By Lokwing Wong
For a week in mid-March, two cadets from Campbell River’s sea cadet corp travelled down to Victoria and spent five days onboard a tall ship (a traditionally rigged sailing vessel).
For those five days, Ethan Jewell and I learned how to steer the ship, do basic navigation, tie specific knots, and adapt to life on the ship.
We travelled down to Victoria on a Sunday, and we spent the night at the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt. The next morning, we packed up and boarded the Pacific Grace and the Pacific Swift. Both Ethan and I were on the Pacific Swift, and as soon as we boarded, we met the crew, went over safety, and were put into watches, which are groups that take turn sailing the ship, cleaning, and have meals together.
There was a lot to get used to on the Swift. Instead of regular flushing toilets, we had to pump our toilets to flush them and anytime someone wanted water from the sink, they’d have to pump for it too. There were no showers or Wi-Fi either. The sleeping quarters were below decks, and they were cramped, with three tiered bunks arranged in a staircase style. The quarters also doubled as dining rooms and class rooms.
The first few days were fairly uneventful, with classes, watch, and meals. In the evenings, after supper, we would anchor with the Pacific Grace to play games, sing along to guitars played by the ship’s crew, and have mug up, which consisted of a hot drink and dessert. Then there was night watch, which was keeping watch over the anchor for an hour with another person. Everyone took turns doing this, and it was a good time to get to know other people better.
The third day was perhaps the most interesting day. In the morning, people from the Grace and the Swift were together, and we got to jump into the ocean. Although there were no showers, most people referred to this experience as refreshing and invigorating. In the afternoon, we learned how to launch the dories (these are the ships rowboats used to get to land) and we rowed them to Russell Island, an island settled by Hawaiians who thought it reminded them of home. Russell Island had beautiful beaches and a historic homestead.
The fourth and fifth days were the “goodbye” days where everyone was starting to say goodbye. We sailed back to Victoria Harbour, and on the way, we saw a US naval submarine. We were all excited but we weren’t allowed to get that close.
Friday evening was full of tearful goodbyes – spending five days in close quarters with 20 other people made for close bonds. We left on different times on Saturday, sad to go and leave our new (and some old) friends.
The tall ship deployment is only one of the many unique experiences offered by the sea cadet program. As well as giving the opportunity for cadets to travel and spend time on different vessels, the program teaches youth leadership and teamwork skills, discipline, and confidence. Perhaps the most valuable thing offered by the program, however, is the opportunity to meet youth with similar and different interests from all across Canada.