A voyage under sail around the world – setting out, the skippers view.
Next spring I plan to cast off in the Barque PICTON CASTLE, from her old wooden pier on Lunenburg’s historic working waterfront and set sail with a new gang outward bound on a grand voyage around the world in square-rig. But this will be our last world voyage.
A long time ago in my early 20’s I signed off the beautiful Danish built wooden Brigantine ROMANCE in the Caribbean after four years aboard and as the mate at the end of a world voyage. Her skipper, Captain Arthur M. Kimberly was an age-of-sail trained master mariner and was as capable a mariners as could come. After that ship, I carried on and went to sea in other fine vessels. When ashore between voyages folks wanted to know what that world voyage was like, I found it hard to explain. Still do. Life goes on. Ships come and go. At some point since that point, accepting that I could not explain what all that time as crew in a cool sailing ship meant to me, under the most able of old school ship masters, sailing with the trade-winds through the islands of South Pacific, the Far East, the Indian Ocean, the coasts of Africa and the West Indies, over all those blue-water ocean miles, I figured that the best answer was just to get the finest square-rigged ship together I could imagine and do it again. With another gang or two of young people having the times of their lives – quite literally – and let them try to explain it all afterwards.
I remember when we set out on our first world voyage back in the bitter cold autumn of 1997. This was after a huge refit in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. It was all a very big and exciting project just getting the PICTON CASTLE rigged up and into shape to sail as a square-rigger for deep sea passage making. It began in 1991, first searching for and then finding the perfect ship up a fjord in Norway and steaming her across the North Atlantic to Nova Scotia by way of Denmark, England, Spain, Madeira, Bermuda, Connecticut and Pier 15 South Street Seaport Museum, Isla Manhattoes, New York City.
It was a big job in Lunenburg fitting out this 300-ton barque. Kind of took over all the shipyards of this sea-girt town for most of a year; surveys, engine overhauls, dry-docking, checking the hull, welding sparks flying, new freshwater tanks, piping, wood chips everywhere, new decks, new water-tight bulkheads, lots of new bunks, new heads and showers, new galley, all kinds of safety and fire-fighting equipment fitted, new wiring, stability studies, of course lots of rigging and making masts and yards, pin-rails and fife-rails, new blocks and sails, charts and stuff, putting a crew together and so much else. What a project! Then finally all the work was done, or done enough. We would polish her up at sea while sailing ever westward in the warm tropical trade-winds. Plenty of time for all that. It came time to sail. We had a keen gang aboard eager to see what was over the horizon, sail the seas, explore tropical islands and story-book ports.
As we set off from our wharf there were any number of folks in town who harboured the notion that we would not get past Cross Island. I didn’t blame them. They had seen a few dreamy projects die to nothing at the docks in Lunenburg. But I also did not pay them too much mind. Joshua Slocum got the same treatment. I knew we had a great ship, an excellent crew and warm weather was just on the other side of the Gulf Stream not so far away, only 3 or 4 days out. Off we sailed in early December. It blew and was cold enough for a few days but soon we were peeling off the sweaters and getting into shorts and tee-shirts. By then that epic ocean voyage was well under way.
A few years later, with the ship back in Lunenburg all snuggly moored between such voyages, after the doubts by the shore ‘experts’ whether this ship could even make it past Cross Island were long dismissed – Cross Island being just seven miles out of Lunenburg harbour- never mind a 30,000 mile world voyage or two or three, occasionally young families would be pushing their strollers down our dock on a south westerly breezy summer’s day and they might comment to me that when their bambino was old enough he or she was going to sail with me around the world in PICTON CASTLE. I was charmed. My thoughts would wander to those days just before our first voyage and I would wonder… I was impressed how a healthy and reasonable scepticism had transformed into a vision of granite-like and never-ending perpetual world voyages for me and the PICTON CASTLE. I really did not think that I would still be setting out like that again twenty years on. But I am, and we are, and this wonderful ship is making one more world voyage under my command. And I am as excited as anybody.
Why climb Mt Everest? And I am telling you that for all its challenges – and there are plenty – our voyage has got to be more fun than that. And warmer. Better food…and by way; someone told me when we started out that there were more men alive that had walked on the moon than there were folks who had sailed around the world in a square-rigger like PICTON CASTLE in the last 50 years. That, of course, what with six world voyages racked up, has changed now. But there are still more people today that have been dragged up to the top of that highest mountain of the world, Mt Everest, than have sailed a square-rigged ship like PICTON CASTLE on a global circumnavigation. Think about that.
I could go on about the many rich rewards a crewmember reaps from such a voyage in PICTON CASTLE; skills, strengths, meeting folks and experiencing cultures in far distant ports first hand and just the accomplishment itself – and I will at some point maybe – but the question is ‘why?’ for me, the now quite mature captain who has that circumnavigation box pretty well ticked? Good question.
Well, for one, if I knew that I could make this voyage happen for a new generation of adventurers one more time, and chose not to, well then, that would be a crying shame. Every voyage is its own unique odyssey. A voyage around the world is never routine.
And still, it remains for me an amazing a privilege and indeed an honour to be the master of such a fine staunch proven blue-water sailing ship, a ship that has never let us down in over 250,000 miles at sea, and to be called upon to lead such a grand blue-water voyage, the ultimate voyage, and an adventure for a new gang of PICTON CASTLE seafarers. And it’s just too damn cool.