Ottawa back in the water

sailors smile as ship leaves harbour

Crew members from HMCS OTTAWA, Able Seaman Marotte (left), Ordinary Seaman Moore (center), and Ordinary Seaman Thompson (right) prepare to hoist flags on the ship’s Flag Deck during preparations to depart Esquimalt Harbour for the first time following the frigate’s Halifax Class Modernization Project refit.

SLt Michael Donder, HMCS Ottawa – Last month, HMCS Ottawa achieved another significant milestone by breaking free of Esquimalt harbour, and setting sail after 25 months alongside undergoing its Halifax-class Modernization / Frigate Life Extension upgrade.

The ship has gone through an extensive refit program placing it amongst the most capable modern warships in the world.

The ship came out of dry dock May 15, 2015, and in the months that followed, the crew worked tirelessly towards getting it back to sea.

From the onset, and having only cleared Scroggs Rocks, the team was put to the test.

In the ship’s first week back at sea, the crew enlisted the help of Sea Training Pacific to facilitate the Restricted Readiness Inspections (RRIs), and certify the ship and crew safe at sea.

Sea Training staff tested and strengthened the crew’s teamwork, fighting spirit and resolve.

As OS Halliwell, Hull Technician, put it, “We do all the training alongside, going to Damage Control School, but the best learning experience is to do it at sea on a ship.”

The ship’s company pulled through five long days of multiple and daily emergencies, and damage control exercises testing the various organizations, and learning to work as a team in the process.  The crew also learned the value of building trust, which is a vital part of being an effective fighting force.

Following RRIs, Ottawa and crew took the Sea Acceptance Trials (SATs) head on, where all the ship’s mechanical and combat systems are put through their paces to ensure their functionality and operation within the desired parameters. The purpose of these trials is to make sure that all of Ottawa’s sensors and systems are optimized for peak performance, much the way an Olympic athlete fine tunes his or her skills and techniques for the fateful day when they will need to be put to the ultimate test.

The biggest part of that fine tuning process is the acclimatization of sailors from an alongside routine to an at-sea routine. OS Murphy, a Marine Engineering Mechanic, recalled how being alongside always had a sense of unpredictability, but being at sea means he does not have to worry about unexpected taskings, and he can fall into a comfortable routine.

Ottawa and crew visited the Emerald City on Jan. 22 – their first port visit after refit. The crew were given their first opportunity for rest and relaxation after two weeks at sea.

OS Wickman, a Naval Communicator onboard, summarized the sentiment of most on the ship’s crew by saying, “RRIs really cemented my knowledge of emergency procedures at sea and I enjoyed the sundaes on Sunday, but there’s nothing like coming alongside in Seattle as a welcomed break.”

For some members of the ship’s company this was their first opportunity to go to sea and their first foreign port visit. Nineteen people in total gained their sea legs onboard Ottawa, and this was recognized in the hands-fall-in ceremony on the flight deck alongside in Seattle, where certificates were presented to acknowledge their first experience at sea. Among those members was OS Gallant, also a Hull Technician, who took the opportunity to get the most of out of Seattle. Having been on duty on Friday, he wasted no time going down early Saturday morning to the Pike Place market to see the world famous fish tossing, enjoy a fresh cup of coffee from the world’s first Starbucks, and finishing his day with a trip to the EMP museum.

All in all, the port visit was a very rewarding experience for the ship’s company who have worked extremely hard, ensuring successful preparations and transition to the great business of going to sea, and no longer being tied alongside and constrained within the limits of Esquimalt Harbour.

When asked to provide a comment, Ottawa’s Captain, Commander Belair said, “I’m extremely proud of my team’s accomplishments, professionalism, dedication and hard work.”

He added, “Transitioning from alongside to proceeding to sea is no small task; it’s an enormous undertaking, and this team rose to the challenge.” He also acknowledged, “All those organizations ashore that have, and continue to support Ottawa – we couldn’t have done it alone. Thank you for your continued support and assistance.”

Ottawa and crew will continue the SATs program until their return alongside in early April when they come back for a short work period, but hopefully not before another opportunity to visit another foreign port.

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