ASTO’s International Exchanges are an excellent opportunity for 18-25-year-olds to experience the thrill and adventure of Sail Training in other continents. Our exciting exchange programme takes successful applicants on life-changing voyages to Australia, Canada and the US.


Over the Summer, Susanna Paynter travelled to Canada to join the crew on board Bytown Brigantine’s 110ft Fair Jeanne. This week we will be sharing a three-part series of blog entries from Susanna in which she details her Canadian Exchange experiences. Take a look below.


ASTO and James Myatt International Exchange in partnership with TallShipsCAN & Bytown Brigantine Tall Ships Adventure – Report by Susanna Paynter

On board Fair Jeanne, August 2022

Quebec CityQuebec City Baie Saint PaulTadoussacBaie ÉternitéSainte Rose du NordTadoussacÎles du Pot à l’Eau de VieGrosse ÎleMontmorencyQuebec City


Part One: A Long-Expected Journey


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

Exert from Sea-Fever, by John Masefield


In a refrain often repeated, the pandemic put a stop to all my plans. I first learned about the ASTO International Exchange in 2017, when I realised that at various times I had sailed with several participants of the program. It sounded like such a wonderful opportunity – a chance to see a new approach to Sail Training and make friends across the world – that I knew that I had to apply.


In 2018 I got to the interview stage of the applications, but in the end was beaten to the spot by a friend who applied along with me (I’ve mostly forgiven you, Georgia). This didn’t deter me in the slightest, and in 2019 I applied again. Again I didn’t get a place, and I promised myself at that point that I would apply every year until they caved in and accepted me. Perhaps it wasn’t the best plan, to annoy everyone into giving me a place, but I was determined! In 2020 I applied once more, and to my jubilation, I was finally told ‘yes’. Plans began to form about my trip to Canada, to take place in the summer of 2020. I’m sure you can see where this is going…


Susanna Paynter at the Helm.

Cut to 2022, and I had begun to think that the exchange would never happen. I hadn’t been to sea in over two years, and I felt like I had forgotten everything I ever knew about sailing. I was on a family holiday in Scotland when I was approached by ASTO, offering me a last-minute spot on a Canadian Tall Ship in just six weeks’ time. A flurry of emails ensued, and plans were formed, adapted, and implemented so quickly that I barely believed it was real. Before I knew it, I found myself newly arrived at Montreal Airport, jet-lagged, excited, and nervous in equal measures.


 I spent a couple of days exploring Quebec City, getting bus tours, and trying the local cuisine (I was informed that I simply had to try poutine). On 16th August I joined the ship that was to be my home for the next twelve days – Bytown Brigantine’s Fair Jeanne. In my mind was Masefield’s poem Sea-Fever, which always resonates so much with me as it describes the call of the sea.


I was welcomed aboard to a cry of “don’t move, there’s wet paint everywhere”, which funnily enough made me feel right at home. In the winter of 2017/2018, I took part in a refit aboard Prolific, with the Ocean Youth Trust South. During that refit, we repainted everything above the waterline, and the knowledge that all the same maintenance tasks are required both sides of the Atlantic was strangely comforting. I dumped my bags in my cabin and immediately got to work painting parts of the hull with the bosun.


Over dinner that evening I met the rest of the crew and discovered that I, at 23 years old, was one of the oldest on board (besides the Captain). Most of the crew were still at school and sailing as part of their summer holidays or working onboard as their gap year before university. Nevertheless, everyone was very friendly and welcoming. I also met the Captain’s dog, Milo, who was going to sail with us over the next few days (complete with an adorable dog-lifejacket and blue bandana). Over the voyage, I learned that Milo had a wonderful tendency to turn up where you weren’t expecting him: between your legs as you heaved up the anchor or sitting on the halyard you were getting ready to ease out… but somehow, we always forgave him!


Captain’s dog, Milo, on board Fair Jeanne.

The next day the trainees arrived, and the trip began in earnest. After checking each young person onboard, we divided into watches, which are the teams you work in when aboard. I was part of red watch with five trainees, as well as Griffin (our Watch Officer), and Miranda (our Assistant Watch Officer). We then went through a series of inductions – if you haven’t sailed before, you wouldn’t believe the complicated process that going to the heads (toilets) can be.


Crew members exploring ashore.

The day finished with all the crew and trainees going on a ‘ghost tour’ of Quebec City in the twilight, where we learnt much of the history of the area, interspersed with ‘historically accurate’ tales of supernatural happenings that occurred at the same time. In all, this was a very fun evening… apart from the story of a ghost drowning sailors in a particular area, that we realised we were to sail through the next day! Our guide told us to listen out for wailing as we sailed past…


The next day, after a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese, and a morning of logbook work (whilst waiting for the fuel tanks to be refuelled), we slipped our moorings and sailed out into the St Lawrence River.


Part Two: There Once Was a Ship That Put to Sea 


I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the seagulls crying.

Exert from Sea-Fever, by John Masefield


The feeling of going sailing is breathtaking, especially after more than two years on land. The sea breeze hits your face and runs through your hair, refreshing and slightly salty. The sails flog and then fill, driving you onwards. Once all the sails are up, the engine is turned off, and the vibrations underfoot cease. You stand on deck, swaying in time to the waves rolling beneath you, and in that moment the cares of the world fade away. Only the beauty of nature remains.


On the afternoon of Thursday 18th August, we set our fore-and-aft sails for the first time, in the St Lawrence River. We stayed in the vicinity of Quebec City all day and managed a lot of tacking practise. We hadn’t yet settled completely into the watch-keeping system for the voyage – although we had divided into our watches to set sails, it was ‘all hands on deck’ for most of the day, so that everyone had an opportunity to be involved.


Trainees aloft furling the sail.

That afternoon we also did ‘up and overs’, which is when each young person has an opportunity to climb up the shrouds of the foremast, cross over to the other side and climb back down the other shrouds. I completed this along with every single trainee, which was a wonderful achievement – there were some who were uncomfortable dealing with heights, and to face their fears in such a way is a remarkable testament to the resolve and bravery of each young person aboard. Going aloft is required for setting and stowing the square sails, which we used almost every day. That evening we moored again in Quebec City for the night, and we knew that our real journey would begin in the morning.


Slowly we were all settling into the ship’s routine, and we began each day by getting up at 7am, having breakfast, and then taking part in colours at 8am. We raised the ensign, sang an enthusiastic but not particularly tuneful rendition of ‘Oh Canada’, and discussed our plans for the day. After colours, we split into the watch system, with one watch on deck from 8am-12pm. Being on watch in this way included setting and trimming sails, keeping lookout, and helming (steering) the ship.


Trainees talking below decks.

Meanwhile, everyone who was ‘off-watch’ helped with the washing up and cleaning left over from breakfast, and then had personal time in which they could nap, play cards, or work to get signatures in their logbooks – these were important as once every part of the logbook was signed off, the trainee was awarded the rank that they had been working on. Everyone who didn’t already have the Deckhand qualification when they came aboard had achieved it by the time they left, and there were many trainees who worked on and achieved their Ordinary or Leading Sailor qualifications too.


At 12pm the watches switched over, with the watch relaxing down below taking over on deck, so that the previous watch could have their lunch and then some down time. Another watch change happened at 4pm, and then again at 6pm and 8pm (these two-hour watches are called dog watches, and they ensure that everyone can have their dinner at 6pm). Usually, we would have arrived at wherever we were going by 6pm, and the latest we sailed was until about 8pm, where we would anchor in a quiet bay, sheltered from the wind and tide.


In this way, we spent Friday and Saturday travelling along the St Lawrence River to Tadoussac, which is renowned for the whales that seem to always be there. During our time in the vicinity of Tadoussac, we saw many pods of beluga whales and even the occasional minke whale!


At night a rotation of anchor watches would be set up, which usually included one crew member with two trainees. Together we would ensure that the anchor didn’t drag, by regularly monitoring the bearings of lights on the land around us, the depth of the water beneath our keel, and our GPS position on the chart plotter. These two-hour watches were maintained throughout the night, and the ship’s company was divided so that if you were on anchor watch one night, you would get a full night’s sleep the next.


During my anchor watch on Saturday night, the water was so dark that nothing could be seen, but we suddenly heard a big puff and then a splash, which was a whale surfacing close to our ship! The next morning, we spent a couple of hours ashore in Tadoussac, exploring the local area and clambering over some boulders to a lovely beach. Tadoussac is located at the end of the Saguenay Fjord, where it flows into the St Lawrence River. Once everyone was back onboard, we raised our anchor, set our sails, and began to make our way up the Saguenay, accompanied by another pod of beluga whales. By Sunday evening we had reached the Bay of Eternity, in Saguenay National Park.


Trainee jumping into the Bay of Eternity.

On Monday, we started and ended the day with a swim, in remarkably warm water (or rather, the top of the water was warmed by the sun, the deeper you swam the colder it was). We had initially hoped to get more opportunities to swim throughout the trip, but because we were mainly anchoring in the St Lawrence River the tide was too strong and the water too cold for a swim to be comfortable. Because we hadn’t moored in a marina since Quebec City, no one had had a shower in a few days, and we were all starting to smell a bit – a dip in the Bay of Eternity was the ideal solution!


Susanna hiking near the Bay of Eternity.

We also took part in a big hike that day, which involved lots of scrambling over rocks, climbing up steps, and making our way up and over the side of a hill, to reach a statue on the other side (and back down again). I don’t normally do big hikes in the UK, and it was certainly a bit of a struggle, but it was fantastic to achieve it (no matter how much I sweated or how red my face turned)!


We spent another night anchored in the Bay of Eternity before we began our journey back towards Quebec City.


Part Three: “Pasta is Pasta, No Matter the Utensil”


I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Exert from Sea-Fever, by John Masefield


Over the next few days, we made our way back towards Quebec City. We had all settled into the rhythm of life onboard, from colours early in the morning to sunset in the evening. The wind that had pushed us so far had begun to die off, and what little breeze there was seemed to always be right on the bow. After passing Tadoussac and re-entering the St Lawrence River, we managed to set some fore-and-aft sails and tack into the wind, but we were fighting the tide the whole time as well as making a lot of leeway. Eventually, we had to turn the engine on and motor-sail to our anchorage that night.


Susanna and friend ashore.

The atmosphere on board was very relaxed as we made our way up the St Lawrence River. After anchoring by a small island in the middle of the river near Tadoussac – called Îles du Pot à l’Eau de Vie – we met the people who managed the island’s lighthouse. This wasn’t particularly unique (many people would come up and say hello when they saw the Fair Jeanne arrive) but these lovely lighthouse people came back to visit us again the next morning, with freshly baked muffins – enough for all 20 crew and trainees! If you ever want to visit a sail training vessel, I can guarantee that homemade baked treats will earn you a ticket onboard, and a friendly welcome!


We sailed on from the island with the lighthouse and anchored on Thursday evening by Grosse Île, a quarantine island used as a processing house for (predominantly Irish) immigrants, including those escaping the Irish Potato Famine in 1845-1849. This quarantine island played an important part in protecting the residents of Quebec from cholera, typhus, and other infectious diseases that had broken out aboard the ships that crossed the Atlantic. Whilst the island was open from 1832-1932, it was at its busiest during the crisis of 1847. As a result, Grosse Île is home to the largest Irish cemetery outside of Ireland.


All the crew and trainees were lucky enough to visit the island on Friday morning. We were met by a wonderful tour guide from Parks Canada, who showed us around the island, and told us the history of everything we could see. We first arrived at the disinfection centre, as the many seafarers and travellers before us would have done, and then we saw the hospitals set up to treat the sick, the quarters given to the immigrants who weren’t currently symptomatic, and the homes, churches and village life of the nurses and doctors that worked on the island. The tour of the island was a fascinating experience, and it was amazing to have an opportunity to explore some of the history of Canada, and in particular the maritime history of Quebec.


After leaving Grosse Île, we knew that the voyage was almost over – as we sailed further up the St Lawrence River, we could see Quebec City in the distance. However, rather than return to port straight away, we decided to anchor for our final night by the Montmorency Falls, a spectacular waterfall opposite the Île d’Orléans. That night we had spaghetti for dinner… but with a twist! As each person was served with a bowl of pasta, they were also given a random kitchen utensil with which to eat it. I was handed a can opener, and so I ate my spaghetti with my can opener, held upside down as make-shift chopsticks. Other trainees ate with turkey basters, whisks, and potato mashers, but probably the person who struggled most was the crew member given a piping nozzle with which to try and scoop up individual strands of spaghetti! Much hilarity ensued, and the evening was off to a great start.


“Pasta is pasta, no matter the utensil…”

After dinner, with the spectacular Montmorency Falls as a backdrop, we hosted the Ship’s Concert –something we had all been planning in our free time for about a week. Green watch started the proceedings, and they presented everyone with an award – such as ‘Cutest Crew Member’ (which was obviously awarded to Milo, the best dog onboard). Red watch were up next, with a wonderful rendition of ‘We All Live in a Green Brigantine’, to the tune of Yellow Submarine. There were a few acts put on by the crew, most notably the story of Elly Phantine: the big, four-legged, grey creature that lives in the bilge and causes strange sounds at night. Elly (as represented by two crew members covered in a blanket) had learnt to do tricks, such as standing on only two legs, climbing up steps… and pouring water over an unsuspecting trainee!


The final full day of the voyage was brilliant in many ways. The evening’s meal and entertainment felt a bit like a big family dinner, as everyone had made friends and become comfortable onboard. The tour of Grosse Île is something I’ve reflected on recently. To spend a day exploring the surrounding area isn’t something that I’ve done much during sail training trips in the UK – most of the voyages I’ve been on are shorter, perhaps 6-day trips, and so there is less time for the non-sailing parts of the voyage. I think this represents part of the differing approaches to sail training – in the UK I’ve sailed with charities which focus more on working with disadvantaged young people, such as one trip I did with young people from a homeless charity.


In comparison, the Canadian approach was closer to that of a summer camp, with a heavy focus on learning how to sail and how to practise good seamanship. Both attitudes, however, have a focus on practising the other skills that can be learnt through sailing, which are probably the most important of all: teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, communication, and a can-do attitude that arises from pushing outside of your comfort zone and trying something new. As one of the trainees said as they helped themselves to a fourth bowl of spaghetti, “pasta is pasta, no matter the utensil”!


Crew of Fair Jeanne say farewell.

A huge thank you to everyone who has made my voyage possible – in particular, the James Myatt Trust and TallShipsCAN for funding my trip abroad, ASTO for organising everything for me (and especially Marcia who answered all my questions about visas and flights with reassurance and clarity).

I’m grateful to everyone at the Bytown Brigantine office for arranging for me to sail with you, and to everyone at OYT South who taught me how to sail and lead a watch.


Finally, I want to say thank you to the amazing captain and crew of Fair Jeanne for welcoming me aboard and quite literally showing me the ropes, as well as the wonderful trainees I sailed with, who didn’t mock my accent too much!



Check out Susanna’s full International Exchange Report to see more photos from the voyage.


To find out more information about ASTO’s exciting exchange scheme, take a look at our International Exchanges page here.


Discover more voyages with Bytown Brigantine Tall Ships Adventure.

Learn more about the work of TallShipsCAN.

All images courtesy of Susanna Paynter.