About This Course

Piloting, Seamanship, and Tall Ship Handling
January 2007, Mount Holyoke College

Thirteen students and Professor Chris Pyle of the Politics Department will book passage on the 300 ton steel barque Picton Castle for a 14-day voyage from Grenada to Martinique, with stops at Cariacou and Bequia. Students will be integrated with the ship’s crew of 16 (on a three-watch system) as sail trainees, and will learn the arts of piloting, seamanship, and tall ship handling, much as sailors did in the late nineteenth century.

This will be a working voyage, not a Caribbean cruise. Trainees will be expected to participate fully in the ship’s operation, working aloft, walking on ropes 80 feet in the sky to set and furl sails, hauling lines on deck, manning the helm, navigating, standing watch, helping in the galley, and doing basic maintenance. Students will also write a running weblog, transmitted daily via satellite phone. Sleeping accommodations are in tiers of narrow bunks; there is no hot water for washing or bathing.

The Picton Castle is a three-masted barque (square sails on the first two masts). She began life in 1928 as a Welsh fishing trawler, served as a minesweeper during World War II, and was extensively rebuilt in 1993 as a sail training ship along the lines of a German Cape Horner. She is 179 feet overall, with a riveted steel hull, oiled pine decks, steel masts, and steel and wooden yards. She carries 12,450 square feet of canvas, including studding sails, and a 690 hp diesel engine.

The Castle has completed four 18-month round-the-world voyages. She is owned by the Windward Isles Sailing Ship Co., and is registered in the Cook Islands. Her North American home port is Lunenberg, Nova Scotia.

Students will board the ship on the evening of January 5 at the former British colony of Grenada and disembark at the French colony of Martinique on the morning of January 21.

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