Estevan resident Ken Friess recently experienced the Royal Canadian Navy in a way that most Canadians could only imagine.
Friess had the opportunity in the summer to sail from Hawaii to the Canadian Forces base in Esquimalt, B.C., aboard HMCS Algonquin, thanks to a Tiger Cruise, which allows civilians to experience the life of a sailor, soldier or airman.
The Algonquin's Captain/Commander, Lorne Hartell, is a former Estevan resident, as well as Friess' brother-in-law.
Friess flew to Hawaii, and met up with Hartell, the ship and its crew after Algonquin was finished with the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), a biennial international maritime warfare exercise that attracts Navy ships and crew members from more than two dozen nations.
Friess viewed some of the state's tourist and historical sites before his rendezvous with Hartell.
It took a week to sail from Hawaii to Esquimalt, which is on Vancouver Island. Several other civilians were aboard Algonquin during the Tiger Cruise.
Since Hartell is the ship's commander, Friess stayed in the senior officer's quarters. He had his own room and washroom, and he shared a sitting room and a dining room with Hartell. The other civilians on the Tiger Cruise slept in their sponsors' quarters.
“But still, even where I was, you still had to prop yourself against something,” said Friess. “It's not a cruise ship. It's up and down, and pitching back and forth. I was sick the first day, but even a lot of the crew gets sick the first day.”
Friess didn't suffer from seasickness again after his first day on the ship.
There was a Sea King helicopter on the ship, and Friess was able to join the helicopter crew for a training exercise. He also got to sit in the co-pilot's seat, and briefly fly the helicopter.
Most people don't realize the level of training expertise possessed by members of Canadian Navy, and the rest of the Canadian Forces, Friess said. When he talked to people on Algonquin, everybody knew their job, and they took their jobs very seriously.
“They were training the whole way back (from Hawaii),” said Friess. “Even though they had been at sea for nearly two months, every day there were drills. They don't just sit around. They do their job.”
Drills performed by Algonquin's crew simulated a person falling overboard from the ship and into the ocean, or how they would handle an approaching missile. Friess was also able to view the operations of Algonquin, witness a refuelling of the ship, and view many of the drills that are performed aboard a Navy ship.
Friess was also impressed with the food on Algonquin. Each day the crew has several different options for their meals. Chowder is served every Friday at 10 a.m. in what is a Navy tradition.
The Navy is a terrific career path for young people, Friess said. Some of the crew members on Algonquin recently graduated from school, and they're going to be able to see the world while in the Navy.
Friess is very proud that his brother-in-law has become the commander of the ship. Hartell has the respect of the men and women on Algonquin; as they snap to attention when he enters the room, even though Friess said that Hartell is somebody who prefers to put people at ease.
Hartell had been sworn-in as Algonquin's commander a couple days before RIMPAC.
“They were getting used to him, as well as he was getting used to them,” said Friess. “He hadn't sailed with a lot of these people before, and the officers directly below him, like the executive officer and the combat officer, Lorne didn't know them before (Lorne became commander).”
Everything that happens on the ship has to go through Hartell, Friess said.
Friess noted that Hartell paid for Friess' rations and any other expenses, and that there had to be available bunks on Algonquin for Friess to participate in the Tiger Cruise. No taxpayer dollars were spent on the civilians who travelled from Hawaii to Esquimalt.