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Homeward Bound from the Great Lakes

After a busy and exciting summer visiting ports in four of the five Great Lakes, Picton Castle is on the final leg of this voyage, bound down the St Lawrence seaway for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.  In fact, we visited nine lakes this summer (Lakes Michigan, Huron, St Clair, Erie, Ontario, St Francis, St Pierre, St Louis, Lake St Lawrence), plus the Thousand Islands, the American Narrows, and the Richlieu Rapids.  

Our last tall ships festival took place in Erie, Pennsylvania, on the south shore of Lake Erie.  From there, we sailed across Lake Erie to Port Weller, then carried on directly through the Welland Canal, which was built to bypass Niagara Falls (we definitely DON’T want to take Picton Castle down the Niagara River and over the falls).  After a short rest at Port Weller while waiting for our next pilot, we motored across Lake Ontario and into the St. Lawrence River to Clayton, NY. 

Clayton hosted us for a few days, giving the crew a chance to stretch their legs ashore before the final push downbound in the St. Lawrence and back to salt water.  We passed through all the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway, then paused in Montreal to downrig all of the preparations we had made to go through the locks, making the ship skinny so nothing protrudes horizontally beyond the hull; un-cockbilling the yards, swinging the davits out, lifting boats off the hatch on the main deck and hoisting them in the davits, and removing the 6×6 wooden vertical fenders.  By the time Picton Castle returns to Lunenburg, we will have passed through a total of 32 locks – seven in the St. Lawrence River, eight in the Welland Canal, and one at Canso. 

As we’ve been making our way down the St. Lawrence, we’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather.  It is hurricane season in the North Atlantic, so as we approach the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Nova Scotia coast, we’re paying particular attention to the conditions and forecasts.  We’ve paid close attention to Hurricane Dorian since last week, and continue to keep a close eye as it approaches the Canadian Maritimes. 

Knowing we might need to find a safe harbour, we’ve looked into ports of refuge for where we could put in if necessary.  Under Captain Lorenzen’s guidance, the crew have done safety drills including for heavy weather.  He reports that the crew is prepped, the ship is prepped, and the importance of observance of heavy weather protocols will be stressed.  More than anything, we’re planning to avoid the high winds and high seas by tapping the brakes and slowing down well to the west of the system, allowing it to pass in front of us while we stay to the west of the area of Baie Comeau (or a different point if the forecast track changes), then carrying on once winds and seas abate.  Schedules can be changed, hurricanes cannot.

What a summer’s voyage!  So many ports, each outdoing the other for hospitality.  What passages in fresh water!  And what a treat sailing along with vessels like the huge schooner Bluenose II and the rakish Pride of Baltimore II as well as the US Brig Niagara, HMCS Oriole and others.  While the ship had to motor a good deal for purposes of keeping pilotage time short, the Picton Castle crew got a lot of experience docking and undocking their ship, and sail handling in close quarters in the ports. This crew knows all about a Tall Ship port now. And up and down the entire St Lawrence Seaway with all the locks and climbing up to the Great Lakes and back, that is a pretty rare voyage for anyone.

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