Ports o'Call of our Voyage Around The World
By Captain Daniel Moreland
While it is very important for all of us who sail in this ship to understand and appreciate that our voyage around the blue ocean globe of ours is first and foremost a tarry, shippy, seagoing affair with plenty work and rigorous demands on us all; and if you think that spending a good amount of time at sea sailing before the mast in a large classic square-rigger rolling down with the tropical trade-winds pulling us along under canvas, with a crazy bunch of shipmates from all over might be a pretty cool idea, there is no real harm in admitting that we also put into some amazing places with the Barque PICTON CASTLE. Islands and ports you really can not get to any other way – or if you can a plane, it just simply is not anywhere near the same thing flying in, compared to sailing in, taking in sail, yards braced just so, and letting go the anchor as crew in your own sailing ship, having earned every mile of the hundreds and ultimately thousands of miles it takes.
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I remember one time as the young mate of a Danish brigantine deep in the South Pacific. The ship was inside the reef after a long sea passage and we were tied up stern to the beach, big anchor and plenty of chain set well out in the lagoon, stern lines secured to a couple of coconut palms and a stout breadfruit tree growing just above the water’s edge, bights of these thick hawsers dipping languidly into the still waters inside the reef with the light swell. We were all cleared-in by the local port authorities. After a wash-down and a swim over the side, the free watch was let go. From the shore looking back at our ship, I saw the brigantine’s yards neatly squared and sails furled in perfect harbour stows up on top of the yards. Her long jutting oiled pine jib-boom was burnished in gold of the setting sun, pointing out to sea and downwind towards the next palm covered volcanic islands over the horizon. We were four or five months into this deep-sea voyage and we had the callouses, tough soles, dirty fingernails and deep tans to prove it. We had not had any real contact with our old world since Panama some months back, I could not be sure how many months that was without figuring it. We had not forgotten where we had come from but it was getting a bit fuzzy for some. Maybe sharper for others. We had sailed and hove-to off steep islands with no harbours, pushed hard against strong rushing currents through narrow passes into obscure coral atoll lagoons, raced sharp wooden outriggers across these lagoons to go fishing, feasted on parrot fish, langouste and goat, dove on shipwrecks, swam with black-tip sharks, rowed big wooden long boats in huge rising surf, eaten far too many mangos and drunk many a coconut, collected carving wood for islanders, heard sea stories from old mariners, gone to churches, engaged in a medical evacuation, shortened down in nasty squalls, set sails in gentle sunny breezes, heaved up our heavy anchors by hand power many many times in the warm waters of the South Pacific. Maybe we had been to an island dance celebration or two. There had been some disappointments but there had been far more moments we had hoped and prayed would never end. It did not seem that they would – or could. And here we were.
This here island, tumbling down from tall steep forested volcanic mountains and surrounded by coral reefs, not far from the dock where some fishermen were selling their catch, had a small bar on the main road where a sailor could get a cold beer. A small scratch band was tuning up for the night’s expected customers in that wonderful fusion of guitar and ukulele you can still hear today in Fiji or Samoa or Tahiti. There may have been a couple ladies in the back having an argument about something. They had been customers all that day I was told. The bar was almost empty. The bartender was sweeping the place up before sunset when the crowd was expected. The light of the falling sun streamed in between the blinds hot and low from the west, almost always the lee side of the island. The abundant tropical flowers and palms lent their heady scents to the afternoon breezes and I had the afternoon off from the ship moored not far away. I was young, lean, fit, tanned, broke and happy as could be, content in my world as only someone who lives and breathes it every day can be. I was amazed at being where I was in these surroundings and at the same time found it completely the norm. Life was good and I was part of this sweet ship on a superlative epic expedition around the world and into my heart. I was nursing the one beer I could afford that day and just taking it all in. The occasional truck or Vespa rattled by from time to time outside on the waterfront road breaking up the quiet. I could see the dust churned up from their wheels in the afternoon sunlight.
This particular island also had an international airport. After a while, a middle aged guy from a country up north and to the east somewhere, wearing a seersucker jacket (yep, really) came in through the door and sat down on the bar stool near to mine. He was sweating quite a bit and seemed in some distress. We got to talking. Where are you from? What are you doing here? And so on. He said, and I paraphrase as it has been a long time since this evening in question; “I don’t know what the hell anybody sees in this place! Hot, cockroaches everywhere, dirty, and a bitch of a flight from San Diego. Airline lost my luggage, and the movies are a month old and can’t get a decent steak. And where do they have the luaus?” Well, I said, I didn’t know. I also didn’t know there were movies. Better check them out. Our conversation trailed off. He did not understand the local lingo. I did not so much either but found I was getting along just fine. After a while it dawned on me that we may be sitting on barstools next to each other, and that by definition this puts us in the same place, but it became clear to me that we were in two entirely different universes, different dimensions, and that try as I might I could not simply invite him or coax him into mine. It was not possible. I did not have the power. His world held no attraction to me. He ordered a second gin and tonic, maybe that helped. He went off somewhere after trying to extract from me what the hell I liked about this island, the tropics in general and this life in ships. I could not explain. I do not remember if I tried too hard to get it all across either. I stayed longer at this ramshackle old waterfront watering-hole. I had made a friend who worked there serving the tables and she had provided me with a second beer so I would not get embarrassed by not having a beverage in front of me. In time there was some good music and locals dancing for fun. Maybe we danced too. When the pub closed we went off on her bicycle to watch a dance troop practice for an upcoming big dance festival. The island was quiet that time of night and stars were sharp in a blue-black sky up above. We could hear the soft booming of the surf a few hundred yards off on the reef towards the ocean as we biked to the church hall where the practice was taking place. As we got closer to the church light coming from the doors and windows showed us a path for the bike and the pulse of the drums deepened. Pretty amazing dancing too. There is no jet aircraft yet built that can fly anyone to where I and the crew of that ship and the friends we had made were that night deep in the South Pacific.
So what ports are we putting into with the Barque PICTON CASTLE?
In addition to sailing about 30,000 sea-miles, crossing the Caribbean Sea, the broad South Pacific Ocean, the Coral Sea, the Arafura Sea, Timor Sea, the Southern Indian Ocean, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, crossing the long way over the South Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, making a north bound passage the length of the North Atlantic Ocean we also expect to put into Panama, Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn Island, Mangareva, an Austral island if we can, Cook Islands of Rarotonga, Palmerston Atoll, Vava’u in Tonga, Viti Levu in Fiji, Espiritu Santo, Malekula, Pentecost, and Maewo in Vanuatu, Benoa in Bali, a couple islands in the Southern Indian Ocean – there really aren’t many islands out there in the Indian Ocean – but great sailing and passage making there is beaucoup; maybe we get to put in at Madagascar, hope so but all depending, but certainly around the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town, South Africa, the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, Napoleon’s last refuge at St Helena and then ride the southeast tradewinds crossing the equator bound for the magical green islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Islands like Grenada, Carriacou, Bequia, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Anguilla and onward to Bermuda and home to Lunenburg.
I often get asked ‘what is your favourite island?’
A Voyage Under Sail Around The World
By Captain Daniel Moreland
Next spring I plan to cast off in the Barque PICTON CASTLE, from her old wooden pier on Lunenburg’s historic working waterfront and set sail with a new gang outward bound on a grand voyage around the world in square-rig. But this will be our last world voyage.
A long time ago in my early 20’s I signed off the beautiful Danish built wooden Brigantine ROMANCE in the Caribbean after four years aboard and as the mate at the end of a world voyage. Her skipper, Captain Arthur M. Kimberly was an age-of-sail trained master mariner and was as capable a mariners as could come. After that ship, I carried on and went to sea in other fine vessels. When ashore between voyages folks wanted to know what that world voyage was like, I found it hard to explain. Still do. Life goes on. Ships come and go. At some point since that point, accepting that I could not explain what all that time as crew in a cool sailing ship meant to me, under the most able of old school ship masters, sailing with the trade-winds through the islands of South Pacific, the Far East, the Indian Ocean, the coasts of Africa and the West Indies, over all those blue-water ocean miles, I figured that the best answer was just to get the finest square-rigged ship together I could imagine and do it again. With another gang or two of young people having the times of their lives – quite literally – and let them try to explain it all afterwards.
I remember when we set out on our first world voyage back in the bitter cold autumn of 1997. This was after a huge refit in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. It was all a very big and exciting project just getting the PICTON CASTLE rigged up and into shape to sail as a square-rigger for deep sea passage making. It began in 1991, first searching for and then finding the perfect ship up a fjord in Norway and steaming her across the North Atlantic to Nova Scotia by way of Denmark, England, Spain, Madeira, Bermuda, Connecticut and Pier 15 South Street Seaport Museum, Isla Manhattoes, New York City.
It was a big job in Lunenburg fitting out this 300-ton barque. Kind of took over all the shipyards of this sea-girt town for most of a year; surveys, engine overhauls, dry-docking, checking the hull, welding sparks flying, new freshwater tanks, piping, wood chips everywhere, new decks, new water-tight bulkheads, lots of new bunks, new heads and showers, new galley, all kinds of safety and fire-fighting equipment fitted, new wiring, stability studies, of course lots of rigging and making masts and yards, pin-rails and fife-rails, new blocks and sails, charts and stuff, putting a crew together and so much else. What a project! Then finally all the work was done, or done enough. We would polish her up at sea while sailing ever westward in the warm tropical trade-winds. Plenty of time for all that. It came time to sail. We had a keen gang aboard eager to see what was over the horizon, sail the seas, explore tropical islands and story-book ports.
As we set off from our wharf there were any number of folks in town who harboured the notion that we would not get past Cross Island. I didn’t blame them. They had seen a few dreamy projects die to nothing at the docks in Lunenburg. But I also did not pay them too much mind. Joshua Slocum got the same treatment. I knew we had a great ship, an excellent crew and warm weather was just on the other side of the Gulf Stream not so far away, only 3 or 4 days out. Off we sailed in early December. It blew and was cold enough for a few days but soon we were peeling off the sweaters and getting into shorts and tee-shirts. By then that epic ocean voyage was well under way.
A few years later, with the ship back in Lunenburg all snuggly moored between such voyages, after the doubts by the shore ‘experts’ whether this ship could even make it past Cross Island were long dismissed – Cross Island being just seven miles out of Lunenburg harbour- never mind a 30,000 mile world voyage or two or three, occasionally young families would be pushing their strollers down our dock on a south westerly breezy summer’s day and they might comment to me that when their bambino was old enough he or she was going to sail with me around the world in PICTON CASTLE. I was charmed. My thoughts would wander to those days just before our first voyage and I would wonder… I was impressed how a healthy and reasonable scepticism had transformed into a vision of granite-like and never-ending perpetual world voyages for me and the PICTON CASTLE. I really did not think that I would still be setting out like that again twenty years on. But I am, and we are, and this wonderful ship is making one more world voyage under my command. And I am as excited as anybody.
Why climb Mt Everest? And I am telling you that for all its challenges – and there are plenty – our voyage has got to be more fun than that. And warmer. Better food…and by way; someone told me when we started out that there were more men alive that had walked on the moon than there were folks who had sailed around the world in a square-rigger like PICTON CASTLE in the last 50 years. That, of course, what with six world voyages racked up, has changed now. But there are still more people today that have been dragged up to the top of that highest mountain of the world, Mt Everest, than have sailed a square-rigged ship like PICTON CASTLE on a global circumnavigation. Think about that.
I could go on about the many rich rewards a crewmember reaps from such a voyage in PICTON CASTLE; skills, strengths, meeting folks and experiencing cultures in far distant ports first hand and just the accomplishment itself – and I will at some point maybe – but the question is ‘why?’ for me, the now quite mature captain who has that circumnavigation box pretty well ticked? Good question.
Well, for one, if I knew that I could make this voyage happen for a new generation of adventurers one more time, and chose not to, well then, that would be a crying shame. Every voyage is its own unique odyssey. A voyage around the world is never routine.
And still, it remains for me an amazing a privilege and indeed an honour to be the master of such a fine staunch proven blue-water sailing ship, a ship that has never let us down in over 250,000 miles at sea, and to be called upon to lead such a grand blue-water voyage, the ultimate voyage, and an adventure for a new gang of PICTON CASTLE seafarers. And it’s just too damn cool.
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