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McLaughlin set to sail the seven seas

  • Ready to go to sea
    Ready to go to sea  Andrew McLaughlin is postponing graduation for two years in order to sail around the world on the Picton Castle.  Photo courtesy Andrew McLaughlin
  • Lesson at sea
    Lesson at sea  Among the lessons McLaughlin will learn from the professional crew on board will be sail making and repair.  Photo courtesy Barque Picton Castle
  • In his blood
    In his blood  Neither of Andrew McLaughlin's parents sail, but the W&M student has long had a passion for it.  Photo courtesy Andrew McLaughlin
  • In safe harbor
    In safe harbor  The Picton Castle is a 179-foot, three-mast tall ship that has made numerous trips around the world. W&M student Andrew McLaughlin will be a crew member for its upcoming 14-month adventure.  Photo courtesy Barque Picton Castle
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Andrew McLaughlin never abandoned his dream. 

For McLaughlin, '20, it began when he was 16 and on a sailboat called The Brilliant headed from Mystic, Connecticut, to Newport, Rhode Island, for a tall ships festival. A 179-foot, three-mast tall ship passed by. McLaughlin was so impressed with the massive vessel that he started asking questions about it and following its exploits on Facebook. 

Joining the crew of the Picton Castle became a goal of his.

“I’m 21 now, so I guess the Mystic sailing was a precursor in terms of the idea that sailing can have a purpose,” said McLaughlin, who majors in government and religious studies at William & Mary. “Sailing can be done as more than a recreational activity, can be more than the summer camp thing I did as a kid.” 

Soon, McLaughlin will see the culmination of his five-year aspiration when he heads to Bermuda next week for a series of tall ships events in the Gulf of Mexico before officially beginning a 14-month voyage around the world. He will be part of a crew of 52 people, 12 professionals and up to 40 trainees. The crew is a mix of nationalities. One-third are Americans, one-third are Canadian and one-third come from various other countries. 

For McLaughlin, the trip is not without sacrifice. He was scheduled to graduate this spring in the class of 2018. Instead, he received permission to be reclassified in the class of 2020.

{{youtube:medium|xegkKz8CGm0, Adventure on the high seas}}

“I’ve been figuring out when it made sense to do this,” he said. “I knew I didn’t want to do it when I was trying to get a job or during a break before graduate school. I knew I wouldn’t have the option to do it when I had a wife and kids or after my career was over and I was retired. I wouldn’t have the energy to do it. Now was the time.”

According to a spokesperson with the Picton Castle, the ship will embark on its world voyage from New Orleans following the tall ships events. A blog by captain Daniel Moreland stated that the Picton Castle will sail about 30,000 sea-miles on its circumnavigation. It will cross the Caribbean Sea, the South Pacific Ocean, the Coral Sea, the Arafura Sea, the Timor Sea, the Southern Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope, cross over the South Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and make a north bound passage the length of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Moreland wrote they expect to put into Panama, Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn Island, Mangareva, an Austral island, the Cook Islands of Rarotonga, Palmerston Atoll, Vava’u in Tonga, Viti Levu in Fiji, Espiritu Santo, Malekula, Pentecost, and Maewo in Vanuatu, Benoa in Bali, maybe Madagascar. They will sail around the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town, South Africa, the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, Napoleon’s last refuge at St Helena and then ride the southeast tradewinds crossing the equator bound for the Eastern Caribbean. Islands like Grenada, Carriacou, Bequia, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Anguilla are on the itinerary, before heading onward to Bermuda then back to its home port of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.Captain Daniel Moreland

The ship, which is registered in the Cook Islands, and owned and operated by the Windward Isles Sailing Ship Company, Ltd., has three primary purposes: to promote maritime culture through long voyages, especially circumnavigations; to provide opportunities for cross-cultural immersion and interaction and engagement in the customs and festivals of the people they meet; and to distribute medical and school supplies.

“The last part is what I’m most interested in and what I think will have the greatest impact on me, everything from [distributing] textbooks to immunization treatments and clinics on various islands for five days a week,” he said. “There will be doctors on the ship but also some of the islands do have doctors or people who can provide medical knowledge but often lack the resources to do it. A lot of these islands don’t have highways or airstrips. They can only get one or two trade ships a year and most of them end up bringing food supplies, clothes, things seen as more immediate necessities than new textbooks or medical treatments.”

Not everyone gets selected to sail the Picton Castle. McLaughlin applied online, wrote essays and got letters of recommendation, all designed to display his sailing history.

A couple of months later he was summoned to Nova Scotia. He spent four days and three nights aboard the ship so the professional crew that works the vessel, one of whose missions is deep-ocean sail training and long distance education, could evaluate everything from whether or not he’d get claustrophobic to how he handled himself figuring out problems in the engine room. They showed him how to tie certain knots he hadn’t seen before and observed how long it took him to learn the methods. They tested his work ethic by having him paint bunks and do dishes, and watched him interact with the crew in order to evaluate his ability to get along with others.

“A lot of the testing is behavioral because you are going to be on the ship with these people for 14 months and you have to be able to get along with them when you’re crossing the Pacific,” he said. “That literally takes five weeks and you have to be able to associate well. Do you work well with others?”

Among his duties on board, McLaughlin will stand watch, take turns at the helm, raise the anchor, clean the ship, haul on lines, handle sails, scrub the decks, participate in daily ship maintenance, help in the galley and keep lookout, among other things. He is there strictly as a volunteer. There is no compensation, and he is earnng no academic credit.Andrew McLaughlin

The captain and mates will conduct regular workshops designed to complement daily life on board. Workshops include seamanship, sail handling, sail making, ship maintenance, rigging, celestial navigation, rules of the road, weather, small boat handling and basic engineering.

McLaughlin left Nova Scotia with a handbook and the admonition to become more physically fit.

“I’m trying to get more physically and mentally ready,” he said. “I’m doing a lot of physical exercise, using a modified version of what they told me to do and Google searches for overall body fitness.”

McLaughlin said that the ship, which has no refrigeration or laundry facilities, will spend three to five days on some of the smaller islands. They’ll extend those stays to about one week in places like Fiji, Panama City and Cape Town, South Africa, where they’ll take on supplies. Part of his job will be to help see that the cargo is stored in a way that keeps the ship balanced.

“Let me put it this way,” he said. “It’s not a vacation, but I could not be more excited.”