Life on the briny deep

SKAGWAY Forty Yukoners shared the adventure of life on HMCS Whitehorse Monday as the naval ship sailed from Skagway to Juneau.


Forty Yukoners shared the adventure of life on HMCS Whitehorse Monday as the naval ship sailed from Skagway to Juneau.

“Let’s get this drunken sailor below,” a crewman said, referring to a 83-kilogram mannequin they’d just pulled from the drink.

The man-overboard drill averages five minutes.

Rescue Randy — the mannequin — was in and out of the Lynn Canal and on board the Kingston class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel in three minutes 50.

Two minutes later, the casualty was assessed for head injury and treated for severe hypothermia. All that before morning coffee and soup, a ship’s staple.

After a 10-minute standing break, crew mustered civilians fore and aft for a light-line transfer. Canadians witnessed a similar manoeuvre on CBC when Rick Mercer dangled by a rope between HMCS Protecteur and Bonaventure.

Communication between ships is key and accomplished with flags raised and lowered.

A nautical “R” set to “dip,” or halfmast, indicates readying the ship.

Whitehorse made a hard left to port.

On the opposite side of Nanaimo, the Yellowknife keeled sharp to starboard. The two vessels completed their turns and flanked Nanaimo. “R” hoisted high indicates full readiness.

A red leader tied to yellow floating rope launched from a modified C-17 assault rifle whistled across the Whitehorse bow. All hands grabbed the rope and hauled it tight to rig a zip line, or overgrown clothesline, from bow to bow.

Once secured, a batch of sourdough cinnamon buns baked by the ship’s sponsoring senator, Ione Christiansen, crossed the gap.

Over lunch, the crew discussed their duties including surveillance and route survey. Currently they’re scanning the floor of Vancouver harbour.

A sonar towfish anchored to the aft deck is towed astern and transmits an image of the ocean floor to the bridge.

Suspicious objects are investigated with a remotely operated vehicle, similar to the submersible deployed in the film Titanic.

If an item is determined to be hazardous, divers disarm or demolish it.

As the Olympics approach, they’ll compare fresh scans with what they identify now.

“Last year we were doing this in San Francisco,” said Captain Henderson. It cost the harbour millions in lost shipping over days to finish the job.

“If we’d had our data beforehand, like we’re getting now in Vancouver, we’d have been done in four hours.”

The captain also talked about a project between HMCS Whitehorse and Queen Elizabeth Elementary School in Vancouver. They communicate daily by e-mail. Tracking the vessel broadens the students’ knowledge of the world. Navigation contributes to their math skills.

After lunch a simulated blaze flared up in the starboard Z-drive, the steering mechanism that rotates one of two fixed blade propellers 360 degrees.

A three-member attack team extinguished it with seawater and a small amount of fire-repressing foam. There’s only one tank of foam, worth 90 minutes, on board and that must last the entire voyage.

Mid-afternoon riffles played over the coastal waters. Sunshine rained down on whales, porpoise and seals cruising the Inside Passage.

But the Whitehorse listed and rolled as if in heavy seas while the crew demonstrated the ship’s agility with tight turns and sudden stops.

For the final maneuver of the day HMCS Whitehorse docked, handsomely, at US Coast Guard Station Juneau.

Jessica Simon is a writer based in Whitehorse.