Captain's Log

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The Bosun School at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia- 2019

It is now mid-October, the Picton Castle is back from her very successful tour of the Great Lakes with the grand fleet of Tall Ships Challenge®, a hurricane has come and gone, and the eighth session of the Bosun School of Lunenburg is well underway at our wharf in this old seafaring town. We have a great gang of young mariners from all over in attendance putting in long tarry and salty days. Canada, USA, Denmark, Australia, Greece, and Germany are represented in this session. They have been learning and doing massive amounts of rigging, wooden boat overhaul, heaps of learning how to move heavy things and now sail-making as well as small boat handling every day as we can. Lunenburg Harbour is perfect for small boat sailing and handling. And small boat handling is perfect for learning ship handling.

There is no substitute for and nothing better than real sea time under sail in a proper ship to gain critical experience and advance the skills for a young mariner. But oftentimes on these hard-working ships sailing today, there is little time to focus on advancing these critical skills for the professional mariner. Skills such as wirework and sail-making, ship and boat carpentry and so on. And rarely does the opportunity roll around to actually be part of rerigging a square-rigged ship so extensively, or lay out and make a sail with a professional sailmaker. Or build a dory properly learning or rebuild an historic watercraft under the direction of a master boat builder. And critically, it is very difficult to get the time and access to boats to develop comprehensive small boat handling skills. These things we do at the Bosun School.

The purpose of the Picton Castle’s Bosun School is to provide this opportunity to young dedicated mariners to advance their skills in a concentrated fashion without the entirely natural demands and distractions of being underway at sea standing watches and tending the job every minute of the day. Conducted by myself, the crew of the Picton Castle and special guest instructors, the Bosun School pushes our students to significantly advance their skill levels, making their chances at the best berths in good ships of their choice all the more likely. And also, with simply being better at the job of being a mariner they get to enjoy the job more. Once signed aboard the next ship they will have that much more to offer and will be a greater contributor to helping the ship on her mission – which is, after all, what being crew is all about. These young mariners will simply be more appreciated and thus more in demand. In this year’s course we are also offering a Transport Canada certified Marine First Aid course and an Industrial Rigging certificate.

Stay tuned for updates…..

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The Sweet, Sweet Smell of Swedish Pine Tar

Today we’re wishing that smell-o-vision was a thing.  As I walked through the gate towards the warehouse, I could smell the most lovely, smoky aroma that could only be one thing – Swedish pine tar.  Pine tar is used liberally in Picton Castle’s rigging maintenance, it coats various parts of the standing rigging and helps protect the rope or wire from drying out in the UV rays of the sun. 

Bosun School students are working on overhauling parts of the yards that have already been sent down (the royal, t’gallant and course yards).  Specifically this afternoon, they were working on repairing and replacing servings on footropes.  The footropes are made of wire rope, which is covered by a serving, which means marline (a natural fibre line) very tightly wrapped around the wire rope, often using a serving mallet which is a tool to help with the tight winding.  There are a couple of layers under the serving (worming and parceling), but the focus this afternoon was on serving.  Once the marline is tightly wrapped around the wire rope, it gets slathered thoroughly in a generous coating of pine tar.  And smells sooooo good. 

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Inspecting Royal & T’gallant Yards

After a week or so of site preparation, Bosun School students started downrigging Picton Castle last week.  All sails were sent down, then much of the running rigging.  Sails came down quite quickly, it didn’t take much more than a day to get them all down to deck, bundled up properly, and stowed in our sail loft ashore. 

Sending down royal and t’gallant yards was next.  Bosun School students had all done their training to climb up in the rigging, called going aloft, prior to sending down sail.  They worked in the rigging to get the big cotton canvas sails cut free from the yards and lowered carefully to deck.  But handling the heavy load of a wooden spar with a lot of rigging bits attached to it requires even greater attention to detail to be sure it’s done right.  Yards came down smoothly, with lots of instruction and coordination as it went. 

Now that the yards are sitting on sawhorses on the wharf, it’s time to inspect them.  As Captain Moreland explained to the students this morning, this will determine what work needs to be done on them.  He started by pushing on the yards to see if there are any obvious cracks in the wood, which we’d hear and see if they were there.  Then he looked at the condition of the footropes and identified some areas where the serving needs to be renewed.  He checked the shackles and their mousings that hold the footrope to the ends of the yard and checked the stirrups and the seizings that hold them to the yard.  He explained that shackles always need to be moused and that the seizings for the stirrups are very important and must be made with strong material, and must be watched constantly for chafe.  He also looked at the backropes, which on Picton Castle are made of typhoon wire and their seizings to the yard.  Then he looked at the lifts, which could use a wire brushing and fresh coating.  Captain Moreland also pointed out how important it is to label every piece of rigging so when they’re taken off the yard so the surface of the yard can be repaired if necessary then sanded and varnished or painted, the parts can be identified later and put back together more easily. 

With four yards on the wharf, the fore, and main t’gallants and royals, students then split up into two groups, each taking a pair of yards to inspect and document their findings.  The yards will be moved into the rigging workshop and any repairs or replacements that have been identified will be carried out there. 

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Planning a Voyage Itinerary

One of my favourite parts of my job is working with Captain Moreland to plan Picton Castle’s voyage itineraries.  It’s a fairly long process to get it just right, which means we’ll draft something, review it, amend it, review it again, then amend and review a few more times before we are happy with it and are ready to release it to the public. 

Voyage itineraries start with a general concept of where we want to go and for how long.  In 2020-2021 we are making a year-long voyage around the Atlantic, starting and ending in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada and visiting ports in Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. 

Looking at patterns of weather and wind come shortly after that.  We try to design our itineraries to follow wind patterns, which is why we’re making our circle around the Atlantic in a clockwise direction rather than counter-clockwise.  We want to ride the winds from Lunenburg on the east coast of North America across to Ireland in Europe taking a more northerly route (hopefully with a stop at the Azores on the way), then make our second Atlantic crossing on a more southerly route from the coast of Africa at Dakar to the southern islands in the Eastern Caribbean island chain.  This allows us to take advantage of prevailing winds.  We’re mindful of hurricane and/or cyclone seasons in the various waters we sail, avoiding certain areas at certain times of the year. 

Mariehamn Åland Islands

Then it comes time to choose ports.  We usually have ideas of a few must-do ports and we work the itinerary around getting to the places we can’t miss.  On this upcoming voyage, there were a few ports we chose early in the process.  The Aland Islands were key on this voyage; we felt we absolutely had to plan to get there.  A few big tall ships festivals in Europe also made the list – we had very kind invitations from both Sail Amsterdam and Sail Bremerhaven, and we like participating in at least one of the Tall Ships Races ports.  We’re keen on bringing Picton Castle to Milford Haven again, which is a port in Wales that’s closest to where the actual castle for which our ship Picton Castle is named.  Captain Moreland has strong ties to Denmark, so of course, a few Danish ports made the list.  Morocco can’t be missed, the cultural experience ashore is a rich one.  Senegal is also on the must-visit list, seeing the places where slaves were loaded aboard sailing ships to be sent across the Atlantic to the New World is a powerful experience for our crew.  Grenada is the home of our long-time ship’s cook Donald and can’t be missed.  Carriacou is the best place to see outdoor Caribbean boat-building.  If the timing works out, it would be great to participate in regattas in Antigua and/or St. Bart’s.  Of course, there are other places we want to visit too, and the list often is far longer than we have time to visit.  We try to include them all in the first pass, then slowly whittle down the list. 

Every port needs to be researched to see if they can accommodate a ship of Picton Castle’s size, what our options are for anchoring or going alongside, the safety and security of the port for our ship and crew, prevailing weather patterns, access to shoreside facilities, and interesting things for the crew to do on their days off duty ashore. 

We also put thought into the ship’s operational needs like fueling, provisioning, and trainee crew changeovers.  We make sure that we are in ports where fuel is available every so often, and in ports where we can buy food and supplies on a regular basis.  On a year-long voyage with four legs (each about three months long), we know we’ll need to have three ports along the way that have airports with decent flight connections so that trainee crew members who are sailing on just one or more legs can join the ship or leave the ship.  We try to space these ports out as evenly as possible. 

Then comes the math.  We use an average speed of advance of 100 nautical miles per day.  We measure the distance between all of our desired ports, then calculate the length of each passage.  We also estimate the number of days we’d like to stay in each port.  With all of that information, we mark the itinerary on a calendar, working forwards and backwards from any fixed dates we’ve already established (like start and end of the voyage, and any events we want to be part of, and any dates related to entering or exiting certain waters to catch or avoid certain weather). 

Then comes the reviewing and amending.  We will switch the order of ports, drop some ports and pick up some others, and keep going until we have an itinerary that looks operationally sound, cohesive, and interesting to prospective trainees. 

We’re excited about the itinerary for the upcoming Atlantic Voyage.  Aboard, the training program and what trainees do all day every day when they’re on duty will be much the same as any other extended, deep-water, ocean-crossing Picton Castle voyage.  The ports and waters on this voyage have a great deal of diversity and when put together in the order in which we’re sailing to them, tell the story of sailing ships in the Atlantic for centuries.  There are reasons that we’re sailing the same routes as ships that have gone before Picton Castle – the winds and currents prescribe which way to go. 

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Around the World Rum

Lunenburg is known for many things, not least of which is rum-running. Those days are long gone, and while rum-running is no longer a part of our daily life here in Lunenburg, we certainly consider this to be a nod to our former glory days.

Since shortly before Picton Castle sailed from Lunenburg back in February of 2018, you’ve been hearing about Lunenburg’s Ironworks Distillery and their Around the World Rum. From the day it was brought to the ship hoisted aboard and stowed below decks, to the day Canadian Customs Officials came and sealed & locked the beautiful old oak barrels, and then continuing throughout the entire 16 months it took Picton Castle and crew to sail first to The Gulf Of Mexico and then the circumnavigation of this entire world, we have been posting photos and updates – whetting your appetite for the arrival of this unique rum.

Why unique? Well, partly because it was made right here in Lunenburg at Ironworks Distillery and then sailed 30,000 miles around the world, seasoning in the hold of a sailing ship as she crossed all the oceans of the world.

But wait, there’s more: the vast array of things that affect the taste & quality of a rum is beyond my own basic knowledge – though some are quite obvious: What spices are used (of course). Which type of wood the barrel it is to be aged in is made from, and whether that barrel is new or was used before. Whether it is sitting still to age in the dark completely undisturbed or if it is being maneuvered & jostled about throughout the aging process. The temperature and humidity levels. So much.

Well, this rum? It went in a beautiful oak whiskey barrel from the frigid North Atlantic in February, to the steamy Mississippi in April, to the tropical heat and tradewinds of the South Pacific and humidity of the Indian Ocean, and then on to the balmy Caribbean before heading back up into the chilly North Atlantic once more; all the while rocking, rocking, back & forth at the whim of King Neptune (who visited the ship himself on two occasions). Many things have influenced the aging of this particular rum, and what is left is an entirely unique rum, never to be reproduced ever again. Even if someone were to try to make a rum and sail it around the world, it will be different: it won’t be made by the award-winning Ironworks, nor sailed in Picton Castle. This is the first and the only Ironworks Around the World Rum.

While the rum was locked up tight, doing what needed to be done inside those old oak barrels, back in Lunenburg Pierre & Lynne were working the magic we’ve all come to expect from them:  they handpicked local artists to take part in the project, designing a bottle that evoked Picton Castle’s tall ship silhouette, a pine box beautifully etched not only with the name of the rum but to include the ports around the world the rum visited while aboard Picton Castle, and a painted canvas bag designed to carry both box and bottle. The end result is a beautiful work of art, limited in number. And yesterday was the day – the complete design was unveiled at the Picton Castle wharf here in Lunenburg.

From their very first visit to our offices in Lunenburg with a crazy notion of sailing some rum around the world, I can say that working with Lynne & Pierre was a joy – professional, informative, interesting, exciting and entertaining.

Pierre & Lynne

If you are interested in owning one of these limited edition bottles, contact Ironworks here in Lunenburg CRAFTED@IRONWORKSDISTILLERY.COM  It’s important to note that 50% of the profit of each bottle sold is will got to scholarships for people to take part in sail training aboard Picton Castle. Nearest & dearest to our hearts here at Picton Castle is the sail training experience that has such an enormous and positive impact on the lives of every person who has an opportunity to take part.

Full video of the rum launch in Lunenburg on 18 September 2019
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First Day of School

Captain’s Log

Over the past few weeks, my social media feeds have been filled with photos of adorable kids heading to school for the first time, or heading back to school, to a fresh start for a new year.  September brings a sense of starting anew, and that’s no different here in Lunenburg.  Picton Castle returned from her summer voyage to the Great Lakes, and now we have just begun the Bosun School.  I’m happy to report that the first official day, Monday, went well.  Students seem excited, focused, and only a bit nervous. 

Bosun School is our land-based skills development program for rising mariners.  It’s a three-month program that takes place in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Students get instruction and hands-on practice in a variety of skills that will make them more valuable employees in the marine industry in the future.  The focus for this particular session of the Bosun School is rigging.  Students will use Picton Castle as a classroom and workshop, learning to handle heavy loads aloft while sending down yards, t’gallant masts and topmasts, then learn to inspect, repair, and replace rigging components as necessary.  In addition, we’ll be instructing small boat handling, sailmaking, wooden and fibreglass boat repair, and general ship maintenance skills. 

There’s a real diversity amongst the backgrounds of the students who are attending this year.  One gained her sailing skills as a Royal Canadian Sea Cadet, another on a sail training ship based in Ontario, some on extended voyages on Picton Castle, one on dive boats in Hawaii, one on tankers sailing worldwide. 

The first week’s focus is site preparation, getting the sail loft, rigging workshop, carpentry shop, and boat launching area organized and ready to work in.  We’re also drying Picton Castle’s cotton canvas sails, getting them perfectly dry so they can be sent down and stored for the winter in the sail loft, ready to be inspected and repaired. 

We’ll keep bringing you updates from Bosun School over the next three months so you can see the projects our students are working on and the progress they’re making. 

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Hurricane Dorian – the day after the day after…

Monday September 9, 2019
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Hurricane Dorian blew through here over the weekend. A beautiful sunny day here in Lunenburg. Cool fresh west wind blows across the harbour. Streets are getting cleaned up of branches and gravel. Power has been back on since last night in many places.

The weather forecasting for this hurricane was about as precise as can be. This has been a building trend we have seen in recent years; increasingly accurate weather forecasts.

On Saturday building east winds all day and rain. Lots of rain. Plenty of rain. Filled the wells too. Good that. Just around midnight the eye of the storm passed nearby and the winds calmed, went into a lull, then switched to the north, then to the northwest and picked up to plenty of breeze, maybe 60+ knots, maybe more. Then gradually died down throughout Sunday morning, still blowing fresh. Nearby east and southeast ocean-facing Hirtles and Kingsburg beaches saw 30-40 foot breakers. Rocks, big rocks, thrown pretty far up the shore. A couple boats broke loose here and there but most folks were well prepared. The lovely Schooners Avenger and Arcadia hung to their big moorings in Lunenburg Harbour throughout the storm and did just fine. Other schooners found places to hide.

As the wind was not in the south or southeast, no real swell or surge came inside Battery Point. Strong winds but no swell. The A&K scallop dragger Cachalot got back to port in good time to avoid the storm. We all knew they would but you can’t stop worrying until she is tied up, secure.

Picton Castle, Bluenose II, Pride of Baltimore II and Noa Santa Maria are all on the other side of the Canso Straights looking to lock through. Problem is, due to power being out the locks do not work right now. Should be fixed soon. The ships were hoping to get here the 11th but are likely to be delayed. No sense in sailing around Cape Breton at this point.

No damage hereabouts. All the apple trees are stripped from the trees at Bayport and seaweed came pretty high up on the shore in some waves.

At our home at Bailly House we had good kerosene lanterns, candles, and chowder off the woodstove. All very comfortable and cozy. Plenty of ice in the cooler for all that needs ice. Blew hard all night. The Dory Shop and our wharf came through just fine although the water got pretty high. Young Dawson and I pulled on our oilskins and checked on the harbour a couple times during the storm while it was still light and before it blew really hard. Bluenose Drive was flooded.

Otherwise, all is well here in Lunenburg after this hurricane Dorian.

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Homeward Bound from the Great Lakes

After a busy and exciting summer visiting ports in four of the five Great Lakes, Picton Castle is on the final leg of this voyage, bound down the St Lawrence seaway for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.  In fact, we visited nine lakes this summer (Lakes Michigan, Huron, St Clair, Erie, Ontario, St Francis, St Pierre, St Louis, Lake St Lawrence), plus the Thousand Islands, the American Narrows, and the Richlieu Rapids.  

Our last tall ships festival took place in Erie, Pennsylvania, on the south shore of Lake Erie.  From there, we sailed across Lake Erie to Port Weller, then carried on directly through the Welland Canal, which was built to bypass Niagara Falls (we definitely DON’T want to take Picton Castle down the Niagara River and over the falls).  After a short rest at Port Weller while waiting for our next pilot, we motored across Lake Ontario and into the St. Lawrence River to Clayton, NY. 

Clayton hosted us for a few days, giving the crew a chance to stretch their legs ashore before the final push downbound in the St. Lawrence and back to salt water.  We passed through all the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway, then paused in Montreal to downrig all of the preparations we had made to go through the locks, making the ship skinny so nothing protrudes horizontally beyond the hull; un-cockbilling the yards, swinging the davits out, lifting boats off the hatch on the main deck and hoisting them in the davits, and removing the 6×6 wooden vertical fenders.  By the time Picton Castle returns to Lunenburg, we will have passed through a total of 32 locks – seven in the St. Lawrence River, eight in the Welland Canal, and one at Canso. 

As we’ve been making our way down the St. Lawrence, we’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather.  It is hurricane season in the North Atlantic, so as we approach the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Nova Scotia coast, we’re paying particular attention to the conditions and forecasts.  We’ve paid close attention to Hurricane Dorian since last week, and continue to keep a close eye as it approaches the Canadian Maritimes. 

Knowing we might need to find a safe harbour, we’ve looked into ports of refuge for where we could put in if necessary.  Under Captain Lorenzen’s guidance, the crew have done safety drills including for heavy weather.  He reports that the crew is prepped, the ship is prepped, and the importance of observance of heavy weather protocols will be stressed.  More than anything, we’re planning to avoid the high winds and high seas by tapping the brakes and slowing down well to the west of the system, allowing it to pass in front of us while we stay to the west of the area of Baie Comeau (or a different point if the forecast track changes), then carrying on once winds and seas abate.  Schedules can be changed, hurricanes cannot.

What a summer’s voyage!  So many ports, each outdoing the other for hospitality.  What passages in fresh water!  And what a treat sailing along with vessels like the huge schooner Bluenose II and the rakish Pride of Baltimore II as well as the US Brig Niagara, HMCS Oriole and others.  While the ship had to motor a good deal for purposes of keeping pilotage time short, the Picton Castle crew got a lot of experience docking and undocking their ship, and sail handling in close quarters in the ports. This crew knows all about a Tall Ship port now. And up and down the entire St Lawrence Seaway with all the locks and climbing up to the Great Lakes and back, that is a pretty rare voyage for anyone.

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Captain’s Log – Fiji

If you happened to be on social media on 29 or 30 August, you no doubt will have read Fiji’s latest tale.

For those of you who don’t know (though considering her fame I imagine there are few who do not) Fiji is our ship’s cat. She first joined the ship at the magical island of at Fiji on our Westward Bound Voyage back in 2014. 

Ship Cat Fiji helping out in the ship’s office

She then sailed more than halfway around the world to Lunenburg, and since then has sailed one complete World Voyage, crossed the Atlantic five times, and taken part in dozens of tall ship festivals. Everywhere we go she seems to be the star. News reporters love to take her photo and write up stories about her – the cat with a barque. 

Her latest dance in the limelight was one that had us all worried. This summer Picton Castle took part in nine tall ship festivals as part of Tall Ships America TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE ® Great Lakes 2019. When it was time to sail from our very last event of the summer – in Erie Pennsylvania – Fiji was nowhere to be found. We searched, we called, we shook bags of kibble; all to no avail. The time came for us to cast off and head for Clayton, New York; the pilot was on board and Fiji was not, and we couldn’t wait.  Captain Lorenzen had no choice but to call the command to get under way.

Fiji the Ship Cat – assisting our boat builder

Picton Castle left the Port of Erie without Fiji. Our very good friends aboard the US Brig Niagara and in the Erie Maritime Museum, said they would keep their eyes open and get her back home if they possibly could. The crew on the ship worried. We here in the office fretted. All sorts of pictures popped into our imaginations of where she might be and in what state.  We got the word out to all the rescue centres, veterinarians and animal hospitals we could find in Erie. The call went out in Erie via a local news report and social media, and locals came out in their droves trying to find our lost ship cat. We are so grateful to every single person who tried to help.

We were all relieved to get the official word today that some friendly people of Erie saw Fiji and thought perhaps she was lost so took her in. When they discovered we were frantically looking for her, they helped get her back to the Flagship Niagara who, in turn, called us to let us know that she had indeed been found and was safely with them.  Picton Castle is in Clayton, New York, and the Niagara crew will deliver her to us tomorrow. 

We will probably never know all of the adventures Fiji took part in on her 2-day shore leave, but I’m quite sure this won’t be the last of her adventures both on the ship and ashore. (I sure wish I could read cat minds.)

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Applying for the Atlantic Voyage 2020-2021

Every voyage Picton Castle makes is different – partly because of the itinerary or the weather conditions, but most significantly because of the people who are aboard.  Each voyage has its own unique character because of the crew. 

We’re gearing up for our next big voyage, which will start in the spring of 2020.  It’s a year-long voyage around the North Atlantic, starting and ending in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Along the way, we’ll visit ports in the Azores, England, France, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Morocco, Senegal, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, St. Bart’s, Anguilla, and Bermuda.  The voyage includes two Atlantic crossings, some amazing sailing festivals in Europe, a pilgrimage to what we think of as “square rig mecca” in the Aaland Islands, and a winter of island-hopping in the authentic West Indies. 

While we’re working on all the logistics of ports and the sailing passages between them, we’re also building our crew for the voyage.  In this entry in the Captain’s Log, we want to highlight the new and improved application process we’ve implemented for this voyage. 

All crew members in Picton Castle, including trainee crew members, must be accepted through an application process in order to sign aboard.  The application process is started when an applicant fills in the application form on our website.  From there, we ask for two things; first, a doctor’s note that says you’re in good health and can do moderately strenuous physical activity; and second, a deposit towards your trainee fee to hold your spot.  We hold spots in the order in which we receive deposits. 

Once we have the deposit and doctor’s note in place, the next step is the interview.  This is where things are a bit different for this voyage.  In the past, for voyages of 3+ months, we have required applicants to come in person to see Picton Castle, usually while she’s between voyages and docked in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  While we still think it’s important for people to make an informed choice about what they’re signing on for, we have adjusted the process and will now require interviews by phone or Skype instead.  There are a number of videos on YouTube that show Picton Castle and what life aboard is like (and we hope to add some new ones soon).  There will be some required viewing for applicants so you have a good understanding what the bunks are like, how we eat meals, how to flush the head (marine toilet), what standing a watch and doing galley duty is like, and all the other little things that go together to make up the experience of life aboard.

By doing interviews by phone/Skype instead, we’re hoping to make it easier to sail with us.  You don’t need to incur the extra expense, either in money or time, of traveling to Lunenburg.  And we’ll still have time to talk and to get to know one another, to talk about the voyage and to see if it’s a good fit for both of us. 

Following the interview and video watching, we’ll carry on as we normally would with reference checks, followed by a second interview if necessary. 

So, if you’ve been on the fence about applying for the next voyage, this just made it easier for you!

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