By Lt(N) Shane Downey, escort officer to Canadian Sea Cadets of exchange to India
The cadet program has once again provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for eight cadets from across Canada. The 2016 International Sea Cadet Regatta was a trip like no other that the cadets and I have ever experienced. The regatta is an exchange program that is run as part of the International Sea Cadet Association (ISCA) conference, where association members represent 20 nations from around the world that have sea cadet programs of their own.
The program was held in South Colaba, a district of Mumbai, on the Training Ship Jawahar — a frigate made of cement on the shore of the Arabian Sea. This training facility holds training for and parades 2,800 cadets every week. We were privileged to work and play alongside a small portion of those cadets during our stay.
Throughout the exchange we were introduced to another part of the world, one far different from our own. The heat and humidity were like nothing most of us have ever experienced; stray dogs roamed the streets, day in and day out; bright colourful outfits were found at every corner; and the smell of Indian food was never too far away. And yet, many elements of India still felt like home. Mumbai residents are no strangers to traffic jams, cell phones, skyscrapers and the loud hum of a busy city.
The exchange is meant to foster an intercultural understanding of the new friendships young cadets make with others who share a common passion: nautical activities. With cadets from the United Kingdom, United States of America, Sweden, South Africa and Hong Kong, we are bound to find cultural customs much different from our own. We took part in several classes to learn about these differences and to share experiences with one another that would otherwise be unknown to us. We took the time to learn the different ways that each country does the same basic drill movements. The extra steps in American drill were particularly difficult to learn, and it reminded us of how we must have looked as new cadets, trying to learn drill movements for the first time.
On the water, the cadets learned that teamwork is essential. Through various trials and tests in large-person boats, cadets from around the world were forced to put aside their differences to be able to stride forward. We learned how to paddle along in vallums (large canoes built for 10–12 paddlers), were thrown into rowing J-40s (similar to whalers but can be rowed by as many as 12 people), and we also had a couple of days of paddling in familiar territory: kayaks. While kayaking is a familiar activity to Canadians, the group’s first capsize of the week was in a two-person kayak holding one of the Canadian cadets and the UK escort officer!
There was much to see in Jawahar and even more to embrace in Mumbai, but the Aquasail day that took place on a beach at Mandwa took our breath away as the cadets were able to use Hobicats, laser sailboats, 420s, and a large Beneteau. The cadets enjoyed one of the finest days out on the water, taking in the sun and breeze of the Arabian Sea. A couple of them would have sailed back to Jawahar, instead of riding the ferry, if we had allowed them to.
Our week culminated in the regatta. Our hard work loading the boats into the water daily, and paddling or rowing every morning, was all for our final day, with friendly racing challenges in the J-40s, the vallums, and kayaks. Our colour boat teams revved up and put on a display for the international delegates of the ISCA conference. Representatives of the various countries were in attendance, cheering and encouraging from boats as challenges were issued to the teams before racing to the finish line.
At the end of the week, all of those in attendance, for either the cadet exchange or the conference, were awarded with a plaque for their participation in the week-long program at the Training Ship Jawahar. One of Canada’s representatives, Doug Thomas, was awarded a silver platter for his 25 years of service and being one of ISCA’s founding members.
Some of the things that we’ll take away from this experience are the hard work of our hosts, the cultural displays of dance, and the food that we enjoyed during our stay. Most of all, as PO2 Napas Thein said of his experience, “I found this exchange to be one of the most rewarding and exotic experiences of my life. Never before have I met people with a culture so much more different than mine all the while practicing sea cadet traditions, which still resembled the same values and traits we practice back home.”
On that statement I believe all of us in attendance can agree. I speak for the Canadian cadets and myself when I say that the Indian regatta was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage in a cultural exchange.