The Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society, Unit 33, was honoured for its rescue of an overboard canoeist clinging to a rock off Oak Bay last July.
The Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Society awarded the local group in Vancouver last month for exemplary search and rescue (SAR) service.
The award comes in recognition of the team’s work in July in what started out as a routine call but ended with an 11-hour search for two missing men whose canoe had capsized in the treacherous waters of Baynes Channel.
One man was rescued by the crew while a second man died in the incident. That death makes the award a bittersweet recognition.
“The second man’s body was recovered a month later to the day,” said Jurgen Pokrandt, one of the volunteers involved in the search. “Of course, we’re glad we rescued the one man, but we wish we had found his friend as well.”
The rescued canoeist had managed to cling to a concrete marker known as Tod Rock and was suffering from hypothermia when found, but he did manage to tell the crew that a second man was in the water.
Nathan Leung, one of the Unit 33 crew, had attended school and played soccer with both men. That personal relationship didn’t interfere with the team’s work.
“We were just focused on searching . . . so we were very professional about it,” Leung said. “The team searched every little nook and cranny out there.”
Unit 33 responds to about 55 distress calls per year in the waters from Race Rocks near Metchosin to D’Arcy Island near Sidney.
“We’re always looking for new members,” said volunteer Kim Bentzon. “We will train anyone who’s interested in giving their time to the service.”
Unit 33 has about 40 members who work one week out of four on an alternating shift schedule. The unit trains several days a month, combining time on the water with dry land training. That training is rigorous, but then, it has to be.
“This is a serious business,” said Bentzon. “We’re not just out on a boat ride. It’s a whole different world out there.”
The remaining members of the Unit 33 crew who were honoured with the award are Chris Life, Jerry Hunter, Christine Rikley, Paul McDonnell and Andrew Whale.
For more on Oak Bay Sea Rescue, see obsr.ca.