Captain's Log

Archive for November, 2019

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SUMMER 2019 HOMEWARD BOUND (Part 7 of 7)

Just in came the news that the lock at Canso/ Port Hawkesbury is currently out of service due to a power cut as a result of hurricane Dorian. I am happy to say that I feel blessed to be faced with minor issues like fallen branches, trees, damaged motorcars and inoperable locks caused by power cuts. Spare a thought for the Bahamas that endured a sustained and relentless assault from Dorian that lasted more than 48 hours, extremely destructive. Lives are lost. Towns in ruins. No trees standing.

Late evening update has power restored to the area with the lock fully operational. Well done Nova Scotia Power. We are back to Plan “A”.

Cleared the lock on Tuesday morning 0900. This was lock number 32 for the summer, and our final one. Warm, sunny and still. What a gorgeous morning. Our pilot (yes, we need one for this stretch) is having fun and has taken the wheel himself, taking the ship down past Port Hawkesbury and to the head of Chedabucto Bay.

We disembark the pilot late in the forenoon in continuing calm conditions.

Now is the time to forge ahead and cover some distance. Another low-pressure system forming over Maine is forecast to bring strong SW winds to the Nova Scotia coast later the next day. SW’lies mean lumpy seas and headwinds.

Picton Castle raised Cross Island on the morning of Wednesday, 11 September. Seas are getting up, the SW wind is up to Force 5. In another few hours, this will be inhospitable and uncomfortable. A couple of hours later we pass The Ovens, out of the chop. Set up for coming alongside, prepare the semi dory for launching, slow down. Past Battery Point the last sail comes in, the boat is launched, standing by to assist docking if required.

And there is Lunenburg! Its unique waterfront with the bold and cheerful colours of its warehouses and weatherboard homes in stark contrast to the grey skies and dull water. Picton Castle’s dock ahead on the port bow.  Hug the red laterals, then a wide left turn to bring the wind fine on the port bow, ready to back into the berth. Let the wind do the job, take your time. As the ship backs down, light kicks ahead bring her head to wind, then through. Headline ashore so as not to lose the bow. Springs. Sternline. In position, head to the SSE. Finished with engines and the wheel. Boat alongside, gangway out. Double up fore-and-aft. We are home after three months and a voyage of 4407 miles.

Imagine coming home from a successful summer voyage: that warm feeling of accomplishment, the looking back, the winding down and, inevitably, the parting of ways. Then, deservedly, the sitting down and stretching one’s legs in a comfy armchair. Right?

Well, think again. Bosun School is here.

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SUMMER 2019 HOMEWARD BOUND (Part 6 of 7)

We took our leave from Clayton in the early morning of Sunday, downbound the upper Seaway towards Montreal. Seven more locks, somewhat faint in our memories but demanding respect nevertheless. What magnificent pieces of public infrastructure, connecting and forming an enormous highway of shipborne commerce and trade. And enabling a thriving recreational boaters’ community to move freely between the Atlantic coast and the inland ocean of the Great Lakes.

After a 32-hour passage, we dropped anchor at Vickers anchorage (Longueuil) in Montreal, in driving rain. Both anchors down in anticipation of strong SW winds forecast to pass a couple of days later. And they did. We were sitting snug in strong winds and more rain, having undone all our canal prep the previous day.

From here on, our onward passage would depend on the development and path of the tropical hurricane Dorian that had been hovering just slightly to the east of Grand Bahama Island. It was forecast to slowly advance westward, then re-curve and make its way up the east coast of North America. Storm hunters? You must be kidding me! Best heavy weather precaution is avoidance, simple as that. And with the advanced weather forecasting technologies that we do make use of in Picton Castle, avoidance can be planned and executed well. Not all is done shipboard, however. Plans and strategies are communicated between the ship and our office in Lunenburg. Here, extra sets of mariner’s eyes examine the same situation and thus a safe passage plan is informed. Add to that an ongoing discussion of the weather situation between the Captains of a number of the sailing ships (BLUENOSE 2, PRIDE OF BALTIMORE 2 and Picton Castle, in this instance), and one can be reasonably assured that all the relevant information has seen the light of day.

While at anchor, Picton Castle conducted a number of drills and workshops. Heavy weather preparation (rigging of nets, grab lines and additional hatch covers); Donning of immersion suits; Abandon Ship drill; Heavy weather precautions, procedures and protocols (what to do, what not to do, how to move about the ship, operation of watertight doors &c); Man overboard prevention and response; and, lastly, stowing for sea, on deck and below, including double gaskets on the t’gallants and royals. Heavy weather is a condition. But it is also a mindset. Master the mindset and the physical act of timely heavy weather prep (including avoidance), then the crew is ready. And consequently, the ship is, too. Part of the training in Picton Castle.

Thursday morning sees us downbound the St Lawrence River, after spending a good hour to clear our fouled anchors, on the still strong currents. Past Quebec City, we drop off our pilot at Les Escoumins. Salt water again. And tides. We sneak into Baie-Comeau (Baie des Anglais) to anchor and await the passage of Dorian over Nova Scotia and the Gulf of St Lawrence. Late Saturday night, the winds shift NW, a sure sign that the eye of the hurricane has passed and is now well to the east. Winds ease at the same time, so we heave up and go, bound for the Strait of Canso (and its lock), passing Cape Gaspé 24 hours later. Daybreak Monday morning sees the royals and upper stays’ls make an appearance. Sea state and wind have dropped considerably since their peak around Cape Gaspé. Skies are blue, and even the sun is radiating warmth. Smiles all round. The previous two days had been FREEZING cold (water temperature a mere 5 degrees C) after being so accustomed to the summer heat of the Great Lakes. All is looking bright. The forecast is steady with light winds along the Nova Scotia coast for our run from Cape Canso towards Lunenburg.

It is never over until it is over.

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SUMMER 2019 HOMEWARD BOUND (Part 5 of 7)

The ship’s cat. The same cat that had been with Picton Castle since she was a kitten, having come aboard in, well, the port of Suva in Fiji, just prior to the ship’s Westward Bound voyage in 2013. The cat that had been around the globe in Picton Castle one and a half times. The cat that had been to all manner of ports, islands, countries and continents. The street-smart cat that knew by instinct when to come back to the ship, when to finish shore leave and when to report back aboard ready for departure. And the same cat that had touched and delighted so many people during our summer campaign. Fiji failed to appear at morning muster on departure day from Erie. Nowhere to be found.

With a funny feeling in my stomach I took Picton Castle off the dock in Erie, one crew member short. What had happened?

Across the Lake, and back into the Welland Canal at Port Colborne. We made the downbound transit in nine hours, then went to anchor in the lee of the east pier at Port Weller in Lake Ontario. The following morning, our lake pilot boarded at 0700 and we traversed Lake Ontario, arriving in Clayton, NY, at a quarter to five the following morning. Two full days were spent in this picturesque town. Shore leave, ship’s work and training, plus chatting to the locals and tourists who came down to the town dock to see the ship. PRIDE OF BALTIMORE 2 joined us for half a day before proceeding on her passage.

So what of Fiji? Some frantic phone calls, search missions, and even a TV news bulletin later, Fiji remained elusive. A state-wide news flash. The internet went nuts. “Where is Fiji?” was the call taken up far and wide.

Fiji resurfaced in Erie, unharmed, after almost two days had passed since her disappearance. The Captain of Lettie G. Howard and the Erie festival co-chair, Sydnee Groenedaal, offered to chauffeur Fiji up to Clayton and, like a true rock star (minus the dark glasses) Fiji rejoined her ship in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, two-and-a-bit days after her disappearance. With scarce as much as a flick of the tail by way of acknowledging her Captain, Fiji turns around and, well, takes a stroll ashore in the still dark morning hours. Half an hour later, having appropriately surveyed Clayton’s waterfront, she comes back and puts in a nap. Phew. Back to normal, and Picton Castle with a complete ship’s crew. Thank you, Goldie and Sydnee.

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SUMMER 2019 HOMEWARD BOUND (Part 4 of 7)

Highlights of the summer were plentiful. The Great Lakes are a stunning stretch of water, very stunning in fact, and are lined by beautiful nature and coastal communities large and small. The area is rich in cultural heritage and history, stretching back millennia. What is not to like?

Roaring down Lake Huron under full sail. A serene anchorage at St James’s Harbour. Massive clouds and mighty thunderstorms. 1000 ft lakers doing their thing. These are lasting memories.

All of the host communities and festival organisers did a wonderful job welcoming us and presenting the ships to the public. Countless volunteers were only too ready to do anything to make our stay go as smoothly and as enjoyable as possible. Local knowledge and support make all the difference for a ship pulling into an unknown port for a few busy days while engaged in a lengthy campaign spanning three months.

And as the Tall Ships Erie festival drew to a close with a wonderful crew only twilight sail aboard the beautiful schooner Lettie G. Howard, the end of the Tall Ships Challenge Great Lakes 2019 series made itself known. Homeward bound.

We were back on Lake Erie, having come through Lakes Michigan, Huron and St Clair. Lake Ontario just beyond the horizon. And with it, you guessed it, the same Welland Canal. 8 more locks, this time downbound.

The Erie Maritime Museum and the Flagship NIAGARA League extended their welcome and allowed us to stay for a few extra days, giving us the opportunity to undertake the canal prep in a more leisurely fashion. Not that we needed the extra time. We had simply become good at it. Nevertheless, good to have a couple of days up one’s sleeve. More training (we had embarked yet another new lot of trainees, the seventh for the summer) and drills. More maintenance. More daily life aboard a working, living, breathing square-rigger of the old school. I never tire of it.

And then Fiji happened.

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SUMMER 2019 HOMEWARD BOUND (Part 3 of 7)

Next stop: Buffalo, NY. Well, not quite.

There was the slight issue of the Welland Canal. Exactly. As we did not intend to climb Niagara Falls, Picton Castle had to do it all over again: Transform from a sailing ship into a triced up vessel capable of negotiating another eight locks to lift us up another 95 metres or so to the level of Lake Erie. Well, we had done it before, and we were getting better at it. The festival in Toronto ended at 6pm on a Monday, and at 0330 the following morning, we had a pilot boarding. We got underway just after 4am, across Lake Ontario towards Port Weller. A short delay waiting for downbound traffic, and Picton Castle entered the first lock of the Welland Canal at 1230. The transit upbound took us 11 hours. Emerging from the Welland Canal at Port Colborne at 2300, we came to anchor in the open roadstead in Lake Erie just after midnight.  BLUENOSE 2 made the transit later on the same day and came to join us. A beautiful sight, and a memorable occasion having this majestic schooner grace our anchorage.

A day at anchor saw more training and light day work, followed by another night at anchor.

Next morning, heave up and a short passage towards the muster point for a parade of sail into Buffalo. The parade of sail commenced at 1500, taking us past crowds of spectators ashore and a fleet of small craft in the approaches to the port, all there to welcome us to Buffalo. By 1800, we were alongside. Yes, you guessed it: the same procedure as before. Customs and Immigration, plus a US Coast Guard safety inspection scheduled for the following morning.

Buffalo put it on for us (and we for them!) over the July 4 long weekend. Having well and truly mastered our festival routine left us time to interact with the visitors more. Marvellous. And surprising what questions the public throws at you. The sailing ships that had been an integral part of everyone’s lives up until the early 20th century, still just within living memory, were now, only three generations later, a mystery to most.

Buffalo, as Toronto before (and most of the ports to follow), offered a mix of activities for visitors and some especially for the ships’ crews. Good fun. Self paced and self organised exploration of the host city was always an option, too. Niagara Falls was a popular destination for Picton Castle’s liberty watch.

Buffalo saw 3000 or so visitors across our decks daily, a number that remained our average all through the summer. That’s a lot of people. At 9,000 visitors per festival, multiplied by 9 festival ports gives us some 81,000 visitors across the deck, not counting those just walking up alongside for a little chat.

Buffalo was followed by Cleveland, OH. Another parade of sail. More Customs, Immigration and USCG inspections. You see a pattern emerging. This is not to suggest that all ports were blending into one blurry mess, kind of the same. Far from it. Every city or town, US American or Canadian, put their own individual spin and flavour on the festivals they organised. The summer never descended into monotonous boredom but maintained a fast paced and fascinating diversity of country culture. Good for us. And speaks volumes about the spirit and commitment of the host communities: Toronto, Ontario. Buffalo, NY. Cleveland, OH. Bay City, MI. Green Bay, WI. Kenosha, WI. Sarnia, Ontario. Kingsville, Ontario. Erie, PA.

Plus the ports we were lucky enough to visit besides the festival ports: Sturgeon Bay, WI. St James’s Harbour (Beaver Is), MI. Algonac, MI. and Clayton, NY. Great hosts all.

Do I have a favourite? You bet I do. And so has everyone else. And I bet it’s not the same.

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