History of the Ship
History of the Barque Picton Castle
First Life as a Welsh Trawler
The Picton Castle was built in 1928 at Cochran’s Ship Building In Selby, Yorkshire, England as a steam powered fishing trawler, based on the lines of the earlier sailing fishing vessels. For years the ship operated out of Milford Haven, Wales. She was one of five trawlers built at that time for the same company — all very modern for their day (the local paper reporting on her maiden voyage marveled over her electric lights and depth finder) — all named after castles. The namesake castle is located in Pembrokeshire in Wales and was built about 1300.
World War II
In 1939, just before the start of WWII she was conscripted into the Royal Navy and became the HMS Picton Castle , a minesweeper/convoy escort. According to Tom Gamble, the radio operator who served aboard her during that time, “The minesweeper service lost more ships than any other branch of the Royal Navy as sweeping mines was very dangerous work. In fact, one day while on patrol a mine exploded under the ship and lifted her clean out of the water — all 600 tons of her. We steamed back to port, hauled and found no real damage had occurred.”
Liberator of Norway
We have been told the following anecdote. “Soon afterward, while sweeping mines in Norwegian waters, the Picton Castle developed an engine problem and it was determined that she would have to put into the nearest port: Bergen. The Germans had just decided to abandon Norway rather than fight and so decamped. The next day the HMS Picton Castle appeared in the harbor flying the Union Jack and has since been hailed by the Norwegian people as the “Liberator of Norway.”
Adoption and Refit
After the war she went back to her original owners, Consolidated Fisheries, and carried on trawling for fish for at least ten more years. After replacing the steam engine with a diesel engine and numerous name changes, eventually our ship began hauling freight working in the North and Baltic Seas sailing as far as north as Russia and south to Portugal. In 1991 Captain Daniel Moreland was scouring listings and various ports looking for the right ship that could be properly converted into a real blue water square-rigger. He knew this type of trawler would be perfect. He found the Picton Castle in a fjord near Kopervik, Norway. He and a small crew cleaned her, got the big 690 HP Burmeister and Wain diesel engine running, and took her across the Atlantic to New York City where she was berthed at the South Street Seaport Museum for a spell. In 1996, she was taken to Lunenburg in Nova Scotia, Canada, to begin a multi-million dollar refit. A clipper bow was welded in place, three steel masts rigged, water-tight bulkheads, ballast, galley, bunks, sails, blocks, lines, anchors, safety gear, comms gear and so much more was built and installed — she became the square-rigged barque we know today.
Ten Stories and Lots of Care
The Picton Castle is 179 feet long, displaces about 600 tons, and carries 12,450 square feet of sail. When her co-ed crew goes aloft to furl sail, they are working as high as ten stories above the deck. They must come to master 205 different lines — and be able to handle them deftly on the blackest of nights. Participating in the ship’s sail training program, the crew learns knot tying, rope splicing, line handling, steering, navigation, meteorology and responsibility for all facets of maintenance.
In addition to teaching her crew the way of life at sea under square sail and the many lessons that come with deep-water seamanship training, Picton Castle does good works wherever she goes. The ship’s 100-ton cargo hold often carries donated school books and supplies for delivery at remote island schools along Picton Castle‘s route, as well as clothing, food and other household supplies for the various islands visited. At certain remote locations such as Pitcairn Island (where the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers still live) and Vanuatu, her doctors go ashore and set up medical clinics, working until all of the inhabitants have been examined.
At the time of this writing the Barque Picton Castle has sailed around 300,000 miles, had about 2,500 trainees across her decks.
As a steam trawler, a WWII Royal Navy minesweeper, coastal freighter, barque, and marine education platform, the Picton Castle has acquitted herself well as is the case when seafarers live to serve their ship under sail.