Summer in HMCS Oriole

Sailors from HMCS Oriole stand on the deck as the ship comes alongside in Saint John, NB on August 18, the last of the stops for Oriole’s Tall Ships tour.
Photo: HMCS Oriole

Summer in HMCS Oriole helped young sailors get sea legs

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

NCdt Josh Partridge is only at the beginning of his naval career, preparing to enter his fourth year at RMC, but it’s already given him a once-in-a-lifetime experience that he says he’ll remember forever.

He was one of 12 deckhands making up the crew of HMCS Oriole through the final leg of its epic 16,000 kilometre journey from Esquimalt to the East Coast to take part in the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta. The ship was in Halifax for that festival in early August, then departed for a final series of port visits that included Shelburne, Lunenburg, St. Peter’s, and Saint John, NB.

NCdt Partridge joined the ship after the last crew swap in Charlottetown following the Canada Day weekend, and has been at sea with the RCN’s oldest in-service ship steadily since then. He also spent time in HMCS Montreal earlier in the summer, but said crewing Oriole has been the highlight of his young career, and described the last months as an intimate and challenging, but ultimately rewarding, experience.

“It helps us junior guys get our sea legs before we head out onto the fighting platforms, to get acclimatized to this type of environment. You play a bigger role with more responsibility that you would as a junior officer on a larger ship,” he said, adding that from the first day sailing out of Charlottetown, in the straits between the Island and the mainland, the crew learned how the ketch handles in rough weather. It helped form quick bonds, and the camaraderie among the 20-man crew has grown further since then.

“I’ve been really impressed with everyone on board and we worked together through some rough moments. It’s a very different platform, that’s for sure. It bounces you around a lot in the waves and it can be a pretty thrilling experience. If you don’t get seasick on this ship, you’ll never get seasick.”

For Oriole’s usual annual engagements on the West Coast, the focus for the ship is on community outreach rather than training, but that doesn’t make the sea time any less valuable, and those who sailed in Oriole through the long trip this year no doubt built up some sailing chops, said LCdr Mike Wills, the ship’s Commanding Officer.

“Any investment in basic seamanship and teamwork and leadership training is not lost, and it’s not class specific either. There were a lot of challenges and a lot of learning on this trip.”

The RCN is also hoping to use its two non-commissioned training vessels, STV Tuna and STV Goldcrest, now both on the west coast, as more consistent learning platforms for RMC cadets in the summer or junior sailors awaiting training. As for Oriole, its entire crew was flown back to the West Coast at the end of August, but will be back for another short period in late September to sail to the ship to a still-to-be-determined local shipyard for refit work. All the electrical and wiring will be redone, and both masts will be removed and refurbished, along with bulkhead maintenance and a fresh coat of paint.

“It’s going to be looking pretty special when they’re all finished,” LCdr Wills said.

The command team and a new crew of sailors is scheduled to return in the spring to sail to next year’s Great Lakes Deployment, before making the shorter, but still impressive, 7,000km trip back to Esquimalt.