Saturday, June 1st, 2019
Our ocean wandering sail training ship, the Barque Picton Castle, has sailed into Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada and came alongside to complete a voyage around the world. This is the ship’s seventh global circumnavigation out of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Perhaps a modern day record. Last port was St George’s, Bermuda after stops at Grenada, the Saintes, and Jost Van Dyke in the Caribbean after a nice long passage from South Africa.
This gang of Picton Castle World Voyage 7 seafarers, from many walks of life, soon to walk down the gangway with a sea bag held by calloused hands on tanned shoulders, have sailed over 30,000 nautical miles at sea, put into 27 ports of call, sailing the North Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Panama Canal, South Paciﬁc Ocean, Coral Sea, Arafura Sea, Timor Sea, South Indian Ocean, Cape of Good Hope, South Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, crossing the Equator twice, and into the North Atlantic once again. A global expedition such as this is inevitably replete with superlatives. And conversely, a voyage like this, a true voyage, does not lend itself readily to easy sound bites.
Our ship and crew have experienced balmy warm trade wind passages day after day. But also sailed through many a cold wet stormy rainy day. We have sailed under many starry nights, the sky inky black bedazzled with diamonds above. The gang has learned to handle sails and get them in swiftly in violent squalls, hauling on stiff manila lines. We have had cool days, calling for jackets and foul weather gear off Cape of Good Hope. And we have had scorching hot days, eyeballs sweating, in the torrid Torres Strait separating Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Mostly we have sailed over smooth seas, but rough seas have been our lot from time to time as well. We have been beguiled by any number of quiet and ever so remote island anchorages and lagoons such as magical Mangareva, French Polynesia or Asanvari Cove, Vanuatu. We have anchored or hove-to off storied and beloved Pitcairn Island, crashing into Bounty Bay in 40 foot longboats. Bustling seaports such as Suva, Fiji, Serangan, Bali and Cape Town, South Africa have hosted the Picton Castle and her adventurous crew. We have had short two day, even one day passages between charming islands in the Caribbean and passages across oceans lasting weeks under sail with nothing but rolling blue seas and skies around us.
On this one year ocean odyssey, the men and women who make up the Picton Castle crew came aboard as lands folk bewildered by the rig and the ways of a ship at sea but will be signing off as blue water seafarers of the highest order. It will take years to digest this experience. It is after all, hardly just one experience, is it? And their friends will ask “how was your trip?” How does one answer that? After climbing the tallest mountain, one may as well be asked “how was your walk?”
In addition to learning and absorbing a great deal about the way of a ship at sea – and putting into some distant and remote ports experiencing whole new levels of welcome, friendliness and hospitality almost everywhere we anchored, our Picton Castle crew helped deliver much needed supplies to remote Pitcairn Island and Palmerston Atoll. They helped our doctor conduct shade-tree medical clinics in the Vanuatu islands. With some pride and satisfaction they delivered literally tons of school books and supplies donated in Nova Scotia and New Orleans to needy South African schools. Sometimes these schools with qualified teachers and eager children barely have chalk for the blackboards. Those who donated these valuable books and supplies in Nova Scotia can be proud too.
Our crew steered their ship every mile around the world, kept lookout all night long and kept the ship up as sailing ship sailors must do. They stood watches at sea and also in port when it stands to reason many would have loved to have been ashore. They learned to splice rope, seize rope, tie knots, belay safely, go aloft and muzzle wet canvas and handle the 205 manila lines from deck so those aloft could get that job done. They have made days with the main engine lumbering along in rolling seas – and have sailed for days on end with decks as dry as can be under clipper ship studding sails.
They have painted, varnished, tarred, oiled, scrubbed, chipped, caulked, scraped, sewed canvas into sails, and cooked and cleaned up after us all in turn. They have done safety drills to prepare them for emergencies. They have had swim calls on calm days in mid-ocean. They hove up what must seem like miles of 1-1/4” anchor chain with a heavy anchor at the other end, time after time getting underway from the last island headed for the next. They handled sextants and small boats and a few even learned some diesel engineering if they sought to.
They have bargained in shops in Bali for colourful kites, carvings and fabrics and traded for curios and baskets in palm-fringed South Pacific coves. Some have dived on coral reefs, many have trekked remote trails ashore. We have all known happiness and joy, and also frustration and disappointment, even sadness at times. Yet these are deep-sea seafarers of the first order sailing into Lunenburg in the Picton Castle. They will meet scant few peers in the coming years.
The route and ports of call for this voyage include New Orleans, Portobello and Balboa in Panama, San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn Island, Mangareva in French Polynesia, Rarotonga and Palmerston Atoll in the Cook Islands, Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga, Suva in Fiji, Espiritu Santo, Banam Bay, Malekua Island, Asanvari, Maewo Island in Vanuatu, Bali, Rodrigues Island, Reunion Island off Madagascar, Cape Town in South Africa, Luderitz in Namibia, St. Helena, Cariacou, Grenada, Guadeloupe, the British Virgin Islands, and Bermuda only 730 nautical miles south of Lunenburg.
In 1996 the Picton Castle steamed into Lunenburg from Norway. Here she was completely reﬁtted for ocean voyaging under square sail by Lunenburg area marine artisans. All her masts, rigging, blocks, steel and iron work, hull work and sails were made in Lunenburg shipyards and workshops, stirring up renewed interest and passion for the working waterfront of this famous and hard working seaport town. The Lunenburg Foundry, Scotia Trawlers (the former Smith & Rhuland), Snyder’s Shipyard, Dauphinee Blocks, Vernon Walter’s Blacksmith, Aubrey Zinck’s Git-‘Er-Done-Gang, Lunenburg Hardware, Clearwater’s Deep Sea Trawlers, Michele Stevens’ Sailloft, and many others in and around Lunenburg County all helped to create this ship as we know her today. And of course, the Picton Castle rigging gang. Now, 23 years and 300,000 nautical miles later she sails into port again.
When Picton Castle was about to set sail on her ﬁrst of many globe circling voyages in 1997, I was told by renowned Captain Henry Kohler (of the famous three-masted research vessel Vema) at the time Picton Castle was first setting off outward bound, that there were more men alive who had walked on the moon than had sailed around the world in a real proper square rigged sailing ship. Seven world voyages later this balance has been well reversed in favour of the square rig circumnavigators out of Lunenburg, men and women both. A truly international gang, her crew on this voyage alone hailed from 20 different nations. Canada, USA, Grenada, England, France, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Australia, Tonga, Bermuda, Spain, Switzerland, China, Belgium, South Africa, New Zealand and Germany. And a cat from Fiji. Also one from Bridgewater.
This is the ship’s last world voyage under my command. But hardly her last voyage taking adventurous souls to sea in square-rig. In a couple weeks, under the command of veteran mariner Captain Dirk Lorenzen, Picton Castle will set off to the Great Lakes with the magnificent and beautiful schooners Bluenose II and Pride of Baltimore II to join a fleet of tall ships assembling for a Tall Ships Challenge series of sailing and port visits. And then starting next May 2020, Picton Castle will be setting sail for the Azores, Ireland and Scandinavia and exploring the rich Atlantic of Northern Europe, on to Morocco and Senegal in West Africa and then to the delightful and still severely under-explored eastern Caribbean islands, all the while challenging crew and trainees to learn “the way of a ship”, attain many skills required of seafaring under sail, and some of good citizenship too, perhaps.
After a year and more of deep-sea, blue-water, voyaging under canvas, Picton Castle and her crew sailed into Lunenburg Harbour this day, took in and furled sail, sails they had made themselves, and made fast to the dock for the last time on this incredible voyage. The voyage may be done but it is never over.
“Mate, that will do the watches.”
Fair winds at your backs, shipmates.
Master of the Barque PICTON CASTLE, WV-7
June 1st, 2019