It was just another day in paradise when Hettie spotted three masts suddenly poking up behind Klein Bonaire. The ship coming in was something special. It was a barque, a multi-masted vessel with fore-and-aft sails on the aftermost mast and square sails on all others. Barques were known as the workhorse of the Golden Age of Sail in the mid 19th century. They competed with full rigged ships, but operated with smaller crews.
This particular barque rounded the southern point of Klein and steamed into Kralendijk harbor. It is a grand site to see a tall ship. At dock, its mere presence sends me back to another time when ships were powered only by wind. It is the stuff of mental adventures.
It is not unusual to see visiting sailing ships here on Bonaire. There are presently about thirty yachts now bobbing on offshore moorings. There is a beautiful wooden red ketch down by the Divi Divi Resort called Unicorn due to its tremendously long bowsprit. It hails from Norway. A sleek 45-foot cruiser arrived last week with an exhausted crew of one. Locals had to help the man hook up to his mooring. That boat is from Bikini of the Pacific’s Marshall Islands. We also have repeat customers. Red and her husband, Tom, just returned after two months on their sloop, Katana. Gabrielle, a blue sloop from St.Thomas, has also made an encore recently.
But this was the first time that we have seen the Picton Castle, the 180-foot barque. Her homeport is Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The ship takes 14-month world voyages. For a sweet fee, you can join the expedition and become a working crew member. The Picton Castle sails with a dozen professional crew and 40 sail trainees. But its past is what intrigues me the most. The ship was named after a Welsh castle and began its life as a motorized fishing trawler in 1928. She served as a minesweeper off the UK coast during World War II and as a freighter thereafter. In 1992 it was converted into a barque and is now on the last leg home to Canada, completing its 5th. global circumnavigation.
By the time we arrived at the dock, some of the crew were high in the masts taking care of business. Others were wrapping small, protective line around the massive dock lines. We spoke to a few of the sailors who pumped us for local information on what to do on the island. Three days later, the Picton Castle sailed away under full sail glory. It is a sight that I won’t soon forget.