I don’t think I’ve ever been motion sick or sea sick in my life, but as we rolled with the waves of a windy day on the Northumberland Strait, I couldn’t have been happier to hear the sound of a boat engine.
During last Thursday’s Coast Guard training exercise, I tested my sea legs and volunteered to be a stranded life raft victim waiting for help. After bouncing on a Zodiac to a location just off of Pictou Island, we killed the engine and deployed our life raft. Five of us piled into the tiny rubber raft with a roof and pushed off of the Zodiac. It was pretty cramped and stank of rubber.
On top of the strong smell, the raft bobbed with every wave the wind pushed at us. Being on the inside of the raft with limited vision outside, the smell and the cramped quarters, not helped by the bulky life jackets we were all wearing, I couldn’t imagine being stuck in one of the rafts for real.
The reality is that these rafts do indeed save lives and some people may have to spend a lot of time in them waiting for help if they cannot get a distress signal out right away or are far from help. Although the roof impeding my view and the bulky life jacket were hindrances, having only been floating for 20 minutes, these are necessities and welcome symbols of comfort and safety to those actually stranded.
As the sound of the boat engine came toward us, the Coast Guard employees on the boat extended their hands to grab hold of the boat and ask if we were okay.
The scenario we had been playing out was that we were a group from a Pictou Island tour boat that had set out the previous day to see wildlife around the island and our boat had capsized before we could send a distress signal. We had theoretically been floating in our life raft all night in the chill of the dropping evening temperatures.
As we told the Coast Guard rescuers that we were cold and we had (theoretically) been out on the water all night, they steadied our boat and helped us on to the Zodiac into the warming sunshine. They offered us blankets, food or water and asked what had happened and comforted us however they could.
With the life raft floating next to the boat, we waited. As this was just a training exercise, we sat on the boat with them and waited for the rest of the exercise to run through its steps before our part continued.
During this time, I had some of the Coast Guard rescuers pretend to pull me aboard the boat so I could see what it was like to be rescued from the water. They put ropes under my body as I floated beside the boat pretending to be unconsciously floating in the water. As they pulled the ropes up I flipped up and onto my back on the side of the boat. They then let me down to the floor of the boat gently. They also demonstrated on someone else how they pull up someone who is conscious, using their arms.
One of the Coast Guard auxiliary boats came toward us to help out as things got back underway. They made sure everyone was okay and then took our life raft aboard and prepared to return ashore.
Our boat began to go a bit further out to the Strait to see the helicopter manoeuvre with a Cormorant helicopter and a larger Coast Guard boat. Watching the ropes from the helicopter drop down and people descend to the boat was surreal. It was easy to tell it was incredibly co-ordinated and a very delicate procedure for all. One wrong move on either part and someone on a rope could begin to swing or a supply basket could come crashing down. We watched the whole procedure take place and then we transferred to a media boat and headed back to shore. It was only then that I realized how easily we had gone from being in sight of Pictou Island to being so far in the water that I could see P.E.I. closer to me then Pictou Island.
On our long ride back to shore we bounced around a lot. Although it was a sunny day, the wind was making a few waves, likely nothing compared to some of the conditions the Coast Guard may have to make a real rescue in.
Through the summer, the Coast Guard will be completing training exercises in different locations to brush up on the skills of their members and ensure that when a crisis does happen, they are ready.
Visit The Advocate’s YouTube channel for videos on this event.
Advocate reporter Heather Brimicombe is rescued and pulled on to the Coast Guard Zodiac last Thursday during a Coast Guard training exercise that took place off of Pictou Island.