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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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