distance to Port: 150nm
Voyage: 3697nm
Sail Set: Steaming

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Day’s Run – April 10, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

We had smooth yet chilly and foggy departure from Galveston yesterday, we left early just as the sun was rising. There was a magical moment when the monomoy, the double ended boat we use for rowing practice, came out of the mist making her way back to the ship to be hoisted. We woke to a chilly morning, new hands are acclimating to the conditions, at the same time learning knots and settling into their watches.

Date: 10 April 2018
Noon Position: 27°54.0’N- 091°43.9’W
Course + Speed: E3/4S, 6.8kts
Wind direction + Force: NE, F5
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, NE
Weather: Overcast
Day’s Run: 151nm
Passage Log: 1636nm
Distance to Port: 280nm
Voyage: 3530nm
Sail Set: none, steaming

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Day’s Run – April 3, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

We are approaching Galveston, Texas through a maze of oil rigs and tanker ships. At night the oil rigs are lit up like giant Christmas trees, and the tankers appear out of nowhere, massive looming structures. Last night we were overtaken by the topsail schooner Lynx, she slipped up on our port side under the full moon with all sail set. Another night of perfect sailing turning into a day of perfect sailing.

Date: 3 April 2018
Noon Position: 29°05.0’N- 094°17.1’W
Course + Speed: W, 4.75kts
Wind direction + Force: SxW, F5
Swell Height + Direction: 1m, SxE
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 105nm
Passage Log: 1039.7nm
Distance to Port: 15nm
Voyage: 3339nm
Sail Set: All Sail

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Day’s Run – April 2, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

We had quite the Easter celebration yesterday, we had a Easter egg hunt with eggs and chocolate that we got in Bermuda! Then the Easter egg hunt became a dance party on the hatch, with everyone dressed in their Sunday finest. It was a lot of fun but the crew seems happy to be back at work today, it was a good rest day. The gaff topsail is being bent on today, and the sailmakers are putting the finishing touches to the mizzen staysail. Still beautiful out, sunny and clear with perfect sailing.

Date: 2 April 2018
Noon Position: 28°01.5 ‘N- 092°34.1’W
Course + Speed: WSW, 3.6kts
Wind direction + Force: SSE, F4
Swell Height + Direction: 1m ESE
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 85nm
Passage Log: 1013nm
Distance to Port: 135nm
Voyage: 3235nm
Sail Set: All Sail

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Day’s Run – April 1, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Another beautiful sunny Sunday! Yesterday we had a workshop with Chief Mate Susie on the topic of long splicing on the main hatch as the sun set. Today is Easter, Sunday at Sea, and April Fool’s Day all rolled into one, which is making for lots of highjinks. We have a Easter egg hunt planned for the crew later, and an evening music jam. Everyone is enjoying the sunshine and a chance to relax for a minute and looking forward to new projects tomorrow. Happy Easter from all of us!

Date: 1 April 2018
Noon Position: 27°39.1’N- 091°01.9’W
Course + Speed: SWxW1/2W, 4.2kts
Wind direction + Force: ExS, F3
Swell Height + Direction: 1m, ESE
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 96nm
Passage Log: 925.7nm
Distance to Port: 220nm
Voyage: 3148nm
Sail Set: All Sail


Long splicing workshop on the main hatch

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Day’s Run – March 31, 2018

By Cara Lauzon

Another exquisite night full of silver moonlight, turning into another clear sunny day. The flying jib has been bent on and test set with success! With the sun returning, the sailmakers are back on deck filling the quarterdeck with white canvas cloth, and ship’s cat Fiji is enjoying sprawling on the cloth and sleeping in the sailmaker’s bench as usual.

Date: 31 March 2018
Noon Position: 26°54.9’N-089°27.2’W
Course + Speed: WNW, 5.1kts
Wind direction + Force: NNE, F5
Swell Height + Direction: 1.5m, NExE
Weather: Bright and sunny
Day’s Run: 120nm
Passage Log: 825.7nm
Distance to Port: 315nm
Voyage: 3048nm
Sail Set: outer jib, inner jib, courses, main t’gallant staysail, main topmast staysail, topsails


Testing the newly bent on flying jib

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