Sailor Spotlight: HMCS Max Bernays Boatswain S1 Anna Cocquyt

S1 Cocquyt at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone

Sailor Spotlight: HMCS Max Bernays Boatswain S1 Anna Cocquyt

By Lt(N) Anastasiya Karakoy,
HMCS Max Bernays

From the outside looking in, service in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) may appear highly regimented, with little room for creativity. 

S1 Cocquyt stands next to the ship’s bell of HMCS Max Bernays, which proudly bears the bell rope she created.

However, the uniformity of military life often eases to allow for the creation of some truly remarkable artwork in support of naval tradition, which in turn forms a piece integral to the identity of the RCN. 

A streak of artistic creativity recently appeared on board HMCS Max Bernays through the artwork of crewmember Sailor First Class (S1) Anna Cocquyt. S1 Cocquyt is currently a Boatswain onboard HMCS Max Bernays, Canada’s newest Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS). The ship needed a decorative rope created for its ceremonial bell, and S1 Cocquyt jumped at the opportunity. 

“Something that surprised me when I joined the Navy was how much the military celebrates the arts,” she said, commenting that the CAF encourages members to create and submit artwork to be displayed and celebrated. This includes things like morale patches, 57mm Gun art, hammerhead war paint, and decorative rope work for ceremonial bell ropes and paddles. 

A London, Ontario local, S1 Cocquyt joined the RCN in 2016 at HMCS Prevost to challenge herself by getting out of her comfort zone and seeking new experiences. The past seven years have taken S1 Cocquyt far beyond the borders of North America. With two major international exercises, two medals and three deployments under her belt, S1 Cocquyt has had some remarkable experiences while working in the RCN. 

In one experience, S1 Cocquyt recalls being surrounded by countless bioluminescent sea creatures at night in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, undisturbed by light pollution. She also describes the impact of visiting L’Empire des Enfants in Dakar, Senegal, a children’s organization which provides accommodation, meals, clothing, medication, and life skills to children in need.  From experience to experience, S1 Cocquyt describes the adventures her career in the RCN have taken her on with great pride and excitement. 

“I thought joining the Navy was an opportunity to experience things that ordinary jobs can’t provide, and boy was I right,” S1 Cocquyt says. “Seven years later, I have made a million memories and have achieved more than I ever believed of myself at the beginning of this journey.” 

The playground at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone that S1 Cocquyt helped create.

Another among S1 Cocquyt’s many remarkable adventures in the RCN involved working at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone, with great admiration for the conservation efforts made by the volunteers there. As a boatswain by trade, S1 Cocquyt is highly skilled in rope work, which she used at the sanctuary to help create a play area for the chimpanzees. 

“The entire time we were working on the grounds they just watched us work and got more and more excited.” S1 Cocquyt said. “Once we were finished, one of them ran up to the fence and waved to us as if to say ‘thank you!’” 

She also employed her outstanding rope work skills when working on the bell rope of HMCS Max Bernays. Dedicating many hours and resources to the project, S1 Cocquyt created a beautiful decorative rope to adorn the ship’s ceremonial bell, which now proudly hangs at the ship’s entrance for everyone coming on board to admire. The rope is complete with a decorative ship’s wheel. It pays homage to the history of HMCS Max Bernays’ namesake, Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Max Bernays, who was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) for his bravery during a ship fire during The Battle of the Atlantic. 

In recognition of her hard work, S1 Cocquyt received the Commanding Officer’s coin, an award given to military personnel for exceptional service. In the future, S1 Cocquyt hopes to teach career courses to pass along her skills and experience to the next generation of RCN boatswains. 

“The military does offer a multitude of options in terms of course development, so the sky’s the limit for the possibility of expanding my knowledge and aspirations in the future,” she says.