Volunteers first on the water to find those in danger

Oak Bay’s ‘navy’ always at the ready

Jurgen Pokrandt

Jurgen Pokrandt was on duty at the Oak Bay Marina last Friday night when what seemed like a routine call turned into an 11-hour search for a missing Saanich man.

Pokrandt and crew members, Jerry Hunter, Chris Life and Nathan Leung had just begun their week-long shift as night crew for the Oak Bay Sea Rescue (OBSR) Society, known as Unit 33 of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue.

Around 10:50 p.m., Pokrandt, duty coxswain, received a call to investigate the waters off Oak Bay after a concerned citizen had called police and reported hearing cries for help.

Two young Saanich men had set sail from Telegraph Bay Cove earlier that evening with the intention of camping overnight on Discovery Island. However, their canoe capsized while travelling through Baynes Channel near Ten Mile Point.

According to Pokrandt, the waters were calm Friday night, but he noted that Baynes Channel can get very rough with conflicting currents.

“The Oak Bay area has a lot of rocks and islets – it’s a very dangerous area for boating unless you know your way around,” says Pokrandt, a society member for 13 years.

Pokrandt and crew met Saanich police on the shore near Flower Island and were told to search the waters around Cadboro Bay, from Ten Mile Point to Willows Beach.

The Oak Bay crew was first out on the water, Pokrandt says. They combed the waters until coming across one of the missing canoeists around 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

“As we were motoring out there, we were yelling, stopping the engines, and listening,” Pokrandt recalls. “And at some point, we heard faint cries for help. We zeroed in on it and we finally heard the direction and we yelled and we got a response.”

A 20-year-old Saanich man was found clinging onto a sign at the top of a concrete marker known as Tod Rock, located near Mary Tod Island.

He was wet and a bit incoherent, according to Pokrandt. “He was standing there hypothermic.”

However, upon finding the young man, the crew learned another was still missing.

“At that point, a major mayday was issued,” Pokrandt says.

After the first young man was located Leung, a crew member for 15 months, discovered the canoeists were acquaintances.

Leung attended Lambrick Park Secondary with both boys, he says, and played soccer with them for a couple of years.

“We were just focused on searching for the canoeists so we were just professional about it and we tried our hardest to find both of them,” Leung says.

“It gave me so much more motivation to get back out there and try even harder.”

Members from the Canadian and U.S. coast guards, Victoria police marine unit, Saanich fire department, RCMP marine unit and Oak Bay police and fire continued to search the area for the second canoeist throughout the night and into Saturday morning. A helicopter from Comox also searched from above.

Meanwhile, Unit 33 members continued to search “every little nook and cranny” along the water, Pokrandt says, and called out in hope of getting some sort of response.

By 7 a.m. Saturday, a second Oak Bay boat, sent as a relief crew, joined them on the water.

“We’re dedicated, and we just wanted to search for this guy. … We thought there must be a chance, a hope, that he’d still be out there somewhere,” Pokrandt says, adding that both boats remained on the look-out until being told to stand down around 9 a.m.

The search was called off early Saturday afternoon. The second canoeist has not been found and was deemed a missing person.

Pokrandt says this type of call isn’t unusual, especially in the summertime. It’s the extent and seriousness of Friday night’s search that made this mission different.

“There’s a lot of other things which are just simple searches,” Pokrandt says. “In this case it was for real. So I’m glad we checked it out thoroughly.”

Common calls to the unit include sightings of items, such as flares, reported by concerned citizens, broken down vessels, and overturned kayaks.

On average, the crew receives one call each week, but Pokrandt noted that on a Sunday the crew could get as many as four calls in a day.

Oak Bay’s search and rescue team, often dubbed Oak Bay’s navy, currently has about 40 active members, making up eight crews (four day and four night) which rotate in week-long shifts each month.

The group is volunteer-based and relies largely on public funding.

Operating costs range from $80,000 to $100,000 every year, depending on whether new equipment is needed, according to Terry Calveley, president of the OBSR Society.

“We are extremely grateful of the support the community gives us,” she says. “It’s what helps us stay afloat.”

All members of the society are crew members, with the exception of board members, Calveley said, noting they’re actively seeking new crew and board volunteers.

Most members join the team because of a love for being on the water, Pokrandt says.

“We like what we do because we like being on the water – maybe it’s a boy-scout complex – I don’t know what makes us do it,” he says.

For more information about the Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society, see obsr.ca.

Just Posted

Watchdog group says Saanich council needs a ‘reality check’ about taxes

Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria warns of eroding housing affordability in Saanich

Time-lapse video shows weekend work on McKenzie Interchange project

Construction crews place concrete underpass bridge beams

‘Best in the country’: Formerly homeless man praises Victoria’s outreach services

Jay W. was living on the streets of downtown Victoria in 2018

Years of ‘horrific, violent accidents’ at Thetis Lake prompt plea to public

View Royal fire chief asks for an end to alcohol consumption at busy park

City of Victoria plans workshop to determine fate of Sir John A. Macdonald statue

Conversations will happen as part of a reconciliation dialogue series in May 2020

VIDEO: Man found dead near B.C. teens’ truck could be linked to a double homicide

RCMP said they are looking for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, of Port Alberni

Latest plan is to fly trapped fish by helicopter over Big Bar slide

Multi-pronged plan set in motion to freesalmon blocked by landslide in the Fraser River

Family of missing B.C. senior with dementia frustrated with situation, heartened by community support

Nine days since Grace was last seen the question remains: ‘How can an 86-year-old just disappear?’

Police ask for help locating missing men last seen in South Surrey

Jeep that Richard Scurr and Ryan Provencher were in has been located unoccupied in Logan Lake: RCMP

Okanagan Air Cadet challenges gender-exclusive haircut policy

Haircut regulation inspires challenge around gender identity

VIDEO: Bystander training gains traction as tool to prevent sexual harassment, violence

Julia Gartley was sexually assaulted after an event, and no one stepped in to help

Sexual assaults, extortion on the rise even as crime rates stay low: Stats Canada

Rates of police-reported sexual assault rose for the fourth year in a row

Vancouver Island teens missing after vehicle found ablaze near Dease Lake, BC

RCMP say a body discovered nearby not one of the missing teens

Most Read