Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Prince Edward Island' Category

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Captain’s Log – Boston to Summerside

At about 1300 on the 22nd of June PICTON CASTLE stood out past the Boston Light, set to the t’gallants. After five busy days in the port of Boston we are sailing out to join the Tall Ships fleet for the start of Sail Training International’s race number 4 of the Rendezvous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta from Cape Ann, Massachusetts to the northeastern end of mainland Nova Scotia.

Warm summer weather had been on order while we were in Boston but as we motor sailed out with the light and building southerly into Massachusetts Bay the crew quickly felt the cold breeze off of the 65° F water and ran to put on some warmer clothes. 19 vessels gathered for the race start, which was set about 10 miles to the east of the storied fishing town of Gloucester. It is always quite a sight to see a fleet of ships this size sailing in close quarters, especially on occasions such as this with a moderate breeze that allows the ships to set much if not all of their sail and get a good turn of speed going as well.

In an only somewhat serendipitous nod to the latter half of the Age of Sail, amongst the fleet are the Barque EAGLE, ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT II, GUAYAS, EUROPA, the 4 Masted Barque UNION and of course PICTON CASTLE making seven out of the nineteen ships in the fleet cut quite a scene of square riggers standing offshore until the fading evening light. To cap off the evening a spectacular sunset over Cape Ann bid the fleet farewell from the USA on our way to Canada.

Winds went fairly light on the first night, we kept all but the flying jib and gaff topsail set. Most of the fleet dispersed during the night, a group of ships like this with very different sailing qualities don’t stay together for long. The next day the Gulf of Maine began to show its true colours and as the day went on the wind began to increase, the air got colder and the fog set in.

Of all the times I have been across the Gulf of Maine, I don’t think I have ever actually seen it, there is almost always fog here. By midday we were shortened down to the main t’gallant in a Force 6 breeze. In this sort of weather, charging through the fog, extra care must be taken with the navigation, extra lookouts posted and a close watch kept on the radar and AIS. We are passing just to the north of the George’s Bank, and there are many fishing vessels in the area, over the years more than one vessel has come to grief from not paying close enough attention around these waters. A sobering reminder that we must be on our game.

As the day wore on the seas began to build and by evening we were shortened down to topsails and the foresail. Even though the weather is cold and wet the gang is kept busy about the deck, we had a full third of the crew change over in Boston so there are many new hands to teach the way of the ship to, learning lines, bracing, sail handling evolutions, all of this must be done in order to sail the ship. As it is, the ship comes first and we must sacrifice some comfort for the good of the ship and all onboard.

Two days we spent with a fresh fair wind and almost zero visibility, until the morning of the 25th when off of Halifax the wind eased, hauled southwesterly and the fog lifted. We again set to the royals and as the black hull of the ship began to warm the off watches came up from below to enjoy the sun. After two days of staring into the fog it felt good to get back the fair weather routines of work in the rig and about the deck. The on watch getting tar into the rig, oiling blocks and renewing ratlines, a carpenter finishing up our new fruit lockers and the sailmaker roping our new outer jib. In the afternoon we had an all hands workshop to teach seizings, allowing more of the new crew to get their hands on some of the ship’s rigging work.

On the afternoon of June 26 we crossed the finish line for the race and wore ship to bring us into Chedabucto Bay, the head of the waterway that separates Nova Scotia from Cape Breton Island. As our pilot for the Canso Strait and lock wasn’t due to board until the next morning we stood on towards an anchorage just outside the town of Arichat on the south side of Cape Breton. As the sun got low in the sky over Nova Scotia, PICTON CASTLE took off across the bay. With a fresh breeze but no seas to slow her down in the calm water of the bay we were able to carry every stitch of canvas full and drawing, clicking off 6.5 to 7 kts. It’s in these conditions one can really feel the power of a sailing ship rig like this and the energy it takes to get a heavy ship like this moving under wind power alone.

As we neared our anchorage for the evening the wind began to die off and we squared away for Arichat Harbour. At about 2230, just after last light the ship very quietly glided up to the anchor, apart from the soft spoken commands and the light rattle of sheets as the hands got in all sail forward it felt almost as if the ship were suspended in space, quite a contrast to the afternoon’s sailing. As the main yards squared away and the ship brought into the light breeze the sound of the anchor chain thundered out and all remaining sail was taken in. Arichat is a familiar spot for PICTON CASTLE from years past and it’s always good after a fresh passage to be anchored in a peaceful little spot such as this.

As morning dawned clear and flat calm, the engineer fired up the trusty B&W Alpha main engine and we hove back anchor to pick up our pilot for the Canso Strait. While the Strait is a natural channel it wasn’t really navigable until a lock was put in near the town of Port Hawkesbury to keep the currents down to a minimum. It was a pretty morning running up the Strait and the crew kept busy shining up the ship and getting ready for our next port visit. Just after 1200 PICTON CASTLE cleared the lock and dropped off the pilot as we steamed into St George Bay, now on the Gulf of St Lawrence side of Novas Scotia. Not too long after a light breeze sprang up from the east and the crew, now getting more confident with handling the rig, quickly made all sail and the main engine was shut down.

That evening we wore ship around Cape George and shaped up for the Northumberland Strait to the south of Prince Edward Island. While the Northumberland is pretty wide it’s still a lot more confined than sailing in the open ocean and as a result, it takes a little more effort and attention for everybody onboard. While passing Pictou Island in the night the breeze came on to a southerly Force 5 and the watch on deck quickly got in the royals and upper staysails. But with the wind easing a bit toward morning and the current setting the ship to the north the next watch got all sail set again to keep the ship on course.

Having made good time up the Strait it was decided to anchor for another night before passing under the Confederation Bridge, which connects Prince Edward Island to the mainland at New Brunswick and entering the Port of Summerside. As PICTON CASTLE approached Cape Tormentine all hands were called to be the ship ready for sailing onto the anchor. Though the same manner as had been gone through the other night, there was more wind this time and the evolution had to happen more quickly. But as we approached the anchorage at Rock Reef under Cape Tormentine the wind quickly shifted, in a short scramble the ship was made ready to come about and tack back up to the spot most ideal for the ship to anchor. It’s not an easy task to marshal 46 people to complete a manoeuvre most have never even heard of before. But the mates and lead seaman did a good job and this ship got through stays quickly without a hitch. As the ship began to gain speed on the other tack it was soon time to bring her head to wind, down with the headsails, in fore upper and lower topsails, midships the spanker and hard down the helm, as the ship came up smartly into the wind hands aft squared the mainyards to put on the brakes and the starboard anchor was let go. After all remaining sail was taken in the crew swarmed up into the rig to get sail securely stowed for the night.

As is always the case, a ship like this is more about the journey than it is the destination. As exciting as it is to come into a new place it is always good to be able to have a night at anchor before going into port with the hustle of going alongside and the hectic excitement that can be at the start of a new tall ships festival. It’s important to have a moment, to be able to sit with the ship at rest without any outside distractions, to look up at the rig, ready to spring to life again at the call to loose sail, and say “we did that, we sailed this ship here” and as Irving Johnson said “with our own hands”. That’s the accomplishment, and that is the important part of this journey.


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Good-bye to Lunenburg, Bound for Grenada

Finally, the weather has given us the patiently anticipated window we were waiting for while all hands stored ship, bent sail and went through their first safety drills. On Tuesday the 5th of December at 1300 the lines were cast off from the Picton Castle dock in Lunenburg and a fine farewell given by Deputy Mayor David Dauphinee and Captain Daniel Moreland. Lots of friends came by to wave us off, including Bill Gilkerson, Bob Higgins, Mikayla Joudrey, and the whole shore office team. Lynsey Rebbetoy, as usual, was busy to the last minute to make sure we have all we need. Chibbley decided to share with us the Caribbean adventure and is getting on with her bunk inspection as we speak.

With temperatures just below freezing point, and a breeze from starboard abeam, the light snow showers make sure we won’t forget to appreciate the fine warm weather we are about to sail in soon. Who was it that said it is fun to sail in snow? Ice was broken off the frozen stiff lines and the snow shuffeled from decks and pin rails; nevertheless, we all have smiles on our faces and are full of good spirits. With a long blast for Lunenburg from our ship’s horn, we left the dock and headed for Battery Point.

With great respect for all those seamen who sailed in stormy winter seas the crew lays aloft and loosens topsails. Cold hands and stiff ropes make us aware of how much we were taking for granted: centrally heated rooms not long ago…The galley soon becomes the most frequented place on board, a fine spot for warming up with hot water for a very welcome noodle soup and tea.

The weather is good to us: with 25 knots of wind on the starboard quarter we motor-sail past Cross Island following the backside of that Low with Hurricane force winds, which kept us waiting so long. Mysteriously enough we did not pick up any lobster pots on our way out, but just as we hit the open sea we happen to encounter one of the Canadian Navy ships. Not too far off we find a submarine operating in periscope height, and our first wearing ship maneuver is due. About time that something happens and makes us move; the ropes, however, seem to think differently.

Accompanying dolphins and a fine smell from the galley round up our first day at sea just fine, and while the moon leaves a wonderful sparkling light on the dark sea we look forward to our sunny and warm days, not too far away anymore.

Captain Michael Vogelsgesang
Captains shake hands with Deputy Mayor of Lunenburg
Crew haul the main braces in Lunenburg
David, Don Wilson, Lynsey, and Mikayla cast off dock line
Greg stands by helm in Lunenburg Bay
Winter in Lunenburg off the starboard quarter

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Summerside to Lunenburg

The Picton Castle is once again securely tied up in her home port of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The ship sailed in Friday, September 22, rounding Battery Point on the way into Lunenburg Harbour at 1800. The Captain brought the ship in across the top of our dock then backed in alongside, starboard side to. We made all the dock lines secure before squaring the yards and stowing the sails for the last time this voyage. There was a small crowd on the dock to meet us, giving the usual cheer once all the dock lines were fast and the main engine was shut off.

We had an interesting last week of the summer voyage. Shortly after leaving Summerside we passed under the Confederation Bridge, which connects Prince Edward Island to the mainland. We passed under this 13-km bridge going the other way about 3 months before, but it’s still amazing to see how long and narrow it is. We motored through the Northumberland Strait, heading towards the Strait of Canso, which separates Cape Breton Island from mainland Nova Scotia. At Canso we went through the final lock of our journey. Because there is only one shallow lock at Canso we didn’t make all our usual lock preparations, but instead had tire fenders standing by to keep the ship off the lock walls. It went smoothly, as it should have after all the lock experience we earned in the St. Lawrence River and Welland Canal.

On the Picton Castle, as on any ship, we are constantly concerned about the weather. We had received reports that the wind would blow quite hard from the direction we planned to head, so on Tuesday night we sought shelter in Arichat Harbour on the SW coast of Cape Breton. The wind picked up to gale force, as expected, so on Wednesday morning we went alongside at the wharf of Premium Seafoods Ltd. in Arichat before it really started to blow. They were kind enough to allow us to stay, and the crew experienced the generosity and hospitality for which Cape Bretoners are famous. People kept showing up at the wharf to check out the ship and offer rides or assistance.

Thursday morning we headed out of Arichat to make the final part of our journey down the Nova Scotia coast towards Lunenburg. The wind was still coming from dead ahead of us, but we pushed on under motor anyway. The swells were quite large compared to what we have been experiencing lately inland, and it was truly a reminder that we were in the ocean again. A number of folks on board were feeling a bit green because of the motion of the ship, but there were hardly any complaints. Early Friday morning the swells began to lay down a bit and people started to get used to it, although it was still overcast and cold. The highlight of the last week of the voyage was actually sailing for a few hours on Friday afternoon, heading towards Cross Island and Lunenburg. The sun had come out by then and, although it was still cold, the crew got one last chance to enjoy the wind in our hair, the sun on our faces, and salt spray on our skin as the ship heeled over to port and wind filled the sails.

Most trainees left over the weekend. Those who have stayed are being put to work along with the experienced crew. Saturday all the cargo from the hold was unloaded and moved it into the warehouse. This is always a big job that requires lots of organization, people, and muscles. The job was finished by the middle of the afternoon and the crew got to start their day off a bit early. This weekend the Pride of Baltimore II came into Lunenburg to wait out some rough weather on their trip towards home. The Pride II participated in all the tall ship festivals with us this summer and it was good to see some familiar faces again. The crew had a chance to relax on Sunday, getting to visit our favourite places and people in Lunenburg. The work list for this week is long, and all hands were back at it again Monday morning, starting with a reorganization of the warehouse to make space to unload more things from the ship and loosing sails to dry. The sails are all cotton canvas, which needs to be kept dry when not in use, so they will be sent down and stored in the warehouse until they are needed again. We have to clean and empty the hold and sole, overhaul our living spaces, paint the masts and yards, put a topcoat of paint, varnish, grease or tar in the appropriate places, and take care of all sorts of other loose ends.

The Picton Castle certainly had a busy summer, traveling a total of 4,500 nautical miles. The ship participated in 5 tall ship festivals, visiting 6 states and 4 provinces. We had more than 135 trainees on board along with 25 experienced crew. We ate 260 fantastic meals, heaved up the anchor 13 times, went through 32 locks that brought us 600 feet up and back down, and had over 100,000 visitors tour the decks. We had a good time this summer getting to know new shipmates, meeting crew from other ships, and introducing people to the Picton Castle on tours. Most important, our 135 trainees on board got to know the magic of sailing this beautiful barque, to stand watches, to steer the ship, and to learn more about the sea and themselves in the process.

Confederation Bridge over the taffrail on the way to Lunenburg
Dale, Bentley, and Kolin brace on the way to lunenburg
drying sails in lunenburg
Erin, Greg, Andrea, Amanda, Julie, Sue and Ian unload the hold in lunenburg.
Lynsey and Alex unload the hold in Lunenburg
Sails fill on the way to Lunenburg.
Scott and Ryan are ashore to catch lines.
Staff crew on the way to Lunenburg
View of Lunenburg on the way home

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Gaspe, Quebec to Summerside, Prince Edward Island

The crew of the Picton Castle enjoyed a short stay in the town of Gaspé, sailing in late Monday afternoon and leaving Wednesday morning. The ship was anchored in the middle of the bay and skiff runs dropped us off at the yacht club behind a stone breakwater. From there it was a short walk over the bridge into the commercial centre of town. Most of the downtown area was under construction, which slowed tourism for this summer, but they have hopes of drawing more people in future summers with the improvements. Many of the crew found the local bakery and a few other shops, and had a chance to practice speaking French. Those who can’t speak French didn’t have much worry though; most people in Gaspé also speak English very well.

The whole Gaspé peninsula was a beautiful sight from the ship, with leaves on some of the trees just starting to turn bright red and orange. We were lucky to have light wind from the northwest for most of the day on Wednesday, which meant we could sail out of the Bay of Gaspé. Most hands felt it was a slow sail, especially compared to the speed we had been making in the St. Lawrence River, but were happy to sail nonetheless. Just before dinner the wind shifted and we took in all sail, turning on Big Blue (the trusty diesel engine) once again.

We motored through the night and most of Thursday, arriving in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, late on Thursday afternoon. We received quite a welcome in Summerside from Ron Casey of Downtown Summerside and the Youth Ambassadors who were dressed in period costume. Ron, who is a great friend of the Picton Castle and of the Captain’s, had a ton of great things planned for us. He offered to take people out to dig clams, pick potatoes, and see the island. He also arranged a dinner on Saturday night, showers at the Silver Fox Yacht and Curling Club, and burlap potato sacks full of local maps and information for every crew member.

Friday morning I went digging for clams with Ron, the Captain and Dave (the cook). Ron took us to a good spot near the Confederation Bridge at low tide and taught us to look for the holes in the sand, stick our shovels in and carefully extract the clam. It is more difficult than I imagined because it takes a while to find the clams, and it’s tough to not crunch their shells with the shovel. Imagine hiding raw eggs in a wet sandbox and having to find them and dig them out whole with a spade. After two hours of work we had almost two buckets full of whole clams and a scattered mess of wet, sandy holes and smashed shells. We went farther down the coast to see if we could also get some oysters and mussels. They attach themselves to rocks, so instead of digging we were prying them off. Filling the bucket went more quickly this time. We took all three buckets back to the ship and let them sit with water added to them for 24 hours so the sand would come out of the shells and settle to the bottom.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons we opened the decks for tours, and we had a huge turnout of visitors. We also happened to be in Summerside the weekend of the air show, which ran both Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1430 until 1530. The show began with a demonstration of a sea rescue by the Coast Guard; then a single F-18 did a series of acrobatics, followed by a show from the Snowbirds—the Canadian military precision flying team of nine planes who do all sorts of tricks while flying very close together. A number of the crew watched the show from aloft, and at times the planes flew so close to the ground that people aloft on the royal yards were looking down on them! We had to stop deck tours during the air show, but we were a very popular attraction before and after the show.

Saturday night we enjoyed a traditional PEI corn and mussel boil. The corn and mussels were boiled and steamed in giant pots on propane burners on the pier, then brought aboard for people to eat. The mussels and the corn came from a local farm, and the food was fantastic. Almost the entire crew was there, along with a few invited guests. We even had entertainment with a local musician set up on the bridge to sing and play while dinner was prepared. The whole dinner was a great treat for the crew because the company was interesting, the food was hot and tasty, we could eat the whole meal with our hands, and the cleanup was minimal because we had paper plates.

Most of the crew were able to get away from the ship and see some of the island. With its red sand beaches, farms everywhere, and small fishing villages, PEI really is a beautiful place. The whole island province has only about 135,000 people. Fishing, farming and tourism make up their main economy, with most of their tourists coming in the summer. They have a few different driving routes laid out on tourist maps to include the best sights—everything from Anne of Green Gables attractions to natural scenery and quaint settlements. Definitely there is a lot to see and do on PEI.

Unfortunately it was time to say goodbye to our new friends in Summerside on Monday afternoon, as the Picton Castle headed out on the final leg of our summer voyage. We steamed out of Summerside harbour into a light easterly wind and headed out into the Northumberland Strait, passed under the new Confederation Bridge, and are now headed for the Strait of Canso and eventually Lunenburg.

Andrea, Ryan, Alex, and Ian
Being welcomed at summerside by Ron Casey and youth ambassadors
Captain Dan cuts the welcome to Summerside cake
Dave digs for clams, Summerside
Music from the bridge, Summerisde
Mussels booiling, Summerside
PEI coast
Ruth has mussels in Summerside

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