She’s sailed halfway around the world, an incredible 16,000 nautical miles, but a former stray kitty adopted by the Lunenburg, Nova Scotia-based tall ship, the Barque Picton Castle, arrived home in Canada October 31 via airplane.
It’s an unheard of complication for a ship that’s sailed five times around the world (this voyage is part of her sixth circumnavigation) and always with a feline aboard. In fact, the ship’s former cat, known as Chibley, circled the globe four times and was the subject of two books before passing away in Lunenburg just two years ago.
The ship’s latest cat, George, was adopted as a kitten from a shelter while the ship was in Savannah, Georgia as part of a massive East Coast tall ships event in 2012. He has since sailed from Canada to the Caribbean, transited the Panama Canal and voyaged throughout the South Pacific, traveling as far as Sydney, Australia.
But a planned month-long visit to New Zealand on the heels of a tall ships regatta between Sydney and Auckland threw a giant hitch in George’s sailing plans. As an island nation with a unique population of rare and endangered birds, New Zealand has stringent rules about the importation of four-legged animals. In essence: no pets allowed.
The options presented to the ship’s company, which has been working with biosecurity officers for months, included quarantine for the entire period of the ship’s visit (about six weeks), repatriation to Canada or destruction of the animal.
The latter was unthinkable, says the vessel’s captain, also founder of her award-winning sail training program, Daniel Moreland. “George, like Chibley, is a much-loved member of our crew. Even if I could bear the thought, and I couldn’t, the crew would never have it.”
The crew of the 179-foot, three-masted ship is famously fond of their cats. In 2000, the ship made news when her departure from the port of Halifax was delayed, and a city-wide search involving law enforcement begun, when Chibley was found missing and crew refused to sail. A similar event occurred in 2008 while the ship was visiting Bergen, Norway, and also made national headlines there; in that case, a couple had mistakenly thought she was a stray and taken her home.
Remarkably, though the ship’s voyages have taken her crew and cats all over the world, there’s never been a situation that could not be resolved by simply locking up the cat in her crate aboard ship. More often than not, with the presentation of proper veterinary papers, George and Chibley have been allowed ashore. Both had a startling ability to turn up when it was time to depart.
Two members of the Picton Castle’s crew, currently working ashore, greeted George when he arrived at Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport October 31, having flown in the care of a specialized animal relocation service. He’ll spend the next few months living with shipmates on the South Shore of Nova Scotia in hopes of rejoining the ship in French Polynesia early next year.
Meanwhile, the Picton Castle will be sailing from Auckland bound for Whangarei where ship and crew will celebrate an historic connection between Nova Scotia and the community of Waipu, New Zealand.
In 1851, Rev. Norman McLeod and 140 of his followers left St. Ann’s, Cape Breton in a 236-ton barque, remarkably similar to the Picton Castle, bound for a new life on the other side of the world. McLeod and his ship, the Margaret, sailed first to Adelaide and Melbourne, Australia before negotiating a land grant that would lead to the founding of Waipu. Another six ships carrying more than 1000 immigrants would follow. Today their descendants number in the tens of thousands.
Departing New Zealand, the Picton Castle will embark on a lengthy sea passage through the Roaring Forties (the name given to the strong Westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees South) en route to Pitcairn Island, home to descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers. Christmas will be marked at sea.
From Pitcairn, the ship will sail through the islands of French Polynesia, then on to the Cook Islands, Samoa and Fiji. She is expected to arrive back in Canada in the summer of 2015.
Courtesy of Susan Corkum-Greek/Barque Picton Castle