St. Lawrence Seaway Summer Trip 2006

At Anchor, Pointe au Pic, St. Lawrence Seaway

This morning at 0700 the Picton Castle took on two pilots at Escoumin who will be with us until we reach Quebec City tomorrow morning. Any vessel over 500 gross tons, as well as any foreign flag vessel over 100 feet long, must use the services of a pilot while in the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Picton Castle flies the flag of the Cook Islands and we fit the length requirement so we must take a pilot. In fact, we currently have two pilots on board, Francois Pouliot and Benoit Frenette. This is because we have an open quarter-deck and don’t steam at 13 or more knots. We are pretty excited to make 8 knots. They tend to work in pairs on the Escoumin to Quebec City section because it takes a while to cross and they can take turns. The training and apprenticeship to become a Seaway pilot is two years long, at the end of it they have to know their section so well that they can draw an accurate chart of it from memory. These guys are certainly the local experts. They have to be experienced mariners with large tickets to begin with before they can start their pilot training.

We are currently anchored off Point au Pic, Quebec, a small tourist oriented town on the north shore of the river. As the tide flows out from here the current runs at about 3 knots, around the next bend it can increase to 4 or 5 knots. Considering the wind is also coming from upriver it makes sense to not waste diesel trying to fight it now. We will wait until a bit later this evening and carry on up the river with the flood tide. We should be in Quebec City tomorrow morning where we will anchor again to await the flood tide, and also to switch pilots. We will do one more pilot switch even further up the river at Montreal.

At Montreal we will have more locks to go through, carrying us ever higher up towards the Great Lakes. Today chief mate Kim and some helpers have been preparing 6″x6″ timbers to become fenders for our lock passage. These giant pieces of wood will be lashed vertically to the sides of the ship, seven on each side, to prevent the ship scraping directly on the lock walls.

Wildlife sightings have been in abundance over the past few days. People are still talking about the thousands of birds we passed perched on the cliffs of Ile Bonaventure. At dinner last night we were entertained by a pod of whales spouting about 500 feet off the port side. The 4-8 watch was extremely lucky this morning to see a beluga whale. Apparently there are a lot of whales in this area, and a lot of whale watching boats. It was quite foggy through most of the day so we didn’t see as many as we had hoped, but we will keep looking.

The crew of the Picton Castle love to eat and David Matthews, our cook, has amazed us with two special dinners this week, one for Canada Day and one for the 4th of July. Last night the cargo hatch looked like most peoples’ living rooms after a giant Thanksgiving dinner, strewn with bodies lying down rubbing their bellies and groaning about how much they just ate. Dave stuffed us with hamburgers, corn on the cob, hot dogs, roasted potatoes and salad, and Stephanie (trainee and baker) made kaisers for the burgers and apple pie for dessert. We paused between the main course and dessert for a rest and a musical interlude, Ashley serenaded us with the American national anthem.

As new trainees learn their lines and practice their watch keeping skills, they are also taking cues from the experienced crew on how to amuse themselves at sea. Almost everyone has a book to read, many of them books on seafaring. On the silly side, beard fashions seem to be the latest trend amongst the male crew members as they trim, tuck and twirl them into different styles. At anchor this afternoon we launched the Danie Bailey, a wooden toy boat built on the world voyage by Ollie Campbell. It came back from one knockdown in a big wave and floated upright for quite a while, but eventually was overcome by several waves in a row. Maybe it will wash up on shore nearby and make some Quebecois child very happy.

From the serene to the absurd, all on board is well.