By Asta Mail
This September, Asta had the opportunity to accompany students from St. Michaels University School on an adventure through B.C.'s Gulf Islands with the Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS).
In July, Andrew and I were invited on a sailing adventure to one of B.C.'s secluded secret treasures- Buccaneer Bay.
Located on the sand spit on the Southern tip of North Thormanby Island, Buccaneer Bay is a marine park, and also a holiday destination for many local families every summer. It boasts warm, sandy beaches and beautiful, clean ocean waters, as well as safe anchorage for many beautiful sail and leisure boats. It's a great place to hike, explore, and even camp in the summertime.
After hiking around the winding trails, doing yoga on the beach and eating freshly dug clams, Andrew and I decided to go for a kayak around the secluded waterfront. As we started paddling, Andrew recognized a familiar outline on the horizon-the tall ship Pacific Swift!
The ship pulled into Buccaneer Bay and set anchor between the shores. We paddled over to take a peek.
The ship looked immaculate. The woodwork glistened beautifully in afternoon sun. The bosun was hard at work repairing the net under the bowsprit. Students were relaxing on deck, their lunch plates in hand. Some were practicing knots, and others were pouring over a chart. Everyone seemed happy, relaxed and excited.
Andrew was thrilled to see the Swift, as he had been both a student and a chaperone for the SALTS program in his time with St. Michaels University School. He speaks of his time with SALTS as some of the most formative experiences in his educational career.
Fascinated, I knew I had to find my way onto a SALTS program one day. Little did I know that just a couple months later, I would find myself waking up on board on board the Swift, comfortably anchored right near my house!
So how did this happen?
I was lucky enough to be asked to work with St. Michael's University School this summer as an activity coordinator. My job was to make fun things happen with a group of amazing students from all over the world. We went camping, surfing, caving, and visited all the best tourist activities the island had to offer. As a part of that awesome job, I got to coordinate with the school's experiential education department.
Experiential Program leader Pete McLeod had heard about our round-the-world adventures with Class Afloat and offered me opportunity to accompany the SMUS Grade 10 students on a part of their experiential learning activities on board the Pacific Swift with SALTS.
I don't even think I took an extra breath before saying yes!
On a beautiful September morning, we headed to the Victoria Inner Harbour to meet the Swift and the Grace. The students were pumped, the gear was packed, and the forecast only predicted two days of rain that week. For BC, this was a very big deal!
We were met and welcomed on board by the Skipper, Tristan Radley. Tristan introduced us to the ship and gave us a short safety briefing before handing off the tours to his First Mate, Steven Atkinson, as well as the Bosun, Cayla Wolever and the Watch Officer, Cayla Coleman. We split into groups to get a closer look at our new home for the next five days and go over some of the important safety rules and precautions.
The students were put straight into three watches, and a group began immediately on deck to help with getting the ship off the dock. The crew members were calm, confident, and easy going, which made the kids relax and know, right from the start, that they were in good hands.
We motored out of the Inner Harbor and searched for some wind as we sailed past Chatham, Discovery Island, and Cordova Bay. Alas, not much was to be found. However, this did leave time for practicing some serious sailor skills.
Each student was given a rope (now called a line on board) and taught the basic knots; the Bowline, square knot, stopper knot, sheet bend and even the clove hitch. For some, these were easy. For others, it took a lot of practice to get each knot right. The SALTS program had given the students a good reason to learn these knots, because each student was given a log book, in which they could keep track of the skills they had learned over the course of the sail, and use them to earn responsibility around the ship.
The students began right away with their first watches on board. They took turns being lookouts at the bow and stern, being on helm, monitoring the radio and even being on standby, should the bosun need assistance on deck. The mood on deck was cheerful even in the drizzling rain. It was a great day to start out with on the water, with no waves in sight.
That evening, we anchored in Winter Cove, near Saturna Island. We enjoyed an amazing dinner on deck, courtesy of the ship's cook, Saidy Coyne. Despite the galley area being a bit tight for the number of students on board, Saidy and the crew shuffled each student through the galley and back up on deck with a warm, healthy meal to keep them going through the night. The food was so good that almost everyone went for seconds, and even thirds.
As the evening darkened, it was time for games on deck. We played an ocean version of Camouflage, which involved lots of hilarious hiding spots around deck.
Then it was time for a classic SALTS tradition; Mug up! Everyone squeezed into the galley to hear Steve and the Caylas play some classic tunes on their guitars, bass and mandolin so that everyone could sing along.
We each got a song book, so there was no excuse not to join in. It was great to hear so many young voices echoing out of our warm vessel over the dark waters surrounding us.
The following day, we woke to cloudy skies and a light drizzle. The students had each done a one hour anchor watch overnight to ensure that the ship was safe, and that the anchor wasn't dragging along the seafloor. Despite this interruption in their sleep, the students were all in fine form and ready to explore.
After all the ship's duties were completed, Cayla taught the students about the smaller wooden vessels stored on the deck of the Swift, known as Dories. The dories carried up to 8 people at a time, and had to be paddled by four strong young sailors.
The students helped in the process of raising and lowering the dories into the water. Each watch took their own Dory to shore. This was quite a process. Although I found it exciting, the students were a bit rattled by the tippy wooden boats, and paddling them backwards definitely proved a bit of a challenge.
Once we paddled to shore, we met up with the crew of the Pacific Grace, whom were anchored alongside us. We played some really fun group games in the recreation area before starting a hike towards a tidal falls area, part of the Winter Cove Marine Park.
The tidal falls was really amazing to watch. The changing direction of movement of the waters between Winter Cove and that of the nearby Georgia Straight caused visible rapids to surge all around us as we looked out from a rocky outcrop.
After our hike, it was time to head back to the ship for lunch. The students were responsible for all the ships' duties, including helping Saidy with meal preparation, dishes, and tidying the vessel. Everyone was busy throughout the day, but they still had some time left to relax in the sun and practice their new skills.
The following two days were spent learning the basics of sailing. The students were taught about how to coil lines, what the parts of the sails were, and how to safely raise and lower sails as a group. They were even allowed to put on a harness and climb to the top of the mast, as well as to furl sails on the end of the bowsprit.
Steve was there helping the students every step of the way. He was calm, patient, and gentle with the students, which made all the difference in the way they learned.
Watching the students work together to raise the sails reminded me of why I love sail training programs so much. Not only do they bring students together over a common goal, they also allow for each person to contribute what they can to the good of the whole community on board.
The more adventurous students helped to furl and unfurl sails aloft and on the bowsprit, while the more culinary inclined students joined Saidy in the galley, or talked with Tristan and Steve about the sailing life, and completing their logbook requirements. Everyone seemed happy, relaxed, and genuinely engaged. I was so happy to be right where I was with the Pacific Swift.
At each mealtime, we gathered together to discuss the day and to hear stories read to us by our watch leader. There was a Christian element to each story, but it also connected directly to the experiences we were having on board as well. These stories were followed by really interesting and honest discussions with the watch.
Each day was so unique, and time passed differently on deck than it does at home or at work. I was so happy to be sharing my love of sailing and the sea with students once more.
One of my favourite moments on board was on our second to last day of the sail. We woke that morning with the boat anchored just outside of Cowichan Bay. The sun radiating down warm fall heat, and everyone was in a great mood. We were having a more relaxed morning, with no pressure to pull anchor and dash away too soon. The students were content practicing their knots, sunbathing and playing cards, when someone suggested the idea of a swim. At first everyone seemed a bit incredulous, but when Steve rigged up a line so that we could do Tarzan swings off of the bowsprit, the students got into it!
We all lined up in our bathing suits, ready to jump into the briny, cold waters of the Pacific Northwest. Though the students were far braver than I was about it, I couldn't resist an opportunity to swing off a tall ship into the sea!
We spent our last night anchored just outside of Discovery Island, located just in front of Cadboro Bay, where I currently live. That night, I called my husband from the deck of the vessel, in awe of the beautiful pink sunset that we watched slowly form and then disappear under a blanket of new stars. I felt so at peace with the world that night, and so happy to have a career where moments like this were available.
Andrew woke the next morning and took photos of the vessels from our living room window. We could not have been more excited!
Overall, I think the Grade 10's had a really positive experience on the SALTS program. A little rain and some tippy boats did nothing to deter these brave students from having a good time and getting to know one another a little better.
It was really cool to see new friendships form between students who had gone to school together for years, but never had the opportunity to truly connect. Connecting is one thing that living 24/7 with 26 people will do for you very well!
I'd like to send a huge thank you to the amazing SALTS team, both on the water and in the office. You provided an incredible student experience, and taught me a lot about how an efficient teaching vessel should be run.
Special thanks to Jake McCloskey, who was my co-chaperone on this exciting adventure, as well as the SMUS experiential education department and Pete McLeod, for letting me live another one of my dreams!
Here's to many more sailing adventures!