Dear Crew of Picton Castle’s Voyage to the South Pacific,
This is an important update about the start of this voyage. Please take it in and come back with any questions.
We are postponing the crewing up and start of our Voyage to the South Pacific until the autumn.
Due to this virus pandemic and all the logistical and worldwide travel restrictions put into place for our continued good health and safety, it is simply not looking good for us to carry on with the plan of having all of you join the ship here in Lunenburg in June and then sail in July. Not enough critical pieces that need to be in place are in place for us to plan on sailing as scheduled. More elements, both logistical and health related, need to be reliably projected to be in place for us to proceed with confidence in making travel plans to meet the Picton Castle, and the assured well-being and safety for us all onboard.
We are now about a month away from the time you have been expected to join us here in Lunenburg. With monitoring and studying trends and government announcements, and in discussions with other ships, contact and exchanges with folks in the various ports, looking at this worldwide situation closely, we have a clearer outlook for the situation in June and July. Right now we do not see it being reasonable to proceed with the voyage as currently planned. We need to postpone the start of the voyage either to this coming fall, or possibly even to next spring. We are looking at this autumn right now and very keen to sail then if we can.
We are working out details of an updated, somewhat revised new itinerary for an autumn start to the trip. We are now looking to start in Lunenburg in September with the normal few weeks of orientation, outfitting, training and ship preparation before getting underway in October. The route and the ports through the South Pacific will remain much the same. A delayed start means that we will have to pass up attending the Tall Ships Challenge in US ports in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2021. Our prime focus has always been sailing the South Pacific. We do not want to miss out on that. Then we will be looking at a return to Lunenburg by July 2021. We will get this reworked voyage plan off to you all shortly.
There is a confluence of a number of critical factors that combine to convince us that we no longer see the June/July start of the voyage as a viable plan. For starters, Canada’s borders are still closed to non-essential travel, as are the borders of the province of Nova Scotia. A voyage like ours is not considered essential travel. International flights into Nova Scotia are still in doubt as well for the time being. Additionally anyone entering the country or the province is required to self-isolate for 14 days. How do we do that? We simply don’t have the capability to do this either aboard or elsewhere in town.
While this could change, once underway we will be facing similar requirements at the ports we visit. Even if the ship is allowed to enter, as of now there would be significant restrictions in place for our mobility ashore. Then there remains the question of planning to have crew members sign on and off the ship at different ports far away. Normally not a problem. As of today we do not anticipate these restrictions being lifted in time to start the voyage with enough certainty. It is one thing to sail safely, another thing to actually be allowed into a port. And another thing all together to be confident of good conditions in ports.
We have been keeping a close eye on our planned ports of call and their requirements or restrictions for visiting vessels. Most are still closed for visitors, and in the few cases where vessels may visit, in many cases crew are only allowed a shore a few hours a week to do essential errands. This could get old. While Picton Castle voyages are primarily seafaring voyages, travel and cultural exchange and exploration and mixing it up ashore are certainly a big part of why we all want to sail the South Pacific. Sailing to these incredible places but not being allowed to go ashore does not make a lot of sense, nor is it the kind of voyage any of us have signed up for. We anticipate these restrictions will last for varying lengths of time in the different countries/ports, but do not have a high enough degree of confidence that they will be lifted by the time we arrive if we were to start the voyage in June, even if that arrival time is months off.
While there is no vaccine as yet, or cure for COVID-19, the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is through social distancing. We’ve been involved in a number of discussions with sail training industry leaders and there is logical agreement that social distancing is simply impossible on ships like ours. So many tasks aboard and maneuvers require close contact with our fellow crew members. And while this is a larger ship than some, we are all still living pretty close to each other, just the nature of going to sea under sail. While we have been thinking about new and more socially distanced methods of doing some things aboard and there likely will be only small changes in some procedures, there are some where it’s simply not possible. The good news is that while we’re at sea on extended passages there is built-in quarantine time. We are working with our medical officers to put in place a management plan that will help to address some of these concerns. The health and wellbeing of all our crew on board is always our top priority and we simply can’t start the voyage until there is much reduced risk of any of us becoming sick from this virus. Or anything else.
There are other unrelated factors that we must take into account that help guide any of our voyage planning. Hurricane season in the North Atlantic is an important consideration. It could be that this COVID-19 has abated enough to sail a month or so later than July. But actually setting sail on a passage south to the Caribbean in August or September would be during the peak of hurricane season. Some years there are no hurricanes in these months but risk is increased. Offshore weather forecasting is vastly improved over the last few decades, very impressive indeed. This allows us to make plans around an October departure, as always we will have to monitor weather forecasts carefully for as smooth a passage as possible. Because we don’t want to set sail in August or September, we’ve pushed the next decent departure date to October.
However, if a sailing this fall does not work out either, and this could be the case in this fluid situation, we will have to put off the start of this Voyage to the South Pacific until the spring of 2021. This will be the delay of an entire year. If sailing in spring of next year, then the voyage will be just like it was originally planned apart from the Gulf of Mexico Tall Ships Challenge ports, unless these get rescheduled as well. The legs the same and the entire voyage being about a year in length, starting and ending in Lunenburg, and visiting the same amazing islands and wonderful ports we have been planning all along. And of course, to many of us it’s all about the long sunny passages across the blue Pacific in balmy trade winds, living the way and the life of a ship at sea.
This is a big change, and a lot of information to digest. Big change for all of us. Believe us, we are as keen to set sail for the South Pacific as you all are. Delaying the start of the voyage has big implications in your lives and your future planning, it does for us as well. We wouldn’t be making such a big change to the voyage if it wasn’t necessary from the standpoints of both crew health and travel logistics. We remain committed to making this South Pacific voyage happen when it’s practical and advisable to proceed.
And we are looking at what we can do aboard Picton Castle this summer in the meantime. Summer is pretty nice around here. Lots to do if we can get outside and on the water.
There are still some questions for us to answer about specific details of the itinerary, including where and when you’ll sign on and off Picton Castle, which we’re working on and will update you about soon. In the meantime, we’re happy to hear from you with any questions.
We hope you and your friends and loved ones are staying safe and healthy. And not going stir crazy either.
Captain Daniel Moreland