Last winter, a disabled 60-foot sailing vessel was rescued from Anvil Island and towed back to Squamish in bitter outflow conditions.
The three-hour recovery was so smooth that the skipper down below remained fast asleep, according to Scott Shaw-MacLaren, a coxswain, or captain with the Squamish Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, Station 4 team.
Often mistaken for the coastguard, the red and yellow-top skiffs of the Squamish RCM-SAR are a welcome sight to anyone stranded and at the mercy of the sea.
Tucked right on Howe Sound, Squamish has its fair share of boat owners and several marinas to its name. It is not surprising then that there is a lot of boating activity to keep volunteer rescuers on their toes not just in the summer, but throughout the winter too.
“We are one hundred per cent volunteer… and community funded,” says Shaw-MacLaren, who admits winter weather is much harsher with 1.5-metre waves and winds that outflow up to 40 knots.
The volunteers work on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week serving the area’s rugged coastline with a promise of a 15-minute response time.
This year, all responses have come in under that time.
When a boat capsized near Porteau Cove in August with a father and his two sons who had been out crabbing for the day, Squamish’s rescue team was the first on the scene.
The family made it safely to shore thanks to the Squamish team and other rescue agencies working together.
That particular rescue was memorable, says Shaw-MacLaren, as was responding to the Squamish Terminals’ east dock fire in 2015.
A recovery in 2015 also stands out. “It was a major operation to find an overturned canoer right in the Mamquam Blind Channel. That involved the coordination of several resources … the RCMP, ground search and rescue, Comox air search, and our resources, including the Coast Guard,” he recalls.
As important as their rescue job is, it isn’t all RCM-SAR volunteers do. They also conduct boating-week events introducing people to safe boating habits and complimentary vessel inspections.
Coxswain Chris Scarborough says the group trains rigorously every week — in the water and out. Significant hours are needed to qualify for specific roles and the group is always looking for fresh recruits, he says.
The job is out of the ordinary but that’s why Scarborough – an original member– says he stays onboard. “You wake up in the middle of the night and go out on a task then come back to your regular life.”
One of the original RCM-SAR members from 2008, when the organization was launched in Squamish, is Dave Richardson who is also a volunteer firefighter.
“It seemed like a natural thing to try and help out the community,” he says of why he joined Station 4. “It’s interesting to see the crossover of how one group will look at a situation and then how these guys approach it.”
Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue falls under federal jurisdiction, not provincial, unlike many other first responders.
The Squamish station fundraises to purchase equipment and resources. Shaw-MacLaren says there are reimbursements from the Coast Guard, but that “essentially covers the fuel for rescues.”
At the Squamish Yacht Club, Station 4 currently has two rescue vessels docked— an aluminum hull and fibreglass hull — both clock 40 knots and are rigid-hulled inflatable boats.
One is out of the water, however, due to hydraulic failure. To repair it is costly, says Shaw-MacLaren.
“Vessels of support are a critical feature for marine safety.”
A four-foot trailer holding the 31-volunteer rescuers gear sits at the dock, with room for only two people to change at a time.
Getting a permanent and suitable base of operations is an ultimate goal.
Shaw-MacLaren hopes for a boathouse to protect the highly sensitive equipment from exposure and a facility for their gear.
For more on Squamish’s Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue go to rcmsar.com/rescue-stations/southern-region/squamish.
Photo by David Buzzard/For The Squamish Chief