Not even overly aggressive seals can escape the steely gaze of members of the Squamish branch of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCSMSAR) squad.
Local RCMSAR members have pretty much seen and heard it all in the group’s five years, but station leader Scott Shaw-MacLaren said it was one man’s experience with an ornery pinniped near the Squamish Spit that truly sticks out to him as a fond memory.
“We got a call one day that someone was screaming in the water,” he said. “We went out there and found someone in the water and we told him we were there to investigate someone screaming. He told us it was probably him screaming because he was being attacked and harassed by a seal. I guess seals can be quite curious.”
The man emerged from the scuffle with the seal relatively unscathed but it’s all in a day’s work for the 19 local RCMSAR members who assist those in trouble in Howe Sound. The group celebrated its fifth anniversary on Dec. 7, an impressive milestone for the upstart local chapter.
“The group was originally launched in 2008 by Ron Drewry and Jim Lang,” explained station manager Rebecca Spitzer.
Shaw-MacLaren said Drewry started the organization after a fatal incident involving two kayakers travelling from Porteau Cove to Anvil Island.
“They traveled to Anvil Island with no life preservers,” he said. “And they eventually capsized and two people perished. It was really that incident that sparked the formation of this group.”
Spitzer admitted that she wasn’t a huge fan of boats or the water but that Drewry persuaded her to join.
“I was asked to join, but at the time I really didn’t like boats or water,” she said, laughing. “I’m very comfortable with both now and am actually the second highest ranked person on the squad. But I enjoy helping the community and I love the water now. It’s turned into a chance to be on the water all the time, which is great.”
Joining the RCMSAR was a natural fit for Shaw-MacLaren, who is heavily involved in the Squamish Yacht Club (SYC) and is quite adept on the water.
“I’d been in Squamish for a couple of years and had been looking for something to volunteer for,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in the water with sailing and figured this would be a good fit for my skill set. I hounded Ron for about a year and then got in on the second batch of new intakes.
“I really like giving back to a sector that I get so much enjoyment out of, but it’s also an environment of constant challenges and self-improvement. You’re constantly improving your skills and you can see yourself improving, which is neat.”
Both Spitzer and Shaw-MacLaren are on call 24-7-365. A typical incident will see 911 being called, then that call is handled by a rescue centre in Victoria, who then dispatches Squamish RCMSAR members. The group operates its training and administration at the police station and the base for the group’s boats is at the SYC, with a trailer for storage also set up near the yacht club.
People still have a bit of confusion as to how the RCMSAR works, the two said.
“That’s part of the reason why we changed the name [from Squamish Coast Guard Auxiliary to RCMSAR], “ Shaw-MacLaren said. “We’re not federally funded and rely a lot on community donations. The closure of the Kits [Kitsilano] base was unfortunate, but I think it did bring some attention to how we work.”
The RCMSAR, which normally takes in new recruits once a year, is looking for committed people.
“We like to do an interview process with everyone coming in and would like to see at least a three year commitment from new recruits,” Spitzer said.
The next intake is scheduled in September 2013. It’s been five good years for the RCMSAR in Squamish and Spitzer said she hopes for many more.
“We’d like to thank all of our volunteers and the District of Squamish for helping us out,” she said. “And Ron for starting the unit and getting us all involved.”
Spitzer and Shaw-MacLaren pointed out that the RCMSAR is a registered charity in Squamish and do issue taxable receipts for all donations.
For more information, visit www.rcmsar.com or follow the group on Twitter - @Squamishaux04.