After a two year absence, the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets have made a return to Kingston this summer.

While this year’s program is significantly smaller than years past, some instructors are pleasantly surprised that the training is able to take place in any capacity.

The cadets are currently undergoing summer training in order to attain their CANSAIL sailing levels and SCOP (Small Craft Operator Program) qualifications. The cadets, aged 12 to 19, come from across Canada to attain their qualifications. The training is done through Trenton’s Cadet Training Centre, which operates a satellite sailing site at the Royal Military College.

The absence of in person training over the last two years has put stress on the program’s format, which sees older cadets taking on leadership roles even while they continue to expand their skill set through the program.

While there has been some degree of virtual learning available, the program becomes limited without any in person training.

In the two year absence, a number of the cadets who would have been expected to take on those leadership roles have aged out of the program, and Lieutenant Thomas Flake, SAIL Coach, says that there just hasn’t been any opportunity to replace the practical experience lost to COVID closures.

“There’s definitely that leadership gap,” Flake said.

“We had a lot of the senior cadets age out, we’ve had nothing to supplement that knowledge and experience… But I think, yeah, we’re meeting the challenge. Especially these staff cadets, they’re stepping up, they’re learning as well, yes they are staff but they are still cadets so it is still a training experience for them.”

He added that a lower number of instructors involved has given them a bit of a learning experience too.

“We’re all definitely multitasking but it’s well within our realm,” Flake said.

With so many other activities making their long awaited return this year, cadets’ programs in Kingston and throughout the country have scaled back out of necessity.

Normally a program like this would include somewhere around 600 cadets and over 120 instructors, but this year there are just 27 cadets enrolled.

The benefit of that, however, is that instructors have been able to get to know cadets a little more, and dedicate a bit more time to them all one on one.

Sublieutenant Ted Dunphy, Small Craft Operator Program (SCOP) Coach, says despite the changes, both cadets and instructors are thrilled to be back.

“It’s much more concentrated so we’re dealing with the same cadets much more often,” Dunphy said.

“But I think at least so far, it’s run really well, the kids are having a great time, I think a lot of them are just happy to be back and I know for certain I am.”

When the program was greenlit, instructors were put in the position of having to design what the course would look like in relatively short order.

While that was not an easy process, and there have been expected bumps along the way, this year’s somewhat painful experience was necessary in order to rebuild a foundation for this program to grow on for the coming years, says staff.

Civilian Instructor Sail Coach Rebecca Patterson was a course cadet in 2019, the last summer that saw cadets active before COVID shutdowns.

Now, after having no choice but to skip her time as a staff cadet, she has jumped right into the role of instructor.

Patterson says while things have moved very fast coming into this summer and it has certainly been difficult, it will help ease the process for coming years and allow the program to rebuild stronger.

“We have a very large age range in this group,” Patterson said.

“So some of them are going to be old enough next year to do the staffing roles so once they’re qualified on these levels we can get them those instructor levels and then we can start building. Since we have this nice basis of staff cadets that are good, and qualified, and ready they’ll be able to come back and do that and be the more senior people to help teach the new ones that come in.”

By the end of this program, cadets will walk away with CANSAIL levels 1 and 2 and be introduced to CANSAIL level 3, and will have obtained SCOP levels 1 to 3.

The program is continuing over the remainder of the next two weeks on the Royal Military College campus, and a graduation ceremony for cadets will be held on the afternoon of August 19.