PORT HARDY—Tall-masted, wooden sailing ships have for centuries inspired songs, stories and even legends.
So it’s no surprise his first seagoing experience left an impression on Port Hardy teen Rory Korhonen.
“It was amazing, some of the sights we saw,” said Korhonen, who arrived home last week following a 10-day voyage from Victoria on the Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS) ship Pacific Grace. “It was breathtaking. I’m at a loss for words.”
The distinctive Pacific Grace is a 138-foot gaff topsail schooner, modelled on one of Canada’s original Grand Banks fishing schooners. Each summer it, and its sister ship, the 111-foot Pacific Swift, can be seen tied up at the SeaGate Dock on their way around the north end of Vancouver Island to and from their home in the SALTS Heritage Shipyard in Victoria.
This year, Korhonen, who just finished his Grade 10 year at Port Hardy Secondary School, was recommended for a bursary by vice principal Frank McLean. Once accepted, he joined a group of 31 trainees and eight professional and volunteer crew members for the 430 nautical mile sail up the inside of the island to Port Hardy.
“It was my first time on a sailboat, of any size,” said Korhonen. “I was kind of in awe at first; I didn’t know what to expect. But it was an amazing and educational experience. I developed a lot of friendships with a lot of people that I didn’t think I could in 10 days.”
Korhonen said each trainee was issued a log book, and each was tested on a variety of nautical skills taught during the journey. Along the way, he learned how to deploy one of the small, on-board dories, climbed to the top of the mainmast and learned a series of knots — a task made easier through his experience as a member of Port Hardy’s Junior Canadian Rangers.
“I did know some of the knots already, which was beneficial,” said Korhonen, who passed his junior sailor level. “But at the start, I didn’t know where any of the gear was.”
It wasn’t all work and testing, though. Korhonen described a series of stops, during which the trainees ferried ashore in the dories to take part in onshore activities. These included trips to Savory Island and Knight Inlet and to a freshwater lake.
“I saw a bunch of waterfalls, and two times we actually showered in waterfalls,” he said.
Normally the two SALTS ships travel together around Vancouver Island, but this summer Pacific Grace traveled solo on this trip, with Pacific Swift expected to follow and dock in Port Hardy in the coming days on its own circumnavigation of the island.
Pacific Grace had another destination planned as it picked up 28 new trainees and departed Port Hardy last Friday.
“This boat is going on to Alaska,” skipper Tony Anderson said. “We’ll sail the inside passage, then come back home through Haida Gwaii.”
“Alaska, that would be cool,” said Korhonen, who is already plotting his way back onto one of the SALTS ships, hopefully as a volunteer crew member. “It’s kind of crazy, three weeks instead of 10 days. But I’m thinking of applying for a volunteer crew position. If I had a chance, I’d do it all over again.”
And to his fellow Port Hardy residents who might get the chance for a bursary to serve as a trainee?
“I would highly recommend it.”