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I am half-way through the sail and am happy to note that I have not fallen sick to the sea or to COVID; a feat not all the crew have achieved. The crossing of the Atlantic was at times rough especially on a few occasions when I had to transit between the two ships.  After awhile it all becomes second nature, you brace yourself for the rough seas and take a deep breath when needed. What I haven’t been able to get used to is the discombobulating feeling of not knowing which day of the week or even the month it is. It feels like Groundhog Day everyday, only to find one’s way coming out of the fog by the smell of the galley; Thursday is steak night, fish on Friday, pizza on Saturday and Sunday Sundaes.

Our port visits usually fall on the weekend, coming in on Friday and leaving on Monday morning; giving us time to go ashore and see the sights. I try to keep my running legs up by running 5kms in each port. Helps me to rationalize all the pastries I consume. We have been to Iceland, Germany, Lithuania and France so far. St. Malo France being my favourite tourist destination; an old city surrounded by a great rampart wall, reminiscent of Old Quebec City with her cobble stone roads, incredible architecture and the beauty of the ocean that surrounds the city. We just concluded our visit to Dieppe, where we had the privilege of participating in the celebrations of the 80th commemoration of the raid on Dieppe. Days mixed with celebratory preparations and moments of silence, humility and gratefulness for the many who sailed into this port only to experience one of the bloodiest days of WW2 where over 800 Canadian service members lost their lives in a single morning. I certainly have many more stories to share upon my return from this port especially.

As for our operations, we are working alongside four other nations; Germany, Lithuania, Great Britain, France and still some others to join us throughout the remainder of the sail. The crews are working hard on mine warfare exercises and historical ordinance clearance, we practice damage control exercises regularly (fire, flood, person overboard, etc.) to keep our skills honed. Church is offered each week on both ships as much as the schedule allows. Offering Compline on the foc’sle or Communion in the messes (where the crew relaxes and have their meals). As we come into each port, I scout for places for people to worship, be it Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim. Supporting the religious needs and even accompanying members for prayer is what I am called to do and where I find great joy. 

A big part of what I get the privilege to do is to work alongside the crew tending to their spiritual and mental wellbeing. Ministry of presence is a key role, heaving in the lines, helping with fenders, serving meals in the galley, cleaning stations and wherever else I can lend a hand, I look for ways to be skillful. In those moments members of the crew often take time to chat about the challenges they are facing on the ship and/or at home.  It is hard being away from home, hearing from family and friends of the good times you are missing out on and difficult ones you wish you could make better; one can only be in one place making it hard to manage emotions and feel helpful to those back home.

The crew is few in numbers and the ship only so big, you become very close in a quick amount of time, creating a four month family away from home. Each has a role to play and all come with their own idiosyncrasies. Like families, each member of the crew is different, but the connections are real. The saying holds true that we are all in one boat managing the good, the bad and the not so enjoyable, but with the support of one another and prayers from home, we sail on.  

United in Prayer  

Your Sister in Christ

Meg Nicholls