Built in 1928 as a fishing trawler in Wales, Picton Castle is a tall ship with three masts, she is 179ft long, displaces 300 tons, and carries 12,500 square feet of sail. Part of the British Royal Navy during World War Two, the ship then hauled freight in the Baltic and North Sea until the 1990s when Captain Daniel Moreland found her in a fjord in Norway on his search for a ship he could convert into a square-rigged barque. After taking her to New York, in 1996 the Picton Castle was taken to the Canadian port of Lunenburg (now her homeport) in Nova Scotia, where she underwent a massive refit before starting a new life as a sail training ship.
“This ship is a small, classic, latter-day age-of-sail barque,” explains Moreland. “Sailing her is like sailing any of them 100 years ago but with better food, modern safety and communications gear, and a powerful engine. But the ship herself is as classic as her rigging. She is rigged after other ships I have sailed or worked on like the Danmark, Gerog Stage, Sorlandet, Romance, Gazaela and Elissa, as well as the plans of other ships such as Belle of Lagos.”
June 2011 saw the completion of Moreland’s fifth circumnavigation of the globe, which began in 2010. The voyage lasted 14-months and charted 30,000 nautical miles, visiting 31 ports in 23 countries.
“I conceived the idea for a sailing school while working on other ships like the Danmark, a Danish sailing school ship,” says Moreland who, along with his crew of hard-working students, berthed Picton Castle at the dock in St. Barth during the West Indies Regatta in May.
Talking about the crew, Moreland noted that they were, to a large degree, self-selected. “We do interview them to see if this is the right thing for them. After, many go on to sail other ships, or some rack it up as a life-defining experience,” he said.
While on board, the students take part in an active sail-training program; learning to knot ropes and make sails. They also receive instruction in celestial navigation, oceanography and meteorology and take responsibility for all facets of maintenance on the ship. During her first world voyage (1997-1999), Picton Castle was completely scraped and repainted four times, and certain parts were varnished ten times in 19 months, giving the crew a real taste of life aboard a classic sailing ship.
For Moreland, the end of the journey gets him thinking about the months in the logbook as well as the future. About the challenges of this past year, he muses: “I don’t know where to begin but I suppose guiding the staff and crew is the most important, along with getting all hands to dive in on meeting and connecting with people ashore in a real way. Some people hold back, which is not good.”
While in Saint Barth, the crew performed Polynesian and Maori dances on the dock as part of the awards ceremony for the West Indies Regatta, exhibiting something else they had learned during the voyage.
What’s next for Moreland and his ship? “We are planning a summer of maintenance, and looking at a European/African/Caribbean trip next year,” says the captain, whose life at sea allows him to “make the whole world my home.”
As for Saint Barth, I’d bet a few rounds of rum punch that Picton Castle will be back next year, as Moreland refers to the Caribbean as “my home to come home to.”
The Port of Gustavia will be more than happy to welcome him back!
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux lives in Saint Barthélemy where she is editor-in-chief of Harbour Magazine, and has been a regular contributor to All At Sea since 2000. She also writes regularly about entertainment design and technology for Live Design magazine, and about Caribbean architecture for MACO, a Trinidad-based lifestyle magazine.