Race Rocks is an area David Best is becoming all too familiar with.
A member of the Victoria Marine Rescue Society Station 35, the 31-year-old has been called to the ecological reserve at the east entrance of the Juan de Fuca Strait three times in the last year.
Two of those rescues occurred within the last few months. One turned deadly when 27-year-old British police officer Timothy Chu became separated from his dive master and drowned.
On the afternoon of Nov. 15, Best was at home watching TV when he received another mayday call to respond to Race Rocks. This time nine divers were in the water after their boat was overturned by a ferocious wave.
Best, along with crew members Mike Deigan, Mike Graham and Earle Shirly, jumped into their Titan 400 rescue boat and left Ogden point, arriving at the scene 25 minutes later. Members from station 37 in Sooke also sprang into action.
“You are trying to think ahead as to what you need to have ready the second you show up,” said Best. “You are also thinking, what am I going to see here? Everyone in the boat is thinking the same thing.”
High winds were producing large waves between eight to 10 feet high. The crew arrived to find several people sitting on the haul of the overturned seven-metre aluminum boat. A couple more were in the water, clinging onto the boat’s side.
Standing on the back of The Tolonen, Best and one of his colleagues tossed a throw bag into the water, which releases 50 feet of line for victims to grab and be pulled to safety. The first man pulled in was an older fellow who was plummeted with huge waves crashing over his head. Once on board, the team discovered the man had mild hypothermia.
“He was shaken and cold, obviously. Somewhat in shock I think,” said Best, who estimates the man had been in the water, holding onto the overturned boat for a good hour. “He was pretty sore. He was just thankful that he was able to get on something solid and warm.”
Repeating the drill, station 35 pulled three more people from the frigid water and Sooke rescued another five. Two of the divers (from the CFB Esquimalt-based recreational Aquarius Dive Club) had mild hypothermia and others were left shaken by the ordeal. All but one of the nine people were wearing wet or dry suits.
Due to the heavy currents and strong winds often found at Race Rocks, Best said the area is dangerous to scuba dive. The only people that should be there are those who know what they are doing, but even then things can still go wrong.
Fortunately, the Victoria Marine Rescue Society is there to make sure help is always available to mariners in distress. The team of volunteers dedicate their time providing 24-hour, year-round emergency search and rescue services on the Victoria waterfront, stretching as far west as Sooke and east to Oak Bay. On average, 50 to 60 rescues are conducted every year.
Best has been with the station for a year-and-a-half. Every time he goes out on a rescue, he risks his own life to help save others.
“(It’s) a passion for adventure and a passion to help people,” said Best, who was out on the water training with the team during last week’s big storm.
“It helps me sleep at night knowing that I have a fire department down the street that if I have a fire in my house, they will help rescue my family and myself. I feel that this country and this town has given me more than I can ask for so I try to return the favour whatever way I can.”
The Victoria Marine Rescue Society is always looking for new volunteers and the vast majority of expenses are covered through donations and fundraising events. For more information visit vmrs.org.