Experience of a lifetime

Group shot Summerside
The crew of HMCS Summerside proudly indicates the ship’s location at the Golden Cross, where the equator crosses the Prime Meridian. Photo Credit: submitted

West African deployment experience of a lifetime for RCN sailor

By SLt Patrick Brouwer,
Deck Officer, HMCS Summerside

I joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) because I wanted to go places I wouldn’t normally go and see places that many Canadians don’t normally get to see. So, when the opportunity to sail to West Africa on NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-01 came up, I jumped at the chance. The chance to cross the Atlantic, work with partners and allies and conduct community outreach throughout the region was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. It has been a rewarding experience both personally and professionally.

Professionally, the deployment was unique for many reasons. This was one of the first times that RCN ships have spent time alongside in four Western African nations along the Gulf of Guinea. The deployment was also one of the first times that RCN ships have crossed the equator at the prime meridian and one of the few times that Kingston class ships have crossed the Atlantic. On a personal note, this trip was significant because also I was no longer under training. I was excited to put all that I had learned during my training to use in foreign waters. All of these factors, plus a great crew, made this a deployment I will never forget.

I studied astronomy in university and it came in handy to me as a MARS Officer. During my studies I learned that celestial bodies behaved differently the closer you get to the equator. It was rewarding to finally see in real life what I had been taught. Things like the seeing the moon on its side, the short duration of twilight, the relative movement of stars in the sky and to see constellations only visible in the southern hemisphere was a rewarding experience for me.

The deployment also took me places I never thought I would see. I have always wanted to go to Africa, but I never thought that the opportunity would present itself. As part of HMCS Summerside, I was fortunate enough to visit Dakar, Senegal, Freetown, Sierra Leone and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

The port visits in Africa were particularly rewarding as we were able to help out at orphanages and expand relationships in the region. I have always felt the Canadian Armed Forces should go abroad to help others in any way possible and this deployment had some of those elements incorporated into it. The people of West Africa were very friendly and receptive.

Finally, I never thought that I would be going to one of the rarest places a warship has gone — The Golden Cross, where the equator crosses the Prime Meridian. According to a CAF Heritage officer, Summerside and Moncton were the first recorded RCN warships to do that and I am proud that I was a member of the crew for the sail so that I can now call myself a Royal Diamond Shellback.