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Crash Course: Former sailor now ROTP (I) Year – shares his experience at sea

“As we ran up to the next deck to take our stations, it became clear what had happened; HMCS Protecteur had just crashed into the side of our destroyer. “

Crash Course

Article by 28568 OCdt (I) Liam Chambers

Liam Chambers

Under the cover of darkness, looking over the side of the destroyer and down into the cold, murky, swirling ocean, I watched the bio-luminescence as it was stirred up within the froth of the waves breaking off the bow.

A cool breeze flowed past the bridge as we sailed further into the night and into the sea of stars above. The first night was rough.

Spray had been smashing into the bridge windows up to 60 feet over the surface of the ocean, and most of the crew are sick. Lucky for me, I felt fine; unlucky for me, that means I’ll be taking extra shifts.

After a long night of violently crashing into the depth of the waves, the ocean changed her attitude towards our presence, the sea became calm.

As I finally lay down to get some rest, the alarm sounded – not uncommon for a day at sea filled with drills and practice. Over the loudspeaker came the order, “brace for impact.” And so, nonchalantly grabbing onto the edge of our beds, we waited.

All of a sudden, an unmistakable twisting of metal, and a violent shudder heaved us into the lockers. As we ran up to the next deck to take our stations, it became clear what had happened; HMCS Protecteur had just crashed into the side of our destroyer.

I noticed a friend of mine in the hallway, who looked white as a ghost, and sat him down. He had been on the pullup bar in the hangar, walked away to take a break, and at that moment, the 564 ft. tanker had ripped through the wall in his previous spot.

Chaos mixed with professional experience were the prevailing themes of the next few hours, and after a short experience with sinking, fires and uncertainty, the ship was stabilized, and we were headed back to Esquimalt.

In the military, we tend to reflect on these times because they remind us of days when we relied on receiving experience and guidance instead of giving it.

As a new sailor, I had no idea what to do at that moment, and I relied on those more proficient in dealing with the crisis. Yet, in real situations, it becomes abundantly clear that true leaders are the ones that can protect their people and get them to work together as a team, not by fear or threat but by compassion and empathy.

Of course, we must rely on hierarchy to respond to emergencies, that’s the way the military works; However, that day I learned very quickly that real leaders are not exclusive to rank or experience; they look first and foremost to the welfare of the human beings entrusted to their care and protect them at all costs.

Not a bad lesson to learn for my first ever sail in the Navy.

Note – Background on OCdt Liam Chambers – Here

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