Nunavut teen sails Great Lakes tall ship over summer

‘This journey has really changed my life,’ says Reuben Qaunaq, of Arctic Bay

Reuben Qaunaq stands on the St. Lawrence II tall ship. This was his second year in a program for teenagers to build life skills by learning to sail for just over a week. (Photo courtesy of Reuben Qaunaq)

By David Lochead

Reuben Qaunaq arrived in Iqaluit recently after more than a week of changing sails and battling windy days as a petty officer aboard a tall ship.

After spending time last summer on a tall ship, the teenager returned to sail through the Great Lakes this year.

“This journey has really changed my life,” Qaunaq said.

He is part of a program run by Tall Ship Expeditions Canada, where Canadian teenagers become crew members aboard the St. Lawrence II tall ship for trips across the Great Lakes that take close to a week to complete.

Reuben Qaunaq with members of the crew on the St. Lawrence II tall ship. (Photo courtesy of Reuben Qaunaq)

The purpose of the expeditions is for young Canadians to learn skills such as leadership, teamwork and self-confidence.

The nearly 22-metre-long St. Lawrence II was built in 1953 to carry a crew of 25. The program’s website says it is outfitted with a full, modern navigation suite including GPS and electronic chart system. It’s a brigantine class ship, meaning it has two masts.

Qaunaq, who is from Arctic Bay, joined the expedition as a trainee last year on the recommendation of his high school teacher.

He returned this year as a petty officer, which means he is teaching the trainees about the skills needed to be on the boat.

Some of those skills include tying boating knots, climbing up the ship’s rigging and learning how to unfurl the sails, Qaunaq said.

The challenge of doing his job included working in high winds with tasks such as changing the sails in those conditions to ensure the boat moves properly.

Four of the trainees he taught were fellow Nunavummiut.

As a petty officer, Qaunaq said he spent most of his time with the other officers since he was living and eating with them while on the boat.

“They were like family,” he said.

While the tall ship is not a boat that would go up North, the captain did bring a traditional qajaq, made in Labrador, onto the ship, he added.

The qajaq was not just for show either, as Qaunaq used it during his travels.

Reuben Qaunaq on the qajaq that was brought onto the tall ship. (Photo courtesy of Reuben Qaunaq)

Outside of sailing, Qaunaq said he wants to study political science at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. starting in the fall of 2024.

“I want to help make Nunavut a better place,” he said.

He said the personal skills he developed in his sailing experience can help in his future goals.

As for the near future, Qaunaq said he wants to return to southern waters next year to sail through Quebec and Newfoundland, as there is still more to learn.

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(8) Comments:

  1. Posted by I live in the Arctic on

    what great program, education, confidence building, teamwork.

  2. Posted by Peter Milley on

    A great story which I have shared with my Board of Directors and volunteers… Our goal is to give every young man and woman the opportunity to develop to be the best they can be. It is wonderful that kids from every province and territory are able to sail together on a tall ship to forge lifetime bonds.

    Peter Milley
    Tall Ship Expeditions Canada (T.S.E.C.) – Brigantine Incorporated
    [email protected]

    • Posted by Shelley Forbes on

      Bravo! I am so excited every time I read about youth experiencing the pleasure of learning to sail on the St. Lawrence Ii. It gives me great pride and continued gratitude for my son’s and daughter’s opportunity to sail her, Tatjana and Saimaniq Temela, hometown of Kimmirut, Nunavut. Peter and Board members, Captain, Crew and other supporters, thank you so much for making a difference, for making opportunities for all Canadian Youth and Especially for including Inuit and other Indigenous Youth. The qajaq is an awesome addition to the experience! ❤

  3. Posted by Captain Dave Nicoll on

    Wonderful program and we should be emulating it here in Nova Scotia

  4. Posted by David Pelly on

    It should be noted that Qaunaq and the 12 other young Nunavumiut who are sailing on this ship during the summer of 2022 were all sponsored by the Ayalik Fund ( which provides similar expeditionary experiences for dozens of Inuit youth every summer.

    • Posted by Bronwyn on

      I wondered that – thanks for clarifying. Yay for the Ayalik Fund. Fantastic.

  5. Posted by R.P. DWYER (GJOA HAVEN) on

    Tall ship sailing is a wonderful adventure !
    In 2001 I sailed on tall ship Soren Larsen from June 1 till July 30.
    We sailed from Tahiti to Fiji and many islands in between. About 3500 miles.
    In 2004, on the same ship, we sailed from Auckland, New Zealand to Easter Island, we did not
    see land for 43 days.
    We then sailed west to Pitcairns Island, The Marquesas, The Tuamotos, and then to Tahiti.
    That trip was from Feb 20 till May 25. About 11,000miles. Enjoyed very well.
    Good luck to you Qaunaq.
    As far as I know, the tall ship Picton Castle will leave Nova Scotia end of October 2022 and
    do trip around the world, and be back in Nova Scotia June2024.
    Take care everyone.

  6. Posted by Douglas. Wallace on

    I have forwarded the story to petty officer Wallace currently sailing Lake Ontario on the brigantine Tall Ship, Fair Jeanne. Perhaps a rendezvous could be arranged.

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