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.