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A Reflection on a Season Lost… And Found…

A Reflection on a Season Lost… And Found…

So, 2020, what can one say? To say unique, almost seems like an understatement. To say unprecedented seems in a way presumptuous. In many ways the baseline that defines “normal” shifted to a level which is unimaginable. How can one anticipate what normal might look like in 2021, does anyone really know? From our perspective, we are cautious about drawing a line in the sand and committing to what the new normal might become because let’s face it, we just don’t know? There are still so many unknowns and frankly unknown unknowns to even venture a guess. But if one pauses to think about it, perhaps it’s the inherent passion for our cause which ensures organizations like ours have the ability to successfully pivot in troubled times.

Many organizations, regardless of their mandate, have a historical cycle which dictates a systematic yearly flow. It’s a rhythm passed from one generation to the next, a pulse providing the organizational with a kind of operational safety blanket of consistency. Change of course is part of the process, it’s a natural and necessary part of surviving and thriving in today’s world; but so is the ability to ensure any evolution or change is built out from an existing and well-established foundational bedrock. Together in tandem, these elements help ensure a successful “product” delivery. We are no different. Its our historical rhythm which has been a cornerstone of our success. Whether it be core events like Paddle the Don, Canada Day and the CNE Air Show or more recent activities like our Operations Day and our PARA Waterfront Festival, its a cyclical rhythm of training, patrolling and community which have guided our yearly approach. All of this of course came to a grinding halt in the spring of 2020.

Despite the unprecedented jolt to our normal cadence, however, we were able to relatively quickly and ultimately successfully react to the new “norm” and thus establish a new approach focused on a need to safely and effectively respond to emergency call outs. It would be wrong to suggest that this didn’t come with its own set of challenges. PARA Marine SAR, like many organizations back in March, had to attempt to read the “tea leaves” and seemingly adjust, on the fly, to an unfamiliar and everchanging landscape. It was a troubling time but one, at least from our perspective we tackled with a focused and committed mindset. The ability to quickly identify the new norm for our emergency crew protocol, despite the uncertainty, and thus identify a new rhythm to ensure crew “isolation” maximized our ability to always respond. At the end of the day, our single-minded focus to help those in need, and do so safely, was the driving principle. As we look back over the season, its one we feel met successfully. Of course, there were hiccups but we tackled those easily thanks to those involved.

Of course, its easy to look back logically and evaluate lessons learned, and one day we will. Today, however, lets just ponder how this uncertainty impacted our regular day to day routine. Prevented from patrolling and early season training, the normal pre-season veteran “rust” had to be shaken off quickly during active taskings. This coupled with an increased number of early season taskings resulted in a learning curve like no other. Our newer members were under unprecedented levels of pressure to provide the necessary skills to meet commitment levels above and beyond what they might have first thought on accepting their offer of membership. This in turn put additional pressure on our veterans who had to support this gap, often balancing multiple roles to ensure overall tasking success. And finally, to our coxswains, working with an unprecedented range of skills and doing so despite uncompromising conditions in a year of boating uncertainty. It all adds up to a positive year both on and off the vessel.

At the end of the day, despite the challenges faced we are confident in calling this a successful year. Over 30 taskings, a number not experienced since the 1990s and one which we have met and addressed with our regular level of commitment and dedication. We have “bloodied” a number of new members who historically would have had a “settle in” year prior to adjusting to life “on call”. To our coxswains, who have stepped up and, despite the challenges, provided the necessary leadership to ensure success. And finally, we need to recognize the leadership of our Commodore and his ability to lead us through this difficult time with a level head and a focus to ensure that we were able to meet our unprecedented challenges logically and successfully.

And yet despite all of this, once you step on deck for a call out the world “shrinks”. The call comes and the pendulum swings, the focus shifts, and reality changes from PARA Marine SAR, a vision, to PARU, a search and rescue vessel and her GPS location. As soon as this happens there is a fundamental mindset change to one of finding the vessel in need. In a heartbeat we shift from the macro to the micro and shift focus from policy and protocol to the person, or persons, out on the lake, who need a helping hand… And that world is a whole new one, enclosed, encapsulated and ultimately embedded in the folklore of a search and rescue vessel…

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