Saturday, 15 January 2011

Why I'm Glad I was a Sea Cadet (or how I learned to crap overboard)

In the mid-seventies I joined my local corps of Sea Cadets. It was a tough and happy three years. Times weren't always great as a cadet, but better than they might have been without the discipline, camaraderie and discipline. Oh, and the discipline was cool.

Here then, are the the top reasons I'm glad I was a cadet.

1. The discipline. Leadership roles rotated between those officially in charge and those occasionally in charge, and those who took charge because the situation called for it. You didn't have to like it, but sometimes your life depended on following orders whether you liked the authority figure or not.

2. Sometimes your life depended on following orders, literally. I can count more than a few times, each involving water, where we found ourselves in situations that could have ended badly or worse. Every time there was one person in charge, the rest us followed orders, and each time we all came out together, even once when we were tossed overboard into the Pacific, all but one cadet struggled back into the boat and he was too exhausted to climb over the gunwales. We fought to drag him in and then as he went under the waves for the third time we found the strength. The boy beside me said, and I quote, "no one is going to 'f-ing' die today." The rescued cadet laid inside the boat spitting out sea water and he cried. In that moment he went from being an older cadet we all feared and disliked to being a human being who nearly died that day. I was sixteen. I never told my parents.

Oh yeah, I've since figured out that if we had been wearing life jackets we might not have come so close to calling some dude's mom with bad news.

3. I was sixteen. I'm not saying we didn't get into trouble, but we didn't have time to get into some of the trouble some of my school friends found. Band on Tuesdays and Saturdays, on Thursday nights the whole Corps assembled, and every other day and night were taken with cadet projects and activities. I couldn't find time to cut the grass at home on weekends, which lead to some terrific arguments with my dad, and he was right. "Cadets" was not more important than family.

4. I was in great shape. Marching, obstacle courses, calisthenics... We were all in great shape, even the "fat" guys, who in today's high schools would be considered just a bit heavy.

5. I learned to crap overboard. You don't just stop a sailboat. One guy hangs on to your shirt as you hang your butt overboard. No room for the shyness here. When you have to take a leak it's a lot the same, except someone holds on to your belt so you don't fall overboard. I'm sure there's a life lesson here, but I'm not sure what it is.

6. I learned to play three instruments, and though I can't really play any of them today, the lessons and memories of being part of a 120 piece marching band and summers in British Columbia have served me well.

Next time: Why I'm Glad I was in a Military Marching Band

Corps: A Corps (pronounced /ˈkɔər/ "core"; plural /ˈkɔərz/ spelled the same as singular; from French, from the Latin corpus "body") is either a largeformation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function

Gunwale: The gunwale (pronounced /ˈɡʌnəl/ "gunnel" to rhyme with "tunnel") is a nautical term describing the top edge of the side of a boat.

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