This is Trudi writing. Someone who has never sailed in Picton Castle or any other sail training vessel. People wonder how on earth I ended up working for a tall ship being so entirely unfamiliar with sail training or sailing ships or sailing at all. Living locally, I knew of the Picton Castle of course, but I still imagined ‘sail training’ was something along the lines of learning to drive a yacht. Working here in the office and then eventually attending a Sail Training International Conference are the things that made me first discover what sail training actually is and then lead me to fall in love not only with Picton Castle but with sail training in general. And yet I’ve still not done it.
So, in the midst of posts about life-changing voyages before the old teak wheel and favourite South Pacific ports from Captain Moreland and Maggie and some to come soon from Tammy and Bronwen (all people who have sailed many times in Picton Castle), why the heck am I writing one?
I guess I provide a pretty unique viewpoint. Ha! No, not unique at all come to think of it. In this tall ship world I work in at the ship’s shore office, I’m the lone – the one and the only – non-sailor who has never visited (or even heard of) many of the ports Picton Castle will be visiting on this next voyage. So I tend to think of myself as one-in-a-billion. But actually that really makes me exactly like many of you who are reading this. Yes, I know: plenty of you have indeed sailed and/or visited some of these ports, but most of you have not. One step outside of this sail training world and I lose all my unique-ness.
Photos can show you why I want to go on this voyage far better than words can. Well, photos plus imagination. There are thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of photos on my computer and CDs here in the office. They’re outstanding. Living in a gorgeous part of the world like Lunenburg, I come to work some days in the midst of winter and see the smooth-like-glass ocean with sea smoke rising from it, and the glorious colours of the sunrise and the old historic buildings and I’m in awe, so I take a photo to share the beauty with the world – only to feel bitter disappointment because the photo I took doesn’t show what I actually saw at all. It’s like sitting down to eat what appears to be a delicious, dark, gooey piece of chocolate rum torte, only to find it is one of those mass produced, sweet brown-flavoured cakes; no rich chocolate, no rum .. just sweet and brown and full of chemicals. It’s like finding cilantro in my salsa. Frustratingly disappointing. So all these photos I see from past voyages? I know they don’t come close to what the people on that ship were looking at when they took the photos. These snapshots make my heart race, yet the photographer looked at them and thought “dang, that’s not anywhere near approaching the majesty of this moment”.
I want to see the real thing! I want to be there and see what I’m missing.
I’ve not done it. I’ve not sailed a barque or any other ship. But looking at endless photos of the sails going up and going down – can’t you just imagine the wonderful sound they’re making? Like sheets snapping in the wind on the clothesline on a sunny summer day, but so much more. All-encompassing. I’ve never heard the sound in real life, but I see the photos and I imagine it clearly. That glimpse through the rigging of a stunning sun setting on the ocean horizon .. the colours in real life must be completely indescribable and they don’t just stop at the edge of the photo. They carry on in both directions as far as you can see. Ah!! I need to know if my imagination is anywhere near approaching what people on ships see and smell and hear and feel. Ooh. Goosebumps.
Trying to describe these feelings in words makes my eyes leak a little bit. Can you imagine all this heart-stopping gorgeousness all around you, but then there’s more? And even more after that? Every day something to take your breath away, and then you arrive at a place like Pitcairn Island. Or the Marquesas – anywhere in French Polynesia. Anywhere on this entire voyage. These fabulous islands with people so friendly you feel like you’ve always known them, and they want to show you why their home is the best. And they’re all right – every place the ship is visiting is the best, and there is still more beauty to come around every single corner. And then, at the end of your day of discoveries ashore, you head home to your own home, in your bunk below decks on the Barque Picton Castle, and as you drift off to sleep you get to remember all the reasons why all of this is the best.
Sailing from Nova Scotia southbound for the tropics can be quite the treat as well as a challenge in a big old school square-rigger. Any kind of vessel really. We sail southbound for the Caribbean Sea in the Picton Castle in June. South to the Caribbean for the summer? Is this crazy? Not at all. In fact, the very best practical time for a sailing vessel to head south from up north hereabouts is actually April, May, and June. The only reason most yachts or big schooners and sailing ships do not normally do this, and usually can be found sailing north at this time instead is because the summer-time is THE TIME to be sailing in New England or around Nova Scotia. So they all come north for the summer. Nice time to come north too. Just not so delightful heading back south in the late fall. But that is another story. But for pure passage making smarts, head to the Caribbean in May or early June. And so we do.
It is almost 2,000 miles from Lunenburg all the way down the North Atlantic to Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean, our first planned stop and we all just love the island nation of Grenada, The Isle of Spice and so much more. But wait, first there is the passage south. Our first blue-water passage under sail. And that is what this voyage is about. That and islands. And learning to be a seafarer. And a shipmate. A good one.
The first few days at sea out of Nova Scotia can be pretty
cool sailing. Your first time at the helm, trying to get the lubber’s line on
compass near the big S as it seems to dance and swing around in front of you as
you learn to steer the ship. You are at the teak wheel all the way aft on the
quarterdeck turning her massive worm screw steering gear that has kept this
ship on track for maybe 300,000 nautical miles over the last 24 years. The same
wheel that has been handled by a couple thousand crew on those many deep-sea
miles. Only 250,000 miles to the moon.
Yes, we will be bundled up for a few days, seeing our breath and the like. Maybe wondering if it was such a good idea to do this. By ‘cool’ I mean cold. Or so it seems anyway. It won’t be snowing anyway. And it will stay this way for a few days. Until we cross the famous Gulf Stream. Then in short order, we will be peeling off the layers and getting sun-burned. Quite astonishing is the shift. The Gulf Stream is quite literally a river of very warm water that that formed in the Caribbean basin, all those seas having been blown in from Africa. It piles up and heats up in the Caribbean Sea. It piles up so it must go somewhere. So it gets shoved north between Yucatan and Cuba, makes a circle, filling and heating up more in the Gulf of Mexico before sneaking around Key West and starting a rapid slide right along the coast of Florida and it’s moving fast. Around Cape Hatteras (North Carolina along the east coast of the USA) this powerful and pretty hot ocean river gets a bump offshore. The continental shelf guides the Stream from a northerly direction and gives it a kick to more of an easterly direction. This current will cross the Atlantic Ocean as it spreads outs and cools off in due course. But not so much that palm trees do not grow in southern Ireland and SW England, because they do. If ever the Gulf Stream gives up, the British Isles and northern Europe are going to freeze up hard. Even Iceland is made livable by these warm African/Caribbean waters warming that island up. But we cross this Gulf Stream well east of Cape Hatteras and due south of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Now we are in teeshirts and shorts most likely.
After we get through a high-pressure system, which can bring calms, that often (not always) lingers over the central Atlantic, there we should pick up some easterly tradewinds. Well, not much that I love more in this ship than a good tradewind passage. Warm, with sparkling seas and blue skies. Them soft fluffy clouds scooting overhead. The wind is in from Africa and we are headed for the islands. You are learning to steer, finding your sea legs, the 200+ pieces of manila running rigging becoming more familiar every day. Knots and splices. It’s warm now so we can again smell the Stockholm tar of the rigging. Ambrosia. Maybe we will see dolphins and flying fish for the first time. We will be learning to do all the things that watchkeepers in a sailing ship must do. Starting with walking. Some have to learn walking all over again it seems, as the ship rolls. Learn the lines, the sails, how to brace the yards, set up for meals, help in the galley, turn to for the four-hour watch on deck. Keep a good lookout and the points. It will all come. It always does.
After a while at sea, we will make landfall. That’s what mariners call seeing land for the first time and heading in. And we will be heading into one of my favorite places anywhere, right off the bat, Grenada, at the bottom of the chain of the eastern Caribbean. Most northern people think that they can see and experience the Caribbean any old time – or if they have been to St Thomas or bare-boated in the BVI, they have ‘done’ the Caribbean. Nice places to be sure but the answer is NO, you haven’t even scratched the surface. And, NO, the Caribbean is not actually all that accessible unless you enter the right way. That’s what we do. Frankly, the best way to see and learn these islands is to sail to them, earn our way we do. Be of the islands. Once we get anchored and cleared in at Grenada or Carriacou, one watch will look after the ship and the other two can head ashore to start exploring. Forests, boat building, dances, reggae and calypso music, BBQ by the side of the road, the best you have ever had, rum shops (not just rum but community pubs), dominoes, beautiful turquoise waters, diving, swimming, small boat sailing, waterfalls in beautiful bays, old slave era sugar plantations still harvesting cane and making rum with gear from the 1700s, jungles, waterfalls, markets, fresh drinking coconuts, and yes, palm-fringed sugar beaches so perfect too. But the best thing is the people. That’s always the best thing wherever we sail. I will leave it at that. Do not want to give it away completely, do I?
Cold and snowy here in Lunenburg right now. Stacking firewood, taking out the garbage for pick up early in the morning. Scraping ice off the truck. Dripping slush off my boots coming inside. Thinking about the passage to and being at Grenada warms me up.
Maggie here, from Picton Castle’s shore crew.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have sailed with Picton Castle to the
Galapagos not once but twice. When I was first interested in sailing as a
trainee, the Galapagos Islands was one of the ports I was most excited
about. Why? To answer that, we need to go back to my childhood.
When I was a kid, I had a subscription to OWL Magazine, which is a Canadian science and nature magazine for ages 8-12. I remember being so excited to check the mailbox each month to see if it had arrived. The last page of the magazine always had a series of close-up photos of different items and readers had to guess each photo, and there was a different science experiment every month that you could do at home. OWL Magazine did a whole series of issues on nature in the Galapagos. I remember thinking that this place must be just filled with interesting and unusual animals and that it must be very, very far away because the landscape didn’t look like anything this nine-year-old girl had ever seen before.
Fast forward almost 20 years and there I was, aboard Picton
Castle, sailing into the harbour at Baquerizo Moreno, also known as Wreck
Bay, at the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos. My immediate first
thought was that there were more buildings and streets than I expected.
Of course people live there, but I was surprised to see a thriving small
town and a number of vessels at anchor in the bay. The landscape had
always been described to me as barren, and it certainly was dry but it wasn’t
Even in town, nature is everywhere. Sea lions swim in the bay, sun themselves on the beach in town, or on the concrete jetty, we brought Picton Castle’s skiff to, or even on some of the unoccupied boats at anchor. Blue-footed boobies and frigate birds fly overhead. Tropical plants of all sizes and descriptions grow neatly in gardens or not so neatly in vacant lots and outside of town.
Adult sea lions are louder and smellier than I expected. Young sea lions are as playful as I imagined. One evening, getting into the skiff from the jetty to return to the ship with a number of my shipmates, a young sea lion put its flippers up on the gunwales and was starting to push itself up and into our boat in the same spot where I was about to sit down. The chief mate came to my rescue, by instinct he reached his hand out and gently pushed the young pup back into the water. Likewise, on night watch, instructions, as usual, included bailing the skiff, but with the added precaution of checking it with a flashlight first for sea lions.
Seeing marine iguanas and other reptiles was interesting,
but for me the big highlight was seeing Galapagos tortoises. It’s
incredible to think about their age, they routinely live to be 100 years old in
the wild, even longer in captivity. In order to ensure they can reach a
ripe old age, there’s a tortoise sanctuary on San Cristobal where baby
tortoises hatch and are kept in a wild-like environment but with protection
from potential predators. Being in the presence of creatures that are so
rare definitely felt magical to me.
On my second visit to the Galapagos Islands in Picton
Castle, I was sailing as the purser so I saw less of the natural world and
more of the town and the people. People were friendly, and they tried to
help as best they could with anything we wanted to find. We were able to
provision the ship there with fresh fruits and vegetables, including some
really delicious bananas and oranges. We also picked up some bamboo,
which we later used as clubs for stuns’ls or booms for small boat sails.
Picton Castle will be sailing to the Galapagos
Islands again on this upcoming Voyage to the South Pacific. As usual,
we’ll be sailing to Wreck Bay at the island of San Cristobal. We’re now
accepting trainee crew applications for the full year-long voyage or for a
three-month leg of the voyage (Galapagos is on Leg 2).
Picton Castle and her shore crew are in the grip of winter here in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. On this Blue Monday, which is considered the saddest day of the year, we’re going to bring some sunshine into your life (and our lives) by writing about sailing in the tropics.
First, let’s clear up what we mean by that phrase. The
tropics are geographically defined at 23 degrees north by the Tropic of Cancer
and at 23 degrees south by the Tropic of Capricorn. The band around the
globe between these two lines are the tropics, and it’s generally sunnier and
hotter here than anywhere else in the world.
For sailors, the tropics are known for mostly good, pleasant sailing because of the trade winds. They’re consistent easterly winds that in the northern hemisphere come from the east or northeast and in the southern hemisphere come from the east or southeast. Sailing ship routes were established not because someone long ago decided that’s how they should be, but because of the consistent wind patterns. We design our voyages to make best use of the winds, which is why we’ll be sailing from east to west in the tropics on our upcoming voyage and sailing from west to east much further south in the southern hemisphere. It’s better, especially for a square-rigged ship to go with the wind than into it.
Trade winds also push weather systems along, which is useful
to know when looking at weather conditions and weather forecasts. We keep
a close eye on weather and forecasts while sailing to see what might be headed
in our direction, carried by the trade winds, and how we can avoid it if it’s
something we don’t want to experience ourselves.
In terms of day to day real life on Picton Castle’s deck, sailing in the tropics using the trade winds to propel us forward is pretty pleasant business. If the wind force is consistent, we can keep the same sails set and just adjust braces (which control the angle of the square sails) in slight shifts in wind direction. Usually, we make these small sail adjustments in the mornings at first light and again before sunset, so the 4-8 watch takes up on any lines that have become slack overnight, or in cases where no adjustment is really required, they brace by just an inch or so in order to not have the lines of rigging feel friction at the same spot for days on end.
It’s not to say that sailing in the tropics is always
pleasant. There are squalls, wind shifts, rain, even gales. We
dodge what we can, but we will experience some. At those times, we’re
required to be more quick and attentive to sail handling and to anticipating
conditions in general.
But for the most part, sailing in the tropics is pretty
fantastic. Weather is warm, we can wear shorts and t-shirts, sandals or
bare feet on deck. Maybe a long sleeve shirt on night watches. When
winds are consistent we can be under sail alone, so the sounds we hear are the
rush and gurgle of water against the hull, the wind moving the rigging, and the
voices of shipmates.
Picton Castle Engineer Wanted For Voyage to the South Pacific
The sail training ship Picton
Castle is bound for the South Pacific in May 2020 and is in need of an
engineer to join the professional crew for the voyage.
The voyage both starts and
ends in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. The itinerary includes ports like
Grenada, Bonaire, San Blas Islands, Panama Canal, Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn
Island, the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, the Tuamotus of French
Polynesia, the Society Islands of French Polynesia, the Austral Islands of
French Polynesia, Easter Island, the Pearl Islands, the Panama Canal a second
time, Cartagena, the Yucatan, the US coast in the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas and
While the voyage is about a year long, the engineer position will start in April 2020 and run until June 2021. It is our preference to have the same engineer for the full voyage, however we would consider dividing the voyage into smaller sections for the right candidates.
The engineer is responsible
for operating and maintaining all of the equipment in the engine room and all
of the ship’s systems. Picton Castle’s main engine is a 690hp
Burmeister & Wain Alpha diesel engine, which turns a variable pitch
propeller. There are two Lister generators and a Sabb generator which are
run for about six hours every day and charge a bank of batteries. There’s
a reverse osmosis watermaker, bilge and fire pumps, freezers for food, DC and
AC electrical components, plus plumbing and electrical systems.
Picton Castle has a fantastic consulting engineer ashore who will
help steer the ship’s engineer in the right direction, but we will be making
long ocean passages to remote ports on this voyage which means that the
engineer will have to be resourceful, with good troubleshooting skills and the
ability to anticipate and prevent problems in the first place.
Like all professional crew
aboard Picton Castle, the engineer must have STCW Basic Safety
Training. In addition, we’re looking for someone with significant
experience running and maintaining diesel engines, and knowledge of electrical
and plumbing systems.
To apply, please send your
resume/CV and cover letter by email to email@example.com.
Candidates of all nationalities are welcome to apply.
Bound for the South Pacific in the Barque Picton Castle
Here at the Picton Castle office, we have been getting all sorts of questions from folks who have been thinking about sailing in our Barque Picton Castle. They tell us that they are looking for that amazing deep-sea, blue-water seafaring, square-rigger voyaging experience. Kind of right up our alley. They want to haul braces with new shipmates in a proper square-rigged ship in the balmy trade-wind breezes. Sail small boats in among tropical coves and bays to little islands on camping expeditions. And they said they want fine warm breezes in the south seas, frigate birds and flying fish. They want to visit legendary islands and make friends living on these islands. Coconuts and mangos and breadfruit might be on the menu in the shade of coconut palms perhaps. “Why don’t you sail back to Pitcairn Island if it is so great there?” Good question. “Why not sail to Tahiti and Bora Bora too if you can? You have a fine, sail anywhere, steel barque, you know the way, why not sail back the Pacific?” Another few reasonable questions. Got us to thinking. My father always told me “plans are for changing”. So, in late spring of 2020, the Barque Picton Castle will be setting sail for the fantastic South Pacific Ocean, our ship’s (and crew’s) natural seagoing habitat. Europe is wonderful, I love it there, but Europe can wait for another year. The South Seas call, a call that cannot be denied…
New crew join the ship
All new crew and trainee crew will be joining the ship in May next spring at Lunenburg to stow the ship, bend sail and otherwise get the ship ready for sea – and train themselves up too. Lots to do and lots to learn; lots of practice and drills and much to go over before setting out to sea the first time. It can be (will be) a demanding and at times confusing period – all new people soon to become shipmates, ropes and lines everywhere, boxes and crates to load and stow. Tons of food, rope, paint, rigging gear, fuel, lumber and lots else to be hoisted aboard and stowed. Supplies for Pitcairn Island that have been ordered by our friends there to be packed in the 100-ton hold. Figuring out 205 lines, braces, halyards, sheets and downhauls – there is much to be learned – boats to load onboard, boats to get oriented in, ten yards, bending 21 sails, anchor drills, emergency training and follow up drills – fire drills, life-raft drills, man-over-board drills, damage control techniques, and all sorts of other stuff. There is lots to do before setting sail for the first time.
Then on or about June 1st, we will cast off from the
salty old seaport of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, set sail and point our
jib-boom due south down the North Atlantic, looking for the Southern Cross.
Crossing the Gulf Stream, we are bound for the brilliant tropics and the delightful
tradewind islands of the eastern Caribbean about 2,000 miles away before
sailing along the ‘Spanish Main’ bound for Panama, the Panama Canal and out
into the broad Pacific Ocean. Cool at first, soon we will be in shorts,
tee-shirts and barefoot.
The island nation of Grenada – “The Isle of Spice”. Lush and green, the best introduction to tropical seafaring and Caribbean life and one of our favorite islands anyway. A second home to Picton Castle (we have a few of these). Beautiful harbour careenage of St George’s, exquisite silver beach of Grand Anse, reggae and calypso music, 17th century sugar plantations still making rum, Jack Iron, mountain waterfalls, spice tours, roti and home to Picton Castle’s great cook/seafarer Donald. We will also put in to Carriacou, a smaller island to the north, where wooden sailing and fishing vessels are being built to this day (See the film VANISHING SAIL on YouTube).
Bonaire – Bonaire is a quiet small Dutch West
Indian island off the coast of Venezuela which we will visit as we sail on our
way west across the southern Caribbean towards the Isthmus of Panama. Laying in
the strong tradewinds belt, beautiful clear waters, low, dry and interesting
old structures dating from the age of infamous piracy and slavery. Small wooden
ships bring in fruit from the mainland to our dock in Bonaire. A lovely stop
for us. Then out and downwind for Panama.
The San Blas Islands of the Kuna – after what could well be a strong trade-wind romp along the coast of South America, along the “Spanish Main”, we will put into the San Blas islands along Panama’s coast. Picture perfect palm-fringed islets in crystal clear sparkling turquoise blue waters. Wooden dugout canoes sailing by, paddling to the ship and some with outboards too. The San Blas islands are n autonomous region of Panama, owned and managed by the indigenous Kuna who have called this area home for centuries. They farm on the jungle-covered mainland and live on these tiny islands, at one time for security and safety from the colonial powers. Looks like it worked as they are still here and still in charge. Beautiful setting, beautiful waters, powerful indigenous autonomy – you’ll see…
Portobello, the ‘Gold Port’ – Columbus anchored here and named it the ‘beautiful harbour’ – this quiet little bay harbouring a sleepy little Latin American waterfront town on the way towards the Canal Zone, was once the main port for Spanish transshipping of melted down Incan gold and mined gold and silver back to Spain back in the days just after conquest – and very much in the ‘golden age of piracy’. And among other things a keen target for the likes of Francis Drake and Henry Morgan depredations. Abandoned stone forts and big iron cannon laying in place where their carriages rotted out ages ago are scattered about the bay. “Drake” is still a ‘dirty’ word in these parts. And a sweet gentle introduction to Panama. A day-sail away from the Panama Canal zone where things ramp up for the seriously ‘awesome’ canal transit. We overuse the word ‘awesome’ today but here the term is quite apt. You’ll see.
The Panama Canal transit. This is a big job to prepare for and then a long but fascinating day as we make a daylight transit of this technological wonder. A study in superlatives in amounts of dirt and rock moved, people dying to disease, the moving of huge populations to make a workforce, the vast volumes of waters to make it work, the tons of ships that go through every day, month, year. Amazing, literally. Hard to imagine pulling anyone building such a canal today. But there it is and it makes this voyage possible. Take the locks up to Gatun Lake, steam through the jungle of Central America and locks down to the other sides and the Pacific Ocean. On day instead of three or four months and we get to skip Cape Horn. And this is a day you can never forget.
Panama is amazing in and of itself and we will spend some time here, and more on the way home. Strong indigenous cultures, clear evidence of piracy of the old style, ancient Spanish fortifications, great food, and lovely folks. The ruins of Old Panama City, sacked by Henry Morgan, are easy to walk through an impressively intact. Once Morgan wrecked the place and stole all he could, this old stone city was abandoned and the Spanish just a new Panama City towards the west and left the old one to crumble. A fascinating visit bringing old pirate history right to us. Old neighborhoods of Casco Viejo, music, dining and markets full of local crafts.
On towards Galapagos. After transiting the techno-wonder
of a Panama Canal we will head SW and across the equator for Wreck Bay in the
Galapagos Islands. Wreck Bay is a small Ecuadorian fishing town on the island
of San Cristobal and gateway to many of the treasures for which the Galapagos
is famed. And great Latin American cooking and music. Marine iguanas everywhere
and we will have to shoo big sea-lions out of the skiff after they take their
naps if we want to get ashore.
Passage to Pitcairn
From these equatorial ecological gems, we set sail for storied Pitcairn Island. Home to descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their island consorts who settled there in 1790, Pitcairn is 2,800 miles away and usually a grand trade-wind sea passage. Here we find the rhythm of the ship at sea. Flying fish join us and maybe a whale or two, perhaps a few pods of dolphins from time to time. And we find our own rhythms too as the ship becomes our world. Day after day, week after week we steer the ship at the big teak wheel aft upon the quarterdeck, stand forward lookout at night, learn our lines better than ever, practice sail handling, helping in the galley, keeping the ship clean, figure out our knots and splice and really “learn the ropes” as the saying goes. Maybe some will get their sextants out to see if they can find out where we are. For those interested, they will learn to bring down the sun. So far from land, the night sky can be dazzling with stars. We become seafarers on the passage. The sea becomes our world. And then over the horizon, Pitcairn Island grows up in front of us off the bow.
A small island, less than two miles long, it is also quite high and sometimes you can see it from many miles away. The big powerful 40-foot-long launches will come out from Bounty Bay to meet us, take us ashore and if the weather is good enough, unload supplies for the island. Hopefully, we can find a place to put the anchor down. If not the Picton Castle and half the gang will be hove-to offshore as the other half goes ashore – again, if the weather holds. Just out the tropics at 25 degrees South, the weather is not as steady as it is in the tradewinds belt. The weather can be dodgy. But if we are lucky, we will get a few days at Pitkern Island. The gang will be split into two watches, one watch aboard to look after the ship, one watch ashore to mix it up with old friends of mine and the ship. Climb up to Christian’s cave, take the longboat into Bounty Bay. Maybe get to swim at St Paul’s Big Pool, walk the secluded wooded paths first cleared by members of the Bounty’s crew ages ago. Make friends you cannot ever forget. It is hard to get to Pitcairn, but it’s harder to leave, but sail on we must.
On to the Marquesas.
1,200 miles to the northwest lay the Marquesas and back into the tropics. Sail-making, rigging, ships carpentry, celestial navigation, and other skills will be pursued by the ambitious seafarers aboard this passage. Herman Melville jumped ship here almost 200 years ago from a whaleship and gathered enough stories to write TYPEE and other books and stories. Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, and Fatu Hiva are on our list of Marquesan islands to put into. Tall mountainous islands, even today the populations have not caught up with pre-contact days. But walking through the quiet forest you can stumble on lone tikis in the woods, part of old house foundations. Of particular charm to me as captain, is the fact that some of the anchorages are actually pretty good, a rarity in the South Pacific. Google these islands up and learn more. We are keen to see these islands again.
Onward we sail…ever deeper into the islands and atolls of
the South Pacific Ocean and into French Polynesia.
The Tuamotu Archipelago – The “Dangerous Archipelago”
From Marquesas, we sail southwest through the Tuamotus – aka, the Puamotus or the “Dangerous Archipelago”. Known as the ‘Dangerous Archipelago’ as these islands are low, low, I mean, low, coral atolls, sometimes hard to see until only a few miles away – quite a change from the high islands like Pitcairn and Nuku Hiva visible almost 40 miles away when the atmosphere is clear. Combine low islands with poor charts and plenty currents, at times no wind, and dubious navigation you could be forgiven in thinking these islands are a bit ‘dangerous’ to navigate about. We’ll be OK though, not our first rodeo. One atoll for sure we will try to get to is Takaroa. A classic Polynesian atoll living the enchanted atoll life. And also, high up on the beach almost in the coconut palms is the wreck of the huge iron full-rigged ship County of Roxburgh, lost in a cyclone in 1906. Just sitting there, wrecked and yards and masts laying in the coconut palms just inshore. Much more to say about Takaroa and life on low coconut palm covered coral atolls but enough for now. Better to experience it anyway. Fishing, diving, exploring, making friends, sailing in lagoons, dancing…. don’t forget that big shipwreck either
The ship comes first, life aboard. With all the charms of land and these legendary islands, we are seafarers first and the ship comes before all. If we do not take care of the ship, she cannot take care of us. While we have plenty of time ashore all hands stand watches at sea and in port, sharing out the duties of sea-folk so all hands can both learn the way of a ship and also explore and enjoy the islands. At sea, we are on three watches: 4 hours on, 8 hours off duty around the clock. In port, we also take turns and stand watches onboard while half to 2/3rds of the gang head shore to explore.
Duties at sea on watch: our four hours watches usually include a trick at the wheel, some sail handling, maybe a stint at forward lookout. Certainly, there will be some ship cleaning, washing down the decks followed by some kind of ship’s work such as painting, varnishing, tarring or one and more of hundreds of other tasks that keep the ship moving. Maybe work aloft in the rigging or sail-making on the quarterdeck. Taking turns helping the chief cook in the galley and of course, there will be dishes to wash. Yet out of the 24 hours in the day, only eight hours are regularly called for on deck. Except in unusual moments, the rest of the day is yours to do as you wish.
Duties in port: When the ship is at anchor or alongside a town wharf we always keep a navigational watch aboard. This ain’t no yachting tour. We always look after the ship. And thus the ship always looks after us. And with a watch aboard it allows our shipmates either half or two-thirds at a time to explore ashore at the many amazing ports we visit. Managing the ship’s boats, skiff runs ashore, shopping with the cook, painting, rigging, sailmaking are ongoing. Keeping the ship safe should weather change. Anchor watches at night are standard procedure.
Back at sea…under sail…bound for…
Tahiti and the Society Islands
Tahiti. If ever a name evokes the south seas it must be “Tahiti”. There is nothing quite like making landfall at Tahiti. The mountains break through the skies and clouds. The fragrance of rich land as we get under the lee of land will be in sharp contrast to the salty sea. Sailors say that you ‘should have been to Tahiti (fill in the blank) years ago’; 10 years ago, 30 years ago or whenever. They have been saying this ever since Captain Cook’s second voyage. But having been to and enjoyed spending time at Tahiti since I was a young man 40 years ago, the right answer is that the time to go to Tahiti and experience and enjoy Tahiti is always “right now”. Thus, we are be bound for Tahiti. Sounds good to me! Yes, much more modern and up to date, and always bustling. The Gauguin Museum is a highlight. Waterfalls in the mountains, surf along the reefs, round island treks, plantations, coconut palm-fringed beaches, black pearls, the beautiful old market, amazing singing in the churches. Of course, the nightlife and cafes in Papeete call us in. Baguettes and the best coffee and French wines. The night market of food caravans near the docks offers the most delicious French and Polynesian cuisine. Matavai Bay, host to Captain Cook’s ships and the infamous HMS Bounty (as well as a few movies of same) is a short bus ride away, curving black volcanic sand beaches with surf rolling in. This is where Bligh and Christian and generations of European sailors landed their longboats and more generations of Tahitians over centuries launched their voyaging canoes, their ‘Vakas’ and set out to sea. Tahiti is also great for shopping for the ship and fueling up. Then we can explore the legendary Society Islands.
Mo’orea. Beautiful, elegant, quiet and serene and quite near to Tahiti. An amazing backdrop of mountains at anchor. Some call it the most beautiful anchorage in the world. Huahine. Bastion of independent traditional and an equally independent Polynesian outlook on life. Friendly in the busy village and accommodating. Small “Chinese Stores”, cafes, farms, and lagoons for exploring. Bora Bora. Stunning mountain skyline, a good anchorage and great place for sailing our ship’s boats all around inside the lagoon.
Sailing the ship’s boats.
One of the many excellent things about sailing a ship just the size of Picton Castle is that we can carry a number of sizable ships boats to use when we wish. And what is more instructive (and actually quite fun) than sailing and learning to sail a small sloop, cutter, dory or motor skiff in the lagoons and coves of tropical islands? Whenever we can we launch these boats and sail them in the bays and harbour in which we anchor. Everyone gets a chance to do this and it is highly encouraged for all. There is some book study, hands-on instruction and then lots of practice and exercise around the ship. Sometimes we make expeditions to smaller islands, motus, and cays. Even overnight expeditions when circumstances allow. Small boats are not just good fun but are powerful teachers of seamanship. Small boat competency is essential to the accomplished mariner.
South to the Australs
From Tahiti and the Society Islands, we plan to sail for Rapa Nui, aka Easter island by way of Raivavae, in the Austral Islands, a rarely visited island inside a fine barrier reef of coral and motus. A motu is a small islet, usually on the fringe reef but can be anywhere. Did you see the Disney film “Moana”? Moana means ocean and the island of ‘Motunui’, the home island in the film, means ‘big islet’. I have never been to Raivavae and am extremely keen on visiting this island with Picton Castle and our crew. Looks amazing from here and have heard great things.
Then the long sea passage to Easter Island or Rapa Nui. Big Rapa. Good to get our ‘sea-legs’ back. Good to get into the rhythm of the ship and sea again – steering at the big teak wheel, standing forward lookout, handling sails and braces as needed, tarring the rig, painting, varnishing, making new running rigging here and there. A long passage to be sure but it will go quickly. Rapa Nui is the Polynesian name for this intriguing island. “Nui” means big or greater. There is a Rapa Iti (you guessed it, “iti” means ‘small’) about 2,000 miles away. Everyone has heard of Easter Island and seen pictures of the great and mysterious statues – few have sailed there. But we will. And this is the first time Picton Castle has been to Rapa Nui. After checking out this easternmost outpost of Polynesia, huge statues and all, we will catch the South East Tradewinds again and sail for the islands of the Gulf of Panama.
Lots to learn about ships, boats, and seafaring while going to sea in Picton Castle.
How we learn and teach in the Picton Castle. We will push you pretty hard to gain a competency of the basics that you need to become useful on watch: learning the 205 lines made up of halyards, downhauls, braces, clewlines, sheets and buntlines and what they do; steering the ship, learning the compass and point system, standing a proper lookout, managing a good ship check, helping in the galley and washing up, keeping the ship clean a good deal more will come first. From time to time we hold workshops in a range of practical and theoretical subjects. Some are mandatory some are not. Sail-making, knots and splices, all sorts of wire rigging, ocean winds and weather, ocean currents, small boat sailing, ship handling, cultural insights into upcoming ports, chartwork, celestial navigation, small boat handling, etc. Much will be learned simply on the watches alongside shipmates in gaining the ship’s routines. The important thing to remember is that you get out of this what you put into it.
Heading for the Caribbean and the Spanish Main
After a nice long sail from Rapa Nui and once near Panama we
will find Las Perlas, a large archipelago a good long day sail away from the
mainland, to check out. We will have sailed by these ‘pearls’ when outward
bound. Now we get to head ashore. Put our toes in the sands of these beautiful
islands. More to say at a later time.
For some of the gang aboard this will be a return to Panama and they will get to return to familiar haunts or explore what they missed the first time around. The nation of Panama is much more than a canal. On our world voyages, we are all so keen to get out into the South Pacific that I have always felt that we shortchanged our visits to Panama. That and the fact the crew were just learning how to explore tropical places and cultures at the beginning of the voyage we would get paddling pretty quickly for the westward. But now, maybe we will have an excellent chance to take in Panama in some depth and its wide diversity of just about anything you can think of. We could spend weeks, even months in Panama.
Through the canal northbound back into the Caribbean Sea. The first time ever for me and this ship bound this way.
We love them so much we will put into Portobelo and San Blas islands for the second time on this voyage. Why not, they are right there? Maybe explore parts we did not get to the first time. Or visit old haunts familiar. For new crew, it will all be new anyway.
Cartegna, Colombia just to the east of Panama
is an amazing old Spanish city with tremendous fortifications and outstanding
cuisine and rich Latin American music and culture. The Spanish were “here
to stay”. The city is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its
military fortifications, built in the 15th, 16th and 17th
centuries, which are the most extensive in South America and one of the most
complete, and for its historic importance as a West Indies port. The Old
Town is surrounded by a high stone wall that’s 13 kilometres long.
Elsewhere in the city, there is a mix of old and new architecture.
In the past, travelers have had to exercise a great deal of
caution for personal safety in Colombia. This naturally has kept people
away. Yet in the past five years, the public safety situation in Colombia
has improved significantly and is now once again a welcoming destination.
Nowhere on earth is without risk, but we expect to see a huge increase in
tourists visiting Colombia shortly. We’re looking forward to getting to
Cartagena before the secrets of this incredible city are out of the bag.
The Yucatan. We will sail north to anchor at Cozumel, Mexico. A main reason for choosing Cozumel is to give many of the crew a chance to visit the Yucatan with all the Aztec pyramids, temples and other ruins of this lost civilization. From Cozumel, there is a ferry that runs many times a day to Playa del Carmen on the mainland of the Yucatan peninsula. From there, it’s a fairly short trip to see Tulum or a longer trip to see Chichen Itza. While the area surrounding the cruise ship terminal in Cozumel is quite touristy, the beaches of the east coast are quieter, where the locals hang out and offer some amazing local foods. Diving and snorkeling in Cozumel are also spectacular.
The Gulf of Mexico and Tall Ships is where we’re headed next. We don’t yet know exactly which ports in the US we’ll visit but will update you as the details come together. The reason we’re headed for the Gulf of Mexico is the Tall Ships Challenge. This is a series of port visits and sailing races between ports for tall ships. An exciting opportunity for the Picton Castle crew to mix it up with other tall ships in a festive atmosphere. The Challenge is organized every year by Tall Ships America and moves around from coast to coast. Picton Castle participated in the first-ever Tall Ships Challenge in the Gulf of Mexico in 2018, just before we began our seventh world circumnavigation voyage. At that time, we visited Galveston in Texas, Pensacola in Florida, and New Orleans in Louisiana. We expect a similar number of ports will host the tall ships fleet in 2021. These events are a good chance for our crew, who by then will know Picton Castle very well, to share the ship with the public as we welcome folks from these cities aboard for deck tours. It’s also an opportunity for our gang to meet some other tall ship sailors. We’re unlikely to see any other traditional sailing ships until this point in our voyage so it will be a pleasure to meet and interact with other crews.
The Bahamas After the tall ships festivals in the Gulf have folded their tents, Picton Castle will be homeward bound. We’ll sail down around the southern tip of Florida, hitch a ride on the Gulf Stream and make our way to the Bahamas. We all remember seeing videos and photos in the news about how hard Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in late summer of 2019. Buildings were flattened entirely, trees uprooted, all manner of things washed away, and many, many people lost everything they had. A natural disaster like this is tough anywhere, but especially tough in a place like the Bahamas because they depend so heavily on tourism for their economy. Without visitors, they can’t make any money to survive and rebuild, but visitors are scarce there after something like this. In the immediate aftermath, there’s not much in the way of infrastructure, and people are scared that the devastation will happen again.
They’ll be about a year and a half into their recovery at
the time we plan to visit, and like so many of the other islands we’ve visited
that have been recently hit by a hurricane or cyclone, they’ll be on their way
to rebuilding. It won’t be the same. But they’ll be making a
comeback in their own way. And our visit will take place before hurricane
Bermuda will be our final port call before returning to Lunenburg to complete the voyage. Bermuda is a sweet spot for a visiting vessel. Seemingly semi-tropical, its location makes it an ideal place to stop on a passage north or south from Lunenburg. But more than its geographic location, Bermuda is a welcoming place, especially for a ship like ours. We’ve made many friends over the years in Bermuda and have a number of Picton Castle alumni who are from there (including the Chief Mate on our most recent world circumnavigation voyage). It’s also a final chance on this voyage for our crew to visit beaches and swim in tropical blue waters.
This final passage of this voyage will bring us back to Lunenburg. Every time Picton Castle sails into Lunenburg after a long voyage is a big event. Even for those who didn’t join the voyage in Lunenburg, it’s a homecoming. The working waterfront is always full of well-wishers, including friends and family of those aboard as well as local friends of the ship. Lunenburg marks the completion of a voyage, the accomplishment of big goals and dreams.
In many ways, this voyage will be different than any other voyage Picton Castle has made before. But is so many other ways this is a simply classic and unique Picton Castle deep-sea, trade wind voyage putting in at iconic and difficult to get to islands and ports in the tropics. The South Pacific is such an enchanting place for a square rig sailor. The guys who used to sail in ships commercially around bitter cold and stormy Cape Horn carrying goods all over the world dreamed of a voyage like this. Lots of time to make the miles under sail, time to explore ashore in both big cities and remote outposts, trade wind sailing on flying fish passages. Pretty much the dream of any square rig sailor.
The Barque Picton Castle is a three-masted tall ship based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada and best known for our adventurous international long distance sail training voyages. Anyone can become a trainee crew member, no experience required, just a desire to become part of the crew that sails the ship. With the guidance of our professional crew, you'll literally learn the ropes. Join us as a trainee crew member on the Voyage to the South Pacific in 2020-2021. Sign aboard for three, six or nine months, or for the full year-long voyage. Sail to the Caribbean, Panama, Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn Island, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, Tahiti and the Society Islands, Easter Island, Las Perlas, San Blas Islands, Cartagena, the Yucatan, the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas and Bermuda, making trade wind passages under sail. Sign on now, your adventure awaits!
We are were in Durban, South Africa, in December 1976 in the pretty
80’ Danish wooden Brigantine ROMANCE, the ship with so much of her
DNA in PICTON CASTLE, about to set off around the Cape of Storms and