Cruising Toronto on the good ship Playfair

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Toronto is a beautiful city, and there’s no time like mid-summer to see it at its best. This week, I got to see the city from a rare and spectacular perspective — aboard the ship Playfair, a brigantine that plies the Great Lakes teaching kids how to be sailors. It was part Pirates of the Caribbean, part photo try-out, and totally spectacular.

The Playfair isn’t a big ship, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in atmosphere. Built by an Ontario shipbuilder, it’s replete with all the wood, rope and canvas you’d expect on a 19th-century sailing ship. And since the evening was put on by Sony Canada to show off its cameras and lenses, there were a couple of models in pirate drag to complete the scene. (That explains the photo at the top of this post.)

There was lots to enjoy, but on one of the longest days of the summer, just looking back at the Toronto skyline in the sweet evening light was enough to make the trip worthwhile.

Toronto skyline

Playfair view

However, the Playfair crew added some visual excitement, raising the sails the way they used to back in the pirate days. I’ve been on sailing ships before, but watching the canvas unfurl as the crew members — in this case mostly female ones — put all their weight against the ropes is still a treat.

Playfair crew raising sails

To be honest, raising the sails was more for show than for speed on this night; the wind that had blown all afternoon went mute just as we cast off, and hardly a puff was felt all evening. But there was still fun to be had, like climbing the shrouds to take photos from the crow’s nest. My colleague Maarten Heilbron, of the Heilbron website and youtube channel, was one of the brave volunteers who made the ascent.

Maarten Heilbron on Playfair

For me, there’s always lots to photograph on a sailing ship: the brass fittings, the coils of rope hanging from wooden racks, the seascape framed by the rigging … it’s a dream for a photographer who loves books and movies about the days of sail.

Playfair ropes

sailboat from ship

And of course there were the cameras. The photos in this post were taken with Sony’s high-end a7R II camera. The tones have been gently adjusted, but no sharpening has been applied (click on the photos to see them full-sized). I also tried out the new FE 85-millimetre f1.4 G Master portrait lens, which did a lovely job one of the pirate girl models.

Playfair blonde model

All too soon the good ship Playfair cruised back to port — under engine power — passing tourist boats still heading out onto the lake. At this time of year, the days seem endless here in the Great White North, so why not use every minute? Winter will be here soon enough.

Playfair pano shot

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

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