HMCS Oriole, sailing like our forefathers

HMCS Oriole rough seas

HMCS Oriole braves the choppy waves of the Strait of Georgia on the way back to the home waters of CFB Esquimalt.

A hand-picked crew recently returned from three weeks sailing the tall ship HMCS Oriole in the open ocean, with their compass set for San Francisco, and then back to Esquimalt.

The journey was conceived by the Fleet as an opportunity for the temporary crew to get true seafaring experience in the 92-year-old sailing ketch.

“They were chosen just before we left,” says LCdr Jeff Kibble, Oriole’s skipper. “We took applications from across the Fleet for people who were most deserving of the opportunity to sail on Oriole for three weeks. We lucked out and got a really great group of people.”

San Francisco’s port resides 610 nautical miles away from Oriole’s home waters.

“It’s the first time I’ve taken Oriole that far,” says LCdr Kibble. “In a way it was just as great an opportunity for me as it was for them.”

During the trip, the crew got a salty taste of the ocean with cresting waves up to 20 feet high with 35 knot winds. This left many holding a bucket or doubled over the edge. However, LCdr Kibble says for the most part the crew stepped it up, followed instructions, and sailed like pros.

“The boat itself was never in any danger, but a lot of the crew were not used to those kinds of conditions,” he says. “We had army guys who had never sailed a day in their life. Considering that, they sailed like real salt dogs.”

During their five days in San Francisco, the crew was honoured with a visit from Cassie Doyle, the Canadian Consul General for Northern California and Hawaii.

“She was very interested in the ship,” says LCdr Kibble. “It was a great experience to get to show her around. We were able to take her and some of her staff out on the water.”

On the way back, LCdr Kibble and crew received reports of a storm headed for the West Coast. Eager to avoid 30 foot waves and 55 knot winds, the skipper was faced with a decision.

“We could have headed into port and waited for the storm to pass, but we decided to trim our sails, dig in, and race the thing home,” LCdr Kibble says. “It was a tense and honestly exciting end to the voyage. Luckily we made it to port the day before the storm hit. It was a relief.”

Once in a lifetime trips such as this are a chance for Canadian Armed Forces personnel to get some sail time in, but LCdr Kibble says it’s about much more. While they learn the basics of trimming sails, sail configuration, navigation and other nautical skills, they’re really learning about themselves.

“The phrase ‘we’re all in the same boat’ is rarely as true as is it on Oriole,” he says. “When you’re stuck with the same people on 100 feet of boat for seven days straight you learn a lot about teamwork, togetherness, and how you feel about yourself. What I’ve learned is the sea teaches you who you really are.”

-Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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