Picton Castle set sail from Quebec City on Tuesday August 2nd, bound for Toronto. The ship gained a number of admirers in Quebec City and some were on the wharf to see the ship get underway and wave goodbye. We’ll be back in Quebec City again in 2017 for a big tall ships event called Rendezvous 2017, along with a fleet of other tall ships. Although we weren’t able to welcome the public aboard on our visit this year, next year our decks will be open for people to come aboard.
Anywhere in the St. Lawrence River west of Les Escoumins and throughout the Great Lakes, vessels with a foreign flag that are over 35 metres long require a pilot according to Canadian regulations. Picton Castle is flagged in the Cook Islands, which makes us a foreign flagged vessel, and is just over 47 metres long on deck (54 metres including the bowsprit), so we require a pilot. Pilots are experienced, licensed ship captains with specialized local knowledge who come aboard to advise each ship’s captain on local conditions, currents, hazards to navigation, traffic schemes and harbours. Every time Picton Castle has been underway since Les Escoumins, we have had a pilot aboard. There are a few places in the world, like in the Panama Canal, where the pilot actually takes command of the ship, but in most places, like the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes, the pilot is an advisor and the ship’s captain has the conn (meaning he or she is in command).
We had pilots aboard from Quebec City to Trois Rivieres where we did a pilot exchange, and those pilots carried on to Montreal with us. Picton Castle anchored in Montreal for an afternoon so we could have our inspection for the St. Lawrence Seaway.
All ships that go through the locks of the Seaway need to be inspected for seaworthiness and to make sure the ship is ready to transit the locks. For Picton Castle, one of our biggest jobs to prepare for the seaway is to make sure nothing protrudes beyond the width of the ship.
The boats we usually have hanging in davits over the sides of the ship needed to be brought aboard so the monomoy was lifted atop the galley house and the skiff was lifted on top of the main cargo hatch. The davits were then swung in to be flush with the sides of the ship. All of the yards were braced up sharp to get them within the width of the ship, but even fully braced the main yard and fore yard still protrude so they had to be cockbilled.
We also had to add fenders to the sides of the ship to keep the ship off the lock walls. These fenders are made of 8″x8″ pine cut into lengths of about 5′ with holes drilled in the top and bottom. The fenders are then placed vertically, four on each side of the ship, and securely lashed over the rail and through chocks or freeing ports. The fenders take quite a beating, scraping along the cement lock walls as the water fills each lock chamber raising the ship, but it’s better to beat up your fenders than your ship.
After a successful inspection in Montreal, the crew went to bed early, spending a night at anchor in anticipation of a long day of transiting locks. The next morning, all hands were woken early to raise the anchor and get underway, with another pilot aboard, at 0445. We started the day early in order to use all the daylight for transiting the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Before dawn, Picton Castle was at the first lock, the St. Lambert lock.
The locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 to allow ships to pass from the Atlantic into the Great Lakes. The locks work like a series of elevators, raising ships from sea level to the level of the Great Lakes. Each lock has two sets of doors. On the way up the locks, the bottom doors are open, the ship advances into the lock and the bottom doors close behind it. The lock is then filled with water to raise the ship. When the lock is full, the upper doors open and the ship advances out of the lock. While in the lock, there are lines going from the ship to the shore which are constantly tended. As the ship rises, the lines aboard need to be heaved in to keep the ship snug against the lock wall. Picton Castle passed through seven locks starting with the St. Lambert lock and ending with the Iroquois lock and the transit took a total of 22 hours.
Once through the locks, the ship carried on sailing in Lake Ontario and arrived in Toronto harbour on Saturday August 6th. We’re docked at the eastern gap entrance to Toronto harbour, which means we see most of the traffic coming and going from the harbour including all of the bigger vessels. There have been many tugs and barges, lots of sailboats, canoes, kayaks and other pleasure craft. From our berth we see the ferries going from the mainland to the Toronto Islands and we have an excellent view of the iconic Toronto skyline.