Sea Cadets’ summer filled with novel experiences

A group of Sea Cadets, overseen by lt. (N) Denis Blake, left, poses in front of Ripley Hall in Rhode Island during a summer cadet trip.

MANITOULIN— When it comes to opportunities for new and exciting summer experiences, it is hard to beat the Manitoulin Sea Cadet Corps for both cadets and officers alike. This summer, every cadet in the corps who expressed an interest in attending summer camps found a place that fitted their age and level of experience.

“For those in the very young category, from 12 to 13, they were able to attend a two-week training camp, while the majority were able to partake of a three-week program, while the more experienced are on a six-week course,” noted Lt.(N) Denis Blake, who himself had the opportunity to shepherd a group of 10 cadets from across Canada on a trip to an American naval base.

“Two years ago I had the opportunity to take a group of five cadets on a 10-day trip to Bermuda,” he said. “This year I applied again. I applied for the UK, Holland and Australia. They offered me the US,” he laughed.

This time he would be in charge of 10 cadets. “We were going to an active naval base in Newport, Rhode Island where they train officers for the navy and marine corps.”

June 21 found Lt. Blake ensconced in the Pearson Sheridan, a stone’s throw from where he and his cadre of cadets would be flying out to Boston on the first leg of their journey together. “The first little while the cadets spent getting to know each other,” he said. “They had never met each other before. There were two from Newfoundland, three from Quebec, one from Halifax, two from Ontario, one from Calgary and one from Vancouver.”

Although the cadets in the group had never met before, they did find they had a lot in common. “These were all senior cadets,” said Lt. Blake, who noted that in addition to spending a day visiting the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium, the cadets were able to spend a little time shopping in the Eaton Centre as well.

“The next day we flew into Boston where they had arranged transport for us,” he said. “It was a two-hour drive to the barracks where we would be staying.” Lt. Blake described Newport, R.I. as “the Muskoka of New England.” The barracks provided all the comforts the cadets needed for the next couple of weeks.

“This was a training exchange, not a cultural exchange,” noted Lt. Blake, who pointed out there was plenty of the former involved. “We were up every morning before 6 am,” he said. The cadets visited a coast guard station, the region known as “battleship row” where they explored a WWII battleship and submarine and a museum containing, among other things, the famed PT Boats. “It was very interesting,” said Lt. Blake.

“We spent a day at a submarine base that is both a college and a base, where we got what we were told was ‘pretty rare’ access to the training room,” he said. That room is an intense computer simulation centre where the walls are comprised of a 360-degree screen and the floor moves to simulate the rolling deck of an active vessel.

The cadets then sailed in Boston harbour, “almost to the Atlantic,” in an 80-foot schooner. “There were a lot of sailboats,” noted Lt. Blake. “The sea lanes there are very active.”

The troop spent a day in Boston, with “plenty of hiking,” as the preparations for the July 4 celebrations were underway before heading out into the harbour in a vintage DUCK amphibious assault vehicle. “The DUCK was part of the invasion of Sicily,” said Lt. Blake. “It seats about 30 and we drove right off the ramp and into Boston harbour.”

Their US hosts did not stint on our own nation’s celebrations, presenting the group with a huge cake decorated with the Canadian flag. “Each of the cadets gave a presentation on their region and, since two of our cadets spoke almost exclusively French, we taught them O Canada in both official languages,” said Lt. Blake.

Before they headed home, the cadets were treated to two nights in New York City where they were given the opportunity to not only take in the iconic sights of that great city, but also had the opportunity to take in the Broadway play ‘Wicked.’ “Ten of our cadets got to go backstage to meet the cast,” he said.

With a view from the ‘Top of the Rock’ at the Rockfeller Centre the cadets were able to plot out their expedition and breaking up into groups of six they set out. “The way we worked it was each of the chaperones listed the places they would like to see and the cadets signed up with them. On Lt. Blake’s list were the subway system, Battery Park, lunch at an iconic New York pizzeria and the site of the World Trade Center Memorial. “It was a sobering and sombre experience,” he noted, “well constructed and an iconic location.” The group also were able to see the new buildings being constructed to replace the buildings struck down in the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Another museum included one on an aircraft carrier where there were many types of combat aircraft on display, but one of the neatest places they visited was not at all warlike or martial in nature, FAO Schwarz, the legendary toy store established in 1862 that was featured in the movie ‘Big.’ “The huge piano on the floor was still there,” he said. Sadly, the store was closing shop within 10 days for good. “I picked up a bunch of stuff, making sure it had the Schwarz logo on it.”

The cadets were able to meet one remarkable US service person, a 4’ 11” master drill sergeant. “She was an amazing person who put the cadets through their paces,” recalled Lt. Blake. “She told the cadets that one of the things that led her to becoming a drill sergeant was ‘someone told me I couldn’t do it.’ She was very inspiring.”

The cadets were at the officers’ club in the harbour of New York City when the 4th of July celebrations began. “Everywhere you looked there were fireworks going off,” said Lt. Blake.

Upon their arrival back in Canada, officers from Camp Borden were on hand to make sure each cadet made it safely to their gates for their journey home, their suitcases packed with souvenirs and their heads overflowing with the memories of a lifetime.