By Jesse Laufer
Mari Chambers got to spend part of her Saturday shuffling through a maze of smoke so thick she could only see the heat around her through infrared goggles.
The 15-year-old sea cadet was one of 200 young sailors who recently took part in at-sea exercises aboard the navy frigate HMCS Ottawa. Though sea cadets often have the opportunity to get on the ocean, rarely ever is it aboard a functional frigate at 30 knots — a little over 50 kilometres/hour.
The exercise was meant to show cadets how to escape from on ship fires, and what rescuers would face in that scenario.
“We couldn’t see at all, but using infrared we could see everything around you,” Chambers said. “It was pretty quick. It took two minutes with a big group.”
Normally, the sea cadets get out to learn how to sail and navigate on smaller sailing ships. According to the commanding officer of the Victoria Sea Cadet Corps, Jamie Webb, they manage to get groups of 25 to 50 cadets on smaller patrol vessels almost annually, but rarely get to do at sea exercises on larger vessels.
“The navy had a ship available the same weekend we were bringing the kids in Victoria for training,” he said. “It was a happy coincidence that the navy had a free ship available to take the kids to sea that day.”
Chambers also got to learn about the big guns on HMCS Ottawa, but she didn’t get to fire any.
“We weren’t doing any actual damage, but we got to cock the guns,” Chambers said.
It’s Chambers’ third year in sea cadets, though she joined the Navy League Cadets when she was nine. Her experience so far has helped her build her own confidence, something which she said becomes more important as she moves up the ranks and takes on more responsibilities.
Her father, Carl, was also a sea cadet growing up in Victoria and was one of a few cadets who make the jump to the regular forces upon graduating from the program.
After she’s through with cadets when she turns 19, Chambers doesn’t think she’ll be signing up with the regular force, though she might stay on as a reservist.
In the meantime, Chambers is looking forward to the summer, especially attending HMCS Quadra — a summer camp and training program for cadets.
“HMCS Quadra is where you make the greatest memories. My dad went to Quadra and he experienced the same thing,” Chambers said.