The young members of Parksville’s Admiral Yarrow Navy League Cadet command have snappy uniforms and caps, a commanding officer, and boundless enthusiasm for all things nautical. They do not, however, have a boat.
Thanks to a chance meeting between commanding officer Shannon Pennington and Deep Bay businesswoman Pamela Smyth, that shortcoming was addressed in late October when a half-dozen of the youths were treated to an outing on the Vancouver Island University shellfish research vessel Chetlo.
“They don’t get to get out much,” Pennington said of her nine to 12 year-old charges. “Sometimes we’ll go out with their families on different outings, but we’d like to get the kids out doing more things like this.”
With Shaun MacNeill piloting the Chetlo and VIU researcher Megan Edgar serving as interpretive guide, six members of the Navy League Cadets toured the oyster beds of Baynes Sound, spied seals and sea lions, and even caught a brief glimpse of a trio of orcas in the distance.
The trip came courtesy of Pamela Smyth, CEO of BioStrat Canada Incorporated. She had purchased a tour package on the VIU shellfish research ship with the idea of treating her clients.
That plan changed after she recently bumped into Pennington, with whom she served in the Seaforth Highlanders more than two decades ago.
“I hadn’t seen Shannon in probably 20 years,” said Smyth. “She told me what she was doing with the Navy League Cadets and I told her, ‘I used to be with the Navy Sea Cadets when I was little, and we didn’t have a boat.’
“She said, ‘We don’t have a boat, either.'”
Unlike the Naval Sea Cadets, a program for 12 to 17 year olds run in partnership between the Navy League of Canada and the Department of National Defence, the younger navy cadets receive no federal funding.
“They’re funded from donations from non-profits and from businesses,” said Smyth. “I wanted to do this to spur other corporations to help. I think getting kids into youth groups like this is so important.”
The Admiral Yarrow Command is comprised of 14 youths from throughout the mid-Island region, from Whiskey Creek and Nanoose Bay to Qualicum Bay.
Due to space limitations on the Chetlo, Pennington used the Oct. 17 tour as a reward to her second- and third-year cadets.
“It’s not military, but it’s military-themed,” Pennington said of the cadet program. “When they’re 12 they can go on to the sea cadets, the air cadets, the army cadets or nothing at all. But this gives them a base platform of knowledge to be able to take that next step.”
The Admiral Yarrow Command is one of eight on Vancouver Island and 106 nationwide, which serve more than 3,500 Navy League cadets.
The program was introduced in 1948 to develop patriotism, good citizenship, a sense of duty, self-discipline and respect for others.
“A few other people I knew were doing it and my adoptive mom thought it would be a good thing for me to try,” said Kyle Powell of Qualicum Bay. “It’s pretty nice. It was nice to smell the air and see all the nice scenery. We got to see sea lions, seals and lots of birds.”
The youths, who brought bagged lunches for the trip, were welcomed at the dock, helped into life preservers and given a detailed safety briefing.
“Our main rule is that everyone stays on the boat until we’re back on the dock,” MacNeill quipped.
One cadet who is no stranger to the water is Thomas Johnson of Whiskey Creek. His father is a fisherman who he has joined on the water many times, and his family tree has roots of seafarers dating back multiple generations.
“I just wanted to try it out and see what it was like,” said Johnson.
After their trip around the sound, the youths were taken by Edgar on a tour of VIU’s nearby Deep Bay Marine Field Station. There, they got to see the resident octopus and plenty of fish, learn about the facility’s energy-efficient construction and handle sea cucumbers and urchins in the touch tank.
“It was awesome,” said cadet Haley Maury of Parksville, 10. “I liked seeing the water.”