Double Jeopardy for the crew of Sanderling No 1

Fishing vessel Sanderling No. 1
The 68 ft fishing vessel Sanderling 1 sits tied up to the dock in slightly better weather.
Photo credit: Rob Morris, Western Mariner Magazine

Unusual Search and Rescue cases happen from time to time on the west coast, but peril usually doesn’t strike a vessel twice in as many days. In the case of the vessel Sanderling No 1, however, the crew members of the 68-foot commercial fishing vessel experienced just that.

The first incident occurred on February 3, after the vessel was disabled due to mechanical difficulties south of Aristazabal Island, approximately 200 kilometres north of Vancouver Island. With three persons onboard and adrift six kilometres from shore in three to four metre seas, a hard grounding on the nearby shore seemed likely.

A pan-pan call (indicating no immediate danger to anyone's life or to the vessel itself) was issued by the vessel and relayed through Marine Communications and Traffic Services Prince Rupert. Hearing the call, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre swung into action. Canadian Coast Guard Ship Cape Farewell and CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, along with a Canadian Forces Buffalo and Cormorant aircraft, were tasked to respond to the disabled vessel.

With the Sanderling No 1’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) activated, the crew launched the life raft in preparation to abandon ship. However, with stormy seas raging, the crew lost control of the life raft, forcing the crew members to either remain onboard or jump into the freezing water.

Moments later, CCGS Cape Farewell from CCG Station Bella Bella arrived on scene. Despite the very challenging conditions, the Cape Farewell crew--Officer in Charge Rob Conley, Engineer Al Rosie, and Deck crew Paul Hollyoak and Arran Knaak--set to work hooking up a tow line on the disabled vessel, working to pull it away from the shoreline and out of danger.

Overhead, the crew of the Canadian Forces Cormorant had a bird’s eye view of the dramatic scene below. The Captain of the helicopter reported that as each wave crested, the Sanderling No. 1 surged almost completely out of the water before slamming down into the trough of the wave. The crew of the marine life boat (MLB) had their hands full keeping the tow secure on the vessel and themselves out of danger. Finally after some tense moments, the MLB was able to tow the vessel to safety and back to Bella Bella.

Acting Regional Director Fleet, Joanne McNish, acknowledged the commendable effort in the rescue of the crew and vessel Sanderling No. 1 in the challenging conditions. “Although CCG crews continuously work towards being able to effectively react in such situations, success is a direct tribute to the leadership, seamanship and teamwork onboard during the rescue.”

In Bella Bella, the crew from the Sanderling No. 1 focused their efforts on getting the vessel back to Vancouver Island to effect mechanical repairs. Just two days later on February 5 the vessel was again underway, departing Bella Bella under tow by a commercial tugboat. Rough weather continued throughout the day, but the crew of the tugboat was able to maintain control of the vessel.

Misfortune struck again 16 kilometres north of Port Hardy off Davey Rock in Gordon Channel when the towline parted, setting the Sanderling No. 1 adrift. With heavy weather conditions, mechanical difficulties and shoals nearby, the vessel was again in imminent danger of grounding. As the vessels life raft had been lost in the previous rescue, the crews only choice would have been to swim for it.

In the early morning, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre tasked CCG Station Port Hardy to swing into action. Battling heavy rain and 30-knot winds, CCGS Cape Sutil crew, Officer in Charge Bruce Campbell, Engineer Bruce Bournazel, deck crew Huw Davies and Adrian White, reached the drifting vessel within 45 minutes.

Once a tow line was hooked up, the Sanderling No. 1 was again secure and under tow by a Coast Guard MLB. In night operations with rough seas and high winds, the Cape Sutil with the Sanderling 1 under tow, took four hours to reach Port Hardy. With the vessel tied up at the Canadian Government wharf in Port Hardy, the crew of the vessel was again out of danger and back on dry land.

The rescues netted praise from the Department of National Defence Cormorant air crew who attended the first incident and from the marine insurance underwriter for the vessel.

The Pacific Coast Fisherman’s Mutual Marine Insurance Company wrote to commend both Coast Guard crews on their work.

“We understand that in both cases, the competent and professional work of the Coast Guard crew members was instrumental in keeping the vessel off the beach, delivering it safely to Shearwater and Port Hardy respectfully, and most importantly seeing all crew brought safely ashore without injury,” wrote Lee Varseveld in a letter to Coast Guard. “We write in acknowledgement and appreciate of the practical, hands on approach taken and the remarkable efforts of those crew members in extremely challenging conditions.

Overall, both incidents demonstrated an excellent effort from all involved, bringing three people to safety twice in two days.