There’s no place Zach Wesley would rather be than on the water.
The 16-year-old member of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets Corp 7 Captain Cook sea cadets discovered a passion for sailing at a young age, and has been preparing himself for a life on the high seas ever since.
“It’s like a way to get away from life,” Wesley said of sailing. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”
Even though he was born in Prince Rupert, Wesley’s family moved away from the city for a brief period while he was still young. A few years later they returned to the Prince Rupert and he acknowledged that he had difficulty adjusting to the transitions so early in his life.
“I was insecure about myself at the time,” Wesley said. “I remember I would spend a lot of time in my room playing my Xbox.”
Wesley was introduced to Prince Rupert’s sea cadet corps at 12 years by a friend who stayed with his family for a weekend. The boy was a member of the sea cadets, and so Wesley’s parents took him to a meeting and saw what a positive environment it was.
“When they came home, they said I should give it a try,” Wesley said.
Wesley found his first cadet class intimidating. He was still quiet and reserved, and unfamiliar with what was going on. That evening, the cadets were learning how to spit polish their boots, a task Wesley didn’t understand.
“It was funny to me as a kid,” he said. “I tried to hide my spit and just take more polish.”
Despite the awkward introduction, Wesley continued to attend the cadet corps meetings, and gradually began to open up to his fellow cadets. He said the process of learning to adjust helped to build his confidence.
“Before I was a scared little boy who was scared to do anything,” he said. “Now I’ve learned how to deal with people and certain situations.”
Not only did Wesley build his confidence in the cadet corps, but it was also the place where he was introduced to sailing. He began to take weekend sail courses at Babine Lake, and then traveled to a cadet camp in Comox where he began to sail on a bigger boat called a Whaler.
“I really enjoyed the way the wind could move that boat,” Wesley said. “I was like ‘This is really fun, I really like it.’”
Wesley continued to take sailing courses, and was one of two cadets from Prince Rupert’s cadet corps chosen to sail on a tall ship in earlier in March, 2018.
Tall ships, which are large, traditionally-rigged sailing vessels propelled only using the wind, were a considerable step up in difficulty from the boats Wesley had sailed up to that point. The tall ships require discipline and extensive teamwork between the crew to steer correctly.
Wesley’s ship — called the Pacific Grace — set sail from Esquimalt, a harbour on the southwest coast of Victoria on March 12, and went on a voyage through the Haro Strait before returning to Esquimalt six days later.
Wesley spent his time on board fulfilling duties as a bowsman, working in the radio room, performing early morning watch and even steering.
If he was on the morning watch, Wesley would be responsible for keeping the ship clean, which involved tasks such as scrubbing the decks and polishing the brass on the boat to keep it presentable.
When the cadets weren’t on duty, they took classes on different aspects of sailing and boat life such as navigation, safety on the water, the different technical parts of the ship and sailing terminology.
Wesley said his favourite part of the trip was the recreational time at the end of each day called the evening ‘mug-up’ where the crew would play games on and sing songs on deck. These moments allowed Wesley to bond with his crew, which was made up of cadets from across the country.
“I got to sit around the table, sing songs and meet new friend who I got really close with,” he said.
Wesley said, the experience only deepened his love of sailing. He plans to continue on with the cadets, eventually become an officer and share his love of the craft with the next generation of cadets.
Long term, Wesley said he wants to pursue a career as a coast guard, which makes sense.
The closer to the water the better.