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'This isn't their first step, it's their second step': Bosun School trains new generation of sailors

The Bosun School in Lunenburg offers a one-of-a-kind education in the practical boat skills that are 'hard to get elsewhere,' says the Picton Castle's Captain Daniel Moreland
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Students at the Bosun School work on the rigging of the Picton Castle tallship.

It’s October, and after the ups and downs of COVID, most students are settled back into their routines.

Perhaps, that is, unless you are a student at the Bosun School in Lunenburg, where this fall’s curriculum replaces reading, writing and arithmetic with sailmaking, ship rigging and nautical maintenance. 

The Bosun School is run by Captain Daniel Moreland of STV Picton Castle, a tallship docked just south of the city. 

“It’s a land-based program to teach practical nautical skills that are useful on ships and boats, yachts, any type of vessel,” Moreland says. “It’s rigging, it’s painting, it’s caulking, it’s things you need. It’s very difficult to learn these things because it’s hard to come by this stuff. Used to be easier, but it’s harder now.” 

In this way, it is a unique kind of nautical education. Compared to more formal training regimes, the Bosun School curriculum is conceived of as more of a catch-all - a bit of experience doing everything you’re likely to need to know if you were working as a crew member on an active ship. 

“They won’t be experts at anything, but they’ll be far further along than they were before they started,” Moreland says. “There’s no navigation or chart work, no radar, no radio — we’re doing simple hand skills. All that stuff is pretty available elsewhere. We’re trying to do what is hard to get elsewhere.”

This fall saw the first of two upcoming sessions at the Bosun School.

The first, which started on October 5 and is running until early December, focuses on ship rigging, where students will “learn how to conduct a rig inspection, identify which parts need to be repaired or replaced, and learn how to fix or make new parts.”

The second session, which starts on February 14 and runs until April 1, focuses on “the skills required to repair sails and construct new ones.” 

The average day, says Moreland, could include a whole lot more than that — just like on a working ship.

“There’s lots to learn, it’s not just wire splicing and rope,” he says. “They’ll get up in the morning and they’ll do their domestic duties — they’ll clean their living areas, they’ll make breakfast, and then they’ll turn to something we instructed them yesterday, and they’ll practice it. There’s lots of stuff.” 

Though the school is nominally organized around the Picton Castle, a tallship, Moreland says the program is meant to give people a lot of breadth, focusing on transferrable skills rather than skills specific to any one kind of ship. 

“In the summertime, we have a lot of small boats — it’s a wide variety, half a dozen different boats that you pull up on the beach, and they get to muck about in them,” Moreland says. “We have a sailing dory, we have a small schooner, we even have some dugout canoes from the South Pacific — those are fun. We have a couple double-ended rowboats from the Caribbean, and they learn about rowing.” 

To Moreland, this kind of education serves a unique role in incubating the next generation of crew members — it’s not just a for-fun thing, but for people who have an eye towards a career. 

“They have to have already spent some time on a boat, or a ship or something,” he says. “They’ve already decided that they are interested in this type of thing — this isn’t their first step, it’s their second step.

“Maybe you’ve made a trip to Bermuda on a yacht; maybe you were in your friend’s lobster boat for a summer,” he says. “You have to already be infected with the desire to get better at this.”

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