The life at sea is the life for Ken Friess.
For seven days in early August, the Estevan resident had free-reign to explore one of the Royal Canadian Navy’s destroyers. Seeing all the sailors in their element was an experience he won’t soon forget.
Friess’s brother-in-law, Lorne Hartell, recently took command of the HMCS Algonquin as the ship’s captain, a post he will keep for two years. His term began this past summer with RIMPAC exercises in the Pacific, which involved close to 20 countries.
Following the exercises, there was a planned, formal command change over, with family invited to attend. The previous commander got sick, so it was cancelled. Friess was interested in going to see it, so Hartell suggested he come out for a Tiger Cruise. Sailors take family or friends on board for a cruise if there are beds available.
In Friess’s case, the journey was from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to Esquimalt on Vancouver Island. Hartell picked up the cost, as Friess’s sponsor.
Algonquin is a 460-foot destroyer, which Friess travelled on, but also making the trip was the frigate, HMCS Ottawa.
Friess enjoyed some of the nicer digs while staying on the ship. Because he was a guest of the ship’s commander, the admiral suite was where he bunked.
“I had the best accommodations,” he said, of the 14 tigers or civilians. “It’s not a lot of space, but way more than the other guys had.”
He shared the sitting room with Hartell, which he said was nice for an old ship.
Friess said when something was off limits, it was very clear he couldn’t take in that part of the ship. For the most part, however, he could roam freely, observing the crew as they went about their daily training and exercises. Much of his time was spent on the bridge, sitting in the captain’s chair.
“My brother-in-law doesn’t spend a whole bunch of time on the bridge,” said Friess. “If they’re doing some important exercise where he has to be there, he’s there, but otherwise he can run the ship from just about anywhere. Whenever he would normally be in his quarters or his sitting room or his bedroom, there are radios and phones and they are constantly calling him and updating him on what’s going on.”
Friess did get to take part in some of the exercises and use some of the equipment as well. A pilot was being certified during the journey, and he was able to climb into the Sea King helicopter, not just going along for the ride but also flying it for close to 20 minutes.
“They let us do quite a few things. They let us jog the helicopter around from the door.”
Friess explained that during a water rescue, the pilot hovers the aircraft while the movement of the helicopter is controlled by the people at the door. They are overlooking their target in the water, so they have the best idea as to where they should be positioned. Afterward, he took control of the Sea King.
“They showed the basic controls, and I was able to fly it for 15 or 20 minutes. It seemed like about five minutes,” he added. “It’s not really natural right away. I’ve run draglines, and it’s harder than that. It’s not quite as natural as something like that. It takes a little more co-ordination.”
Friess also stepped behind one of the 50-calibre machine guns and was able to fire a few bursts from the high-powered weapon at a smoke flare fire in the ocean. Firing a few hundred rounds took only a few seconds.
“You only hold the trigger for a few seconds at a time, because we were shooting 2,000 rounds. If you held the trigger, the barrel gets so hot it overheats the barrel.”
Friess earned an even greater respect for the country’s navy after seeing them in action. During exercises, he said everybody does everything at 100 per cent and takes their training very seriously.
“It’s an experience to see the way that they do things. There’s a lot of people who maybe don’t take Canada’s military seriously, but they do. They are well trained, and they are well-respected.”
He said during RIMPAC, there is lots of communication with the other countries involved. The South Koreans have newer, state-of-the-art vessels, but there is certainly a mutual respect among them all.
Reflecting on his time at sea, Friess added, “I don’t know if, when I was that age, I was in the mindset to get into it, but for somebody who is the adventurous type, there you go.”
He noted the sailors were itching to get home after being away for about two months. The crew did spend time in Hawaii, a notorious vacation hot spot for many on the mainland, but as Friess noted, for them, it’s not home.