When Devin O’Rourke attended his first day of sea cadets at age 12, he didn’t let a broken foot hold him back, he said.
“Yeah, I was a little bit too excited and I refused to pass up the opportunity,” said O’Rourke.
It’s perhaps not a surprise, then, that the Parksville student has recently been named Vancouver Island’s top sea cadet, and is heading to the United Kingdom next week to help crew a square-rigged tall ship as part of a special training opportunity.
O’Rourke, Cadet Chief Petty Officer Second Class of the 296 Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Esquimalt, is one of just two B.C. sea cadets chosen each year for the Training Ship Royalist program.
Cadets from across Canada will sail aboard the training ship Royalist (a 32-metre long sailing ship owned and operated by the Marine Society and the Sea Cadets of the United Kingdom) on a 12-day voyage during the trip to the U.K. from April 23 to May 13.
“I was quite proud of myself,” said O’Rourke when he found out he had been selected for the opportunity.
The voyage will teach cadets to rig sails, navigate, climb the masts and pretty much every other duty required to sail the ship. Eventually, the cadets will be doing most of the work, said O’Rourke.
Perhaps the role O’Rourke is most excited to play is that of helmsman — steering the ship. But he emphasizes that, on a sailing ship, it’s nothing like driving a car. You don’t get to turn whichever way you want. To get the ship going where you need it to go, you need an entire crew.
“(Being at the helm) is really that moment when you get to see everyone working around you and know that you are taking everything that they are doing as a team, and making it so that you control where the boat goes,” he said.
While O’Rourke has recently been collecting some personal accolades, including being chosen as Vancouver Island’s top sea cadet (which puts him in the running for Canada’s top sea cadet), he said it’s the teamwork aspect of sea cadets that he enjoys most.
Having taken part in the Small Craft Operator program through sea cadets, O’Rourke said the fifth module of that program teaches cadets to crew a whaler — a boat that can be operated with a motor, sails or several sets of oars.
“It takes quite a few people to operate the boat, so you get to see the teamwork as they all pull in and let out on the sails together in order to get your boat moving faster and faster. And then… when we’re all using (the oars), they have to be together or you don’t get the right momentum to go.
“It’s just really amazing to see everyone work together.”
His role with the local corps has become more and more about being at the top of that teamwork chain, said Lt. Pam Chapman, O’Rourke’s commanding officer.
“He’s a person that his peers and subordinates look up to at cadets, and is highly respected by them all,” Chapman said. Of the accolades, Chapman said, “For a 16-year-old, with a genuine heart, he’s shocked by all of this. These awards wont go to his head, because he does the volunteering and great leadership out of the good of his heart and doesn’t expect anything in return.”
Nonetheless, O’Rourke said, he’s gotten a lot out of the sea cadet program, and he’s fuelled by a passion for being out on the water that started with trips to his grandparents’ lakeside cabin.
And now O’Rourke has gone from begging his parents to let him join sea cadets at age 11 to being Vancouver Island’s top sea cadet. “I was actually quite shocked,” he said of receiving the honour. “I was, again, really proud of myself and how far I’ve gone in the cadet program.”