Life at Sea in HMCS Ottawa  

HMCS Ottawa Visits OWEN Sound - 1985

HMCS Ottawa Visits Owen Sound

HMCS Ottawa Ship's Plaque
HMCS Ottawa Ship's Plaque
as a Combat Systems Engineer

I was one of the fortunate few in my class to get a posting as a Department Head at sea. I was posted to HMCS Ottawa Thirteen years after beginning my pursuit to become my boss's, boss's, boss in 1971 while serving in HMCS Assiniboine. At the time I was thinking that I would achieve this goal in 3 or 4 years at the most. So it took about ten years longer than I had anticipated but in the process I received a well rounded education at Military College, experienced graduate studies at the University of Victoria and finished off my education at the Technical University of Nova Scotia and Fleet School Halifax. In hindsight the extra ten years was well worth it.

Each warship has two Engineers; a Marine Systems Engineer, who is responsible for the ship's propulsion and power systems and a Combat Systems Engineer, who is responsible for the ship's Combat, Command and Control, Communications and Navigations and Computing Systems. Combat Systems Engineers also serve in shore-based establishments which was where many of my classmates were posted, primarily in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Victoria, British Columbia.

As the Head of the Combat Systems Engineering Department I managed a department of over 53 technicians and technologists. As such I dealt with unique challenges associated with life at sea while leading personnel under difficult conditions.  It's one thing to manage and repair high-voltage systems in a 9 to 5 environment in an office building and it's a very different challenge to manage and repair the same equipment at three in the morning while being bounced around in heavy seas. While serving in HMCS Ottawa we had several port visits along the Eastern Coast of the USA from Boston in the North to Savanna Georgia in the South.  We also visited several Caribbean Islands from St Lucia to St Croix.

Of particular note was a visit to Caracas Venezuela. The Canadian Embassy provided the ship with a car equipped with a driver and an armed security guard.  I recall taking the car with a couple of other officers to downtown Caracas. We were all surprised to find that the driver was also armed with a handgun and the security guard had both a hand gun and a small machine gun.  We were also surprised to learn that neither of them were paid very much and had not eaten all day.  Understandably we all chipped in to buy both of them dinner.  Given the risk of kidnapping at the time the Embassy felt it prudent to provide this security for the ship's officers  to avoid any problems.  That was in 1984 which indicates that the early signs of society breakdown in Venezuela had already begun. Now 35 years later we are witnessing the total breakdown of social order of what was the riches country in South America - all due to successive socialist governments.

I very much enjoyed my time as the Combat Systems Engineer in HMCS Ottawa until I was post to National Defence Headquarters in 1986 to join a team that was responsible for the development of naval software for the new Canadian Patrol Frigates (CPF) that were on the drawing board at the time - a project that I would join some four years later. My time in HMCS Ottawa was appreciated and awarded with a promotion to Lieutenant Commander. This promotion was unexpected since I had only had this single job as a Lieutenant. Most officers do 2 or 3 postings as a Lieutenant before being promoted.



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