Fierce storm couldn’t sway Orca team

forward deck of ship in rough seas

It was a tense journey for sailors in Orca 55 as the training vessel encountered fierce winds and four metre swells.

Peter Mallett, Staff writer – A few weeks ago most of south Vancouver Island was slammed with 90 kilometre an hour winds and heavy rain leaving thousands without power and a major cleanup of debris.

Out on the water Mother Nature was even more dangerous.

For those sailing to Vancouver in the 33-metre Orca 55 on Nov. 17, the storm was so fierce the swells reached epic heights – more than four metres or the height of a one story building.

LCdr Preston McIntosh, Patrol Craft Training Unit Commanding Officer, says the storm’s fury was much worse than predicted by weather forecasters.

He is hailing his crew for battling the elements and getting the vessel to safe harbour.

“It was the quick action of my crew members that allowed us to make it safely into Holmes Harbour, Washington,” said LCdr McIntosh, noting it wasn’t the vessel’s intended destination. “It gives me a high level of confidence in my team and the ability of them to deal with any situation that might arise with the Orcas.”

The training vessel was en route to the mainland for a community day sail when they encountered 83 kmh winds and two to three metre swells, causing Orca 55 to take very hard portside rolls near Discovery Island.

LCdr McIntosh then made the decision to avoid a “perilous” northward turn into the Haro Strait where the ship would face even larger swells. He ordered the vessel change course to a southeasterly direction towards Puget Sound. But the unpredictable weather worsened. Winds increased to 160 km/h and the vessel and crew were forced to contend with four-metre swells.

Despite the onslaught of sea sickness, MS Roger Robicheau made it to the ship’s engine room during the height of the storm to restart one of the Orca’s engines. The same tenacity was shown by MS Graham Williams who lead his team to the recovery of lines that had gone over the side and risked fouling the vessel’s propellers.

“Without the work of the engineer in getting the engine restarted and our boatswain and his crew, we would not have made it to Puget Sound,” said LCdr McIntosh.

The naval officer is no stranger to storms on the open ocean. He has seen worse storms aboard naval ships in the Atlantic Ocean’s Grand Banks. But the effects of the sea state are not as intense on a large warship as it is on a small training vessel, he says.

“While we didn’t make our destination it was a relief to find a sheltered anchor in Holmes Harbour,” concluded LCdr McIntosh.

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