I remember very distinctively being 7 years old and put in a small Optimist dinghy. You get pushed off the dock and you don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’re, kind of, pulling on the sheet and all of a sudden you start moving and you’re having the time of your life. And to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t really change regardless of how old you are, because you’re still sailing on the wind and having fun.
I still remember sitting in my office and the phone rings and it’s my boss and they say: “We want you to go represent the Canadian Armed Forces in ‘Canada 150’ and sail 14,000 miles, and go visit a place where the Oriole hasn’t been since 1984.”
My name is Lieutenant-Commander Michael Wills. I’m the Commanding Officer of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Oriole, the oldest and longest serving ship in the Royal Canadian Navy. Oriole has really only done three really big offshore trips before. It’s essentially like winning the lottery, because so few people have had this opportunity. What I would say I like most about the ship really is, is that this was designed and built very well. You don’t make it to 96 years young without a lot of good craftsmanship and a lot of good design.
There were certainly some times where I was a little bit nervous about the material state of the boat when we were pushing it pretty hard. I have always said that my key determiner of success is going to be making sure that the boat stays in good shape for the long-term.
The most challenging part of the trip was definitely sitting off the Oregon coast in 50 knots of wind, which is around 95 kilometres an hour-ish. We made it to Québec City and I was confident we were going to make it here, but there’s a whole lot of things I can’t control. I think every ship’s captain in the Navy takes particular pride in their ship because they put a lot of effort in, but I think also that happens because they appreciate the work of their crew. The ship that you see today has been painted three or four times since we left Esquimalt to make sure that we represent the Royal Canadian Navy properly when we go abroad. Wood gets varnished and steel gets refurbished. I’ve asked the folks onboard to do a lot of hard work in very difficult conditions and it’s quite rewarding to see the by-product of that.
I would say, though, if you would have told my 7-year-old self that one day you were going to be the captain of a 102 foot, traditionally rigged sailboat and sail 20,000 miles in three years, I think that the 7-year-old would be pretty excited and pretty impressed. Since we’ve made it it’s been incredibly rewarding and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, I’m sure.
Source: Canadian Armed Forces