From aboard the Jack Simpson rescue vessel, Brian Congdon and David Payne regale stories of their time as volunteers within the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCM SAR) Unit 38.
The coxswains have about 70 years of combined marine rescue experience. Congdon started back in 1980 and Payne in 1991. When a radio distress call echoes through Channel 16 VHF, the watermen power up the Simpson and head out to assist with the rescue. They are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“Most of it is pretty ho hum…A boat broken down in the harbour or somebody ran out of gas or somebody is missing so we go look for them and then we find them or we tow them in if they broke down,” says Congdon.
“But, there certainly have been a few incidents where it’s a real rescue where you actually save some lives,” he continued.
“We’ve also dug some bodies out of the water as well,” Payne quietly reveals. “Off the top, I can think of three [distress calls] that I was involved with and one that both you and I were involved with. The most recent one was last year.”
The tragedy involved a woman drowning near Ucluelet’s Whiskey Dock, remembers Payne. According to an Oct. 26, 2018, Westerly News report, the 50-year-old woman was believed to be visiting family in the area. Her body was retrieved from the harbour around 5 p.m. on Oct. 19 and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
“And, the one that you and I were involved in, there was a guy hiking and fell off by the lighthouse,” adds Congdon then a voice from a working Coast Guard pipes up on the radio, interrupting his thoughts.
Most recently, Congdon and Payne received a Long Service Medal for their 25 years of dedication to water rescues. Paul Cumberland, the director of administration for RCM SAR, made the trip from Victoria to present the honour at the start of the Nov. 26 Ucluelet council meeting.
“[Congdon] started with a hand-me-down boat from the Coast Guard that came via Parks Canada. He’s had a career that is longer than our record keeping. So we know that he’s been involved in at least 55 search and rescue missions that have untold saved lives and property that has been kept out of going to the bottom of the ocean,” said Cumberland.
“[Payne] again, untold hours working on the boat and out on the waters and he is also a Canadian Ranger which is a partner with RCM SAR. We are very proud to present him a Long Service Medal,” Cumberland went on to say.
Jeff Swann, RCMP Staff Sergeant with the Member Workplace Services, did many training exercises and marine rescues with Payne and Congdon over the seven and a half years he was stationed in Ucluelet.
“Both of these men are incredibly knowledgeable and are an incredible resource to draw upon for all mariners,” wrote Sgt. Swann in an email. “A Long Service medal is an extremely honourable award. It is a symbol of their countless volunteer hours they have devoted, the lives they have saved, and the up and coming RCM SAR folks who have been taught and guided by these two men. My heartfelt congratulations to both of you, very well deserved,” he wrote.
As a commercial mariner, Payne said he joined the RCM SAR because he wanted to “give it forward” in some ways.
“I feel fortunate to be able to get out on the water and take part in what’s going on on the ocean in a meaningful way. It gives a little more purpose,” Payne notes.
Congdon, not one to make a big deal out of the award, said it’s nice that the recognition will shed light on what RCM SAR volunteers do. He offered these words of wisdom to novice sea dogs:
“Be careful. Look at the chart. Look at the weather. Tell somebody where you are going and what time you are gonna be back,” Congdon advises.
RCM SAR members take direction from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Victoria. Pacific Rim Unit 38 out of Ucluelet is currently seeking new recruits. Anyone interested in learning more is encouraged to visit: ccga-pacific.org.
Congdon and Payne navigate the Jack Simpson rescue vessel on a glassy day in the Ucluelet.