by Mark Cardwell

Sail training continues to be used by many modern navies to provide hands-on seamanship skills both on and off the water. But the Royal Canadian Navy is no longer one of them.

HMCS Oriole, a 31-metre ketch that was donated to the RCN in 1949 and commissioned in 1952 – making it the oldest and longest-serving commissioned ship in the RCN – is no longer being used as a training vessel. Much like the Navy’s Gun Run, the ship is now being used for public relations purposes by competing in day sails and races in support of charities in communities on Canada’s West Coast.

“It provides training for those crew members who are involved in the outreach activities,” said Navy public affairs officer Lt (N) Kelly Boyden from National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. “But all of our training is now done on Orca-class vessels.” According to Lt Boyden, the Oriole was long used for sail training vessel on the West Coast.

Most training however was done on the half-dozen, wooden-hulled Yard Auxiliary General (or YAG 300) training tenders that the RCN built in the 1950s. Those 70-tonne vessels were in still in service in 2000 when some 2,000 sailors, according to a military report, “were deployed on the YAGs for a total of 585 days and steamed over 25,000 nautical miles in support of training.” The YAGs have since been replaced by the eight steel-hulled, Orca-class training tenders that were built by Victoria Shipyards from 2004-2008 for $91 million. The eight vessels, which are based on the design of Australia’s Pacific-class patrol boat, are 33 metres long, carry crews of 24, and carry warship-grade navigational equipment.

According to Lt Boyden, sea training is also continued on an on-going basis on all RCN vessels and at five land-based training establishments, which are part of the current Naval Training System. Training initiatives include Universal Classroom, an emerging program that will use video conferencing for cross-country training from Halifax and/or Esquimalt. “This will result in cost savings by reducing travel expenses while increasing quality of life for sailors by having them (do) more of their training in their home port locations,” said Lt Boyden. He added that the same cost-cutting advantages are achieved from training at the RCN’s 24 naval reserve divisions.

“The NTS is constantly updated and modernized to focus on adopting new methodologies and technologies to enable more efficient and streamlined education and training,” said Lt Boyden. He added, however, that sail training is not on the RCN’s training radar. “We already have the Oriole,” said Lt Boyden. “And we have no plans to acquire any more sailing vessels.”

But, that’s obviously not a sentiment that the Ministry of Defence of Oman subscribes to, having ordered a new Sail Training Vessel (STV) from Damen Shipyards Galati (Romania). The 87-metre vessel, named RNOV Shabab Oman, is destined to become the flagship of the Royal Navy of Oman to continue the role of the current STV of the same name in promoting cultural interaction and to help ‘spread peace and harmony amongst nations’. Shabab Oman is a full square rigger and will have 2,700 square metres of sail.

Shabab Oman was safely launched in Romania before being towed to Vlissingen in the Netherlands for its final outfitting in December 2013, in preparation for delivery in August 2014. The three-masted steel clipper will play a key role in training young Omani naval cadets and officers, as well as being deployed as an ‘ambassador’ for its country, where it will sail the world’s oceans demonstrating Oman’s centuries-old maritime tradition.

Although the clipper looks like a traditional teak vessel externally, it boasts the most modern technology inside. The clipper has a traditional Omani look, with elegantly hand-carved, gilded scrollwork and nameplates.

While in Vlissingen the three 50-metre steel/aluminum masts, rigging and spars will be installed, as well as the exterior teak woodwork and decking, and the interior wood lining furnishing and finish. The technology systems will be commissioned by Imtech Marine/Alewijnse, Johnson controls and other companies. And although it has modern cooling systems and generators, it is all about hands-on sailing, nothing is automatic.

This is Damen’s third Sail Training Vessel Clipper type order, after previously engineering and building the Stad Amsterdam and the Cisne Branco, the Brazilian navy’s new STV. More info about the Damen Sail Training Vessels Cisne Branco and Stad Amsterdam can be found at