Orcas back to training at sea

A/SLt Anjad Aliak, a naval reservist with HMCS Donnaconna, gets a bearing of other ships while aboard Patrol Craft Training Vessel Cougar on July 22. A/SLt Aliak was conducting Officer of the Watch manoeuvers on the Victoria waterfront as part of his Naval Warfare Officer Phase 3 Training. Photo by Lt(N) Tom Eagle, PCTU.

A/SLt Anjad Aliak, a naval reservist with HMCS Donnaconna, gets a bearing of other ships while aboard Patrol Craft Training Vessel Cougar on July 22. A/SLt Aliak was conducting Officer of the Watch manoeuvers on the Victoria waterfront as part of his Naval Warfare Officer Phase 3 Training. Photo by Lt(N) Tom Eagle, PCTU.

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

July has been a busy month for members of the Patrol Craft Training Unit (PCTU) and their Orca-class vessels who are making a cautious return to regular sails.

The RCN’s eight Patrol-Craft Training vessels are used to instruct personnel from Naval Fleet School (Pacific) and support fleet training. In recent months their regular training operations were curtailed due to COVID-19, but last week saw a return of five Orcas as part of a four-phase restart of the Naval Training System (NTS) initiated by fleet school earlier this month.

During April and May the Orca-class vessels had taken part in Operation LASER, the navy’s COVID-19 isolation at-sea mitigation measures. Those sails occurred prior to May 22, with rotating Orca-class vessels over a five-week period. Since that point though, the ships and their crews have been alongside for nearly two consecutive months.

 The lack of sea time has posed some unique challenges says Lieutenant-Commander Colin Dudeck, Group Technical Officer, Coastal Forces Pacific.

“If you don’t sail on a regular basis you start to gradually get out of practice – knowledge of the machinery plant fades and reactions to technical issues or emergencies can take longer,” said LCdr Dudeck. “There is also no substitute for running a ship at sea because going to sea also helps our Orca-class engineers to identify any problems or degradation that might not be apparent when the ships and its company are alongside.”

Between July 20 to 29, training vessels Moose 62, Caribou 57, Grizzly 60 and Cougar 61 were involved in sail-training operations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca for Naval Warfare Officers (NWO) from fleet school’s Venture Division. The patrol craft are normally crewed by approximately 15 PCTU personnel and six trainees.

Three of the four Orcas are sailing during daylight hours only with the sailors returning alongside each evening. But unlike their usual routine, they won’t be returning to their homes. Instead the sailors will be sleeping on board and isolated from the other vessels as part of COVID-19 health and safety precautions. Moose 62 will stay at sea for the duration in an effort to fulfill day-night sailing qualifications for its students. 

A fifth vessel, Wolf 59 is also currently at sea. It is being completely crewed by submariners from HMCS Victoria who will be using their time for day and night Petty Officer of the Watch training.

Getting things back to ship shape poses its own challenges says PCTU Planning Officer, LCdr Tim Downey. COVID-19 social distancing precautions such as the wearing of non-medical face coverings, increased sanitization measures and keeping the crews of the Orcas completely isolated and “in their own separate bubbles” is different from their usual routine. 

While five of the eight Orcas have resumed normal training duties, others are in maintenance cycles to be ready in the fall. Orca 55 completed an extended maintenance period at Point Hope shipyards in Victoria on July 24. After doing sea trials in August it is expected to return back to action for training after the Labour Day break.

Raven 56 will also be up for a deep maintenance work period and minor engineering changes at Seaspan Ship Yards in Vancouver starting July 27. The work on Raven 56 is expected to be completed in late October and the vessel is  expected to commence sea trials at the end of November.

Renard 58 is in the midst of a Short Work Period with plans to return to sail training in August.

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Filed Under: Top Stories

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