The 115-foot schooner Pacific Grace and its sister ship

The 115-foot schooner Pacific Grace and its sister ship

Tall ships return with mix of new and veteran sailors

PORT HARDY - SALT schooners return to Hardy Bay during 10-day sail around Vancouver Island

PORT HARDY — The tall-masted schooners of the Sail and Life Training Society (SALT) were back in Port Hardy for their annual visit this week, with a mix of new and returning sailors onboard.

The Victoria-based Christian society annually invites young people from ages 13-25 to take part in five- and ten-day excursions aboard the 115-foot Pacific Grace and its sister ship, the 85-foot Pacific Swift.

This week’s port call in Port Hardy was part of a 10-day circumnavigation of Vancouver Island by the two twin-masted ships. They departed today for Ucluelet.

Crews of up to 30 participants per boat are taught both sailing and life lessons under five-member crews, with a focus on community and fellowship aboard the ships. The experience can be so uplifting that the young sailors often return to work aboard the ships on future trips.

“I first sailed when I was 13, with my Grade 7 class,” said Nicole Ames, who is serving as second mate aboard the Pacific Swift on the current voyage. “And I didn’t even want to come. But I came and just fell in love with it. It’s addictive. It’s just so freeing.”

The ships draw plenty of attention while moored at the Seagate dock, with residents and tourists dropping by to shoot pictures or chat with the sailors. Among the visitors early this week was Port Hardy’s Dave Mullett, whose son, Stephon, toured on the ships as a youngster. Like Ames, the young Stephon later returned as a volunteer crewman, and traveled to the shipyard in Victoria to do his work experience program with the ships as a Grade 12 student. He is now serving in the Canadian Navy, his father said.

“If they did an adult tour, I’d pay to go,” Dave Mullett said while admiring the tall, wooden ships.