Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Atlantic Voyage 2008-2009' Category

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Cesar Picton

We recently came across an article online that ties together Picton Castle‘s recent year-long voyage around the Atlantic Ocean.

You may know that our ship was named for a castle in Wales. Picton Castle was built in the late 13th century and has been home to the Philipps family, who are direct descendants of the original builder. A visit to the Picton Castle while the ship was in port at Milford Haven was a highlight of the voyage. On the Voyage of the Atlantic, the ship also visited Dakar in Senegal, a major port for the exportation of slaves from Africa. Many of the crew on the voyage have powerful memories of visiting Goree Island, the gateway through which slaves were loaded onto ships and carried away from their home.

This article tells the story of one particular boy who was brought from Senegal to Britain by an officer of the British army and given to Sir John Philipps as a gift. Named for the Philipps family castle, Cesar Picton was raised as a servant in the Philipps household. The family was against the slave trade so Cesar was educated and apparently mixed with the family on equal terms. An inheritance from Lady Philipps allowed Cesar to become a merchant, at which he was quite successful. Owning a home in Kingston and property in the country, Cesar died in 1836 at the age of 81.

On the Voyage of the Atlantic, particularly the passage from Africa to the Caribbean, the crew were mindful of the countless ships that had sailed that way before with cargoes of people. While Cesar Picton sailed a slightly different route, this other namesake of the Welsh castle draws together another connection on this voyage.

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Laying Keels for Twin Schooners

Saturday was an important day on Lunenburg’s waterfront, as the keels for two wooden schooners to be built at the Dory Shop were laid. Laying the keels marks the start of this exciting project, and Picton Castle crew were on hand to assist.

The two schooners, both 48 feet long and built in the Tancook tradition, will be constructed outdoors on the Dory Shop property as twins, frame for frame and plank for plank. Captain Moreland said on Saturday they will be “schooners that are so pretty, they’re make you cry; so comfortable they’ll make you never want to go home; so fast, they’ll make you win every race you’re in.”

Picton Castle crew from the Voyage of the Atlantic have a strong connection to this project as they procured the wood for the keels from the forests of Grenada. With help from Wesley Pilgrim, commonly known as Mr. Bones, an old shipwright friend of Captain Moreland, second mate Paul Bracken and crew member Matt McGraw treked into the jungle to find the right tree that would provide the wood for these keels. The perfect tree was found, a mountain gommier, then cut down and dragged three kilometres out of the forest by hand, with assistance from a team of locals and some reinforcement crew members from the ship. These two 3,000 pound pieces of wood were then towed to the ship and loaded on board, lashed securely on deck for the passage from Grenada to Lunenburg.

The craftsmanship of master boatbuilder Dave Westergaard has turned these two giant pieces of wood into keels for two schooners. And the first spikes were driven into the keels on Saturday, beginning the building process.

With about 250 people on hand for the celebration, Lunenburg Mayor Laurence Mawhinney noted the value of this project for the community. “Many years past, this waterfront was the beam upon which Lunenburg was built. So these two beams being laid today are significant of the revival of the watefront that we know and love and want to see rise again.”

The ceremonial pounding of the first spike into each keel was easily done by distinguished mariners Captain Phil Watson, skipper of the schooner Bluenose II, and 91-year old Captain Matt Mitchell whose long career at sea included a period of time aboard the original Bluenose.

Despite the cold temperatures and biting wind, most of the crowd stuck around for some hot cider to warm themselves up and toast the beginning of this new chapter of boat building on Lunenburg’s waterfront.

To follow along with the project’s progress, check out the Twin Schooner blog at

Captain Matt Mitchell drives in the first spike
Captain Moreland addresses the crowd at keel laying
Captain Phil Watson drives in the first spike
Meredith, Paul and Jackie at the keel laying

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The People’s View


The Picton Castle family has just received the loveliest memento of our visit to Ipswich, United Kingdom, last September. This was another of our homecoming visits; the ship having wintered in Ipswich in 1993-94 en route to North America and her eventual conversion to a Class A tall ship.

Ipswich resident Des Pawson, one of the world’s leading authorities on knots and sailor’s ropework, had gotten to know Capt. Moreland during the months that the Picton Castle lay docked there. He and his colleagues at the Ipswich Maritime Trust encouraged the return visit, kindly assisting with arrangements including a variety of hospitality. And despite days of North Sea gales en route we managed to arrive just in time for a reception with the mayor on September 6.

The Picton Castle stayed at Ipswich for six days, attracting hundreds of residents to the city’s waterfront where they toured the ship, met our crew and apparently took a great many pictures.

And so it was that upon our departure the Maritime Trust came up with the idea of a photography exhibition to commemorate the visit. Together with the Ipswich Tourism Information Centre, they announced a competition, The People’s View of the Barque Picton Castle.


Says Mr. Pawson, “It was hoped that enough people would come forward with photographs to create an exhibition portraying the ship’s visit and that a selection of these photos could be sent to the Picton Castle as a gesture of thanks for the effort they made in visiting Ipswich.”

The contest was a huge success and the resulting exhibition, hosted by the tourist centre, was opened by the city’s mayor, David Hale, earlier this year.

Then just a few days ago, a package arrived at the Picton Castle‘s offices here in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Inside was an album containing the contest entries as well as messages from Mr. Pawson and Mayor Hale.

It is a treasured souvenir of the Picton Castle‘s Voyage of the Atlantic and our visit to Ipswich in particular, now displayed with pride in our offices.

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Les Iles Des Saintes

The Barque Picton Castle is happily anchor at “The Saints,” a lovely small group of islands just south of the big French island of Guadeloupe. There had been some civil unrest in Martinique and Guadeloupe recently but things are back a very pleasant normal now. We had cancelled an earlier stop at Martinique some weeks ago when things were a little worked up but reports from trusted sources in these islands told us to come over, things were fine now.

We have just sailed from Antigua, tacking in an attempt to get to windward of Guadeloupe to keep the fresh breeze that this large island blocks, but gave that up on a squally night with a lee shore coming up close by. We fell off and sailed along the western side bound for the Saints where, in days gone by (1973), one Brigantine Romance, while at anchor, was rammed by a French minesweeper coming in to harbour with some kind of cowboy at the conn. Quite the kerfuffle with a snapped jibboom and broken spritsail yard, but we got their flag and flag staff. Tempers were a bit hot, say, white hot? But lovely spot anyway. The French CO decided it wasn’t his fault somehow…a bit of history, we called it the Battle of the Saints. I thought anchored vessels generally had the right of way over vessels making way – what do I know?

After several days at anchor at the main island of Terre de Haut in Les Iles des Saintes, we shifted the Picton Castle to Terre de Bas, the smaller of the islands and are now at anchor in a tiny and improbable but beautiful little cove. The Saints are just a treat. Beautiful in a Caribbean way and yet very country French with fine coffee, baguettes, wine, good cold biere and croissant and even the kids dressed pretty with style etc. The locals tend towards a light mocha in complexion running from quite white to a rich brown. Les Isles des Saintes, just a fishing outpost back in the day, never had any major cane agriculture here calling for lots of African slaves so the ancestry is largely Breton French. Well painted and well kept old wood frame and plank houses dating back plenty, plenty years, small and with wooden shutters line the streets close aboard, they do. Likewise pretty painted wooden fish boats moored just outside the small surf or pulled up on smooth beaches, nets hanging from trees and in neat piles on the sand in the shade – fishermen landing big dorado in the late afternoon, caught by line well out to sea. Pretty and steep hilly fields with goats staked out looking up at us with their devilish eyes and bleating sporadically for reasons unknown.

We are relaxing here at anchor and about to have a swim call – plenty of time to do ships work once under way and the crew have worked plenty hard. Lynsey took the ferry over to the main town to clear out with the gendarmes, should be back soon and off we sail for the BVI – clear blue skies, a nice force 4-5 easterly– yup, we do all just love it here in these West Indies. Sure, we want to be in Lunenburg soon, but soon enough for that, meantime we are here and that’s pretty sweet too.

Saintes beach
Saintes clothing
Saintes restaurant

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Picton Castle Passage – Bermuda towards Nova Scotia

32-25N / 064-36 – Dropped the Bermuda Pilot just outside St. George’s Town Cut at #1 and 2 buoys at about 1100. Seas a creamy turquoise green along the reef – skies bright and blue, a bit more northerly wind than we had expected when inside, blowing about 20, but it didn’t look like it was going to ease off any time soon so head north we will, with a strong engine and enough fuel. It is 735 miles from Bermuda to Lunenburg in a straight line. That is much the same distance from Halifax to Toronto or Boston to Charleston. A two day drive in a car even with sleeping in a motel over night – could easily take the Picton Castle the week we have allowed. We sail through and then away from seas ever so tropic-like to very clearly the grim, cold and blustery North Atlantic in that short distance.


38-41N / 065-08W – After a couple days the winds have eased off to mostly nothing and soon enough we are crossing the Gulf Stream, a little further south than we are used to meeting it but it is a river without banks so it can wander a little as it so chooses. Ship’s work carries on and many hands are hard at sewing up traditional seafarers canvas sea-bags… Now, a day later, the Gulf Stream has been crossed, so that’s a tick. Yesterday morn, beautiful warm tropical-like day just like so many others, sunny blue skies and seas, flying fish, porpoise and whales, Portuguese Man O’War jellyfishes sailing along with us, Sargasso weed, balmy, soft warm breezes, t-shirts and shorts. Then we sailed out of the Gulf Stream and into a cold front fresh off the coast of North America…just like that, cold grey seas, lowering dark overcast skies, long pants, socks and sea boots, jackets and watch caps…in the span of a couple hours. Spitting rain and cold eight foot seas sloshing about us as the front passes overhead and on to the east. But then we get a lift from an errant Gulf Stream warm-eddy well north of the main stream and this helps make good time for Cape Sable, 230 miles away and due north, to Lunenburg- 290 straight line. Thus we motor along in a backing northerly. Drill for the day is practise in exposure suits.


42-13N / 064-35W – This morning the day comes in fair and clear with proper North Atlantic green seas and a light and briskly cool WNW breeze – we are just to the east of Georges Bank and thus well to the east of Cape Cod. Seas are small and the large deep sea swell has left us for the time being. This is beautiful too. More pretty porpoise came along to play by our bow – crew rush over to watch. The Picton Castle is under full sail once again and the main engine (and engineers) get a break – we are just one hundred miles south of Cape Sable and out, out, way out of the tropics – the gang is all bundled up to be on watch (it is actually 60F and 16C so they are a little bit tropical wusses now). But we have to admit, tropics astern of us or not, today is a gorgeous day to be at sea in a fine barque bound for Nova Scotia and that sea bound coast…this afternoon, more wire splicing instruction and practice.


43-55N / 064-49W – Beautiful day at anchor off Port Mouton, Nova Scotia. Came in and anchored early this morning as there are near gale warnings for today and tonight – it would not do to get blown to Newfoundland nor would it do to come in early. We have a date with Canada Customs & Immigration for Saturday at 1400 and that’s when we will be there. As we are not cleared yet we may have no contact with land; no one ashore and no one aboard – that suits us just fine for the moment – it’s a beautiful day, just great for cleaning bunks, painting here and there and getting some brass polished. David and John are up on the quarter-deck sewing away on new sails. Kevin is painting seizings, Marie is painting out the scullery floor – we knock off early to talk about watches in Lunenburg and upcoming events….all hands are very excited about getting to Lunenburg and anticipation is half the joy. Blowing pretty hard out of the west right now here in the late afternoon. We watch the lobster boats come in, seagulls capering above and astern. Cool sharp breezes, can smell the pine trees and rich smell of earth and land to windward. The big maples and oaks haven’t filled in yet with leaves – they remain grey barked arms held up to the sky. Pine trees or I suppose to a tree guy these are spruce or something more specific and never say “seagull” to a bird person, they will say there is no such thing…


43-56.6N / 064-43.4W – 0830, off White Head, Southwest Nova Scotia. Day came in fair and clear with light westerly breezes. Blue skies, small seas and a fair breeze – not a bad way to wind up an amazing 18,000 mile voyage. The crew got the Picton Castle underway under sail and she sails through a fair number of lobster pot buoys – lobster boats motor over near us and wave – beautiful day and everyone is pretty excited about sailing into Lunenburg tomorrow.

1310- The breeze has freshened enough to move us along nicely here at six and half knots with every stitch of canvas set and drawing in this force 4 SW winds, yards braced almost square. Cool winds, white capped dark green seas following us along. We can hear a smooth swooshing of ocean sliding along our waterline. Much polishing of brass going on. We don’t polish brass much aboard the Picton Castle but once in awhile it’s nice to see shiny brass round about the ship. Dave sews away up on the quarterdeck.

1415 – off Cape La Have, wind has picked up considerably, royals already in, we sharpen up for Mosher Island.

1456 – sharpen up again, close hauled this time sailing into Ship’s Channel, past Spectacle Islands. T’gallants in, spanker set – keep sailing in closer and closer, beautiful day, ship and crew sailing beautifully like one thing. Near land and under Busch Island, Fat Nick puts the wheel hard over, the ship rounds up, sails forward are taken in, main yards squared to back the main top-sails, spanker is hauled amidships – the Mate lets go the starboard anchor.


44-15.7N / 064-21.9W – 1600 at anchor off Bells Cove, two and a half shots in 25 feet of water, good holding, Dublin Shore near the mouth of the La Have River. Yards squared, sails stowed, lines coiled, deck swept, cat sunning her self on the hatch, warm breeze blowing over green fields and through pine trees and across the decks of the Picton Castle. After all is said and done, there ain’t nothin’ to say or do…tomorrow we sail for Lunenburg. The sun goes down in the west, which is exactly where it is supposed and expected to go down this time of day, all is well on that front – our stiff winds have gone from SW to NW and laid down so now dominos and chess are being played out on the hatch, a guitar is strumming up forward on the well deck, flags are in and anchor lights lit and hoisted. A couple fishing vessels headed into Riverport and a fine looking schooner called Papa I sailed by and waved hello and hollered across the water ‘welcome back’. It’s a lovely low light evening now and soon dark. A few folks are sitting around caught up in games of chess and dominos, playing with the cat or finishing off sea bags.

Bells Cove – 2009-05-23 – 0730; day comes in fair and clear, light NEly wind, almost calm. Seems a normal morning in the Picton Castle, it is not. Today is the last day of an amazing voyage. Last minute bunk cleanings, savouring so much around us. This ship sails into her last port of this voyage with a great crew and an as excellent a gang of deep-sea square rig sailors that have ever hauled a brace.

Hands to the windlass – there is a hawser hauling the Picton Castle towards Lunenburg.

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Finding Bermuda

Bermuda – this small island, or more correctly, archipelago, 13 miles long, almost equidistant between the Caribbean, Florida, Virginia, Newport Rhode Island and Lunenburg Nova Scotia was clearly dragged up from the sea floor right here in this very spot by Providence with north bound passage making sailing vessels in mind. Bermuda is in exactly the right spot for a vessel to put in to take a breather and wait for weather when north bound.

Not so necessary when bound for the south, as every mile made south of Bermuda is all in the right direction, towards reliably good weather, sweet winds and small seas. Bypassing Bermuda when south bound is often a good idea. Putting in to Bermuda is just what the Picton Castle did for a few short days on the way north. Now grant you, in olden days this island could be pretty hard to find when sailing from Europe against the prevailing westerlys coming from the east before they got figuring out longitude sorted out.

Great mystery surrounds this small coral rock literally right here in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of a convergence zone you can get any kind of weather making it hard for Elizabethan ships. It probably did not help that for a very long time they were not quite sure where this island was. Some even thought it moved about. So much mystery that we are told that Shakespeare set his famous play “The Tempest” on Bermuda.

We don’t know much about “The Tempest” but we know Bermuda pretty well. Our passage north from Jost Van Dyke was fine with good sailing until about a day and a half out when a big high pressure system filled in, as it often does round about here making for clear skies but stealing all the wind. We fired up the strong, reliable Alpha diesel engine and motored onward before the weather changed to something less useful.

Bermuda Triangle

We get asked plenty about the ”Bermuda Triangle” do we believe in it? Is it real? How come so many ships, planes, boats have been uniquely lost there? Why such a mysterious place? And so on… Now, I am all for a good mystery, even a good proper conspiracy, but the Bermuda Triangle is a pretty easy thing to understand and sadly requires little or no proper mystery.

Of course more planes, ships, boats have been lost here. There are probably more car accidents in Chicago, New York or London then there are in say, the middle of nowhere, pick a spot without a road or town in maybe the Great Plains, not so many accidents there, eh?. There is an enormous amount of human vehicular traffic in what is called the Bermuda Triangle. Unlike most of the rest of the world’s ocean, this patch of Atlantic is infested with craft of all types, many of which might be well advised not be out there to begin with. In this oceanic region we have all the shipping routes from east coast US and Canada including the Gulf of Mexico (Montreal, Halifax, Bay of Fundy, Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newport News, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Miami, around to New Orleans, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Galveston, Houston) back and forth to Europe (fill in the names of any significant European city on the coast) – lots and lots of ships in this old triangle.

We also have an enormous amount of amateur yacht traffic and now, with the unleashing of fleets of weekend sailors due to the simple and cheap navigation capacity of GPS, we have even more yachts out there sailing deep sea, or trying to sail back and forth from north to south in quest of tropical dreams. Many of these yachts would not have ventured off shore without GPS and wisely so too.

Same goes for air traffic, compounded by back in the day so much military flight training of brand new and inexperienced aviators taking place right here, not to mention that there was once a very important US Naval Air Station at Bermuda, an exceptionally effective one on that big permanent aircraft carrier 650 miles off the US coast – now long gone due to Bermuda’s lack of congressional votes. And all this was true before radar, satellite navigation, Loran, RDF, Omega, Decca etc, etc making things just that much harder when visibility and weather got not so good.

Ah, the weather! And then there is the weather – weather can be quite convoluted all around Bermuda. This region is dominated by a big convergence zone of North America; Cape Hatteras is right there spewing low pressure and other weather systems off the continent, expanding and intensifying when they hit the ocean first hitting the Gulf Stream with its hot waters, the dribs of the Labrador Current (very cold) mixing in and crazy systems coming out of Alberta – you could call this area a weather cauldron and, back to point #1, all right next to one of the most populated and nautically busy parts of the world. Are there more marine incidents in this Bermuda Triangle of ours? No doubt – but how could it be any other way? The North Pacific has typically worse weather but so few ships transit that ocean we see very few incidents in that part of our water globe. Not so many traffic accidents in Siberia either is my guess…

Taking a Pilot

We took as our pilot Captain Wendell, who has guided the Picton Castle into Bermuda before with excellent professionalism, with his two trainee pilots this time to practice taking a ship through Town Cut which leads into St George’s. Easy enough for a ship like ours really, the channel is 250 feet wide and about 25 feet deep, plenty enough room for us. But they take 40,000 ton cruise ships through there too with only feet to spare under the keel and no possibility of turning around or stopping, meaning they had better be pretty good. They are, so not to worry. As most commercial ship traffic now goes to Hamilton we had a nice berth alongside at Penno’s Wharf right in downtown St George’s. This was nice for us in this short visit and permitting us to just step ashore as we pleased and also paint the skiff instead of working her so hard. She has been hard at it for months now in the islands.

Old St George’s

Old St George’s Town is a very pretty town and remarkably historically intact. All pastels and plaster and narrow streets right up to the front door steps of the low houses, many of the buildings date back to the 1700s. A walk around through narrow stone streets is a treat. There is a beautiful old church that looks like some ruins from the middle ages – it turns out that this is the ”Unfinished Church” that got damaged in the 1920s and for that and other reasons never was completed. It sits atop a hill overlooking St George’s and the harbour making a perfect place for a picnic. All around St George’s are little park-like settings and small coves for crew to go off to, throw a frisbee and generally ‘hang out’. A few of our more senior crowd make a point of finding some fine B&Bs to relax in on their off watch and I am sure they found a nice one here.

Ship’s Work

This was also a last chance to get some second layouts on sails, David spread out a new hand sewn jib and a new royal for final cutting and sewing. Of course the Mate got the topsides painted to perfection as well as re-stowed the hold, always a big job. Lynsey was very busy with getting customs and immigration forms sorted for our arrival in Canada ever so soon. Donald got some eggs, fruits and vegetables for the 730 mile passage but no too much as everything is some expensive on this mid-Atlantic rock. But it is nice to eat well too, and we do.

Picton Castle Stamp

And here is an excellent place to make an announcement: the Barque Picton Castle is to be featured on the new Bermudian 70 cent stamp, so honoured as a frequent visitor to this hospitable isle. June 11th these will be released, we are told.

Time to sail – no storms predicted, not great sailing or fair winds on the screen either but nothing bad – drills completed, lines singled up, engine warmed up, push boat standing by the bow, jib loosed to pull the bow off the quay. Captain Myron Robinson, Senior Pilot, stepped aboard and took his place on the bridge with me and the Barque Picton Castle put to sea again on this last passage for Nova Scotia from which we sailed a year and 18,000 miles ago.

Bermuda – in diver’s lingo, quite the decompression stop as we keep rising to the surface of the world we left behind a year ago in Lunenburg.

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British Virgin Islands

From Les Isles des Saintes we had a fine sail to the British Virgin Islands in sweet balmy trade-winds. I suppose that we enjoyed this small passage in particular as we all knew that trade wind sailing would be drawing to a close soon enough. Never mind, enjoy it while we can. We carried on our way in the Caribbean Sea in the lee of Guadeloupe surprisingly well and sailed right through her wind shadow. And then kept sailing in the lee of the islands of Montserrat, Nevis, St Kitts, Statia and Saba, across the Anegada Passage where soon the tips of the Virgin Islands were in sight early-early just after one fair dawn.

This must have been much how Columbus first saw these myriad islands. A passel of peaks dotting the horizon, hence he named these islands after St Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins – seems rather a lot of virgins. We broke through into the calm waters of Sir Francis Drake channel by way of narrow Round Rock Passage, sharpened the yards up on the wind and made our way towards Spanish Town Virgin Gorda. We tacked a couple times and anchored the Picton Castle near the big blue Barkentine Caledonia, with the goodly Captain Kim Smith of Lunenburg in command. Here we provisioned up with fresh food and the gang got to visit the Baths. The Baths of Virgin Gorda are a must see stop in the BVI. These are wonderful rock formations of giant boulders pushed up through plate tectonics to create a maze along the edge of the sea providing great snorkelling, hiding places and picnic spots.

Then we sailed for Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. Up anchor and off the hook under sail for the 20 mile sail. The Picton Castle must have made quite a sight sailing along in these smooth waters, many charter boats came close and took pictures. By late afternoon we were at anchor at JVD for our last tropical island visit. Here the goal was to get in as much small boat handling as we could in these perfect sailing conditions. We are all aware that the minutes were ticking by. The skiff was launched, Sea Never Dry, our painted up dory with her Senegalese sails was hoisted over board, and the piece de resistance, Mr Bones, was launched. Yes, our fine Grenadian fishing boat was finished ready to be launched too. Matt had dome most of the work but most anyone had a hand in her coming together too, whether it was planning, sanding, puttying, painting, caulking or just helping Matt bend planks – this was a collective effort and interesting boat building experience on the decks of this barque. Bones was launched and rowed around with her Grenadian oars and pronounced a stunning success. Soon Bones became the auxiliary shore boat.

What else does one do at your last tropical island after four months in the tropics, over two months in the Caribbean alone and after being at sea in a big square rig sailing ship for almost a year? Well, you can imagine what you might do. Our gang hung out together a great deal, there was reggae music to dance to at nights, there was plenty small boat sailing to do and the dory ventured far and wide, and ashore there was a good deal of important nothing to do too as well. Onboard plenty of ships work to do – never ending; what with checking over the rigging before sticking our nose into the North Atlantic – trade-wind sails changed out for new storm sails, braces renewed, gear lashed, bits and pieced well stowed, full surveys and inspections of every part of the ship before heading north.

At Jost we missed seeing the famous Foxy who would always greet us with a special Picton Castle calypso song. He was off with his wife Tessa visiting family in Australia. Foxy Callwood had very recently been awarded by Queen Elizabeth II the MBE, or Member of the British Empire (we think that’s what it stands for) for doing so much good in the BVI. We figure we have to call him Sir Foxy now.

Then it came time, the Picton Castle and her crew sailed, again, off the hook under sail, now bound for Bermuda and Nova Scotia – about 1,600 miles. We had a fresh fair easterly that would take us plenty miles on our way for the first leg of this homeward bound passage. That was good enough for now.

hanging at Foxy s (photo from Geoff)
Mike and Job in the dory (photo from Deb)
Mike and Paul land a fish (photo from Deb)
Steph and Buddy in Jost (photo from Geoff)
The dory at Ivan s (photo from Geoff)

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Antigua Classic Regatta

We sailed from St Pierre, Martinique on a bright morning and made our way north and to windward of the next island, Dominica, as to go to leeward would mean pretty much losing the wind and the ability to sail. Over night we had plenty of squalls, some even pulling the wind into a westerly direction for several hours. Eventually the wind came in clear again and we found ourselves to windward of Marie Gallant but just barely. Rather than motor around we tacked into the night working our way to windward of Guadeloupe – the Picton Castle is quite weatherly for a square-rigger and we made 4 points on each tack.

By dawn the second day out we could weather the eastern point of Guadeloupe, sailed between it and the small island of La Desirade and fell off for Falmouth Harbour, Antigua right next to English Harbour. We had been invited to join the annual Antigua Classics Regatta for sailing yachts and vessel of traditional distinction. We thought that this would be different for us, very likely instructional and possibly a great deal of fun, too. The sun was getting low as we approached the harbour so we launched a boat with Lynsey and all the papers, raced her in to clear in at Customs & Immigration before they closed for the day leaving us stuck onboard, while we found a good place to anchor the ship.

So, there we were, the Barque Picton Castle, a big classic square-rigged sailing ship, a barque at anchor at Falmouth, Antigua, just around the corner from historic and celebrated English Harbour. The bay was filled with beautiful classic sailing yachts and traditional sailing craft of all kinds. Quite a sight for our crew. This was a wonderful convocation of beautiful vessels – massive number of beautiful boats, from the eight sweet Carriacou-built wooden work-boat sloops, to a Nevis built island schooner, to the huge, elegant gaff-rigged Schooner Yacht Eleanor (which is being sailed very, very well) and J-Boats Ranger and Valsheda along with a raft of fine schooners like the magnificent Gannon & Benjamin built Juno, General Patton’s When & If, Heron and Block Island schooner Amanda, etc; are all stunning with a very positive tone in this scene, no high pressure modern yachts and associated high-pressure, high-tech racing yachties.

Our goal was to get our Picton Castle crew farmed out on all the other vessels in order to give them an alternative experience, test and exercise their skills as well as simply have good time sailing. After discussion with Kenny Coombs, Man-In-Charge who had invited us, the gang walked the docks in the early morning and all hands found sites for the races that wanted to. Having all our crew sail in other vessels is very much like their “final exam” and they all did very well, I am proud to say. Some yachts were unsure at first about taking these unknown sailors but soon we were getting requests for more crew. We also launched our ships dory and sailed her in the races as well – but one time in the inner harbour…

– Quote of the day –

Mike, Lynsey and Paul were sailing our brightly painted 23’ Lunenburg dory with her bright African fabric sails around the crowded inner harbour of Falmouth. Docks were filled with gorgeous classic and very expensive yachts here, in for the Classic Regatta. Our gang were admittedly grandstanding a little and the dory was getting heaps of attention and cheers from the docks and people taking pictures because it was quite a sight and pretty cool. There was a lady standing in the crowd that was watching from a finger pier surrounded by very shiny yachts and she was evidently annoyed about something. Her blood came to a boil and all of a sudden she blurts out quite loudly and seemed to mean it…

“I just spent 13 million dollars on my boat and THEY are getting all the attention!!!”

We would have sold her the dory for a good price…a lot less than 13 million…

We had a nice open-ship aboard the Picton Castle at anchor in Falmouth for all the traditional yacht racers at the Antigua Classic Regatta – it was supposed to be short and sweet, two hours in the afternoon only (this just in – it was sweet but not so short, peeps lingered…). Crew behaviour all around during all these Classic Regatta activities was all first class in spite of the temptations for excess.

The big modern passenger Barkentine Caledonia joined the fleet, with former Picton Castle Chief Mate Captain Kim Smith in command, for a couple days too. The last day of the races we went out with the fleet – it was quite remarkable to sail along for a while with these outstanding sailing craft like the J-Boats and then we peeled off to sail away and carry on with our voyage in the wonderful islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

dory with other boats racing at Antigua
sailing the dory in front of the fleet, Falmouth, Antigua

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Martinique, Under the Volcano

The Picton Castle gang up on the focsle head hove up the anchor at St Pierre and we rounded the northern tip of lava and ash (and jungle) covered Martinique, bound towards Antigua in lovely warm easterly trade winds. Our plan is to sail north along the windward sides of Dominica and Guadeloupe. To attempt to sail in the lee of these high islands is futile as there is nothing but wind shadow calms unless one sails very close to the shore and then is constantly at the braces. Just to starboard as we made our way north, the shore nearby was made up of steep jungle covered cliffs and precipices plunging to the sea from improbable pinnacles. We just spent 3 days in St Pierre wandering about and taking in the local scene – this involved markets, French language, cafes and interesting walks among the ruins. As it happens there is an excellent tattooist here who doubles (or triples) as an internet cafe and Customs & Immigration office (only in France…). Martine at the Café L’Escapade became a tattoo artist after the visit of this very barque in 2002 when she saw a few of the crew boasting South Pacific tattouage and thus found her inspiration. She is excellent with an elegant and light touch and a couple of the crew got so engraved – this done we now carry on towards Antigua.

We are bound for the “Classic Yacht Regatta” preceding the more hi-tech, yachty Antigua Race Week out of English Harbour. This is a series of races for classic type vessels; very big Alden and Fife schooners, gaff ketches, the odd Scottish Zulu, Norman Tunnyman, curious single-handers in old gaffers, Carriacou Sloops and the like. We are headed that way in order to disperse our crew amongst these fine sleek craft for the upcoming week. The Picton Castle will, most likely, remain happily anchored in Falmouth Harbour, right next to English Harbour, throughout these proceedings. We could go stern-to in classy English Harbour but not just now as there will be little room at that inn until Race Week is well past. English Harbour remains a charming bastion of old English nautical history, being formerly the West Indian answer to the British Naval Bases in Halifax, Bermuda and, before the American Revolution, also New York.

St Pierre, under the volcano, once a noble stone-built city of 30,000 prior to being wiped out in 1902 by the eruption of Mt Pele, now a town of about 7,000 sprouting among the ruins, was a treat for all and we like it here beaucoup – history, ruins, French lingo, baguettes, cheese, coffee, croissants, wine, ladies and gents with style promenading about– it is all good. Early in the mornings as the sun climbed over the peaks we watched fishermen in brightly painted pirogues spreading their nets and pulling them up on the beach. Along this beach we can see at frequent interval big cannons sticking up and slanting towards shore. These, along with a great number of huge old anchors spread about too, were for tying the sterns of ships up back when St Pierre was the main port of commerce. Not so since 1902. Walking along this long curved black beach you can still see sections of cobblestone roads leading into the sea. Pottery shards and pieces of brick, all well worn from tumbling in the light surf, must be from the great destruction as well.

In Grenada we got a little 14’ boat in frame as a project to finish on deck for some of our gang. We have been planking it up and learning how to plank in the process. Our boat-building team was puzzled about how to get replacement knees for it as some had rotted off. After too much discussion regarding makeshift plywood knees, planning expeditions into the forest and like nonsense, I told them to just walk along this big long black sand beach and see what they could find in the way of driftwood with shape – in short order they found five fine pieces of hard driftwood that made perfect knees which are now shaped and installed in de boat.

We are all well enough indeed and soon we will be gearing up our psychology to be excited about getting home, but in the meantime we ain’t done yet with these here fine West Indies, not yet.

Norm and Matt work on the boat
St Pierre, Martinique

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Dominica, Nature’s Island

Dominica, where to begin? We had a decent sail down from Anguilla – we sailed off the hook in Road Bay, rounded the west end of Anguilla, sailed past St Martin with beautiful sunny skies. Past Saba, slipped under Statia, sailed in the lee of St Kitts and Nevis. We got buzzed by a multinational patrol plane piloted by a friend of a Picton Castle shipmate. The pilot called and sent greetings. In the night we passed Guadeloupe and the early morning found us in the lee of mountainous Dominica.

We took the ship in close under power so the crew could get a good look at this stunning island. We had spent about three months here two years ago being the ship for the “fantasy/reality” TV show “Pirate Master.” This TV shoot was a whole lot of work, and quite demanding, but fascinating work at that. And, for one thing, we really learned the coast of Dominica. Now this would not be so remarkable if it weren’t for the fact that for all its charms, Dominica has scant few anchorages, decent or otherwise. The island is steep to, very steep to. But by and by we made our way down past the main town of Roseau where we saw the fine schooner Spirit of Massachusetts and got anchored stern to the beach by the Anchorage Hotel, a small hotel which had a dock we could take our skiff too. The anchor was let go in over 100’ of water on a steep incline and we had hawsers going to trees on the beach holding our stern inshore and thus in effect, pulling the anchor up hill. The ship was quite secure.

We had planed to stay awhile as Dominica has a very special character and we have many connections here we wanted the gang to take advantage of. It certainly is a stunningly beautiful isle, covered with all lush tropical rain forest and craggy mountains. Most of the Lesser Antilles were completlly deforested in colonial days, in the interests of big profits from the brutal making of sugar. Not so much in Dominica. This island was not cut down like so many others and retains much of its natural flora and fauna. Everywhere one can find bubbling hot sulfur springs underfoot and some of the beaches are even too hot to walk on barefoot. When we sailed around the island during the filming we were just stunned by the majestic beauty of the place.

Our history and guide books tell us that Dominica has been inhabited for about 5,000 years and peopled in successive waves of indigenous groups coming up from South America over time. There is still a group of about 3,000 Caribs, the last large and identifiable such group in the West Indies. They were often (and the books still do) described as “warlike” but weren’t they just defending their homeland against invasion? We saw a t-shirt with an old photo of Geronimo on it with the caption “Homeland Security – Fighting Terrorism since 1492.” And this they successfully did here and in most of the Lesser Antilles with success for about 125 years. Spain had shown little interest in these smaller islands in the Eastern Caribbean even though they considered them theirs, as they considered the entire Caribbean theirs. But in due course, at about much the same period that Plymouth Plantation was being established in Massachusetts, these islands were invaded and taken over by the English, French, Danish, Dutch and even Sweden got one little one. Now these islands are all independent except the French and Dutch ones. Well, St Thomas, St John and St Croix were sold by the Danish to the USA in 1917…

Well, I guess we have to say that Dominica is really and truly wonderful. Its complete lack of long white sandy beaches has made it immune from conventional resort development, so we don’t see massive gated and insulated resorts. Its lack of decent anchorages has made massive marina development unattractive too to those that make money doing that sort of thing, so, again we see no massive, exclusive marina complexes. So what is left is a vibrant local culture and identity on an island left to its own devices which, as it turns out, are quite excellent. It is hard, if not impossible, to describe what all the gang did because, in fact, I do not know. But here we go a little anyway.

In the Caribbean, Dominica is known as the Garden Island, supplying many of the drier islands with fruits and vegetables. The market is just bursting with all manner of beautiful produce. Donald is in his element shopping and bargaining and getting fine fruits and veggies for the ship

The architecture of the main town of Roseau mostly dates from the 19th century and earlier. Few buildings over two stories built of volcanic stone and wood very much in a West Indian Victorian vernacular. Narrow roads lead out of Roseau and take you through the steep craggy jungle covered mountains to small villages with goats, free-range chickens and usually a backdrop of reggae music.

Rudolph Xavier, our friend who was our guide, leader and scout as well as driver during the TV shoot two years ago, was back to see us and it was great to get together again – Mr. Xavier is a most excellent guide and gentleman. Anyone visiting Dominica would do very well to meet him and put themselves in his able hands for their visit.

And of course, crew took full island tours all around the island to Carib Territory, went diving on underwater vents, found great local restaurants where you can get delicious Caribbean dinners, and internet and so forth and so on. Back on the ship, work is ongoing with afternoon swim breaks – swing rope from the fore-yard plunging into the sweet Caribbean sea.

architecture downtown Roseau
Dominica s lush rainforest
PC anchored and tied to trees ashore
running stern lines ashore, Dominica

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