Captain's Log

Archive for January, 2020

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Galapagos Islands

Galapagos, Even Better Than I Imagined

Maggie here, from Picton Castle’s shore crew.  I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have sailed with Picton Castle to the Galapagos not once but twice.  When I was first interested in sailing as a trainee, the Galapagos Islands was one of the ports I was most excited about.  Why?  To answer that, we need to go back to my childhood.

When I was a kid, I had a subscription to OWL Magazine, which is a Canadian science and nature magazine for ages 8-12.  I remember being so excited to check the mailbox each month to see if it had arrived.  The last page of the magazine always had a series of close-up photos of different items and readers had to guess each photo, and there was a different science experiment every month that you could do at home.  OWL Magazine did a whole series of issues on nature in the Galapagos.  I remember thinking that this place must be just filled with interesting and unusual animals and that it must be very, very far away because the landscape didn’t look like anything this nine-year-old girl had ever seen before. 

Fast forward almost 20 years and there I was, aboard Picton Castle, sailing into the harbour at Baquerizo Moreno, also known as Wreck Bay, at the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos.  My immediate first thought was that there were more buildings and streets than I expected.  Of course people live there, but I was surprised to see a thriving small town and a number of vessels at anchor in the bay.  The landscape had always been described to me as barren, and it certainly was dry but it wasn’t empty.


Even in town, nature is everywhere.  Sea lions swim in the bay, sun themselves on the beach in town, or on the concrete jetty, we brought Picton Castle’s skiff to, or even on some of the unoccupied boats at anchor.  Blue-footed boobies and frigate birds fly overhead.  Tropical plants of all sizes and descriptions grow neatly in gardens or not so neatly in vacant lots and outside of town. 

Adult sea lions are louder and smellier than I expected.  Young sea lions are as playful as I imagined.  One evening, getting into the skiff from the jetty to return to the ship with a number of my shipmates, a young sea lion put its flippers up on the gunwales and was starting to push itself up and into our boat in the same spot where I was about to sit down.  The chief mate came to my rescue, by instinct he reached his hand out and gently pushed the young pup back into the water.  Likewise, on night watch, instructions, as usual, included bailing the skiff, but with the added precaution of checking it with a flashlight first for sea lions. 

Seeing marine iguanas and other reptiles was interesting, but for me the big highlight was seeing Galapagos tortoises.  It’s incredible to think about their age, they routinely live to be 100 years old in the wild, even longer in captivity.  In order to ensure they can reach a ripe old age, there’s a tortoise sanctuary on San Cristobal where baby tortoises hatch and are kept in a wild-like environment but with protection from potential predators.  Being in the presence of creatures that are so rare definitely felt magical to me. 

On my second visit to the Galapagos Islands in Picton Castle, I was sailing as the purser so I saw less of the natural world and more of the town and the people.  People were friendly, and they tried to help as best they could with anything we wanted to find.  We were able to provision the ship there with fresh fruits and vegetables, including some really delicious bananas and oranges.  We also picked up some bamboo, which we later used as clubs for stuns’ls or booms for small boat sails. 

Picton Castle will be sailing to the Galapagos Islands again on this upcoming Voyage to the South Pacific.  As usual, we’ll be sailing to Wreck Bay at the island of San Cristobal.  We’re now accepting trainee crew applications for the full year-long voyage or for a three-month leg of the voyage (Galapagos is on Leg 2). 

Approaching Galapagos WV7
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Will I Get Seasick?

Maggie here, from Picton Castle’s shore crew.  I wasn’t always shore crew, I first joined Picton Castle as a trainee back in 2005.  One of the things I was concerned about was seasickness.  As it turns out, my concerns were valid because I did indeed suffer from seasickness. 

There’s no way to know who will be seasick and who won’t.  There’s a pretty good chance that at some point you’ll feel at least a bit queasy.  Even the most experienced mariners have admitted privately that they’ve felt the mal de mer in certain conditions. 

The good news is that except in very rare cases, seasickness doesn’t last forever.  Although you’ll feel awful, it’s comforting to know that you’ll eventually get past it.  The other good news is that there are many remedies for seasickness.  As part of our crew packing list, we suggest bringing what you think will work for you just in case you’re seasick.  You might never need it, but it’s better to have it just in case. 

So what does it look like/feel like to be seasick?  Some people just feel tired.  Some feel nauseated.  Some people throw up, some don’t.  At the time, admittedly, it feels pretty miserable. 

In my case, I started to feel poorly a few hours out from our first port and continued to be seasick for the next four days.  I still stood my watches and participated as best I could, while taking the occasional break to go throw up over the lee rail.  Upon setting sail from our second port, I was seasick for three days.  Then the port after that for two days, then by our fourth port, I was sick only for a day.  Finally, by the fifth port, I felt fine when we set sail.  I do still get seasick every time I go back to sea after a break on land, but at least I know that I’ve always recovered in the past and will again. 

So how do we handle seasickness on board?  We start by asking you to bring whatever you think it is that will prevent seasickness for you.  If you’ve ever had motion sickness before and found something that works to help prevent or treat it, bring that.  If you haven’t had motion sickness before, you could try any number of potential remedies.  Different people have found different things effective, everything from scopolamine patches worn behind the ear to Gravol or Bonamine, wristbands that stimulate pressure points, ginger candies, lozenges or cookies, wristbands with magnets, and on. 

There are some other things that may be helpful too.  Fresh air, and getting on deck where you can see the horizon is helpful for most people.  Smells, particularly strong ones, can aggravate sea sickness, so fresh air on deck helps with that too.  Many people feel more ill when they’re reading, either a book or on a screen, so perhaps avoid that.  Avoid eating or drinking anything on board that ordinarily might upset your stomach on land too. 

We continually monitor the health of our crew, so when people are seasick we’re looking out for dehydration or other possible complications.  If all other options have been exhausted, we have medications in our ship’s medical kit that can be administered other than orally that will help deal with nausea so you can slowly resume eating and drinking. 


Looking for some other ways to prevent or treat seasickness?  Check out this list of 50 methods on the professional mariner blog gCaptain.

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Sailing in the Tropics

Picton Castle and her shore crew are in the grip of winter here in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  On this Blue Monday, which is considered the saddest day of the year, we’re going to bring some sunshine into your life (and our lives) by writing about sailing in the tropics. 

First, let’s clear up what we mean by that phrase.  The tropics are geographically defined at 23 degrees north by the Tropic of Cancer and at 23 degrees south by the Tropic of Capricorn.  The band around the globe between these two lines are the tropics, and it’s generally sunnier and hotter here than anywhere else in the world. 

For sailors, the tropics are known for mostly good, pleasant sailing because of the trade winds.  They’re consistent easterly winds that in the northern hemisphere come from the east or northeast and in the southern hemisphere come from the east or southeast.  Sailing ship routes were established not because someone long ago decided that’s how they should be, but because of the consistent wind patterns.  We design our voyages to make best use of the winds, which is why we’ll be sailing from east to west in the tropics on our upcoming voyage and sailing from west to east much further south in the southern hemisphere.  It’s better, especially for a square-rigged ship to go with the wind than into it.


Trade winds also push weather systems along, which is useful to know when looking at weather conditions and weather forecasts.  We keep a close eye on weather and forecasts while sailing to see what might be headed in our direction, carried by the trade winds, and how we can avoid it if it’s something we don’t want to experience ourselves. 

In terms of day to day real life on Picton Castle’s deck, sailing in the tropics using the trade winds to propel us forward is pretty pleasant business.  If the wind force is consistent, we can keep the same sails set and just adjust braces (which control the angle of the square sails) in slight shifts in wind direction.  Usually, we make these small sail adjustments in the mornings at first light and again before sunset, so the 4-8 watch takes up on any lines that have become slack overnight, or in cases where no adjustment is really required, they brace by just an inch or so in order to not have the lines of rigging feel friction at the same spot for days on end. 

It’s not to say that sailing in the tropics is always pleasant.  There are squalls, wind shifts, rain, even gales.  We dodge what we can, but we will experience some.  At those times, we’re required to be more quick and attentive to sail handling and to anticipating conditions in general. 

But for the most part, sailing in the tropics is pretty fantastic.  Weather is warm, we can wear shorts and t-shirts, sandals or bare feet on deck.  Maybe a long sleeve shirt on night watches.  When winds are consistent we can be under sail alone, so the sounds we hear are the rush and gurgle of water against the hull, the wind moving the rigging, and the voices of shipmates. 

Do you want to experience sailing in the tropics for yourself?  Trainee applications are now open for the Voyage to the South Pacific in 2020-2021. 

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Snow Day for the Picton Castle

While keenly looking forward to sailing in the balmy South Pacific…we take a moment to enjoy the winter here in Lunenburg.

Here in Lunenburg, we are preparing for our upcoming voyage to the South Pacific. Quite a bit of excitement. Crew and trainees are signing up. Making lists. Working on plans. Talking to our Panama agents. Contact with Pitcairn Islanders about bringing supplies to their ever so remote and delightful outpost island. Thinking about when to re-cross the yards on the foremast. Worklist for our winter ship-keepers. Planning your standard drydocking jobs and oh-so-many tasks associated with getting a ship like the Barque Picton Castle ready to return to sea and ready for a long tropical voyage. Thoughts of tee-shirts and pareaus in soft trade winds at the big teak wheel sailing across warm blue seas in our near future…just seems so far away…

But here in Nova Scotia (halfway between the equator and the North Pole), it was January 8th in this New Year and it snowed aplenty. There would be 20 cm by noon. That’s about 8 inches. With more to fall throughout the day. We were well warned of this large snowstorm by the increasingly excellent weather forecasting – the entire town was snug and put away for the weather – so Maggie called a “snow day”. All hands would work from home. Schools and many businesses closed too. The roads in town were fair quiet – apart from the occasional snow-plow rattling down the muffled lanes. Soft, fluffy stuff drifted gently down from the sky before dawn. Snow just damp enough to be perfect for snowballs and making a snowman, but not so damp to get you soaked. Light winds, trees were allowed to accumulate and balance quite a bit of this delicate stuff on their branches and even skinny twigs.

Despite the declaration of a snow day, and the delightful fire chuckling away in the woodstove at our warm cozy home, it seemed necessary to head out and wander abroad to inspect closely and at first hand this first snowfall of the new year, check on the ship and the waterfront too. Enlisting my 7-year-old son, Dawson, we suited up and set out along the snow-covered streets of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. He did much not want to go out on a forced march and told me so. I pulled rank. Later, of course, he did not want to come back inside – too much fun to be had out of doors. I did not pull rank. We walked through the quiet drifting whiteness up to the grocery store in town not far away known as Foodland. Here we provision the Picton Castle as have ships sailing from Lunenburg for generations. We needed eggs and bagels.

Lunenburg’s Dory Shop

Next, we ambled along pushing snow out of our way down towards the shore and the venerable Dory Shop perched atop pilings over the water, the boat-yard building dories and wooden workboats for the fleet since 1917. A few new dories in the yard were well covered with a blanket of cold white sparkly down, as well as a schooner, a friendship sloop, a Tahiti Ketch (as if we needed a hint) and a large stack of boat building lumber. Across the old Railway Warf with snow-covered lobster boats alongside tugging gently at their lines was our Picton Castle, well moored against winter storms with many hawsers secure to the pilings and her best 1,500-pound bower anchor firmly in the tough bottom mud with 250 feet of heavy chain well out in the harbour to hold her against South-Easterly swells of a storm. This takes a big strain off the wharf in a swell and blow and used to be standard winter practice for the laid-up schooners, bow out, anchors out, chains swollen with ice. No swells today. Slate gray was the surface of the harbour – and as smooth as a piece of slate too in the calm waters as well. Only small ripples that would not even rock a swimming gull was all there was to be seen. With our eggs and bagels in our Pitcairn Island work-basket, and coats and hats covered in snow, home we trudged, Dawson being sure to make a flying leap into each and every large soft snow-bank he saw. He saw a lot of them. The surface of our wharf, for a few fleeting ephemeral moments, was home to snow angels made by himself.

Picton Castle at her wharf in Lunenburg

Warm, snowy, regards from Da Burg, Dan & Dawson Moreland

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Engineer Wanted!

Picton Castle Engineer Wanted For Voyage to the South Pacific

The sail training ship Picton Castle is bound for the South Pacific in May 2020 and is in need of an engineer to join the professional crew for the voyage. 

The voyage both starts and ends in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The itinerary includes ports like Grenada, Bonaire, San Blas Islands, Panama Canal, Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn Island, the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, the Tuamotus of French Polynesia, the Society Islands of French Polynesia, the Austral Islands of French Polynesia, Easter Island, the Pearl Islands, the Panama Canal a second time, Cartagena, the Yucatan, the US coast in the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas and Bermuda. 

While the voyage is about a year long, the engineer position will start in April 2020 and run until June 2021.  It is our preference to have the same engineer for the full voyage, however we would consider dividing the voyage into smaller sections for the right candidates. 

The engineer is responsible for operating and maintaining all of the equipment in the engine room and all of the ship’s systems.  Picton Castle’s main engine is a 690hp Burmeister & Wain Alpha diesel engine, which turns a variable pitch propeller.  There are two Lister generators and a Sabb generator which are run for about six hours every day and charge a bank of batteries.  There’s a reverse osmosis watermaker, bilge and fire pumps, freezers for food, DC and AC electrical components, plus plumbing and electrical systems. 

Picton Castle has a fantastic consulting engineer ashore who will help steer the ship’s engineer in the right direction, but we will be making long ocean passages to remote ports on this voyage which means that the engineer will have to be resourceful, with good troubleshooting skills and the ability to anticipate and prevent problems in the first place. 

Like all professional crew aboard Picton Castle, the engineer must have STCW Basic Safety Training.  In addition, we’re looking for someone with significant experience running and maintaining diesel engines, and knowledge of electrical and plumbing systems. 

To apply, please send your resume/CV and cover letter by email to  Candidates of all nationalities are welcome to apply. 

Does this voyage sound interesting to you but you don’t have the engineering skills and experience to apply?  As a sail training ship, Picton Castle’s mission is to literally teach adult trainees the ropes.  Consider signing aboard as a trainee crew member.  Details are available here:

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