In 1997, 22-year-old Rigel Crockett stepped aboard the 179-foot sailing ship Picton Castle, embarking on his dream of sailing around the world.
Next week, the Nova Scotia native, now living in Savannah, will embark on another kind of tour promoting Fair Wind and Plenty of It: A Modern Day Tall Ship Adventure, the memoir of his one-and-a-half year stint as a crew member on the world-wide journey.
On April 6, Crockett will launch the book tour with a presentation and signing at the Ships of the Sea Museum on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
Over coffee at Starlander, Crockett recently reflected on the 18-month circumnavigation and the resulting book; at times an adventure, a coming-of-age story, and an epic.
The Picton Castles world voyage was the brainchild of Dan Moreland, a professional captain in his mid-forties with a vision and a chip on his shoulder. Moreland was the ship captain for Crocketts first professional sailing job, a summer at age 12 as the cabin boy of the tall ship Ernestina. Crockett came away idolizing Moreland and dreaming of a career at sea.
In 1990, Moreland was fired from the Ernestina under suspicion of financial irregularities. Moreland went looking for a ship to rebuild into the Picton Castle, to redeem himself from losing the other ship, said Crockett.
In Norway, Moreland found a battered sixty-nine-year-old steel-hulled fishing trawler to convert into a replica of a 19th century square-rigged barque. He planned to overhaul the ship and sail her around the world. Moreland would retain control of the project by owning a portion of the Picton Castle himself, selling part ownership to investors, and financing expenses from fare-paying crew.
Crockett was one of 13 professional crew members hired to convert the trawler to a sailing ship during the summer of 1997, and to provide sailing expertise and staffing continuity to the trip once the fare-paying crew members joined the project.
When the voyage began in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in November 1997, the ship was seaworthy but lacking equipment that many sailors would consider fundamental for an ocean voyage. Even before leaving port, the collective attitude among the professional crew was deteriorating under the pressures of the grueling schedule to prepare the vessel, the vicissitudes of Morelands personality, and the limited culinary abilities of the first of the thirteen cooks who served on the voyage.
There were periods where we felt like the ships condition was going backwards, said Crockett. Morale was in the toilet.
The ship wasnt completely fitted until June 1999, two days before the global voyage ended.
Seventy-seven crew members joined the ship during the eighteen-month trip. When the Picton Castle set sail, 13 professionals and 32 paying crew were aboard. While all thirteen professional hands completed the journey, only nine of the paying crew lasted the entire eighteen months.
The paying crew had shelled out $32,500 apiece to participate in the entire voyage. Professional crew were paid $100 per week. Many times, members of each group felt they were being asked to pull more than their share of the workload. The captain expected all hands to work from 50 to 90 hours each week.
Crocketts book -- published by Knopf Canada in 2004 and distributed in the U.S. by Rodale Press -- describes long periods of tedious and exhausting effort repeated deck scrubbings, days spent painting over rust spots in the hull that reappeared almost as quickly as they were covered, buckets of seawater hauled up hourly to record the oceans temperature.
I imagined that once we got under way, Id be doing a lot more of the work Id glorified rigging, sewing sails, splicing rope, said Crockett. As I think back I did do a lot of that, but there was a hell of a lot more painting, chipping, and grinding than Id thought there would be. The professional crew picked up slack for the fare paying crew, who felt they had more leverage.
Other days at sea found Crockett climbing high above the deck into the sails and rigging, catching fresh tuna off the stern of the ship, or replacing a broken rudder in the midst of a gale.
Ports of call provided opportunities for adventures of a different sort. Crocketts right arm now sports South Seas tattoos from the Solomon Islands and the Marquesas, one applied with a boars tusk, the other with a razorblade.
In Tahiti, through a haze of pot and beer, Crockett evaded advances from a native-born transsexual, then watched as less-savvy tourists made their moves. He befriended an Aruba native named Gusto, losing pints of rum betting on their games of checkers. Another islander took Crockett and a female crewmate on a day sail hinting of romance in a three-person boat hand-hewn from a tree trunk.
At sea, Crockett wrote letters to family and to Ariel, a friend almost too new to call a girlfriend. In port he hoped for letters from her, often (but not always!) in vain.
Crockett describes himself as a protégé of Captain Morelands prior to the Picton Castle voyage. He was caught off-guard by the evolution in his attitude toward Moreland as the trip progressed.
I never imagined Id have friction with him. Although Id been through it before, the fact that it happened again was a big shock to me. I didnt feel it would be a voyage ultimately of disenchantment.
Yet Moreland was impossible to dismiss as purely villainous. No one was wishing him to be more of a prick than he was, says Crockett, but we were constantly aware that his personality was part of the problem and part of the reason we were there. I went from one extreme of idolizing him to just hating him as much as I could. Then Id realize hes a person, and Id like him again. I developed some compassion toward him. I tried not to, but I did. Thats something my shipmates have a hard time with in the book.
And what does Moreland think of the book? Crockett said his former mentor hasnt read it, and shakes off a suggestion that he might.
However, the captain has been magnanimous. I saw him last summer, said Crockett. We had a few beers together. At the very least, hes proud that this experience he dreamed up merited a book, like Two Years Before the Mast, books that have shaped his life.
The Picton Castle is recruiting paying crew for her fourth circumnavigation, which is scheduled to sail in June 2005. Crockett has no plans to join the voyage.
When asked how the voyage changed him, Crockett says Im a lot less likely to lock my keys in the car. Im more aware of myself and how I do things. I learned more about being soft spoken and reserved, and about living with people. And I learned some great swear words.
The biggest and best lesson I learned is what a person can do with consistent application and effort. A lot of time going around the world, we were moving slower than you can swim, but we did it every day. You can make it if you keep that goal in mind.
Rigel Crockett will sign copies of Fair Wind and Plenty of It: A Modern-Day Tall Ship Adventure (2004, Knopf Canada, Rodale Press, $23.95) on Wednesday, April 6, from 7 10 p.m. at the Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 MLK Jr. Blvd. Call 232-1511.