Epic Seagoing South Pacific Adventure to Tropical Ports and Islands
Picton Castle is bound for the South Pacific and you can sail as trainee crew on this incredible voyage to the South Seas islands. Visit ports like Panama, Pitcairn Island, the Marquesas, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Easter Island, the San Blas Islands and the Yucatan while learning seamanship skills hands-on and to sail a square rigged ship. You become crew, no sailing experience necessary as you will get plenty on the voyage!
Picton Castle is best known for her deep-water ocean crossing voyages to exotic ports in the tropics. The South Pacific calling to us again so we'll set sail on another iconic tradewinds voyage in June 2020. You can sign on for a leg of a few months duration or for the full year-long adventure.
Begin in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, then set sail south for the Caribbean islands of Grenada. Turn west to Panama and Portobelo before transiting the Panama Canal from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Make a deepwater passage to the Galapagos Islands, then sail on to distant Pitciarn Island and the alluring Marquesas islands of French Polynesia.
The Tuamotus Archipelago are up next, then the Society Islands including Tahiti, Huahine and Bora Bora. Next the Austral Island of Raivavae before sailing south to catch the westerly winds that will bring us east again. Approach Easter Island from the south, then continue to sail north to islands in the Gulf of Panama and through the Panama Canal once more.
Then it's on to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, continuing around Florida and north and east to the Bahamas then Bermuda, then return to Lunenburg in July 2021.
Becoming a Seafarer Under Sail
When you sign aboard Picton Castle, you become part of the crew that sails the ship. Don't have any sailing experience? That's okay! As a training ship, it's Picton Castle's mission to teach you the ropes - literally. Under the Captain, our professional crew are here to instruct you and guide you as you learn the intricacies of square rig sailing. While we offer frequent workshops on a variety of educational topics, much of the learning happens in the hands-on process of sailing the ship. Your interest and motivation will drive your learning.
As you learn seamanship skills that will help you become an effective crew member, like rigging, sail handling, later maybe navigation, and definitely small boat handling (we're big on that), you will also develop the skills and characteristics it takes to be a good shipmate. The ship is an incubator for learning to work together, personal responsibility, and teamwork. Crew members of each voyage develop family-like relationships with one another while creating memories that last a lifetime. It's hard at times, joyous at times, and pretty amazing most of the time.
Sign aboard for an extraordinary voyage that combines authentic internationally recognized seamanship training, personal growth that comes with living and working closely with others, and travel to culturally rich ports and islands that simply can't be duplicated. Sailing the South Seas is a once in a lifetime voyage.
Planned Ports and Route, Voyage to the South Pacific 2020-2021
|Leg 1/2||Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada||September 20, 2020|
|Grenada, West Indies|
|Balboa, Panama City, Panama|
|Galapagos Islands, Ecuador|
|Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia|
|Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia|
|Takaroa, Tuamotus, French Polynesia|
|Tahiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia||February 20, 2021|
|Leg 3||Tahiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia||February 20, 2021|
|Moorea, Society Islands, French Polynesia|
|Huahine, Society Islands, French Polynesia|
|Bora Bora, Society Islands, French Polynesia|
|Raivavae, Austral Islands, French Polynesia|
|Easter Island, Chile|
|Balboa, Panama City, Panama||May 22, 2021|
|Leg 4||Balboa, Panama City, Panama||May 22, 2021|
|San Blas Islands, Panama|
|Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada||July 14, 2021|
*Itinerary is subject to change for any reason at any time. Updated May 19, 2020 to include a later start date due to COVID-19. Some flexibility in leg start/end dates and ports may be available, contact us for details.
Learning the Ropes
The Voyage to the South Pacific begins in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, where Picton Castle refits between voyages. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a strong tradition of seafaring, being home to many, many fishing vessels including the famous Canadian schooner Bluenose II, as well as boatbuilders, outfitters, shipyards, and other marine services.
In our time in Lunenburg, you will get to know the ship and your shipmates through extensive training and orientation. There is lots to learn while we prepare the ship and ourselves for the voyage. When ship and crew are ready and when the weather allows, we'll set sail leaving Lunenburg Harbour behind as we turn south.
Sailing to the Tropics
After just a few days out from Nova Scotia, the weather will warm up as we sail through the Gulf Stream. Soon it will be time for shorts and t-shirts, preparing us for the first port of call in the Caribbean, Grenada. Known primarily to Picton Castle crew as the home of our long-time ship's cook Donald Church, Grenada makes a delightful first port of call. Beaches, waterfalls, a bustling market, and the West Indian art of limin' (relaxing) are all within reach.
Interlude in Panama
Sailing west from Grenada in the Carribbean Sea, we'll set sail for the first of our port visits in Panama, the legendary Panamaian port of Portobelo. It has a long history as a port, dating back to when the Spanish sold and shipped huge amounts of silver from Portobelo to the Old World. It was at one time the principal port of gold and piracy, and was sacked many times by Sir Francis Drake and others. Foundations of the Spanish fortifications can still be seen in Portobelo, causing us to wonder about the stories of piracy that happened here.
The Panama Canal is the modern engineering marvel that allows vessels to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific (or vice versa) without having to round Cape Horn. For a sailor, it's a long and interesting day to see how it all works. Picton Castle usually makes a daylight transit, and must take a pilot who is an expert in the local waters to guide the ship. The ship climbs through a series of locks, pulled through each by train locomotives called mules, then crosses the freshwater Lake Gatun that feeds the water to the lock systems, then descends the steps of the locks on the other side, heading for Panama City.
Picton Castle will moor at a berth in the neighbourhood of Balboa in Panama City. While Panama City provides a great chance to provision the ship with food, supplies and fuel, it's also a fascinating place for our crew to explore on days off duty. If you like history you can visit Casco Viejo, the old quarter of the city. If you're into architecture, you can see amazing old and new buildings throughout the city. If you're into surfing, there are beaches and surfboard rentals nearby. If you like shopping, Panama has it in spades. If you like good food, you're sure to find it in Panama (lunch at the fish market is a favourite of our crew).
Pacific Ocean Passages
Once we have loaded supplies and stowed them for sea, it will be time to start the first of our long deepwater passages in the Pacific Ocean. On the way to the Galapagos Islands, we'll cross the Equator, which is a rite of passage for crew of a sailing ship.
The Galapagos Islands are renowned for appearing barren but actually teeming with life. There is incredible biodiversity here and it's impossible not to observe some of the flora and fauna. As we approach, we may see frigate birds flying, and at some point the small boat we use to ferry between ship and shore will inevitably be boarded by a sea lion. Ashore we can get away to see giant tortoises, marine iguanas and much more.
It could be a month at sea to get to Pitcairn Island, the legendary home of the descendants of the mutineers on the Bounty. On previous voyages it has taken us anywhere from 19 days to five weeks to make this passage, we'll have to see what the winds are like this time. When former Picton Castle crew are asked about their favourite port, many will say it's Pitcairn. This small rock protruding from the sea is home to about 50 permanent residents. They are only visited by a supply ship a few times a year, which means they're very resourceful people. If they need something they have to make it, grow it, repair it, repurpose it, or go without it. We will take turns being ashore and watching the ship while at Pitcairn. The islanders will come and greet us in their powerful longboat, expertly handled, then whisk the off-duty watch ashore where our crew will join into the community.
Exploring French Polynesia
Saying goodbye to Pitcairn is always difficult, but there is so much more to see and do on this voyage. We'll make a sea passage of about ten to twelve days to the Marquesas islands of French Polynesia where we will visit a few different islands. It will be easy to spot them on the horizon as they are all tall volcanic islands. As we approach, we'll see that they are typically more dry than one might think South Pacific islands are. The Marquesas islands have inspired many artists, writers and musicians over the years, including Thor Heyerdahl, Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Gauguin, Jacques Brel, Herman Melville, and have made an appearance in TV shows Gilligan's Island and Survivor. We plan to call at Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa.
The colour of the sand will change from black to white when we get to the Tuamotus. Also part of French Polynesia, the Tuamotus make up the world's largest chain of atolls. Atolls are ring shaped coral reefs, islands or islets which are very low in elevation, with a lagoon in the middle.
One of the atolls we'll visit in the Tuamotus is Takaroa, which has a particular attraction for sailors. In 1906, an iron hulled four-masted full rigged ship built in Scotland called County of Roxburgh was wrecked there on the beach. Despite the vessel now lying on the beach for over 100 years, it still remains there, intact. At almost 300 feet long, it's big and imposing (and a reminder to mariners of the need for careful navigation amongst these low-lying atolls).
Sailing to Tahiti and the Society Islands
From the Tuamotus, we'll sail to the Society Islands starting with Tahiti. Tahiti marks the halfway point of the voyage and is easily accessible by air with several flights daily from Los Angeles. It's also a good place to provision the ship with food, supplies and fuel.
What more can we say about Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine and Bora Bora that hasn't already been said in every South Pacific travel guide? They're all stunningly beautiful, with lush vegetation, gorgeous beaches, and turquoise waters. The people of French Polynesia are warmly hospitable. And who doesn't love a country where people of all genders wear fresh flowers on a regular basis, and where children learn the hypnotizing art of Polynesian dance at the same time as they learn to walk?
The difference in visiting these places in Picton Castle is that you are not seen as a tourist to be shuttled off to self-contained resorts. Our crew have a more authentic, down to earth experience having earned our way there, meeting people on their own terms, and getting more of an insight into daily life in these places.
One of the highlights in the Society Islands will be sailing in Picton Castle's small boats. We carry a number of boats on board the ship, including those you can sail, row, and drive with an outboard motor. The skiffs with the outboard motors are used for ferrying people back and forth between ship and shore. The sailing and rowing boats are used as teaching tools and methods of transportation for day-long and overnight expeditions. What better to do on a South Pacific island than to sail your small boat around, go ashore for a picnic with fresh coconuts to drink, then snorkel for a while before sailing home to your ship?
Southern Ocean Passage
There is one more French Polynesian island group we want to visit and that's the Austral Islands. We plan to put in to the island of Raivavae. Almost at the Tropic of Capricorn, Raivavae is perhaps best known as the site of over 100 marae platforms (places of sacred significance in Polynesian culture).
Raivavae is our jumping-off point for the longest ocean passage of the voyage. At the equator and at the lower latitudes in the South Pacific, the prevailing wind direction is from the east. So for Picton Castle or any sailing ship to make it all the way back to North America, we need to find winds from the west. To do that, we need to take a route to higher latitudes. We'll head south from Raivavae until we get to where we find steady winds from the west. We'll make a left turn and follow the wind heading east.
This passage could be more than a month, which gives us a good chance to settle into the routine of life aboard. On this passage and all others, all crew stand watches, day and night, taking your turn steering, on forward lookout, handling lines and sails, keeping the ship clean, working on ship's maintenance projects, washing dishes, assisting the cook in the galley, and whatever else it takes to keep the ship sailing.
At the start of your voyage, we need and expect that you will apply yourself to learning the basics of seamanship that will allow you to be a contributing member of our small floating community. On long ocean passages like this one, you may have the chance to dive more deeply into specialized topics that interest you, whether that's sailmaking, navigation, carpentry, or rigging. Your grasp of some of these more advanced skills is limited only by your own initiative and practice/study time. Our staff crew are eager to teach if you are eager to learn.
In the Shadow of the Easter Island Statues
This extended deepwater passage will continue until we reach Easter Island, Rapa Nui. It's an island we have long wanted to visit in Picton Castle, but it's too far south of our usual world circumnavigation route. We're thrilled to finally get the chance to go and see the moai, the famous statues of Easter Island.
From Easter Island, we'll sail on, north and east, bound for the Gulf of Panama, home to some beautiful small islands. Taboga is a relaxing retreat for those who want to get away from the hustle of Panama City with only a short ferry ride. Other islands in the Gulf of Panama may also be on the list. Some of the islands are inhabited, many are not. Nature is protected there by Panamanian law. If you're a fan of the TV show Survivor, you may recognize these islands from the nine different seasons of the reality show filmed there which aired around the world.
Explore the Spanish Main
The final leg of the Voyage to the South Pacific will start in Panama City. For those sailing on the full voyage, it will be a chance to see and do anything you missed on our first visit. The only thing better than visiting these amazing places once is visiting them twice. For those visiting for the first time, you'll have seasoned crew to give you tips on their favourite spots. The leg begins with a passage through the Panama Canal, going from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea.
On the eastern coast of Panama we'll visit the San Blas Islands. The San Blas Islands are uniquely autonomous, inhabited and governed by the Kuna people who are indigenous to the San Blas archipelago. Their culture and language is separate from that of mainland Panama. Visiting by ship, we will coordinate our visit with the Kuna people and get their permission to experience these mostly undeveloped palm covered coral islands which are spectacularly beautiful.
The next passage is a northward sail in the Caribbean Sea towards the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and its famous temples like Tulum and Chichen Itza. There are a couple of possibilities for which port we'll visit here, but either will offer easy access to these amazing sites, as well as vibrant Mexican culture, not to mention delicious food.
Passage to Bahamas and Bermuda
The next passage of this voyage will bring us east and north. We'll sail past Key West, Florida to get back into the open Atlantic Ocean, then we're planning to visit the Bahamas. We know the country was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, but the Bahamas, which depends so much on tourism, wants visitors. We're looking forward to going and encourage others to do the same to help them get back on their feet.
Semi-tropical Bermuda is the next to last port on this voyage, and it has long been favourite last stop of the Picton Castle crew on the route between Nova Scotia and the Caribbean. In Bermuda you'll be warmly welcomed by Picton Castle's many friends, and get a last taste of beautiful beaches and turquoise waters before the final North Atlantic passage north.
In the last few hundred nautical miles from Bermuda to Lunenburg, where it all began a year ago, you'll once again experience crossing the Gulf Stream, going from wearing your shorts and t-shirt on deck to bundling up in multiple layers.
Lunenburg will be waiting to welcome us home. The end of a voyage is always a celebratory event, a chance to reflect on what we've accomplished, and a bittersweet goodbye to shipmates and our floating home for the past few months or a year.
Who Can Sail
This voyage is open to people of all nationalities and genders, ages 18 and up. No sailing experience is required. You will be part of the working crew of the ship, so prepare to roll up your sleeves and dive in cheerfully!
Trainees decide to sail with us for a variety of reasons. Maybe you're looking for a gap year expedition, either after high school or during or after college or university. Maybe you want to do something unique for your big overseas experience. Perhaps you're looking to develop seamanship skills to help start a career as a seafarer. Maybe you are already working in a maritime career and want to gain deepwater sea time and square rig experience. Or this is the right time to take a break from your job and life ashore to make the dream trip to the South Pacific you've always wanted. Or maybe you're retired and want to travel and learn and immerse yourself in a South Seas adventure. Whether you're seeking adventure or a unique way to travel to exotic iconic places, a foundation from which to launch a maritime career or an authentic square rigger sailing experience on a vessel similar to one in the Great Age of Sail, there is a place for you on board.
Whatever your reason, we want to be clear that signing aboard as a trainee crew member is a big commitment. On this voyage there will be long stretches where signing off is simply not possible. We encourage anyone who is interested and curious to contact us to discuss the voyage and whether it might be a good fit for you.
There is an application process that starts when you click Apply Now below and fill in the online application form. From there, we'll request a note from your doctor that says you're in good health and can do moderately strenuous physical activity on a remote, oceangoing voyage. We'll also request payment of a deposit, which will hold your spot.
On previous voyages we have required applicants to come visit the ship in person for an in-person interview. On this voyage, we'll save you the time and expense of a trip to Lunenburg and arrange an interview with you by phone or online video conference instead. It's still important for you to see Picton Castle, including what the accommodations are like, how we eat meals, what the bathroom/shower situation is, what you'll be doing when you stand a watch, and so on, so we'll recommend some videos for you to watch that give you the full tour.
How Long to Sign On?
Depending on the amount of time and money you have available, there are a number of options for signing on the Voyage to the South Pacific. We always say that longer is better, but recognize that not everyone can make a year-long voyage.
Sailing for the full year is the best option for price. If you sign up for the full year-long voyage in advance, you save compared to the price of all four legs added together (this reduction is reflected in the full voyage price below).
Prices for the voyage, in US dollars (USD), are as follows.
Uncertain about the cost? Look more closely at our voyage fees.
Step aboard for this adventurous journey. Start by filling out the online trainee application form. For more information, contact the voyage coordinator. We look forward to receiving your application.
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