Oriole sets sail for Canada 150 Celebrations

The crew of HMCS Oriole participated in a Pre-Deployment Ceremony at Ship Point in Victoria’s Inner Harbour on March 10. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

The crew of HMCS Oriole participated in a Pre-Deployment Ceremony at Ship Point in Victoria’s Inner Harbour on March 10. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

An enthusiastic 20-person crew of tall ship HMCS Oriole has begun their historic voyage, setting sail for Canada 150 celebrations on the East Coast later this summer.

The navy’s 31-metre ambassadorial sailing ketch departed Esquimalt Harbour March 16, the beginning of a journey southward down the Pacific Coast, through the Panama Canal and on to Charlottetown, PEI.

The ambitious voyage is not only a chance to take part in the celebration of confederation and nationhood, but also Oriole’s first voyage to Canada’s East Coast in over 30 years. If all goes according to plan, Oriole will take 14 weeks to complete the voyage and cover 10,000 nautical miles (16,000 kilometres) says the vessel’s Commanding Officer, LCdr Mike Wills.

“I have been an avid sailor for most of my life, so I’m extremely excited to be taking part in Oriole’s journey on the high seas. The most exciting parts of this deployment will be taking part in Canada’s 150 celebrations and also the tall ships festival.”

Six days prior to their departure, the crew, senior Royal Canadian Navy leadership, representatives from local First Nations communities, and family and friends gathered for a Pre-Deployment Ceremony on March 10 at Victoria Harbour’s Ship Point. Elder Maryanne Thomas and Elder Elmer George of the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations offered a blessing and song ahead of the journey.

The two Elders were then presented gifts of appreciation from LCdr Wills and Capt(N) James Clarke of Canadian Fleet Pacific. In naval tradition, Capt(N) Clarke wished the crew “fair winds and following seas”  while at the same time saying he was envious of the crew.

“I am a wee bit jealous right now, so if you ever decide that you need an extra hand for the deployment, I get first dibs,” he joked.

After welcoming his guests aboard for a tour, LCdr Wills noted the most challenging part of the deployment will be the first 565 nautical miles between Esquimalt and Eureka, California, as the Pacific Northwest coastline is infamous for its strong winds, currents, and large swells of up to five metres. He says bringing the vessel into the 21st century by installing wireless Internet connection, new generators and improved refrigeration, along with stocking proper supplies and provisions have been critical pre-deployment efforts.

“The crew, which includes a mixture of experienced and inexperienced sailors has worked very hard for this deployment and are very excited,” he said. “The deployment itself will be a great way to build both teamwork and valuable skills in seamanship.”

LS Mark Watkins was joined on Oriole’s deck by his wife Jessie and one-year-old son Jack, who held up a Canada 150 flag.

“It’s difficult to be away from the family for so long; at the same time I am very excited to be part of this deployment because it’s the type of opportunity that only comes along once in a sailor’s career, if they’re lucky,” said LS Watkins.

After Rendezvous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta, Oriole is scheduled for a maintenance refit in Halifax before completing the shorter 7,000 nautical-mile homeward leg of its journey in April 2018.

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