Patrolling the straits and narrows: how HMCS Nanaimo is ready to help

Lifestyle - Life at Sea / July 3, 2020

By Lieutenant Chelsea Dubeau

It’s 10:15 on a chilly morning at sea, day seven for Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Nanaimo since rejoining Task Group Exercise 20-01 recently, following a week of rest.

At around this time most days, depending on the ship’s position, the pipe is made to prepare to launch the rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB).

The sweep deck is a hive of activity as the key players step into their roles. The boat coxswain delivers her brief to the boat crew. The mission: Nanaimo’s RHIB will conduct maritime domain awareness (MDA) patrols in the narrow inlets of the remote areas of the British Columbia coastline, those parts inaccessible to the ship itself.

“MDA is, basically, knowing what’s in your waters,” says Commander (Cdr) Jason Bergen, Commanding Officer of Nanaimo.

“You have to establish a baseline, go through and understand the pattern of life, see what’s just the normal tug and tow, fishing vessels and Canadians out here sailing, versus stuff that’s out of the ordinary.”

Besides establishing what’s out of the ordinary, the sailors on patrol are also treated to sights that feel distinctly extraordinary: black bears foraging for food, seals languishing on the beach and orcas breeching spectacularly in the distance.

The RHIB’s engine is immediately cut when the presence of the marine mammals is known, so as not to disturb them.

The crew floats silently, able to enjoy the moment.

When the whales have safely passed, the RHIB continues the mission. There are still places to go and people to see. The patrols aren’t just about vessels, they’re also about people.

“We’re out here for Canadians,” says Cdr Bergen. “We’re doing wellness checks. People really appreciate it when we launch the boats and go up to them and say, ‘Hey how’s it going? Everything okay?’”

“Because we’re in some remote areas, people don’t see other people unless we come around. It’s nice to see a friendly face.”

While the patrols take up an important part of the daily flex, they are but one piece of the overall mission, which is to stay ready to help.

Readiness covers all manner of activities and includes daily lectures, drills and demonstrations that take place to help the crew maintain its edge.

“Readiness is the job. So that’s nothing new to us,” says Lieutenant-Commander Dave Schmidt, Executive Officer of Nanaimo.

“In the midst of chaos, we are order. I think it’s critically important that we are able to reassure Canadians there is a force out there and that if things go sideways, we’re ready to help.”