Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ships from the Past (#3)

Laurie and I wanted to retrace and expand upon one of our first vacations together from back in the 1970’s, a trip to Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.  So, off we went, this time flying to Halifax via Boston from Chicago.  For the unfamiliar, the largest portion of Nova Scotia is almost like an island itself, long and relatively narrow between the Bay of Fundy to the Atlantic Ocean.  It's attached to New Brunswick only at its northwest corner.  Cape Breton Island is about 1/3 of the size of the mainland and it’s accessed via a bridge.  (I miss the old ferry boats!)

 So, off we went, completing a ‘figure 8’ down the east coast of the southern part of Nova Scotia, then back up the west side to Cape Breton Island…then up the east side of the island and back around the west side, across the bridge and on down to Halifax again.  It was a great trip! 

In any case, I was looking back through our vacation photos and I came across a few ship photos from our 2002 Nova Scotia odyssey, so I thought that I’d share them.

This is the CSS Acadia in Halifax harbor.  She was built in 1912-1913 by Swan Hunter in Newcastle upon Tyne.  The Acadia is ice strengthened, 181’ 9” long, with a 33’ 6” beam and she has a 19’ draught.  Cruising speed is 12.5 knots. 

The Acadia’s original mission was as a hydrographic surveying and oceanographic research ship for the Hydrographic Survey of Canada.  In that role, she helped establish the port of Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay and she conducted many rescue missions.  In 1962, the Acadia rescued townspeople from 2 coastal settlements in Newfoundland.  She served as a survey vessel from 1913 to 1917, between 1920 and 1939 and from 1946 until she was retired in 1969.

The HMCS Acadia was twice commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy.  In WWI, (1917 – 1919), she conducted submarine patrols along the coast of Nova Scotia, working as far south as the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  The Acadia also survived the disastrous Halifax Explosion while guarding the harbor.  In WWI she was equipped with a 4” gun, a 12 pounder/76 mm, and 8 depth charges. 

In WWII, (1939 – 1945), she served as a harbor guard ship, watching for German submarines along the east coast of Canada.  But much of the time, she was utilized for training.  In 1969, the Acadia was retired as a museum ship for the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.  For more about the museum and the CSS Acadia, go to  

Just a stone’s throw down the harbor, we came across the HMCS Sackville.  This is the last surviving Flower Class corvette from the Royal Canadian Navy.  She was built in 1940-41 by the Saint John Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company, Ltd.  Measuring 205’ long, with a beam of 35’ and a draught of 11’ 6”, she could cruise at 16 knots.  Manned with a complement of 85 sailors, the Sackville was armed with a 4” gun, a 2-pounder on an anti-aircraft mount, 2 20mm Oerlikon, 2 Lewis .303 machine guns, 40 depth charges and a Mark 3 Hedgehog.

The HMCS Sackville served as a mid-Atlantic convoy escort for a time and was instrumental in sending at least 2 German submarines limping home.  Her final military assignment was as a ‘loop-layer’, laying anti-submarine indicator loops across harbor entrances.  Following the war, from 1952 to 1982, she served as a research vessel for the Canadian government.

The Sackville is not part of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.  She is docked in a Canadian Naval Yard in the off-season and then towed into Halifax Harbor for viewing and tours when the weather improves.  For more information, go to

As we came around the south end of the mainland portion of Nova Scotia, we drove through the city of Yarmouth.  As we drove along the waterfront, we were fortunate to see “The Cat” coming into harbor.  This high speed wave-piercing catamaran is a ferry boat that can carry 760 passengers and 200 vehicles while speeding along at 40 knots…or 46 miles per hour!

This 319’ ship was built by InCat Australia in Hobart, Tasmania in 2002.  She hadn’t been operating very long when we saw her… The ship measures 87’ 3” across the beam, she draws 14’ 9” of water and her 4 engines crank out 38,000 BHP.  She was purchased by Bay Ferries based in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and she operated between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor, Maine as well as between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine. 

Unfortunately, due to budget cuts by the government of Nova Scotia, operating subsidies for this service were eliminated and “The Cat” was laid up in 2009.  She was purchased by Fujian Cross Strait Ferry in 2011 and the ship was renamed “Hai Xia Haohai Xia Hao”.  She now operates between Taipei on Taiwan and Pingtan Island, a resort destination just off the coast of mainland China.

As a side note, the US Navy has one of these high speed wave-piercing catamarans under lease from InCat and, in addition to general feasibility testing, they’ve used her on some disaster relief missions.  She is not a ship that is formally commissioned in the navy… She is identified as the “HSV-2 Swift”.

By way of contrast, here’s the ferry that we did take on this trip… This little cable ferry carried us across a body of water referred to as Country Harbour.  It runs between Issac’s Harbour and St. Mary’s Nova Scotia.  As you can see, it was a beautiful day and it was a very peaceful trip…

We were fortunate to catch this 3-masted barque in Halifax Harbor.  This is the “Picton Castle”, a tall ship that is normally based in Lunenburg Nova Scotia. (Note: Lunenburg is a World Heritage Site) This ship has a long and complex history.

She was built in 1928…as a motorized fishing trawler!  She was based out of Swansea Wales and was named after a well known Welsh castle.  The Picton Castle was requisitioned by the British Royal Navy in 1939 and she was outfitted as a minesweeper.  At one point, after sweeping mines off the coast of Norway, she was the first Allied ship to enter the harbor at Bergen, earning her the nickname “Liberator of Norway”. 

Post WWII, she was renamed the Dolmar and worked as a freighter in the North Sea and also the Baltic Sea.  In the early 90’s, she was acquired by Daniel Moreland, she was renamed the “Picton Castle”, and he converted her into a barque.  He still captains the ship…

The Picton Castle is registered to the Windward Isles Sailing Company, Ltd. in the Cook Islands.  She’s 179’ long and she has 12,500 sq. feet of sail.  This is a very active ship.  She has done 5 world circumnavigations under sail!  For those wishing to learn how to sail a tall ship, this is the ship for you!  She has 12 experienced crew members and usually sails with 40 ‘sail trainees’.

As of May 3rd of this year, the “Picton Castle was in port at St. Martin Island in the Caribbean.  For more information on the Picton Castle…or to sign up for the next voyage…go to

One final note… I had no clue what defined a sailing ship as a ‘barque’.  I couldn’t write this blog without researching the term.  As per ‘Wikipedia’, a barque is any sailing vessel with 3 or more masts, fore-and-aft sails on the aftermost mast and square sails on all other masts. (I still don’t know what a fore-and-aft sail is…) In any case, barques were the workhorses of the ‘golden age of sail’.  They could obtain passages which nearly matched ‘full-rigged’ ships…but they were more economical as they didn’t need big crews to man them…

1 comment:

  1. A most interesting post today, Dave. The photos are terrific. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary