If it has seemed a bit quiet around here in late December it’s for good reason, we took a bit of a break over the holidays. It’s a rare treat for our shore crew to be able to do that – when Picton Castle is on a voyage we’re all on standby, communicating from shore to ship daily and ready to respond to whatever needs the ship has at any time. At the moment, Picton Castle is securely tied to the wharf in Lunenburg and while we’re keeping an eye on her, there is no immediate, pressing work that needs to be done, so we’ve been able to enjoy a few days away from the office.
Ship’s cat Fiji has had a bit of a break from the ship too. She visited office manager Trudi’s house for a while (where Trudi lives with her husband, three children, and cat Aura). Then she spent some time at the Picton Castle office, attending the annual Christmas open house and mixing it up with our local friends who dropped by. Between Christmas and New Year’s she moved to my house where she’ll stay for a while in the coldest part of winter. I am quickly learning that I simply can’t provide the same amount of love and attention as an entire crew can, but I’ll do my best to keep this cute, well-traveled feline happy.
The holiday season always makes us think of others gone by. Celebrating Christmas at sea is a different experience. Each of our crew members have their own family traditions, and while there are some common elements, Christmas at sea in Picton Castle is all about making our own special day with our shipmates aboard. It usually involves preparing days in advance by baking cookies and pies on night watches in the galley, then putting up some sort of decorations around the deck or in the various living compartments, the setting up the little artificial tree on the cargo hatch amidships. On Christmas Day, crew members can put gifts they’ve purchased or made for each other under the tree. After a bit of social time in the afternoon the presents are distributed and opened, followed by a delicious dinner. And of course, no ship’s work aside from steering, lookout and sail handling as required.
The holiday season also makes us think of those who have sailed with us. Once you’re Picton Castle crew, you’re always Picton Castle crew! We are wishing all of our crew a very happy holiday season, and a year of adventures ahead in 2020.
On Friday, December 13th Bosun School 2019 came to an end, and we held an end-of-year celebration at the Dory Shop here in Lunenburg. There was absolutely delicious food prepared by our Bosun School Cook Chantale, followed by a few speeches (by Luneburg’s Mayor Bailey, Class Valedictorian Gwen, Captain Lorenzen, and Captain Moreland) and then the presentation of certificates. It was a really wonderful night, and we here in the Picton Castle office can’t wait to hear about all of the wonderful things our students go on to do!
Congratulations to all the students, and a huge thanks to the three instructors: Captain Moreland, Captain Lorenzen and Gabe St-Denis, and as well to Mayor Rachel Bailey for taking time out of her very busy schedule to come and celebrate with us.
The past week has been a whirlwind of connecting, meeting, learning and networking at the Sail Training International conference in Antwerp, Belgium. Picton Castle was represented by Captain Daniel Moreland, Tammy Moreland, Bronwen Livingston and myself (Maggie Ostler).
Based in England, Sail Training International (STI) is the
worldwide body that promotes sail training, supports ships, encourages industry
best practices, supports ports that host tall ships, and operates the Tall
Ships Races and occasionally Tall Ships Regattas. We don’t make it to the
annual conference every year, but we do try to get there every so often.
Being in the presence of ship operators from all over the world helps with
cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives. We can gain perspective
there on things we’re doing well and also on things we can take lessons from
others to improve on.
We arrived a day before the start of the conference to get acclimated from the transatlantic flight and rested up before the meetings and sessions began. The first full day for us was Thursday when we attended a meeting of the Ships Council, a body made up of ship operators from all over the world including those in Europe, North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. The Ships Council, made up of the Tall Ships Forum (which Picton Castle is a member of) and the Small Ships Forum, is for sharing knowledge and experience of best practices and addressing international regulatory issues. At this particular meeting we talked about upcoming races and regattas, the Blue Flag scheme which recognizes environmentally responsible operations, European Union regulations for traditional sailing vessels, and safety aloft. Captain Moreland led a panel discussing safety aloft along with Helle Barner Jespersen, long term Chief Mate of the full rigger training ship Georg Stage in Denmark (training mariners since 1882), Steve Moss of the Young Endeavour in Australia, and Marcus Seidl, Captain of the Bark Statsraad Lehmkuhl (from 1914) in Norway.
Both Friday and Saturday were filled with sessions in the
mornings and afternoons. At each time slot there were a number of options
offered, allowing each person to choose the session of greatest interest and
applicability to their work. One of the good things about attending with
a number of us is that we could split up to attend many sessions at the same
time (and share notes later). Between the four of us we covered topics
from social media marketing to security, mariner licensing to corporate
sponsorship, scholarships to the environment. Even more of us would be
After leading the well-attended session on safety aloft at the Ships Council, Captain Moreland made a presentation about Bosun School in one of the sessions. Bosun School was designed to assist young professional mariners gain hands-on skills they need for successful future employment. It also was designed to benefit our industry, as ships need well-trained mariners with solid technical seamanship skills. We currently have a 100% placement rate for Bosun School graduates – everyone who has wanted to go on to find a berth on a ship or in a shore-based role in the marine industry has done so. Captain Moreland’s presentation introduced the Bosun School to an international audience of industry peers, which we hope will attract more students in the future and open doors for our graduates. It was very well received.
For me personally, I had the pleasure of representing Canada
at this international conference. I am on the board of directors of Tall
Ships Canada and was recently appointed by the board as Canada’s representative
to Sail Training International. I attended the International Council
meeting where every country that is a member of STI sends one representative,
along with the trustees and directors of STI. The meeting was mostly
about sharing information, with updates from the Ships Council, the Youth
Council, and the Port Advisory Group. I also got to talk with
representatives of other national sail training organizations to find out how
Antwerp was a lovely setting for the conference. The
majority of the sessions were hosted in the Flanders Meeting and Convention
Centre, also known as Elisabeth Hall, which is right next to the Antwerp Zoo
and the Antwerp Central Station. Elisabeth Hall is impressive from both
the outside and the inside. Parts are new, bright and well lit, parts are
quite old and full of ornate décor and marble columns. The gala dinner
and dancing held on Saturday night was at a venue called Horta which is a very
interesting art nouveau building. The food at both venues was very good,
especially the desserts that featured Belgian chocolate mousse.
When we weren’t in conference sessions we got out to see the
city and walked for miles. The Antwerp Christmas market started on the
last day of the conference so we got to enjoy the festive atmosphere and
hundreds of small wooden booths each with a different vendor. Most were
selling food or drinks, everything from hot dogs to waffles, beer to gluhwein
(warm mulled red wine – pronounced ‘glue-wine’), some were selling hats or
mittens or jewellery or toys. Most of the market was centred around the
massive and impressive Cathedral of Our Lady, the largest gothic building in
all the Low Countries, and for centuries the tallest. Construction
started in 1352 and was completed in 1521. The outside is imposing and
ornate, and the interior is like an art gallery with hundreds of carvings and
paintings, including four by famous Flemish baroque painter Rubens. To get
there from where we were staying, we walked up and down the Meir, Antwerp’s
pedestrian shopping district. While I don’t think any of us are bringing
home any of the diamonds that Antwerp is famous for, our suitcases on the
return trip were a bit more full with Belgian chocolates and other little
We want to say thank you to Sail Training International and
the conference planning team for putting on an excellent event and welcoming us
so warmly. Although it’s a long way to travel from Lunenburg to Antwerp,
it was definitely worth the trip.
Slowly, ever so slowly, it is sinking in that Bosun School is coming to a close. Only one more week! Where have those days and weeks gone?
Coming to think of it, it is, in fact, surprising that time has not run away even faster. The sheer amount of things that we have been up to over the last two-and-a-half months is quite mind boggling. Bosun School, “an intensive skills development program”. Indeed.
Remember? Overhaul, prepare, repair, caulk, paint & launch boats, from small skiffs (and dugout canoe) to decent-sized sailing yachts; use sheer legs to step masts; learn to sail, row, pull and motor; basic rope work; organise workspaces; wire care and wire rigging maintenance; worming, parcelling & serving; wire and fibre rope splices and seizings; work aloft; partially down-rig a three-masted barque, by hand; learn to move heavy things safely; overhaul blocks; learn the fundamentals of sailmaking and sail repair; hand- and machine sewing; make a ditty bag; build an upper tops’l to the second layout stage; absorb shipboard life with all its joys and demands; attend workshops; write a CV and learn how to apply for a job; listen to distinguished maritime and academic professionals and hear their view of our industry; complete an accredited industrial rigging course, and first aid course; get your recreational boater’s licence… the list goes on. And yet, every day brings something new. Never a dull moment.
Today was yet another busy day at Boz Skool. Despite a rather
rainy and windy first half of the day, we had the program running along nicely.
Rigging overhaul continued apace in the warmish workshop while the weather was
miserable before lunch.
The gang had submitted a revised hauling plan for the schooner Calanova and the Blue Sloop yesterday for approval. Yes, it’s that time of year. Not to make too fine a point of it, our two boats are the last remaining on moorings in Lunenburg Harbour. Many moorings are now in use by the Lobster fishermen, and busy it is in the harbour because of it, too.
Are we being tardy hauling boats? No way. In fact, Blue and Calanova were both sailed a few days ago in golden early afternoon sunshine and light winds. A good occasion for the gang to say “Goodbye” after a couple of months of intense small boat work. A last opportunity to practice maneuvering under sail, in perfect training conditions.
Hauling plan. Yes, we do it that formally. Getting on paper what
is loosely orbiting your mind. What is important? Where are the possible snags?
Much like in a professional environment, the gang had to compile a plan as if
they were offering their services to a customer. And doing it in such a formal way helps
greatly to visualise the process.
We launched the boats two months ago, and a lot has happened
since. So many new impressions, so much rigging, sailorising, small boat work,
sail making, boat repair, you name it. Somewhere down there, deep down, is the
memory of the launching. Hauling is much the same, in reverse. So deep down the
memory was that we had to reject the gang’s first attempt at a hauling plan.
Had they forgotten everything?
No, they had not. After a debrief regarding the failed plan, the gang submitted version 2.0. And much improved it is, too, I would call it an actual hauling plan this time.
After lunch, I quizzed the gang about their plan, had them
describe the process, and let them clarify a couple of “soft” points in the
plan. The plan was then accepted, and we will set it in motion tomorrow.
Busy, you said? Oh yes!
Monomoy, our 26-foot ex-rescue pulling surf boat got hauled by the gang, a last hurrah under oars, and her bottom was cleaned while still soft & slimy. Monomoywill be properly winterised at the Dory Shop shortly. Karl, Mr. Bones and the varnished skiff, all part of the Bosun School fleet of small boats that were used during this year’s session, were moved into the “Building Bay”, a large open workshop in the Picton Castle warehouse. Mr. Bones, in fact, got triced up under the overhead steel girder to give us more room for the remaining three boats that have yet to be moved for the winter. And the Building Bay, also serving as stock lumber store, got tidied some in the process. Good Bosun work all of it.
Christian, Bosun School student from Denmark and Picton Castle hand this past summer in the Great Lakes, conducted a workshop on 8-strand hawser splicing, and he did a good job. Having to explain and demonstrate something to others is a good tool to deepen one’s own skill and understanding. A valuable lesson to learn.
What else? All is laid along to haul at least Calanova tomorrow. Not sure whether we have enough lumber for bearers for both boat cradles, Calanova and Blue at the same time, we’ll have to see. If we do, the plan is to haul both Calanova and Blue tomorrow on the same tide. If we don’t have enough lumber, the Blue Sloop will be hauled the following day.
In preparation, the beach at the Dory Shop boatyard was cleared from seaweed and debris and leveled today at afternoon low tide.
Bound for the South Pacific in the Barque Picton Castle
Here at the Picton Castle office, we have been getting all sorts of questions from folks who have been thinking about sailing in our Barque Picton Castle. They tell us that they are looking for that amazing deep-sea, blue-water seafaring, square-rigger voyaging experience. Kind of right up our alley. They want to haul braces with new shipmates in a proper square-rigged ship in the balmy trade-wind breezes. Sail small boats in among tropical coves and bays to little islands on camping expeditions. And they said they want fine warm breezes in the south seas, frigate birds and flying fish. They want to visit legendary islands and make friends living on these islands. Coconuts and mangos and breadfruit might be on the menu in the shade of coconut palms perhaps. “Why don’t you sail back to Pitcairn Island if it is so great there?” Good question. “Why not sail to Tahiti and Bora Bora too if you can? You have a fine, sail anywhere, steel barque, you know the way, why not sail back the Pacific?” Another few reasonable questions. Got us to thinking. My father always told me “plans are for changing”. So, in late spring of 2020, the Barque Picton Castle will be setting sail for the fantastic South Pacific Ocean, our ship’s (and crew’s) natural seagoing habitat. Europe is wonderful, I love it there, but Europe can wait for another year. The South Seas call, a call that cannot be denied…
New crew join the ship
All new crew and trainee crew will be joining the ship in May next spring at Lunenburg to stow the ship, bend sail and otherwise get the ship ready for sea – and train themselves up too. Lots to do and lots to learn; lots of practice and drills and much to go over before setting out to sea the first time. It can be (will be) a demanding and at times confusing period – all new people soon to become shipmates, ropes and lines everywhere, boxes and crates to load and stow. Tons of food, rope, paint, rigging gear, fuel, lumber and lots else to be hoisted aboard and stowed. Supplies for Pitcairn Island that have been ordered by our friends there to be packed in the 100-ton hold. Figuring out 205 lines, braces, halyards, sheets and downhauls – there is much to be learned – boats to load onboard, boats to get oriented in, ten yards, bending 21 sails, anchor drills, emergency training and follow up drills – fire drills, life-raft drills, man-over-board drills, damage control techniques, and all sorts of other stuff. There is lots to do before setting sail for the first time.
Then on or about June 1st, we will cast off from the
salty old seaport of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, set sail and point our
jib-boom due south down the North Atlantic, looking for the Southern Cross.
Crossing the Gulf Stream, we are bound for the brilliant tropics and the delightful
tradewind islands of the eastern Caribbean about 2,000 miles away before
sailing along the ‘Spanish Main’ bound for Panama, the Panama Canal and out
into the broad Pacific Ocean. Cool at first, soon we will be in shorts,
tee-shirts and barefoot.
The island nation of Grenada – “The Isle of Spice”. Lush and green, the best introduction to tropical seafaring and Caribbean life and one of our favorite islands anyway. A second home to Picton Castle (we have a few of these). Beautiful harbour careenage of St George’s, exquisite silver beach of Grand Anse, reggae and calypso music, 17th century sugar plantations still making rum, Jack Iron, mountain waterfalls, spice tours, roti and home to Picton Castle’s great cook/seafarer Donald. We will also put in to Carriacou, a smaller island to the north, where wooden sailing and fishing vessels are being built to this day (See the film VANISHING SAIL on YouTube).
Bonaire – Bonaire is a quiet small Dutch West
Indian island off the coast of Venezuela which we will visit as we sail on our
way west across the southern Caribbean towards the Isthmus of Panama. Laying in
the strong tradewinds belt, beautiful clear waters, low, dry and interesting
old structures dating from the age of infamous piracy and slavery. Small wooden
ships bring in fruit from the mainland to our dock in Bonaire. A lovely stop
for us. Then out and downwind for Panama.
The San Blas Islands of the Kuna – after what could well be a strong trade-wind romp along the coast of South America, along the “Spanish Main”, we will put into the San Blas islands along Panama’s coast. Picture perfect palm-fringed islets in crystal clear sparkling turquoise blue waters. Wooden dugout canoes sailing by, paddling to the ship and some with outboards too. The San Blas islands are n autonomous region of Panama, owned and managed by the indigenous Kuna who have called this area home for centuries. They farm on the jungle-covered mainland and live on these tiny islands, at one time for security and safety from the colonial powers. Looks like it worked as they are still here and still in charge. Beautiful setting, beautiful waters, powerful indigenous autonomy – you’ll see…
Portobello, the ‘Gold Port’ – Columbus anchored here and named it the ‘beautiful harbour’ – this quiet little bay harbouring a sleepy little Latin American waterfront town on the way towards the Canal Zone, was once the main port for Spanish transshipping of melted down Incan gold and mined gold and silver back to Spain back in the days just after conquest – and very much in the ‘golden age of piracy’. And among other things a keen target for the likes of Francis Drake and Henry Morgan depredations. Abandoned stone forts and big iron cannon laying in place where their carriages rotted out ages ago are scattered about the bay. “Drake” is still a ‘dirty’ word in these parts. And a sweet gentle introduction to Panama. A day-sail away from the Panama Canal zone where things ramp up for the seriously ‘awesome’ canal transit. We overuse the word ‘awesome’ today but here the term is quite apt. You’ll see.
The Panama Canal transit. This is a big job to prepare for and then a long but fascinating day as we make a daylight transit of this technological wonder. A study in superlatives in amounts of dirt and rock moved, people dying to disease, the moving of huge populations to make a workforce, the vast volumes of waters to make it work, the tons of ships that go through every day, month, year. Amazing, literally. Hard to imagine pulling anyone building such a canal today. But there it is and it makes this voyage possible. Take the locks up to Gatun Lake, steam through the jungle of Central America and locks down to the other sides and the Pacific Ocean. On day instead of three or four months and we get to skip Cape Horn. And this is a day you can never forget.
Panama is amazing in and of itself and we will spend some time here, and more on the way home. Strong indigenous cultures, clear evidence of piracy of the old style, ancient Spanish fortifications, great food, and lovely folks. The ruins of Old Panama City, sacked by Henry Morgan, are easy to walk through an impressively intact. Once Morgan wrecked the place and stole all he could, this old stone city was abandoned and the Spanish just a new Panama City towards the west and left the old one to crumble. A fascinating visit bringing old pirate history right to us. Old neighborhoods of Casco Viejo, music, dining and markets full of local crafts.
On towards Galapagos. After transiting the techno-wonder
of a Panama Canal we will head SW and across the equator for Wreck Bay in the
Galapagos Islands. Wreck Bay is a small Ecuadorian fishing town on the island
of San Cristobal and gateway to many of the treasures for which the Galapagos
is famed. And great Latin American cooking and music. Marine iguanas everywhere
and we will have to shoo big sea-lions out of the skiff after they take their
naps if we want to get ashore.
Passage to Pitcairn
From these equatorial ecological gems, we set sail for storied Pitcairn Island. Home to descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their island consorts who settled there in 1790, Pitcairn is 2,800 miles away and usually a grand trade-wind sea passage. Here we find the rhythm of the ship at sea. Flying fish join us and maybe a whale or two, perhaps a few pods of dolphins from time to time. And we find our own rhythms too as the ship becomes our world. Day after day, week after week we steer the ship at the big teak wheel aft upon the quarterdeck, stand forward lookout at night, learn our lines better than ever, practice sail handling, helping in the galley, keeping the ship clean, figure out our knots and splice and really “learn the ropes” as the saying goes. Maybe some will get their sextants out to see if they can find out where we are. For those interested, they will learn to bring down the sun. So far from land, the night sky can be dazzling with stars. We become seafarers on the passage. The sea becomes our world. And then over the horizon, Pitcairn Island grows up in front of us off the bow.
A small island, less than two miles long, it is also quite high and sometimes you can see it from many miles away. The big powerful 40-foot-long launches will come out from Bounty Bay to meet us, take us ashore and if the weather is good enough, unload supplies for the island. Hopefully, we can find a place to put the anchor down. If not the Picton Castle and half the gang will be hove-to offshore as the other half goes ashore – again, if the weather holds. Just out the tropics at 25 degrees South, the weather is not as steady as it is in the tradewinds belt. The weather can be dodgy. But if we are lucky, we will get a few days at Pitkern Island. The gang will be split into two watches, one watch aboard to look after the ship, one watch ashore to mix it up with old friends of mine and the ship. Climb up to Christian’s cave, take the longboat into Bounty Bay. Maybe get to swim at St Paul’s Big Pool, walk the secluded wooded paths first cleared by members of the Bounty’s crew ages ago. Make friends you cannot ever forget. It is hard to get to Pitcairn, but it’s harder to leave, but sail on we must.
On to the Marquesas.
1,200 miles to the northwest lay the Marquesas and back into the tropics. Sail-making, rigging, ships carpentry, celestial navigation, and other skills will be pursued by the ambitious seafarers aboard this passage. Herman Melville jumped ship here almost 200 years ago from a whaleship and gathered enough stories to write TYPEE and other books and stories. Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, and Fatu Hiva are on our list of Marquesan islands to put into. Tall mountainous islands, even today the populations have not caught up with pre-contact days. But walking through the quiet forest you can stumble on lone tikis in the woods, part of old house foundations. Of particular charm to me as captain, is the fact that some of the anchorages are actually pretty good, a rarity in the South Pacific. Google these islands up and learn more. We are keen to see these islands again.
Onward we sail…ever deeper into the islands and atolls of
the South Pacific Ocean and into French Polynesia.
The Tuamotu Archipelago – The “Dangerous Archipelago”
From Marquesas, we sail southwest through the Tuamotus – aka, the Puamotus or the “Dangerous Archipelago”. Known as the ‘Dangerous Archipelago’ as these islands are low, low, I mean, low, coral atolls, sometimes hard to see until only a few miles away – quite a change from the high islands like Pitcairn and Nuku Hiva visible almost 40 miles away when the atmosphere is clear. Combine low islands with poor charts and plenty currents, at times no wind, and dubious navigation you could be forgiven in thinking these islands are a bit ‘dangerous’ to navigate about. We’ll be OK though, not our first rodeo. One atoll for sure we will try to get to is Takaroa. A classic Polynesian atoll living the enchanted atoll life. And also, high up on the beach almost in the coconut palms is the wreck of the huge iron full-rigged ship County of Roxburgh, lost in a cyclone in 1906. Just sitting there, wrecked and yards and masts laying in the coconut palms just inshore. Much more to say about Takaroa and life on low coconut palm covered coral atolls but enough for now. Better to experience it anyway. Fishing, diving, exploring, making friends, sailing in lagoons, dancing…. don’t forget that big shipwreck either
The ship comes first, life aboard. With all the charms of land and these legendary islands, we are seafarers first and the ship comes before all. If we do not take care of the ship, she cannot take care of us. While we have plenty of time ashore all hands stand watches at sea and in port, sharing out the duties of sea-folk so all hands can both learn the way of a ship and also explore and enjoy the islands. At sea, we are on three watches: 4 hours on, 8 hours off duty around the clock. In port, we also take turns and stand watches onboard while half to 2/3rds of the gang head shore to explore.
Duties at sea on watch: our four hours watches usually include a trick at the wheel, some sail handling, maybe a stint at forward lookout. Certainly, there will be some ship cleaning, washing down the decks followed by some kind of ship’s work such as painting, varnishing, tarring or one and more of hundreds of other tasks that keep the ship moving. Maybe work aloft in the rigging or sail-making on the quarterdeck. Taking turns helping the chief cook in the galley and of course, there will be dishes to wash. Yet out of the 24 hours in the day, only eight hours are regularly called for on deck. Except in unusual moments, the rest of the day is yours to do as you wish.
Duties in port: When the ship is at anchor or alongside a town wharf we always keep a navigational watch aboard. This ain’t no yachting tour. We always look after the ship. And thus the ship always looks after us. And with a watch aboard it allows our shipmates either half or two-thirds at a time to explore ashore at the many amazing ports we visit. Managing the ship’s boats, skiff runs ashore, shopping with the cook, painting, rigging, sailmaking are ongoing. Keeping the ship safe should weather change. Anchor watches at night are standard procedure.
Back at sea…under sail…bound for…
Tahiti and the Society Islands
Tahiti. If ever a name evokes the south seas it must be “Tahiti”. There is nothing quite like making landfall at Tahiti. The mountains break through the skies and clouds. The fragrance of rich land as we get under the lee of land will be in sharp contrast to the salty sea. Sailors say that you ‘should have been to Tahiti (fill in the blank) years ago’; 10 years ago, 30 years ago or whenever. They have been saying this ever since Captain Cook’s second voyage. But having been to and enjoyed spending time at Tahiti since I was a young man 40 years ago, the right answer is that the time to go to Tahiti and experience and enjoy Tahiti is always “right now”. Thus, we are be bound for Tahiti. Sounds good to me! Yes, much more modern and up to date, and always bustling. The Gauguin Museum is a highlight. Waterfalls in the mountains, surf along the reefs, round island treks, plantations, coconut palm-fringed beaches, black pearls, the beautiful old market, amazing singing in the churches. Of course, the nightlife and cafes in Papeete call us in. Baguettes and the best coffee and French wines. The night market of food caravans near the docks offers the most delicious French and Polynesian cuisine. Matavai Bay, host to Captain Cook’s ships and the infamous HMS Bounty (as well as a few movies of same) is a short bus ride away, curving black volcanic sand beaches with surf rolling in. This is where Bligh and Christian and generations of European sailors landed their longboats and more generations of Tahitians over centuries launched their voyaging canoes, their ‘Vakas’ and set out to sea. Tahiti is also great for shopping for the ship and fueling up. Then we can explore the legendary Society Islands.
Mo’orea. Beautiful, elegant, quiet and serene and quite near to Tahiti. An amazing backdrop of mountains at anchor. Some call it the most beautiful anchorage in the world. Huahine. Bastion of independent traditional and an equally independent Polynesian outlook on life. Friendly in the busy village and accommodating. Small “Chinese Stores”, cafes, farms, and lagoons for exploring. Bora Bora. Stunning mountain skyline, a good anchorage and great place for sailing our ship’s boats all around inside the lagoon.
Sailing the ship’s boats.
One of the many excellent things about sailing a ship just the size of Picton Castle is that we can carry a number of sizable ships boats to use when we wish. And what is more instructive (and actually quite fun) than sailing and learning to sail a small sloop, cutter, dory or motor skiff in the lagoons and coves of tropical islands? Whenever we can we launch these boats and sail them in the bays and harbour in which we anchor. Everyone gets a chance to do this and it is highly encouraged for all. There is some book study, hands-on instruction and then lots of practice and exercise around the ship. Sometimes we make expeditions to smaller islands, motus, and cays. Even overnight expeditions when circumstances allow. Small boats are not just good fun but are powerful teachers of seamanship. Small boat competency is essential to the accomplished mariner.
South to the Australs
From Tahiti and the Society Islands, we plan to sail for Rapa Nui, aka Easter island by way of Raivavae, in the Austral Islands, a rarely visited island inside a fine barrier reef of coral and motus. A motu is a small islet, usually on the fringe reef but can be anywhere. Did you see the Disney film “Moana”? Moana means ocean and the island of ‘Motunui’, the home island in the film, means ‘big islet’. I have never been to Raivavae and am extremely keen on visiting this island with Picton Castle and our crew. Looks amazing from here and have heard great things.
Then the long sea passage to Easter Island or Rapa Nui. Big Rapa. Good to get our ‘sea-legs’ back. Good to get into the rhythm of the ship and sea again – steering at the big teak wheel, standing forward lookout, handling sails and braces as needed, tarring the rig, painting, varnishing, making new running rigging here and there. A long passage to be sure but it will go quickly. Rapa Nui is the Polynesian name for this intriguing island. “Nui” means big or greater. There is a Rapa Iti (you guessed it, “iti” means ‘small’) about 2,000 miles away. Everyone has heard of Easter Island and seen pictures of the great and mysterious statues – few have sailed there. But we will. And this is the first time Picton Castle has been to Rapa Nui. After checking out this easternmost outpost of Polynesia, huge statues and all, we will catch the South East Tradewinds again and sail for the islands of the Gulf of Panama.
Lots to learn about ships, boats, and seafaring while going to sea in Picton Castle.
How we learn and teach in the Picton Castle. We will push you pretty hard to gain a competency of the basics that you need to become useful on watch: learning the 205 lines made up of halyards, downhauls, braces, clewlines, sheets and buntlines and what they do; steering the ship, learning the compass and point system, standing a proper lookout, managing a good ship check, helping in the galley and washing up, keeping the ship clean a good deal more will come first. From time to time we hold workshops in a range of practical and theoretical subjects. Some are mandatory some are not. Sail-making, knots and splices, all sorts of wire rigging, ocean winds and weather, ocean currents, small boat sailing, ship handling, cultural insights into upcoming ports, chartwork, celestial navigation, small boat handling, etc. Much will be learned simply on the watches alongside shipmates in gaining the ship’s routines. The important thing to remember is that you get out of this what you put into it.
Heading for the Caribbean and the Spanish Main
After a nice long sail from Rapa Nui and once near Panama we
will find Las Perlas, a large archipelago a good long day sail away from the
mainland, to check out. We will have sailed by these ‘pearls’ when outward
bound. Now we get to head ashore. Put our toes in the sands of these beautiful
islands. More to say at a later time.
For some of the gang aboard this will be a return to Panama and they will get to return to familiar haunts or explore what they missed the first time around. The nation of Panama is much more than a canal. On our world voyages, we are all so keen to get out into the South Pacific that I have always felt that we shortchanged our visits to Panama. That and the fact the crew were just learning how to explore tropical places and cultures at the beginning of the voyage we would get paddling pretty quickly for the westward. But now, maybe we will have an excellent chance to take in Panama in some depth and its wide diversity of just about anything you can think of. We could spend weeks, even months in Panama.
Through the canal northbound back into the Caribbean Sea. The first time ever for me and this ship bound this way.
We love them so much we will put into Portobelo and San Blas islands for the second time on this voyage. Why not, they are right there? Maybe explore parts we did not get to the first time. Or visit old haunts familiar. For new crew, it will all be new anyway.
Cartegna, Colombia just to the east of Panama
is an amazing old Spanish city with tremendous fortifications and outstanding
cuisine and rich Latin American music and culture. The Spanish were “here
to stay”. The city is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its
military fortifications, built in the 15th, 16th and 17th
centuries, which are the most extensive in South America and one of the most
complete, and for its historic importance as a West Indies port. The Old
Town is surrounded by a high stone wall that’s 13 kilometres long.
Elsewhere in the city, there is a mix of old and new architecture.
In the past, travelers have had to exercise a great deal of
caution for personal safety in Colombia. This naturally has kept people
away. Yet in the past five years, the public safety situation in Colombia
has improved significantly and is now once again a welcoming destination.
Nowhere on earth is without risk, but we expect to see a huge increase in
tourists visiting Colombia shortly. We’re looking forward to getting to
Cartagena before the secrets of this incredible city are out of the bag.
The Yucatan. We will sail north to anchor at Cozumel, Mexico. A main reason for choosing Cozumel is to give many of the crew a chance to visit the Yucatan with all the Aztec pyramids, temples and other ruins of this lost civilization. From Cozumel, there is a ferry that runs many times a day to Playa del Carmen on the mainland of the Yucatan peninsula. From there, it’s a fairly short trip to see Tulum or a longer trip to see Chichen Itza. While the area surrounding the cruise ship terminal in Cozumel is quite touristy, the beaches of the east coast are quieter, where the locals hang out and offer some amazing local foods. Diving and snorkeling in Cozumel are also spectacular.
The Gulf of Mexico and Tall Ships is where we’re headed next. We don’t yet know exactly which ports in the US we’ll visit but will update you as the details come together. The reason we’re headed for the Gulf of Mexico is the Tall Ships Challenge. This is a series of port visits and sailing races between ports for tall ships. An exciting opportunity for the Picton Castle crew to mix it up with other tall ships in a festive atmosphere. The Challenge is organized every year by Tall Ships America and moves around from coast to coast. Picton Castle participated in the first-ever Tall Ships Challenge in the Gulf of Mexico in 2018, just before we began our seventh world circumnavigation voyage. At that time, we visited Galveston in Texas, Pensacola in Florida, and New Orleans in Louisiana. We expect a similar number of ports will host the tall ships fleet in 2021. These events are a good chance for our crew, who by then will know Picton Castle very well, to share the ship with the public as we welcome folks from these cities aboard for deck tours. It’s also an opportunity for our gang to meet some other tall ship sailors. We’re unlikely to see any other traditional sailing ships until this point in our voyage so it will be a pleasure to meet and interact with other crews.
The Bahamas After the tall ships festivals in the Gulf have folded their tents, Picton Castle will be homeward bound. We’ll sail down around the southern tip of Florida, hitch a ride on the Gulf Stream and make our way to the Bahamas. We all remember seeing videos and photos in the news about how hard Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in late summer of 2019. Buildings were flattened entirely, trees uprooted, all manner of things washed away, and many, many people lost everything they had. A natural disaster like this is tough anywhere, but especially tough in a place like the Bahamas because they depend so heavily on tourism for their economy. Without visitors, they can’t make any money to survive and rebuild, but visitors are scarce there after something like this. In the immediate aftermath, there’s not much in the way of infrastructure, and people are scared that the devastation will happen again.
They’ll be about a year and a half into their recovery at
the time we plan to visit, and like so many of the other islands we’ve visited
that have been recently hit by a hurricane or cyclone, they’ll be on their way
to rebuilding. It won’t be the same. But they’ll be making a
comeback in their own way. And our visit will take place before hurricane
Bermuda will be our final port call before returning to Lunenburg to complete the voyage. Bermuda is a sweet spot for a visiting vessel. Seemingly semi-tropical, its location makes it an ideal place to stop on a passage north or south from Lunenburg. But more than its geographic location, Bermuda is a welcoming place, especially for a ship like ours. We’ve made many friends over the years in Bermuda and have a number of Picton Castle alumni who are from there (including the Chief Mate on our most recent world circumnavigation voyage). It’s also a final chance on this voyage for our crew to visit beaches and swim in tropical blue waters.
This final passage of this voyage will bring us back to Lunenburg. Every time Picton Castle sails into Lunenburg after a long voyage is a big event. Even for those who didn’t join the voyage in Lunenburg, it’s a homecoming. The working waterfront is always full of well-wishers, including friends and family of those aboard as well as local friends of the ship. Lunenburg marks the completion of a voyage, the accomplishment of big goals and dreams.
In many ways, this voyage will be different than any other voyage Picton Castle has made before. But is so many other ways this is a simply classic and unique Picton Castle deep-sea, trade wind voyage putting in at iconic and difficult to get to islands and ports in the tropics. The South Pacific is such an enchanting place for a square rig sailor. The guys who used to sail in ships commercially around bitter cold and stormy Cape Horn carrying goods all over the world dreamed of a voyage like this. Lots of time to make the miles under sail, time to explore ashore in both big cities and remote outposts, trade wind sailing on flying fish passages. Pretty much the dream of any square rig sailor.
The Barque Picton Castle is a three-masted tall ship based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada and best known for our adventurous international long distance sail training voyages. Anyone can become a trainee crew member, no experience required, just a desire to become part of the crew that sails the ship. With the guidance of our professional crew, you'll literally learn the ropes. Join us as a trainee crew member on the Voyage to the South Pacific in 2020-2021. Sign aboard for three, six or nine months, or for the full year-long voyage. Sail to the Caribbean, Panama, Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn Island, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, Tahiti and the Society Islands, Easter Island, Las Perlas, San Blas Islands, Cartagena, the Yucatan, the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas and Bermuda, making trade wind passages under sail. Sign on now, your adventure awaits!
We are were in Durban, South Africa, in December 1976 in the pretty
80’ Danish wooden Brigantine ROMANCE, the ship with so much of her
DNA in PICTON CASTLE, about to set off around the Cape of Storms and