Life on board the Picton Castle has been very busy in the past week. Usually we are busy at sea with sail handling, workshops and maintenance projects but over the past week we have been a different kind of busy with the end of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a quick stop in Erie, Pennsylvania, and then our first Tall Ship festival of the summer in Cleveland. But let me go back a week or so to tell you what we’ve been up to…
We finished with the St. Lawrence River on Sunday July 9, passing Cape Vincent and heading out into Lake Ontario. Our passage through the most easterly of the Great Lakes was perfectly calm. At times the water was like glass on top, no wind coming from anywhere. Crossing Lake Ontario gave us a chance to catch our breath between the St. Lawrence River and the Welland Canal. The world voyage crew in particular were glad to be out of sight of land, at least for a little while. There is a whole different set of concerns when we are in open water, but many of us were feeling a bit crowded in the river. It also gave some people who hadn’t been on helm in the close quarters of the river a chance to get behind the wheel.
Early Monday morning we went alongside the waiting berth at Port Weller, where the Welland Canal begins. The Welland Canal was built to connect Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. Without the canal ships would not be able to go between lakes because of Niagara Falls. The canal has gone through a few different routes over the years and currently consists of 8 locks that bring ships up 346 feet to the level of Lake Erie. It took us about 10 hours to transit the Welland Canal from start to finish. The most dramatic climb happens in locks 4, 5 and 6, which together are known as the “flight locks.” There is no channel between the locks; when the doors of one lock open the ship moves ahead directly into the next lock. The sections between the locks are quite peaceful and pretty with ducks who still seem surprised to see ships passing through their homes, lush green plants along the sides, and clear blue sky overhead. Andrea Deyling once again did a great job on helm through the locks, and the crew—now old hands at this lock business—responded quickly with lines. To pass through the St. Lawrence Seaway is a feather in any mariner’s cap.
Early on Tuesday morning we arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania, after a night of motoring through Lake Erie. We had a few things to take care of in Erie, but nobody was as glad to be there as Second Mate Greg Bailey. Greg, who is from Erie, spent his teenage years volunteering on US Brig Niagara, a ship that also calls Erie home. Each of the crew had a few hours off, and many went to check out the Niagara museum, which is excellent. It is fascinating; it is almost a museum about defining Canada as a nation. Captain Moreland had sailed in the Niagara, too, helping them to get their operational program started after a full rebuild of this 1813 vessel. We attracted quite a bit of attention in Erie, and lots of people dropped by the ship to check it out, including Admiral Charles Curtze, who helped get the Picton Castle started. Just before we left, the crew were treated to a delicious dinner catered by Greg’s aunt Mary, who owns a catering company. Unfortunately our time in Erie was short, and we headed out again Tuesday evening.
As we steered toward Cleveland we started hearing calls on the radio from other ships participating in the festival, and as we got closer we began to spot them in the distance. It’s impressive to see one tall ship, and it’s majestic to see lots of us all at the same time. All the ships gathered just off Cleveland harbour, and then at the appointed hour began to line up to sail inside the breakwater and past the assembled crowd. The weather wasn’t great for the parade: the sky was overcast and light rain was falling, but it didn’t seem to deter the spectators. Severe thunder storms are common hereabouts. The show must go on, and so it did.
As soon as we touched the dock there was a frenzy of activity. The organized chaos of the festival had begun. We had visits from event security, the Coast Guard and US Customs, all before the sails were stowed. Then carpenters arrived to help with gangways, as did all sorts of Liaisons. The officials in Cleveland were incredibly efficient, making our arrival an easy process. The Captain was whisked away immediately after for the opening ceremonies of the Huntington Cleveland Harborfest as the crew finished stowing sails and got the gangways ready. Every ship is assigned one or two liaisons, who act as messengers between the event organizers and the ships; they are also local experts who can point folks in the direction of anything we need in the city. We were lucky to have the lovely Jeanne and the very helpful Roberta. We met them Wednesday night and the crew immediately peppered them with the usual questions when we get to port: where to find internet, laundry, ATMs, restaurants, shopping, etc. The frenzy continued on Thursday morning as we got ready for our US Coast Guard inspection. We got the gangways rigged appropriately with nets below, the deck roped off in certain places, signs up telling people where they can and can’t go, and did both a fire drill and a man overboard drill to demonstrate our preparedness for them. At 1100 we were finally ready to open the decks to the public.
Every day since we have arrived in Cleveland we have had thousands of people walk across the decks. About 125,000 people came to the festival. We have two gangways rigged—one to enter and one to exit. People have been getting on amidships, walking forward around the well deck, aft on the starboard side, up the ladder to the quarterdeck and around to the gangway rigged from there on the port side. Crew members are positioned around the deck in places where visitors have to mind their step, and where they may have questions that crew can answer. Deck tours are just as much an aspect of seamanship as setting sails or splicing rope, and the crew have become Picton Castle ambassadors. The days are long and hot, but it’s worth it, as there are so many people to meet, questions to answer, and opportunities to talk about the ship. It’s interesting to see the people from all walks of life whom the festival has attracted.
One of the best things about participating in festivals like this is that we get to hang out with other tall ships. When we meet crew members from other ships there is an instant understanding despite the differences among the ships. Not many other people would understand a conversation about the best way to furl topsails or the benefits of a certain type of sailmaker’s palm, but it is common conversation amongst the crews. We talk a lot about our ships—what is common to all and what makes each unique. We’re used to being a bit of an oddity, and it’s nice to know that we’re not alone in our choice to sail and do some things the old-fashioned way. Sailors are generally a fun bunch to hang out with, and we’ve been making friends on other vessels that we’ll get to see in a number of ports this summer.
Checking out Harborfest is certainly high on the priority list for our crew, but there are other things to see in Cleveland, too. We are lucky to be at the North Coast Harbor, right behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Centre. The Science Centre is a major sponsor of this event and hosting the operations centre for Harborfest. The organizers of the festival have generously given crew tickets to the Science Centre, the Rock Hall and the SS William G. Mather Museum. Picton Castle crew have reported that all three are great, especially the Rock Hall. Of course, all the usual stuff to do in port is here, from shopping to restaurants to movies. Cleveland is also home to Andrea Deyling, and near to home for world voyage trainee Becky Fisher. Both women have brought many friends and family over to tour the ship. Andrea has become a local media darling, giving interviews to local TV and newspaper reporters.
At Cleveland we have said goodbye to several trainees who signed on just for Leg 1, and we have welcomed several more for Leg 2A. They are quickly learning the ways of the ship, and have already become quite knowledgeable and able to answer visitors’ questions. All hands look forward to tomorrow morning when we get to start sail handling drills as we leave Cleveland and head out for Bay City. We must sail past Detroit and Windsor and into Lake Huron. The water in Lake Huron is so pure you can drink it from right over the side.