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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bruce McLean, 91, has published his first novel, The Manana Treehouse, which is inspired by his wife’s experience with Alzheimer’s. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
91-year-old Saanich man publishes first novel based on wife’s Alzheimer’s experience

Former journalist Bruce McLean ‘on cloud nine’ after making fiction debut

Residents enjoy the annual Halloween Trick or Treat on Oak Bay Avenue. (Robert Harwood Photo)
Oak Bay to host series of Winter Markets

No Halloween, Christmas events in Oak Bay Village

Drive up voting is popular with Victoria-Swan Lake voters at the Craigflower elementary polling station. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Drive up voting popular at Craigflower polling station in Victoria-Swan Lake

Nearly 13,000 mail-in ballots were requested in the Victoria-Swan Lake riding

Oak Bay High voting station was slow and steady for the provincial election day, Oct. 24, 2020. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Early voting reduces election day turnout in Oak Bay-Gordon Head

An estimated 15,918 mail-in ballots requested in Oak Bay-Gordon Head

This was the line-up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre at around 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The short-up line speaks to the high number of votes, which have already been cast against the backdrop of COVID-19 by mail or in advanced voting. Voters, however, unanimously praised the safety measures in place, as well the convenience of the polling stations. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
‘Slow’ turnout at polls across Saanich North and the Islands

Peter Mason, district electoral officer, expects about 10,000 ballots to be cast

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read