“There’s no place I’d rather be than in HMCS Calgary.”
There are eight men and two women in this CLaS cohort. The men are in 14 Mess. When empty, the room may be about as big as the master bedroom in our house. The difference is 14 Mess is designed to hold nine “souls.” Each has a bed boasting maybe two feet of clearance before the next bunk or the bulkhead, and a locker. It’s a tight squeeze. Luckily we all get along well. Along the way, we’ve learned to get changed in about a two foot square—the available space outside each locker—while your neighbour does the same.
We attended a number briefings: one a basic introduction to HMCS Calgary; another on safety, one a primer on the Navy, and one about the Port of Prince Rupert delivered by a senior official from the Port Authority. The sessions were incredibly insightful and generated a lot of questions and an engaging dialog.
The sessions wrapped in time for 10:00am soup, an tradition to keep minds and bodies nourished (and which should be entrenched in law). The Galley served a delicious chicken noodle soup. We mingled while we ate.
A lot of the over-soup discussion hinged on life on a Canadian warship. We talked about durations of deployments/operations, accommodations, the ups and downs of a ship’s company confined to limited space for months at a time, and new practices the Navy has incorporated—and some that are being tested–to better support and respect its sailors. For example, legacy shift schedules wreak havoc on the circadian rhythms of the sailors. These schedules demanded that shifts would consistently, well… shift… by four or eight hours. Newer versions allow sailors to have a solid and consistent eight (or ten) hour block for sleep.
We ate lunch in the Wardroom, and dinner in the Junior Ranks’ Mess (where I’m typing this right now as members of the Mess are watching the KC/Oakland game). It was these interactions with the crew that made a good day great. Everyone’s enrollment story is different. Some needed to leave the family farm or their family for their own sanity, some followed in the footsteps of family members, some were looking for an adventure and to see the world. Regardless of the reason for joining, or how long ago they did, everyone in Calgary is passionate about and proud of the work they do, and the opportunity to do so with their fellow sailors.
One Leading Seaman I spoke with is 27-years-old and has already been to more places around the world than most go to in their lifetime. A few seats away from him is a 40-year-old Ordinary Seaman who, two years ago, decided he wanted a change of career that offered stability. Next to him is a 21-year-old who speculated about the value of his pension 25 years from now.
The sailors are passionate about their roles on the ship. They describe their jobs and, when interrupted by announcements, decode the messages for us and explain what CLaS is witness to.
They admit life isn’t always rosy. The crew of 235, give-or-take, lives and works in very close quarters. Things can be tense sometimes. Still, the camaraderie is strong. Periodic tension does not displace the deep friendships they expect will last a lifetime. That speaks volumes about the culture and morale on the ship which they all enthusiastically agree is very strong in large part due to the Commanding Officer.
I’ve never witnessed a workplace with some many people in so little space—self-contained space—seemingly function so smoothly. In the Navy’s quest to build stronger relationships with the business community, it seems the business community stands to gain a lot more by understanding the Navy.