Picton Castle at sea © 2015 Sail Training International

This week we will set off on an 800-km drive to Quebec City to see an amazing spectacle at a gathering of Tall Ships.

With luck, we will be able to put the top down on the Jaguar XK convertible and cruise along in leather-bound comfort. It will be a long drive, but really nothing for Canadians. In England, when we drive from Yorkshire down to Sussex, people marvel that we did the 350-km trip in one go. Now we are planning twice the journey in one go, but we will take turns driving and stop for coffee and pit stops frequently. When we arrive in the Old Port, some of the tall ships will have arrived, although the official opening is not until Wednesday, July 19.

Eighteen Class A vessels are expected and a couple of dozen smaller ships as well, so the port will be packed and there will be lots to see. We are looking forward to seeing Europa again, which we saw in Toronto Harbour in 2010 and went aboard to meet the crew at the opening ceremonies. Diane had crewed aboard the ship when she transited from Bermuda to Norfolk, Virginia, in 2000, and had fond memories of an exciting voyage.

Europa in port © 2015 Sail Training International

We are familiar with the Canadian vessels: Bluenose II and Picton Castle from Lunenburg, Empire Sandy, Pathfinder and Playfair from Toronto, Black Jack and Fair Jeanne from Ottawa, Mist of Avalon and St-Lawrence II from Lake Ontario, among others. There are some spectacular ships coming from afar: Alexander Von Humboldt II from Germany, Gulden Leeuw and Oosterschelde from the Netherlands, Guayas from Ecuador, Eagle and Niagara from the United States, and largest of all, the four-masted Esmeralda from Chile.

Alexander Von Humboldt II © 2015 Sail Training International – The Tall Ship with Green Sails

But the vessel I’m most keen to see and board is Lord Nelson, the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s 130 foot three-masted barque which made it’s maiden voyage in 1986 from Southampton. My link to the JST is ephemeral, but quite emotional. During the years my late father was living on his 48-foot ketch in Grand Canary, he would return to England to spend a week here and there as a member of the build team on the Lord Nelson’s sister ship Tenacious. After he died, my mother, well into her 80s, continued on the crew, mostly making tea and sweeping up the shavings from the wooden ship as her hull slowly grew. On an early voyage she scattered his ashes off the Canary Islands, from the poop deck, a fitting return to his favourite sailing waters. Following the ceremony, she and the Captain shared a “gentleman’s portion” of whisky. When I board the Lord Nelson in Quebec, I will think of my Dad and the enthusiasm with which he passed on his life-long love of sailing. And I will raise a glass of good single malt to his memory, and the crews of both ships and all who have sailed in them over the years.

The point of JST is that it allows people with disabilities, the opportunity of not just travelling on a tall ship, but helping to sail her, to the extent of their abilities. Each has an abled volunteer and the ships are set up so that a blind person might helm her or a person in a wheelchair might help with lines. For over 30 years, more than 45,000 people have enjoyed their very own adventure on the high seas. Sailing with JST will change perceptions both of one’s own ability and of those around one, regardless of physical ability, they promise.

In June and July, the Lord Nelson crossed the Atlantic via Iceland, arriving in Canada at the northern tip of Newfoundland. I followed their progress online.

Excerpts from the log of the Lord Nelson as she sails to Canada

July 8, 2017: Another rocky night provided difficult sleeping conditions, and a sleepy ship awoke at 0730. As the morning dawned, fog closed in around the ship, bringing visibility down to 50 meters. This brings an exciting milestone nonetheless, as it indicates that we’ve met the ‘Labrador Current.’ Although not ideal for iceberg lookouts, the fog seems to have brought calmer winds and swell – a pleasant break from the dramatic rolling of the last few days. Splashes of rain interrupted the day which turned into a biblical deluge of apocalyptic hell rain, but apart from that most people enjoyed a slightly more restful day. Not long until land!

Lord Nelson at sea © 2017 JST

July 9, 2017: Today was a nice day for everyone. We woke up with the [announcement] that we just arrived in the Canadian waters. What good news! It was a sunny morning … an iceberg at about one and a half miles away … Then the fog started to appear once again, and the look outs … did a really good job [looking] for the icebergs, growlers and berg’s bites, getting very wet and cold. The French Canadian on our team was on the helm and under the captain’s command, she steered the ship into the harbour, following a fishing vessel, and steering amongst some icebergs, taking her back to her home country. The crew split into little groups, but most of them went to the only bar in the small town of St. Anthony, passing a great night, and some of them went to the lighthouse restaurant where the food was really tasty. Another week and we will be in Quebec, our final destination. Good last leg to everyone!

July 11, 2017: How do you explain this reality to others? Glorious clear blue skies, indigo coloured sea; garnets, dolphins and whales all putting in appearances along with the icebergs. Life is good. Shortly after our departure, the Captain brought us close to a very large iceberg.  It was an amazing sight – so many different surfaces – smooth, wrinkled and lined in places.  It was reportedly one of the biggest icebergs in Newfoundland this year.  Then it was off to Quebec, however not before the dolphins and whales appeared to bid us adieu. 

July 12, 2017: Well here we are, on the closing stages of our voyage in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. After passing a little close to a fishing boat which didn’t seem to understand the traffic separation scheme in the Belle Isle Strait last night, we are once again in comparatively open water with land just visible on the northern side… A pod of orcas was sighted in the small hours of the morning by the on-watch team.

It sounds like an eventful voyage.

All the Tall Ships in Rendez-Vous 2017 will open their decks for visitors at 1100 am each day from Wednesday, July 19 through Saturday, July 22, 2017. On Sunday, July 23 the great departure parade at 900 am promises to be spectacular, so we shall pray to Neptune for good weather and fair winds. After waving goodbye to new friends, we will jump in the Jag and head out for a “topless” drive home.

Featured image: Lord Nelson at sea © 2017 Jubilee Sailing Trust

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