A different kind of spring break for naval reservists

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Navy News / April 3, 2017

By Leading Seaman Darcy Boucher

While many choose to spend their spring breaks in tropical climates and sunshine states, a group of naval reservists from across Canada opted to set sail instead.

From February 25 to March 12, 2017, 134 sailors from 21 Naval Reserve Divisions (NRDs) spent either one or two weeks aboard Orca-class vessels Wolf 59 or Grizzly 60. The Orca sail was divided into two one-week installments throughout the Gulf Islands of British Columbia and took the reservists to the ports of Patricia Bay, Ganges, Gibson’s Landing, Vancouver, Nanaimo and Bedwell Harbour before returning to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.

Over the course of the week, these citizen sailors had ample opportunity to practise their seamanship skills, which is exactly what these training vessels are designed for. From heaving lines and practising (many) man overboard drills, to damage control fire exercises and coming alongside each evening, every trade represented was able to test current skills and learn new ones.

The cooks learned how to run a ship’s galley, cook at sea and effectively manage their time. Coming from land-locked NRDs, this presented obvious new challenges. Meal preparation now has to take sea states and training into consideration, which stresses the importance of liaising with senior leadership. You don’t want to leave chopping the onions until the ship is making sharp turns during man overboard drills or officer-of-the-watch maneuvers.

Logistic trades had the opportunity to coordinate pay paperwork, accommodations ashore and transportation, with the added challenge of being at sea with limited computer connection and cell service. The crew was a healthy mix of both non-commissioned members and officers, with leadership opportunities for both.

In Lieutenant (Navy) Louis-Philippe Trudel’s opening brief as Officer in Command of Wolf 59, he outlined his three priorities for the first week’s sail: safety, training and fun. It is spring break after all, and the sail perfectly reflected those priorities.

Although the work was hard and the hours were long, jokes were made, laughs were had and memories formed. In Lt(N) Trudel’s words, “I think it’s absolutely fantastic that these sailors decided to spend their spring break at sea refreshing and bettering their skills. These ships are the perfect platform for learning, and the Gulf Islands provide a beautiful backdrop for that training.”

The benefit of sailing around the Gulf Islands (other than the breathtaking scenery, which is a luxury for many of the reservists from other parts of Canada) was the beauty of nature. Between the whale and dolphin sightings, and the plethora of bird species at sea, it felt like an episode of Planet Earth (Planet Canada maybe?). 

Although the sailors may not have returned with the tans their sun-seeking colleagues and peers did, they came back with new skill sets, friends and memories that they might actually remember.