The four recipients of grants from the Port of Montreal : Lou Bouchard (at left),
Tommy Proulx-Roy, and the twins Annie and Fanny Charland-Asselin, with
Lise Nadon, from ÉcoMaris, their accompanying adult throughout the journey.


ÉcoMaris : young people take to the sea

Four young people from the Borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve took a one-week course on the Roter Sand, the EcoMaris sail training vessel, thanks to a grant from the Port of Montreal. They tell us about their experience.

When the Roter Sand sail training vessel cleared the passage where the St. Lawrence empties into the vast Gulf of St. Lawrence, Annie Charland-Asselin, 19, was at the helm. Within seconds, two-and-a-half metre waves pounded the ship, shaking it uncontrollably. That shook Annie up, too, “It was pitching so much that the propeller came right out of the water!” she said, with fear in her eyes from the memory.

Yet she followed to the letter the orders of the officer, who stayed by her side. That’s how the young teen learned how to master rough seas. “Francis (the officer) left me at the helm the whole time. He gave me advice and trusted me. His confidence gave me confidence. This is the most important thing I remember from my trip,” she firmly stated.  


On the deck, first officer Ariane Tessier-Moreau gives a navigation
lesson to the budding young sailors.

Annie, her twin sister Fanny, Tommy Proulx-Roy and Lou Bouchard are the four recipients of grants from the Port of Montreal who spent a week aboard the Roter Sand in the company of other young people, a supervisor and the vessel’s sailing officers. The mission of this sail training school is to make youth aware of the environment and help them learn about themselves. “The sea gives each of them the opportunity to find what they need, depending on their stage of life,” said Simon Paquin, educational psychologist and founder of EcoMaris, the ship owner.

Journey on the high seas

The crew sailed from the Port of Rimouski on June 29, headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Instead, this journey full of surprises ended in Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton, to avoid Hurricane Arthur that was sweeping the area.


Under the captain's watchful eye, the shipmates learn to
maneuver the sail training vessel.

Tommy, 16, will long remember his night shift at the helm, standing in the endless darkness under the dome of the stars, “I saw two tails of whales rise up and slam down on the water. It was awesome! Ariane [Tessier-Moreau, officer] told me we probably woke them up,” he said, still excited. Another equally moving encounter was with baby dolphins, who Fanny observed as they frolicked near the vessel. Then there were seals, penguins, ducks and porpoises. The young sailors also caught, cooked and ate mackerel.

Aboard ship, there is so much to do, from cooking and cleaning to maintenance and sailing manoeuvres. Everyone has a job and finds what they do well. When Lou, 15, showed an interest in cooking, he found he had a knack for it, and entertained the group more often than not. “I also loved doing manoeuvres, hoisting the staysail (the second sail),” said Lou, who like his fellow sailors learned how to speak a bit like old salts of the sea.

When the going gets tough…

Obviously, a sea voyage includes its tougher moments. Like the night when a serious storm with its host of lightening, thunder, rain and wind agitated the waters so much that everyone on board was seasick. When the going gets tough! “That seasickness taught me perseverance,” recognized Fanny. She was sick and did not want to get out of bed, but decided that this wasn’t the time to give up. So up she got and headed to the bridge. The fresh air did her good; she got her colour back… and her courage.  


Around the large table, sheltered from the weather, they eat, take stock
of things, chat, solve problems and laugh. Their bunks line the walls.

“As for me,” said Lou, “I admit that I found it hard to live with people for nine days without an hour to myself. But now, it’s okay. Next time, I’ll feel better with the others.” The sail training school is a great opportunity to cultivate team spirit and skills such as tolerance and self-control.

Interestingly, young people in the program tend to talk about tough times with the same frankness and passion as their accounts of better times. This is because they can take pride in facing their fears, their discouragement and other difficulties. Tommy explained quite simply that being hard of hearing, he was sometimes bullied at school, which made him hesitant to assert himself. “I’m afraid of making a mistake. On the sailboat, the officers told me what I should do and they thought I could do it. So I did… and I could! It gave me confidence. Team spirit and confidence go together!”

The tough get going…united!


A great mackrel catch for the crew to feast on!

They had a lot to tell, under the watchful eye of Lise Nadon, who accompanied them on their journey. Occasionally, one of them blurted out a phrase or line that would make no sense to an outsider, and everyone laughed. Like old insiders in a club, they understood each other in half words and shared the same references. “It’s true that we had good laughs on the sailboat,” said one of them. “With the Captain’s dumb jokes,” added another. “Lots of crazy things get said on a boat,” confirmed Lise Nadon, with a totally amused smile. Humour is an essential ingredient of the cement that binds sailors in the same esprit de corps.

The low sun floods the deck with beautiful  golden light. A relaxing moment.

On July 10, these four young people freely talking and laughing around a table at Café Hoche on Ontario Street, the twins Fanny and Annie, Lou and Tommy, are no longer the same people who boarded the Roter Sand twelve days earlier. They are stronger, more mature, and perfectly happy with their experience.

To learn more about the EcoMaris project, read:
EcoMaris: All aboard the sail training vessel!   
Two young neighbours at EcoMaris