Picton Castle is scheduled to set sail on her eighth world circumnavigation voyage shortly. We had hoped, almost expected, to be able to begin the voyage this autumn, but travel restrictions and advisories currently in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic mean that sadly, we must postpone the start of this voyage until the spring of 2022.
The crew who are already accepted to sail on this voyage were informed of the postponement earlier this week. All troopers they are too. We’re now sharing the news with all of you.
Through the spring and the summer this year, some developments were looking positive. We were getting quite optimistic about sailing this fall. Here in Canada, vaccines were widely available and the timeline for getting everyone vaccinated just kept improving. Canada will allow fully vaccinated Americans to enter the country on August 9 and is scheduled to allow fully vaccinated travelers from other countries to enter on September 7. One of the hurdles we needed to clear was getting people to Lunenburg. This was finally looking like it would be possible.
In the Caribbean, people are able to visit between islands with few restrictions. There is still a lot of testing for COVID-19 and quarantining until test results are in, but that is something we could make work.
The real show stopper for this voyage is in the South Pacific. While a few of the South Pacific countries had been allowing visitors, they have all closed their borders again. And shut down hard. For those that have given an indication of how long the closure will last, the dates are well into 2022. Others have not said how long they will be turning away visitors, but we see nothing indicating their stance will change anytime soon. Many of the South Pacific countries follow the diplomatic lead of New Zealand, which also has closed its borders for the foreseeable future into fall and maybe early winter. Vaccination rates in most of the South Pacific countries are fairly low which indicates it might be several months before they would even consider opening borders again.
This presents an unnavigable problem for us logistically, in terms of crew changes at the start and end of Leg 1, as well as provisioning and fueling. It also is not what any of our crew signed up for – it wouldn’t be much of a Picton Castle World Voyage without visiting at least a few South Pacific islands. And quite a few at that.
We face a similar problem in the Indian Ocean, where none of the islands we had planned to visit (which really are the only islands along our route) are open. At the moment, Picton Castle would be able to go into port in Cape Town, South Africa, but none of the crew would be allowed to go ashore. While the experience aboard Picton Castle is primarily a seafaring one, travel and exploring our ports of call is naturally an important aspect and not being able to visit these amazing places is not what any of us want. When we can sail, we’ll have to be flexible about possible itinerary changes. But having the vast majority of the ports on the itinerary completely unavailable to us makes it impossible to begin the voyage at this time.
As it was becoming clear that starting the World Voyage this fall wouldn’t be practical, we looked into some other options. Could we do a shorter voyage in the Atlantic starting this fall, visiting islands on both sides of the Atlantic in the northern hemisphere before returning to Lunenburg in the spring to start the World Voyage? A bluewater voyage visiting the islands of the Atlantic is an awesome trip. These ports are more open than in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. Of course there are still restrictions, but visitors are allowed to enter if they follow the procedures.
With many Atlantic Island ports looking more promising, we contacted our insurance company seeking their input. They basically said, “not now”. Unfortunately this means that any kind of alternate voyage departing this fall is also off the table.
We are deeply disappointed to not be sailing this fall. We know our crew are keenly disappointed as well. However, this is a situation that is beyond our control and beyond anything that we could have imagined or could have planned for.
What does this mean for our crew? If they have been accepted as a trainee for the World Voyage, their acceptance will stand for the spring departure. We’ll continue to update them regularly. We have assembled an excellent crew for this voyage and we are very excited to sail with them all when the time is right! There are still a few berths available, so if you’re interested in sailing and haven’t applied yet, we encourage you to do so soon.
What does this mean for Picton Castle? Our ship will remain securely tied to the wharf in Lunenburg until the spring next year. We are working on plans for a fall Bosun School session focused on serious rigging, possibly sailmaking as well. We don’t have details yet, but will send them out once they’re available. With Canada allowing fully vaccinated visitors to enter the country starting in September, we hope that some of you will consider attending.
Of course, in the meantime we will continue to monitor the situation worldwide and prepare accordingly for the voyage.