Able seaman Nataniel Lewis shows of the engine room of HMCS Oriole. On Thursday

Able seaman Nataniel Lewis shows of the engine room of HMCS Oriole. On Thursday

A day of ‘firsts’ for local leading seaman

This week represents a number of firsts for Mathieu Drapeau.

This week represents a number of firsts for Mathieu Drapeau.

On Thursday, March 16, Drapeau will be embarking on his first deployment as a leading seaman with the Royal Canadian Navy. It will also be his first time on a tall ship and his first experience sailing.

“It’s awesome, I find it really exciting,” said the 22-year-old who is based out of CFB Esquimalt.

Drapeau is one of 20 sailors who will be departing from CFB Esquimalt on HMCS Oriole for Rendez-vous 2017, a tall ships regatta taking place throughout Quebec and Atlantic Canada to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday later this year.

As part of the year-long journey, HMCS Oriole, which is a commissioned sail training vessel and the only one of its kind in the navy, will conduct 12 port visits in seven countries before participating in the tall ships celebration from June 30 to Aug. 20. The ship will begin its voyage down the coast towards the Panama Canal, before heading to the East Coast.

Sailors will act as ambassadors at port, educating people about the roles and responsibilities of the navy.

“The most exciting part is celebrating Canada 150 with Canadians. Most people don’t get an opportunity to do that. We’re going to be in Charlottetown, which is obviously the birth place of confederation on Canada Day, which is going to be pretty special,” said Mike Willis, commanding officer of HMCS Oriole. “Generally these tall ship festivals have good turnouts.”

Willis believes weather conditions will be the most challenging part of the 168-day voyage, especially since many of the crew have never sailed before.

It’s something Drapeau is excited to learn, as he used to dream about a life at sea as a child.

Born in Quebec, Drapeau originally joined the army as a radio operator. But he longed to travel and three years later, transferred to the navy. Shortly after Drapeau became a marine engineer, responsible for the maintenance of ships, and was transferred to CFB Esquimalt. Now, he’s eager to fulfill his life-long dream of sailing.

“It’s different from being on a frigate, you’re more close to everybody and you need to be able to have fun with everybody and be able to work together without any problems,” said Drapeau, of being on a tall ship. He’ll sail on the ship for the first two-months of the journey, before a crew change in Costa Rica.

“Canada 150 is a huge part of this deployment, it’s the reason that we’re going.”

The festival marks the first time the ship will be returning to the East Coast since she participated in a Quebec Tall Ships Festival in 1984. After the festival, HMCS Oriole will undergo a maintenance refit in Halifax, and return to Esquimalt in spring 2018.

The ship was originally built in 1921 for a family in Toronto and served as the flagship of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club until the navy leased it for training purposes in the 1940s. The navy officially took ownership in 1952.