Unforgettable experience with CLaS program

Participants onboard HMCS Charlottetown during the Canadian Leaders at Sea program on November 14, along with the ship’s CO, Cdr Nancy Setchell.

My unforgettable experience with the CLaS program

By Himaly Fernando,
MARLANT PA Co-op Student

It’s not every day that a civilian university student gets a chance to live and sleep aboard one of Canada’s major warships. Yet, that’s exactly what happened to me during the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) Canadian Leaders at Sea (CLaS) Program.

I have zero experience with life at sea, aside from the rare occasion when someone has coaxed me into a canoe. I had no idea what to expect in a ship, let alone a Halifax-class warship. On November 14, 14 CLaS participants (and two co-op students) climbed aboard HMCS Charlottetown for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience life at sea with RCN sailors. All of whom were very helpful and proud to showcase their work.

The CLaS program is designed to engage influential Canadians from various backgrounds and provide them the chance to experience the RCN firsthand. The program runs various times throughout the year and on all three coasts. The two-day trip consisted of navigation, seamanship, weapons and mechanical briefings, tours of the entire ship, and hands-on participation in many exercises and drills. This was a physically demanding, action-packed adventure and I did my best not to wobble around the ship and fall down any open hatches.

Participants in the program had different levels of previous experience with the RCN. The program was able to shine a new light on how sailors live and what they do, so we could have a deeper understanding of their mission and their service to Canada.

“I’ve been working with the Navy for years, I’ve edited a journal about maritime security, written books, and been to conferences and workshops, but that theoretical/academic stuff only takes you so far,” said Dr. Ann Griffiths from the Department of Political Science at Dalhousie University, who was one of the participants in the CLaS program.

“This was a chance to learn what it’s like to go to sea, and the fact that it was cold and rough was a bonus.”

Our glimpse into what life entails for a sailor was a whirlwind ride. The ship itself was very impressive. We were taken to various areas and shown the different roles of sailors and functions of equipment. There were some exciting exercises we participated in as well. From helicopter fly-bys, machine gun firing and being suited up in firefighting gear for demos, we got a glimpse of the many things that need to happen to form a fully functioning naval warship. I left with so much appreciation for what our sailors do.  After everything we did that day, I was exhausted.

The CLaS program is just one of the great ways Canadians can to get to know their navy, and learn how their efforts support Canada at home and abroad.

“It was a pleasure to host an extraordinary group of professionals onboard HMCS Charlottetown. Programs like CLaS help to strengthen the relationship between Canadians and their Navy. Living among our sailors, who are our biggest ambassadors, gives participants a perspective of what life is like at sea, especially when the seas are rough. Once they return home, they can take that message back to Canadians,” said Cdr Nancy Setchell, Commanding Officer of HMCS Charlottetown.

The chance to live as a sailor at sea gave me a crash course on the RCN. I’m now leaving my co-op term with a deeper understanding, a greater appreciation and some hands-on sailor experience. But this was more than just an experience for me. As a Canadian, I am more aware of how lucky we are to have these brave women and men serving and representing our country. From now on, when I gaze upon the Halifax Harbour it will be a completely different view for me, and somehow it’s even better.