On April 1st, 2019, I finally submitted my PhD thesis. My research topic focused on entity linking in text-based cultural heritage collections, a phrase which I have repeated so often that it has lost all meaning. My PhD was not a short one. By the end, I had spent more than five years chipping away at what almost always felt like an insurmountable challenge.
My supervisor was Prof. Séamus Lawless, who was an incredible support throughout the whole process. I have said it many times, and here I will repeat it – I could not have finished my PhD without Shay.
In mid-May of 2019, Shay sadly passed away in an accident after summiting Mount Everest. I received the news that he was missing through an Irish Times article on May 16th, shown to me by Dr Peter Crooks. By Friday evening on May 17th, a search-and-rescue was called off.
Before leaving for Nepal Shay had fully organised my viva and a date was set for early July. Prof. Owen Conlan coached and prepared me over those final two months. My examination took place on July 8th 2019. I was examined by Dr John Mc Crae, of NUI Galway, and Prof. David Lewis of Trinity College Dublin. The Chair was Prof. Carol O’Sullivan. I passed with minor corrections. A par-for-the-course result, as far as I was concerned.
On December 26th, 2019, I submitted the first draft of my corrections, and after some revisions, they were accepted on February 14th, 2020. The document was submitted to TARA (Trinity Access to Research Archive) on April 6th, 2020. It took two attempts because my margins were incorrectly formatted.
On May 26th 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was informed that the University Sub-Committee of Council and Board had accepted the recommendation of my examiners and I was permitted to register for graduation.
A PhD can be an incredibly isolating experience, and I certainly felt this for the duration of mine. At some point in my third year, I had decided that when everything was finished, fail or pass the PhD, I was going to pack everything in, leave Ireland and see some of the world. An adventure of the kind that I had often read about and always dreamed of living.
My original plan had been to purchase a van, convert it to a camper and travel around Europe before striking out to Asia. This was my intention right up to January 2020, when I finally found the “perfect” van – a 2017 LWB Volkswagen Crafter. It was at this major hurdle, while crunching numbers for my budget, I realised a conversion would consume the entirety of my savings, leaving nothing for the adventure itself. A new plan was required.
Instead, I decided to attempt a “backwards” trip around the globe, from Cork to Dublin travelling West. I would spend some time on each continent with no real itinerary before moving on whenever I felt ready. In principle, this felt like a good idea. I estimated that with careful budgeting I could comfortably travel for up to six months, leaving Ireland in July and returning in time for Christmas.
One night, while putting a plan in place, I had the bright idea to check if it were possible to travel from America to Asia by sea rather than by air. More specifically, would it be possible to sign on as a deck-hand on a tallship and spend some time at sea between two of the continents? It was here that I happened upon the Picton Castle.
The Picton Castle is a three-masted barque, registered in the Cook Islands, but based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. One of the primary purposes of the ship appears to be training novice sailors in the art of manning an old fashioned windjammer.
Between July 2020 and June 2021, a voyage was scheduled which would depart from Lunenburg and travel to French Polynesia delivering goods before turning around and returning to its homeport. For a fee, you could sign on for between three months and a year as a trainee. The cost of a leg was 75% of my entire world trip budget.
My favourite adventure stories have always been those which are set on the high seas. Despite the cost, the Picton Castle represented an opportunity to experience the world as described in these tales. For the second time, I scrapped my travel plans, recalculated my budget and worked out that I could probably afford to sail for one leg with the Picton Castle, and still cover the cost of an adventure on one continent.
On April 14th 2020, I applied to join the ship. On April 28th, I was interviewed by the bosun of the Picton Castle, Maggie Ostler, and finally, on May 16th, my application was accepted.
I had applied to join the third leg of the trip, which was due to set out on November 12th 2020, leaving from Moorea near Tahiti. My leg would end at Panama City around March 1st, giving me three and a half months of training, adventure, and stories.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, it soon became apparent that it was not possible for the ship to begin the first leg of its voyage on its intended date in July. Subsequently, the itinerary was changed, pushing the whole journey back by several months.
At present, my joining date is January 29th on the island of Nuka Hiva. My tenure comes to an end as before in Panama City, now on May 22nd. This itinerary remains subject to change, and it will be difficult to accept the reality of this venture until I am actually on deck.
And so here we are, in the present. I am a little more than half a year away from an adventure on the briny. In the intervening time, I have a huge opportunity to self-educate on sailing, navigation, and life on a tallship. For now, I plan to use this blog both as a way to manage my excitement and to keep track of my progress as I learn and prepare for my voyage.