HMCS Oriole Change of Command

Capt(N) Jeff Hamiliton, Commander 5th Maritime Operations Group, presides over a Change of Command ceremony on April 16, as LCdr Drew Foran (right) takes over HMCS Oriole from LCdr Mike Wills (left). Photo: CPL J.W.S. HOUCK, FIS

New CO will sail HMCS Oriole to 2018 Great Lakes Deployment

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

The Royal Canadian Navy’s oldest commissioned vessel, the tall ship HMCS Oriole, had an exceptionally busy and successful program through 2017. Under the command of LCdr Mike Wills, Oriole made the marathon 16,000 kilometre sail from Esquimalt to Halifax, including stops at 10 different Canadian cities as part of the Rendez-vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta.

Through that period, the ship cycled through more than 300 crewmembers, took 400 sea cadets and hundreds of other visitors for day sails, and while alongside, routinely welcomed more than 1,000 visitors on board each day. While transiting between ports, sailors dealt with 60 knot winds, 4-6 metre waves, multiple ripped sails and a host of other technical difficulties.

Yet through it all, the six-month program was carried out without any major setbacks, no shortages of supplies, and no injuries worse than a sprained ankle.

“This is a result of the senior members of the crew, who overcame everything that was sent their way, and for that I’ll be forever grateful,” said LCdr Wills, who handed over command of the ship to incoming CO LCdr Drew Foran at a ceremony in the Juno Tower Bridge on April 16.

Oriole is currently undergoing a major refit at the Lunenburg shipyard, including a full revamp of wiring and electrical systems and removal and refinishing of both masts, to prepare the ship for the summer and beyond. Earlier work was also completed on the West Coast by SNC-Lavalin, to bring the ship up to standards that were needed to carry out the extended sail to Halifax. It wasn’t long ago that the ship’s sailing future was in question, but after multiple inspections and risk assessments, RCN leadership committed the resources to ensure Oriole, which was launched in 1921 and commissioned in 1952, will continue to sail for the foreseeable future.

“A lot of tough decisions were made prior to the Tall Ships Regatta in 2017, and I won’t forget the confidence that was placed in me and the ship,” said LCdr Wills, who will now return to Esquimalt to take command of the Naval Security Team.

As for the incoming CO, LCdr Foran grew up in a military family, has been sailing on tall ships since he was 14 years old, and said he’s thrilled that his career path has led him to take the reins of Oriole as his first command.

“This is truly my dream job and I intend to give it my all,” he added.

Next up for the nearly 100-year-old ship, following the completion of refit work, will be the 2018 Great Lakes Deployment, where LCdr Foran and his new crew will use Oriole as an outreach tool to introduce Canadians to a piece of RCN history while showcasing the skill and professionalism of those who sail in it.

“It presents to Canadians the capabilities and competencies of the RCN at a very different level, and a level that a lot of Canadians can relate to more easily than with our large modern ships,” said Capt(N) Jeff Hamilton, CO of 5th Maritime Operations Group, who presided over the change of command ceremony.

“It also instills teamwork, discipline and core mariner competencies that are hard to get in today’s world. Oriole helps us step back in time a bit, and reinforce the fact that the ocean environment hasn’t changed – it remains harsh and unforgiving.”

LCdr Foran thanked his chain of command, including Capt(N) Hamilton, for allowing him the opportunity to lead the ship through its Great Lakes program, as well as LCdr Wills, for watching over Oriole up to this point. With his new crew and soon a newly-refurbished ship to sail in, he expressed confidence that the successes Oriole saw in 2017 will continue through any future programs.

“We have some big shoes to fill, but in the short time since we’ve met, the crew has already shown me their eagerness to learn and their drive. We have quite the adventure ahead of us,” he said.