L’Espérance arrives in Quebec City after Atlantic crossing

Photo: Marc-Antoine Jean

L’Espérence arrived in Quebec City after a two-month crossing of the Atlantic during the filming of La grande traversée.

The tall ship L’Espérance arrived safely at the Port of Québec on July 28 after a 50-day Atlantic crossing that started in La Rochelle, France, on June 4. 

Ten adventurous souls from regions across Canada made the trip in the same conditions as New France’s first settlers as part of a Radio-Canada television program, La grande traversée, which will air next year to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary. Also on board was a crew of 31 and six members of the film crew.  

The co-hosts for the major television documentary, navigator Mylène Paquette and television host Francis Reddy, were on hand to greet the “settlers” at an event held in their honour in front of the Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires at Place Royale. During the ceremony, surrounded by their families and dignitaries, the settlers presented Patrick Voyer, a member of Quebec City’s executive committee, with a commemorative plaque given to them by Jean-François Fountaine, the mayor of La Rochelle. 

The success of this unique television event depends on the work of a seasoned creative team that hasn’t left anything to chance to showcase one of the longest and most authentically re-enacted historic tall ship voyages ever undertaken.

The 10 volunteers, whose ancestors were colonists, lived in authentic conditions aboard the ship, taking turns sleeping in four hammocks, and cooking on a charcoal stove while the technicians and camera crew slept in a slightly more luxurious cabin with wooden bunks and had meals prepared in a modern galley. 

As the ship neared Newfoundland, weather conditions in the North Atlantic were extremely rough, with 30-foot waves. Crew members had to clip themselves on to safety lines to cross the decks and those who were below deck had to wedge themselves into their bunks. Everything had to be lashed down, including the livestock. 

Some animals were on board, at least for most of the trip. Ten chickens were housed in a wooden hen house on the open deck behind the galley and provided fresh eggs for the crew during the crossing. As the ship approached Canada, and fresh eggs were no longer required, the chickens provided the base for a delicious soup… Fiji, the ship’s cat, made the trip all the way from the ship’s homeport in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, to France and back to Canada! 

At the welcome ceremony, Mélanie Joly, minister of Canadian Heritage, said, “The 150th anniversary of Confederation gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate the wealth of our history. Thanks to the documentary adventure series La grande traversée, to be broadcast on ICI Radio-Canada Télé, ICI RDI and ICI Explora, Canadians will discover the incredible journey of the first French colonists in 17th-century New France. Ten Canadians will help us relive the historic crossing of the Atlantic.” 

The ship’s actual name is the Picton Castle, which operates out of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, as a sail-training vessel. Originally built in 1928 as a Welsh fishing trawler, she served as a minesweeper for the Royal Navy during World War II, and for a time hauled freight in the North and Baltic Seas. In 1996, she was taken to Lunenburg for a two-million-dollar refit. A clipper bow was welded in place, three steel masts added, and she slowly became a square-rigged barque. 

You can read Captain Daniel Morland’s Ship’s Log about their Atlantic crossing online at www.picton-castle.com. After this re-enactment cruise is over and the documentary filming is complete, the ship’s hull will be repainted its original white colour and the Picton Castle will reclaim its proper name.