Spirit Quest


Reverend Hanns Skoutajan had a tall ship

and stars to look at — if not to steer her by
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

'Jesus Saviour pilot me, over life's tempestuous sea.'

Sailing, sailing over the ocean blue!”  Well, it wasn’t quite the ocean, rather it was the waters east and west of the city of Kingston, Ontario, the river and lake that form the boundary between Canada and the United States. We didn’t get to the US as planned inasmuch as someone had not brought their passport and Homeland Security said a firm No. They probably thought we were seeking to import wacky tobaccy and socialism.

The ship was the Fair Jeanne of Bytown Brigantine of Ottawa, whose youthful crew of experienced mariners is captained by Sam Drinnan. One must never forget the cooks who kept us well fed. Its passengers were a group of 15 adults  from 18 to 82. The latter being me, the oldest trainee embarking for fun, friendship and the fundamentals of sailing a tall ship.
The SV Fair Jeanne is a  33.5 meter (110 foot) vessel,  its mast reaches a dizzying 24.4 meters (80 feet) into the sky. I am saddened to have to admit that I was the lone landlubber who didn’t brave the climb to the top. It was enough of a thrill to watch my mates inch their way up the ladders, at each step securing their harnesses until they reached the platform and then squirm over its edge, a heart throbbing, muscle wrenching task, to reach the top. Some serious doubts about my physical fitness plus some considerable height anxiety kept me deck bound. Indeed, I had some grave doubts about the wisdom of joining this adventure, and still have, but I would not have missed it for the world.
It was Simon Fuller’s idea as a teenager to take a lonely, unused sailing ship moored in Britannia Bay, Ottawa, refit it and with a group of  young people,  sail it to Quebec City. There they joined an international  tall ship event. They became part of a fleet of magnificent ships from around the world. Now for over 25 years  Bytown Brigantine Inc. has been an organization for youth, run by youth.
The program stands as a testament to the ideals held and displayed by Simon Fuller.  As a young boy in tribute to his father, the late Captain Thomas Fuller, owner of the SV Black Jack, a somewhat smaller ship he like Noah built the SV Fair Jeanne in his back yard. Wow, what a craftsman and what a back yard! He has run sailing programs for youth each summer plus two adult trips a year.
And so it was that on the first day of September we more or less raw recruits, although there were several veterans of previous adult voyages, and indeed one seasoned octogenarian seaman, boarded the ship moored alongside the Holiday Inn in downtown Kingston. 
On the following morning we edged out of our berth  and headed into the St. Lawrence River. Soon the sails were unfurled to catch a north eastern breeze that carried us past the Limestone City, my Alma Mater Queen’s, and happily not my alma mater the Kingston Pen with its forbidding walls and towers along the waterfront.
After leaving the shelter of Wolf Island on our port side (left hand) we were given a taste of what the real sea might be. However, soon we were once again in the protection of Amherst Island and into calmer water.
Our lookouts, not in the crows nest but riding the bow sprit and on both sides of the ship called out “sailboat on port bow, 20 degrees,” or “green buoy on starboard, 15 degrees,” kept us safe and out of the way of traffic.
By later afternoon  we sailed into Picton harbour and made fast at the municipal dock.  We were an eye opener to all on shore. The next day saw us sailing east to Gananoque and the wonderful Thousand Islands, where some went ashore to see the play Billy Bishop Goes to War and others of us were for some suds, took a shower and indulged in lengthy religious discussions.
Thus we sailed for five days and learned the ropes, excuse me, there are no ropes, only lines, hawsers, laniards … We learned to tie knots, keep charts and logs and live in close proximity with each other. 
On our final night the Fair Jeanne anchored in Collins Bay just west of Kingston. It is traditional that on that final evening the complement shed their “work” clothes and don semi formal attire. One appeared decked in the kilts of the MacLeod clan, a colourful addition to our banquet. We toasted the Queen with a glass of port, following which we indulged in homemade entertainment, most of which was actually quite funny.
As the lone clergy on onboard, I was called to my professional duty as ecclesiastic can opener, to say “Grace.”  There was no problem finding cause for gratitude, not only for the food and those who prepared and produced it  but for the wondrous environment which we  beheld and the rich new friendships that we had formed.
In a society so beholden to electronic technology, it is remarkable to be under sail, at the mercy of the power of nature, the wind, the  sun, and borne on the water. The ship does have a diesel engine to assist nature at times.
I kept thinking of the impact that this experience must have on those fortunate young people, so beholden to gadgetry, to experience the powers and vagaries of nature.
Fuller had a vision that this experience could make an enormous affect on young people whose fingers constantly twitch the micro keyboards of their handheld sets.
I had my turn at the helm. Keeping the ship on course is not a simple endeavor. A 100 plus foot  boat  that runs on a liquid surface takes some anticipating. Its reaction time to the tiller is nothing like that of an auto on hard pavement, I soon discovered. Looking back at the wake I was reminded of my slalom days of skiing.
I have scarcely ever had such a strong sense of the presence of the Spirit as I did lying on my sleeping bag on the poop deck, as many of us did, observing the stars. I could not help but pray a wordless prayer, for words are scarcely adequate to respond to the presence of this Spirit.
I covet this experience, but most especially for those youthful sailors, beginning their cruise of life. May a good Spirit guide them even as I sense the Spirit  that at times pushes against my will, but directs me to the Safe Anchorage beyond time and space.

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