They are all volunteers, yet they are as professional a group of men as you could hope to find.
They are members of the the Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society, Unit 33, and on Sept. 30 they were honoured at the annual general meeting of the Royal Canadian Search and Rescue Society.
The award comes in recognition of the team’s work last July when it was involved in what started out as a routine call but ended with an 11-hour search for two missing men whose canoe capsized in the treacherous waters of Baynes Channel.
One man was rescued by the crew while a second man died in the accident.
The death of that man 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 sea rescue 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 man who was rescued had managed to cling to a concrete marker known as Tod Rock and was suffering with hypothermia when found, but he did manage to tell the crew that a second man was in the water.
It was at that time that the crew became aware, not only of the second man, but that both of the boaters were known to one of the rescue team members.
Nathan Leung, one of the Unit 33 crew, had attended school and played soccer with both men for a few years. Still, that personal relationship never interfered with the team’s work.
“We were just focused on searching . . . so we were very professional about it,” said Leung. “The team searched every little nook and cranny out there.”
Unit 33 responds to about 55 calls a year.
“We’re always looking for new members,” said Kim Bentzon. “We will train anyone who’s interested in giving their time to the service.”
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.”
Unit 33 has about 40 members who work one week out of four on an alternating shift schedule. They’re part of the overall volunteer force of about a thousand volunteers who work out of 45 stations in B.C.
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.