The last time I saw Picton Castle she was under full, magnificent sail, cutting a path through the 2015 Classic Regatta fleet in Antigua, bound for Aruba before turning north toward her Nova Scotia home.
I journeyed with the ship via their Facebook posts – noting arrivals and departures through a summer of Tall Ship events on the Eastern Seaboard. In late November, a time when small boats take cover from winter’s wrath, Picton Castle set off on a circumnavigation of the Atlantic with stops in the Azores, Canary Islands, Morocco, Senegal and the Cape Verde Islands, then on to the Caribbean.
Online updates told the story of ship life – watch routines, sail handling, maintenance and repair, galley chores and an infinitesimal list of jobs needed to move 40 plus sailors from port to port. Their work, a labor of love, was constantly interrupted by amazing adventures ashore and afloat.
Less than ten months after I’d watched the barque sail away, she appeared before me in the Carriacou anchorage of Hillsborough. Some of the crew were exploring new surroundings; messing about in small boats, soaking up local culture. Serendipitously, I met up with Captain Dan Moreland and when he asked if I’d like to sail to Grenada with them, the answer, “Yes!” flew out like a shot from a cannon.
A tender collected the day’s guests and as we neared the vessel, it grew in size and stature. Picton Castle is a living legend, a piece of history straight from a book and we all clambered aboard with enthusiasm.
Crew aloft looked minuscule as they unlashed sails. Small boats were hauled aboard; lines and halyards were readied, all by a well-honed crew.
An order was called, repeated, and then volleyed back and forth as bodies moved to execute it. It was not my small-boat sailing language but clearly their song, rehearsed and perfected over thousands of miles.
“Muster amidships,” rang out and immediately everyone was there. Relief Captain Sam Sikkema called out a list of tasks beginning with the anchor. Teams took stations on each side of the windless, pushing and pulling with brute force until relieved by fresh muscle. The drill repeated until the hook broke the surface then a trio walked the anchor cat in circles until the behemoth was securely aboard.
As the ship fell away, sails unfurled from yards like curtains on a stage; foresails rose from the deck leaving mountains of halyards to be coiled and stored. It was impressive to watch high-spirited sailors, working as one, to get their barque where she loved to be, moving with grace in deep water.
Once we were underway, the tone down-shifted to life at sea. Several cooks hustled in the galley; tools came out for the rebuild of a 20ft workboat from Palmerston Island; sailmaking projects resumed. Everyone was occupied, each a piece of the whole.
The final muster of the day came as we neared Grenada’s St. George’s Harbour. Captain Moreland brought out a whiteboard with a drawn map detailing highlights of the Spice Island his crew would explore.
The anchor dropped, all gear stowed, and then a voice called from the bow, “Pools open!” Within seconds, people leaped from the rail and flew from halyards. Some even soaped up.
I boarded the tender and, as it headed toward shore, knew for certain – everyone aboard felt a part of that ship and after just one day, so did I.
ABOUT THE SHIP
Picton Castle is a completely refitted barque, 179ft overall with a hull of riveted steel. With yards made of wood and steel held aloft by steel masts, she carries 12,240 sq. ft. of sail. Captain Dan Moreland has been with his ship over two decades since he found her and labored through the conversion turning a freighter in to a tall ship. Under his care, the barque became one of the most well-known vessels for deep-ocean sail training and long distance education. Aside from enhancing the lives of every trainee who has joined up for an around the world cruise, a trans-Atlantic or a cruise around the Caribbean, the ship has brought hope and change to islanders in the South Pacific through the supplies and educational materials carried on board.
Fittingly, Captain Moreland was honored this year by Tall Ships America/Sail Training International. They bestowed their highest honor to him: A Lifetime Achievement Award, given to an individual who has donated their life’s work to getting people to sea under sail and who has worked to preserve the traditions and skills of sail training.
On Picton Castle’s itinerary: Back-to-Back Transatlantic voyages as the ship takes part in a reenactment event, and in 2017; Bermuda and the Real West Indies. For details, visit: www.picton-castle.com
Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end. www.brucesmithsart.com