A voyage of a lifetime

YHS alum sailing around the world aboard Barque Picton Castle


Julian Garcia’s family and friends often say that he was born 200 years too late because he was meant to sail the seas. 

He grew up with a deep love of the ocean and a longing for adventure. He dreamed of being a pirate, the kind romanticized in cinema.

After graduating from Yelm High School in 2018, Garcia stumbled upon an advertisement on Instagram for the “sail training adventure of a lifetime” aboard the Barque Picton Castle, a three-masted sail training tall ship based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, that sailed around the world. The advertisement read that no sailing experience was required for the trip set to begin in April of 2020, and Garcia began envisioning his lifelong dream of sailing the seas coming true. Then, he looked at the price of the whole trip: $48,000.

“Maybe another time,” he thought.

Garcia, a welding student at Bates Technical College at the time, knew he wanted to apply for the expedition but needed to make money to afford at least one of the voyage’s three legs. He submitted his application and got accepted in December of 2019, so he began working as a welder, putting every cent he could toward the trip that was four months away.

“All of his friends were out there partying, buying new cars, going out to eat and going to concerts, and he was like, ‘Nope, I’m broke,’ ” Christa Garcia, Julian’s mother, said. “He stuck with saving his money because he had a goal.”

Julian Garcia knew the opportunity would be worth it and that his experience in welding would help him to work aboard the Barque Picton Castle, a 179-foot teaching vessel. After all, the year-long voyage was not a vacation; each crew member was expected to achieve an able-bodied seaman certification to work in the maritime industry. The ship accommodated 52 crew members and delivered services like medical and school supplies to numerous remote islands and villages around the world that are only accessible via boat.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread globally that spring, the voyage was postponed. Garcia kept working and saving money to afford as much of the trip as possible. Over the next two years, he saved $51,000 and was ready to sail around the world once it boarded in October of 2022.

The ship’s crew reworked the itinerary to adjust for the difference in trade winds and currents to leave in the fall versus the spring. The voyage was extended to 22 months and divided into five legs, thus raising the total price to $85,000. Garcia could no longer afford the entire voyage, but he was still excited for two legs of the trip.

In October, he traveled to Lunenburg to board the ship and said his final goodbyes to his parents and younger sister, Megan, before embarking on the trip. While inspecting the underside of the boat, however, the crew discovered that the winch that gets the ship back into the water was broken, forcing another six-month delay. After the repairs were made, Garcia finally set sail in May of 2023, more than three years after the original start date.

“It’s absolutely been everything I’ve dreamed of and definitely more,” Garcia said while ported in Reunion, one of the Mascarene Islands, more than 400 miles east of Madagascar. “But it’s also not as dramatic. Everything about sailing has kind of been romanticized a bit.”

He added that being aboard a ship with 51 people from around the world can be challenging, and while there is plenty of work to be done, like sail handling and rigging, he has a lot of time to think while in between ports. The crew often plays games — including Cards Against Humanity — reads books, tells stories about life back home and wonders what the cuisine at their next port will be like.

“There’s quite a bit to do on board, just as far as passing the time. My favorite activity is catching up on sleep,” Garcia said. “The work is extremely hard, but the most challenging part of it is being gone for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I love everyone to death, but at the same time, there are some times where I’m like, ‘Just let me have my alone time.’ ”

He communicates with his family every time he arrives at a new port. Depending on how close the islands are, communication gaps can amount to a week or even a month. While his family can track the ship’s journey online, the lack of communication can often be scary.

“For me, that’s the worst part. Even when he’s at port, he doesn’t always have service,” Christa Garcia said.

The time apart has made Julian Garcia and his sister realize how much they appreciate each other, even though they grew up with what they called a “love-hate relationship.”

“Our relationship is like, ‘I hate you, but if anything ever happens to you, or if somebody ever hurts you, they’re dead,’ ” Megan Garcia said. “I love you, but I’m not gonna say it. On this trip, this was the first time he had really been super heartfelt toward me and actually said ‘I love you’ and meant it. There’s been a lot of emotions that have come out. I told him, ‘I know I’ve given you a hard time your whole life, but you are my number one.’ I really miss him.”

Garcia admitted that he misses his family quite often, especially his mother’s cooking.

“Sometimes, I find myself listening to old voicemails that I have saved on my phone,” he said. “I have one from my dad when he was at work and he called to say he was thinking about me.”

Garcia has visited places like the Panama Canal; San Cristóbal, Galápagos Islands; Pitcairn Islands; Papeete, Tahiti; Tonga, Fiji; Vanuatu, an island in the South Pacific; and Bali, Indonesia. His favorite so far has been the Pitcairn Islands because of the history behind it, and he said he enjoyed partying with the locals there.

Thanks to a GoFundMe page and a scholarship, Garcia will complete all three legs of the voyage and return home this July. He will continue to Cape Town in South Africa; Luderitz in Namibia, Saint Helena, an island in the South Atlantic; a variety of Caribbean islands; the British Virgin Islands; and Bermuda before he returns to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, in July after circumnavigating the globe via sailboat. The GoFundMe page, http://tinyurl.com/5d4faur4, is still open to help Garcia have money for supplies and food for the final five months of the journey.

Despite the challenges of the long trek across the world, Garcia said the voyage aboard the Barque Picton Castle is still rewarding. He noted that it is “good for the mind and for the soul” and is indeed the adventure of a lifetime, as the Instagram advertisement promised.

“If my childhood self could see me right now, he’d think it’s the coolest thing ever. He would think that I’ve made it,” he said. “When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a pirate, and now here I am essentially being a pirate.”

When he finally returns home to Yelm this summer, Garcia said he will “sleep for a solid week.” But he anticipates looking for work in the welding field after he relaxes with his family, whom he hasn’t seen in over a year. For now, he hopes to continue adding memories to his dream voyage around the world, building his repertoire and knowledge of seamanship and welding, and making his family and younger self proud.

To learn more about the Barque Picton Castle and to follow its journey, visit https://picton-castle.com/.