On Exchange with the Armada de Chile
In 2013, I participated in the Royal Canadian Navy’s OP REGULUS and went on exchange to Chile to sail with their Navy for five months. Six freshly minted Sub Lieutenants from the RCN’s Venture training school volunteered to head south on the second rotation of officers to be sent to the South American nation. This is my enhanced report on the deployment.
Below is my original report I submitted to the Navy detailing my time aboard BRS Slight. It is not as scathing as the reports of the other officers who were on my ROTO as I wanted my message to be heard in the hopes of fixing the program for future participants sent to the Armada. But my observations along with those of the other officers never surfaced after submission. As I am no longer in the military, I can report the unvarnished opinions and impressions of my time down south.
The main points from my official report were as follows:
- The language barrier was the principal reason for the majority of challenges with this deployment. Personnel should be selected with language abilities in mind ahead of time. There should be at least one dedicated English speaker on board their Chilean ship.
- Officers should not be farmed out to buoy tenders and hydrography vessels. The tasks that I was asked to do could have been done by a MARS III student. And although somewhat interesting, buoy tending is pretty boring to continuously watch when you have no duties.
- There should have been more of a plan to involve me in the operations of the ship but with the language barrier and the crew being too busy with work-ups, there was not much for me to do and no one willing or able to help me.
General Impressions of the Chilean Navy
While in Chile, I kept a daily log of my thoughts and activities. These points come directly from my 2013 notes.
- The personnel, including senior officers, are somewhat childish in their behavior. This is possibly due to the Chilean culture but it continues to the Wardroom at inappropriate times. The worst case was a Sergeant asking if I slept with prostitutes and when I replied no, he accused me of being gay and having sex with the Mayordomo (the Wardroom steward).
- The ship’s company had almost zero interest in learning anything about the RCN’s customs, procedures, methods, culture or language. I would watch their soccer games and they would have no interest in hockey.
- I had no mentorship. If there was any sort of task for me, I would be told to do it with little or nothing in the way of explanation, guidance or resources. Of course, everything was in Spanish. “You must learn Spanish” was the phrase of choice.
- The ship could have benefited from having a designated Cox’n. It seemed as if all the discipline ran through the Captain.
- My crew wasn’t very detail oriented with little in the way of daily briefings. There were only small attempts to make sure I understood what was going on even when it should have been clear I wasn’t comprehending the tasking.
- Except for about a month, there was little attempt to learn or converse at all in English. They were determined to keep me immersed in Spanish. Which was fine but without the occasional context explained to me in English, learning their language was slow and painful.
- The Chileans were firm slaves to routine and tradition. Each meal on ship or ashore was the same depending on the day. Pollo (chicken) and fries, must be Sunday noon. Thursday dinner was their special navy meal of an Empanada de Horno, boiled potatoes, some stewing meat and re-hydrated apricots. (Our Canadian term for the fruit was old man testicles.) They took a couple of late 19th century naval heroes (Commander Arturo Prat & Sergeant Juan de Dios Aldea) and have made gods out of them, to be emulated and worshiped. They take no truck with joking or questioning their beliefs and rituals. (A ‘Pratfall’ wasn’t something to kid them about.)
- Further to the last point, they have very short and very long memories. As for short, the Captain would absolutely spaz out on an officer for half an hour but all is forgotten by the evening. As for long, the Chileans hold grudges forever going back to the country’s formative years when they were at war with everyone else on the continent.
- Their personnel are very hard workers but to the fault that they are somewhat proud of being away from their families and loved ones so much.
- My crew was homophobic and mercilessly teased others who were effeminent.
- Although my ship had no females onboard, the Navy had recently started allowing them to serve on their ships. The rumour was woman would serve aboard ships for a short period of time and after the experiment ‘failed’ would be removed.
Chilean Naval Procedures
Below are my observations on how my assigned ship BRS Slight went about her business of navigating the Chilean waters:
Small Boat Procedures
Some Thoughts on the Language Barrier
I put aside some time and thought into why Chilean Spanish was so difficult to learn. I was well aware that I was going to have issues and had turned down the deployment several times because of this reason. I was asked to be a last second replacement and consented to go being the good sailor that I was.
Below were what I observed to be issues for someone learning the language:
- Chileans speak super-quick and slur their words. My term for their speech is papas purée (mashed potatos).
- They continuously use country specific slang. In Santiago, the subway cards are ‘Byps’ because of the sound they make when passed over the scanner. Of course, the Navy has a whole language of its own with no dictionary or references.
- They do not pronounce ‘S’s in the middle of a word, Esmeralda = Emeralda.
- They drop whole syllables, Estribor = Tribor & Babor = Bor (Starboard & Port)
- They also tend to mumble and every other sentence contains the term Weon. Weon has multiple uses such as fucker, dude, bro, buddy, ass, etc. The female term is Weonita.
Due to their military structure it turned out that I hold the honour of being the oldest Subteniente that ever served with the Armada de Chile. The Chilean Admirals were quite impressed with my résumé which included being a Rescue Diver, a military pilot and now a naval officer. One of them compared me to James Bond 007. I attempted to be very politic during those meetings as I didn’t want to offend my hosts. But I believe that the RCN should have heeded the reports coming back from their officers. If you read between the lines of one OP REGULUS Chilean public report from 2015, the issues I have described, remain.
The participants knew that part of the mission was to help open up better diplomatic relations with a possible South American naval ally. I believe that making us better naval officers wasn’t as high a priority. I just think the whole program could have been run better so that the officers could have gained a better experience other than excessive drinking and sleeping with prostitutes.
Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.