The engines rumble into life and a soothing ripple of energy reverberates down the vessel. She is alive once again. The familiar command of “release the lines” echos out on the deck the crew and like clockwork, the bonds are dropped. As if able to hear the call herself, PARU pulls away from the dock, as if as eager as we are to get underway. An event so recognizable only 12 months ago, one experienced hundreds of times, seems almost elevated to a spiritual plane in these challenging and difficult days. None the less, a yearly ritual, treasured by all of us, one which only weeks ago seemed unlikely is now a reality; PARU has departed for her home base. For the members of PARA Marine Search and Rescue, it’s a moment that could not come soon enough.
But before we can fully appreciate this exciting moment, lets pause and take a step back to really understand and appreciate how and why we find ourselves arriving at this special day. It’s commonly acknowledged, is it not, that one does not fully appreciate a routine until it cruelly slips through one’s fingers and for us at least, as often as not, disappears under the rolling waves. For many of us, and likely many of you, its in these odd times, locked down by Covid-19, that we find ourselves reflecting back on what we have had and realize that what was once “normal” might not hold the same meaning as it has in the past. We find ourselves pausing during those seemingly meaningless fragments of repetitive action and greedily savouring them as if a precious lifelong memory we never want to let go. While individually they might not indicate everything is back in its rightful place, collectively they do offer a glimmer of hope, a flickering buoy signalling a safe harbour in an angry sea, that someday, one day, we might find more secure ground soon. When one, however, considers past years as a possible benchmark of “normal” the gap is much wider than you might think.
Past years would look so much differently. Our April yearly crew team building refresher, affectionately known to all as Ops Day, in the rear-view mirror, the end of May has historically marked the start of our regular patrol season. Each crew patiently, perhaps for some impatiently, anticipating their first shift and that all exciting initial turn to starboard, finally head down the channel to patrol, train and ultimately help those in need. Those first magical steps on her deck, transporting each member to a secretive world where unbreakable bonds are forged, and lifetime friendships can often emerge. For some, including our weekday crews, they might have already settled into their regular cadence of nighttime patrols while others, some of our weekend crews, would still be anxiously glancing at the schedule to see when their first shift might finally happen. It is truly a special time of rebirth and renewal. A chance to shake off the cobwebs of winter and instantly re-ignite connections, ones dormant for a few months.
Of course, for our newest members this would be their first chance to really step into a more engaged role. Joining in late December the dark winter months offer only a few chances to fully immerse themselves in this new culture. An initial few tentative steps into a world which at first glance might seem intimidating and cold but as they learn quickly, is one of comradery and inclusion. Once a member, always a member, a special club which simply asks you to declare your commitment to helping others on those stormy nights when you pull away from the dock. Yes, for those new folks these last few months have perhaps been hardest of all. Virtual training and email updates are great, but they do not, and cannot, replace the energy one feels out on the lake bouncing along at 25 knots. For experiences like those, you have to feel it to appreciate it.
So yes, these past few weeks have been tough on us, but then they have been tough on everyone, especially those in the front lines. The nurses, doctors, health care workers, essential store staff, and so many others have been braving the front lines to help and now its our turn to join the fray. Sure, we won’t be in the heat of the “battle” like so many others but we, like them, thanks to the guidance and direction of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, have implemented stringent Covid-19 protocols. Its these protocols that are in place to ensure our emergency crews are prepared to safely respond to any potential marine emergency where our services are required. While we might not be experiencing the daily challenges of others, we are all trained and prepared to do our part as essential “workers” to ensure we can safely help those in need out on the water, no matter what their condition, to come home safely.
Which brings us back full circle to that first launch. After a frantic few days of vessel preparation, equipment reloading/replacing, crew training on Covid-19 PPE and a thorough disinfection by our safety team, PARU was launched and after a morning sea trail to shake off her winter “rust”, has now settled into her home at Frenchman’s Bay Yacht Club. Our crews are ready, our vessel is primed for action and all of our members are anxious to do their part. It might only be a small one but let there be no doubt, when that call comes in, we will launch to do what we have been asked and tasked to do.
Stay safe, stay distanced, stay protected and while we hope we don’t meet you out on the lake, know we are ready to do so if required.