HMCS Oriole charts the way back to cadet sailing opportunities in 2022

HMCS Oriole with a crew of cadets sails past Toronto’s CN Tower in 2018.

HMCS Oriole with a crew of cadets sails past Toronto’s CN Tower in 2018.


Royal Canadian Sea Cadets will once again crew aboard the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) sail training vessel HMCS Oriole in the summer of 2022.

Crewing the 31-metre sailing ketch isn’t new for the Cadet organization, a program for youth aged 12 to 18 years. In the summers of 2018 and 2019, Oriole hosted Sea Cadets to live aboard and crew the ship, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.

“The pandemic halted our Cadet training program,” says Lieutenant Commander (LCdr) Robert Pelton, Commanding Officer of HMCS Oriole. “However, we are starting to look to the future again, and hope to be able to host Sea Cadets once again, beginning in summer 2022.”

Sailing aboard Oriole, which turned 100 years old in June 2021, was a long-held dream for Lieutenant(Navy) Mark Phillips, Commanding Officer of Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Chaudiere, out of Milton, ON.

“Over 20 years ago, I added sailing aboard HMCS Oriole to my bucket list, knowing full well it was highly unlikely to ever happen. The main reasons were that Oriole was permanently located on the West Coast and I was a Sea Cadet Instructor living in the Greater Toronto Area with just a dream.”

In July of 2018 all that changed when he sailed aboard the sail training vessel for two weeks as the Sea Cadet Escort Officer, along with 10 Sea Cadets and two staff cadets.

“That year it was announced that Oriole would remain on the East Coast, and it began hosting Sea Cadets from across Canada as it sailed from May to October, travelling from Halifax to Lake Erie and back.”

With the tall ship receiving a refit the year before, it was in pristine condition.

“The experience for myself and the Sea Cadets was awesome; truly a once-in-a-lifetime event. There were some great opportunities for teamwork, learning, and new friendships, as we lived and worked together as part of the crew.”

Lt(N) Phillips says the Regular Force Navy crew were gracious hosts and while under way the Cadets were assigned to different watches, working side by side with Oriole’s fulltime staff. Its Commanding Officer had many years of experience sailing tall ships, so they were all in good hands.

For most of the voyage the ship operated on a 24-hour watch schedule, so even during the night the Cadets would each take turns on duty and then afterwards at the helm of the ship for an hour each, while under power. In the daytime, the ship’s giant sails were hoisted by the entire ship’s company, including Cadets.

“It was a glorious sight,” says Lt(N) Phillips. “Oriole’s tallest mast is just over 28 metres, so the sails are huge. The most impressive sail is the famous red, white, and blue spinnaker, with the giant image of a Baltimore Oriole on it.”

The Cadets logged many nautical miles on Lake Ontario, travelling from Hamilton across to Port Dalhousie and over to Kingston and back.

While under way they slept aboard in close quarters and, to be expected, the racks and personal space were sparse. The two nights spent tied up in port, the Cadets slept on the ship’s wooden deck under the stars in their sleeping bags.

Short of the motor and the navigational equipment, the operation of Oriole is all by hand.

“After we dropped anchor, it took the entire crew including the Cadets, a full 20 minutes to hoist the anchor back on board the ship with a hand crank.”

“I would highly recommend this experience to anybody who gets a chance next summer, when Sea Cadets are once again welcomed aboard Oriole,” says Lt(N) Phillips.

The Sea Cadet program is open to youth between the ages of 12 and 18. There are nearly 8,000 Sea Cadets active in 230 communities across Canada.


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