Naval Reservists give kids with special needs a pirate adventure

Naval Reserve News / June 13, 2016

By Petty Officer Second Class Emily Agopsowicz

“Yo ho! Avast me hearties!” shouted an eye-patched captain aboard a colourful flag-festooned sailboat flying the Jolly Roger. A loud boom echoed, and a cannon blast of candy shot forward onto the jetty outside HMCS Malahat, much to the delight of the crowd of young “pirates” ashore.

Malahat was once again transformed into a pirate’s paradise in support of Variety – The Children’s Charity’s annual “fun raising” event, Boat for Hope on Saturday June 4th.

This is the twelfth year Malahat has supported the event which gave over 300 children who have special needs and their families the opportunity to set sail on an adventure in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Children donned their best pirate rigs and boarded festive ships to set out on a quest to various “Treasure Stations” where a bounty of toys awaited. Malahat, ideally situated in James Bay, provided a perfect starting point for the adventure.

"The Royal Canadian Navy plays an important role in supporting our communities. Boat for Hope is a great example of the significant contribution our Naval Reserve sailors make across the Greater Victoria region," said Lieutenant-Commander Michael Lawless, Commanding Officer, Malahat.

The event kicked off at 10:00 am at Malahat where children and their families were greeted by Sonar, the RCN’s mascot. On the parade deck, Malahat sailors facilitated various games supplied by the Esquimalt MFRC. Outside, a lineup of excited faces eagerly waited for their turn to take a ride on one of the festively decorated ships manned by skippers in the community who volunteered their time and vessels.

Master Corporal Robert Stoodley, a member of 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron, came with his wife and three children Carissa, Colten and Caydison. For Master Corporal Stoodley, the positive effect of Boat for Hope is close to home.

“My oldest daughter is autistic and about three years ago I was volunteering with Victoria Society for Children with Autism and they said I should take my kids out on Boat for Hope. So I got my kids registered and volunteered then and have been coming back every year because it’s amazing. They have big smiles on their faces, they love doing the boat tour around the Inner Harbour and dressing up as pirates,” said Master Corporal Stoodley.

A volunteer for the event for the past three years, Master Corporal Stoodley was instrumental in securing the Sea King helicopter on display this year.

Petty Officer Second Class (Retired) Brian Stennes, a former Malahat member, was in attendance in full pirate regalia as part of the Vancouver Island Pirates.

The philanthropic pirates have been supporting Boat for Hope for five years.

Mike Dawe, another pirate, entertained children waiting in line for their boat ride with jokes and tales of adventure.

“I look forward to it for months in advance. It’s fun – you get to work with the kids. The parents appreciate not having to be the bad guy telling them to be careful while they are waiting in line for the boats. That’s what I’m there for. I’m glad I can help out,” said Dawe.

Following their on-water adventure, the children and their families headed to the Coast Guard station across the street where the festivities continued which included live music, face painting, balloon animals and a barbeque.

Variety – The Children’s Charity steps in where health care ends to provide direct help to children in B.C. with special needs with funding for medical care and services, mobility and communication equipment and therapies, and education and experiences that foster development.

“For the hundreds of kids who participate every year, the day is a wonderful opportunity to play games, have fun and enjoy a barbeque in the park,” said Kristy Gill, Variety’s Executive Director. “For us at Variety, it’s also an important fundraising opportunity for us to continue helping children with special needs.”

To date, the annual event has raised over 1.2 million dollars.

Victoria Councillor Marianne Alto came to show her support for the event.

“Without HMCS Malahat’s involvement Boat for Hope would not have had the amazing opportunity to provide respite for children and their families. While the kids are having fun, it’s also wonderful for the parents who get to see their kids enjoying themselves,” said Councillor Alto.

For Carissa Stoodley it was evidently another fun day on the water. Her favourite part about being a pirate?

“Squirting any and everything!” she exclaimed.

“Including dad,” added Master Corporal Stoodley with a smile, the front of his flight suit soaked with water.

For Malahat sailors who supported Boat for Hope, whether it was serving as small boat’s crew in Malahat’s Rigid Hulled Inflatable boat (RHIB), facilitating games stations on the parade deck or maintaining security at the brow, it was an opportunity to work as a team and utilize their leadership and seamanship skills all while contributing to another successful community event.