Pals and Buddies – Canada, the First World War and Vimy
On April 2, 2017, the Dalhousie Undergraduate History Society arranged to have Honorary Colonel John Boileau give a lecture entitled Canada and the First World War – A Remarkable Record. The timing of the presentation is apropos as the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9-12, 1917, is fast approaching.
Similar commemorative Vimy Ridge ceremonies, events, plays, and exhibits will be taking place all across Canada in the coming days. Two main ceremonies will take place in Ottawa and France. The Nova Scotia Highlanders who stormed Hill 145, now the site of the famous memorial, hopefully would be amazed at how that unholy landscape was transformed into an oasis of tranquility and reverence. Even the site’s most infamous visitor was awed and moved by the Canadian monument.
Colonel Boileau took a couple of hours to briefly touch on Canada’s contribution and sacrifices during the Great War. At first, he was in a quandary as to how to approach the vast topic. There were many options such as approaching the project anecdotally, sequentially, nationally or by historical significance. As he termed it, he took a typical Canadian tactic and came at the issue from all angles to meet in the center. It’s worth mentioning his opening joke of ‘Why did the Canadian cross the road?’ with the reply, ‘To get to the middle!’ Narrowing down the immense amount of information available, he described the major battles Canadians fought in: Ypres, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Amiens and Canada’s 100 Days. He spoke of the stalwartness of Canadian troops who stood resolute in the face of German chlorine attacks at Ypres. This brand new method of warfare was used first to hit the French lines causing panic and confusion. The Germans hit the lines again with clouds of deadly, green gas but the Canadians had produced a counter-method to the poison by breathing through cloth they had urinated on. The Canadian Corps were often up front and center, first in the line of German fire.
Canadians were known for their inventiveness, ingenuity and as fearsome shock troops. Colonel Boileau described the Canadian innovations such as the Motor Machine gun Brigade, the practice of trench raiding, meticulous battle planning and preparation, and throwing off the Germans by not always preceding an attack with artillery. The Allies soon made the Canadians their go-to troops to the point that their movements had to be disguised so as not to tip off the Germans of an imminent attack. Canadian soldiers, time and time again, proved themselves on the fields of battle. Of course in Canadian mythology, it was the battle of Vimy Ridge where over the course of four days our nation was born. The Colonel even had a letter from one of the young soldiers who opined that the battle had given birth to Canada as a nation. Sadly, not long after, the soldier’s parents received a telegram with news of his death.
There were a few powerful key messages I took away from the Colonel’s presentation. First, this was warfare on an industrial scale, of which had never been previously experienced by the nations involved. Mobilization and casualty rates were incredibly high as the horror of trench warfare chewed up millions of men, animals and equipment. A hundred years on, the vast majority of Canadians would find it impossible to comprehend the effort and sacrifice needed to keep pressing forward. Sure, the motto and motivation of the time was for King and Country but for the men in the trenches, my feeling was they were fighting for each other. Your pals and buddies were launching themselves over the wall into No Man’s Land in desperate attempts to cheat death. Letting them down would have been a strong motivator to get you moving when every human instinct was telling you to stay put.
My mother’s father was a young man just before the outbreak of World War II and this stimulus for fighting with your pals was still in full force. The vast majority of Canadians fighters have been volunteers but the military knows how to recruit when needed. My grandfather was in Grade Twelve and all the young men had to take a four week Homeland Security Basic training course. At the end when they were all pumped up, they were asked to join up. Peer pressure did the rest and unless you had a valid reason such as being a farmer like my other grandfather, you were signed up on the spot. Many families, smaller towns and villages lost disproportionately high numbers of their male population due to men signing up with their buddies.
Another message I thought about after the lecture was how did those young men function and exist in this horrid environment for even a day let alone years? I draw on my own experience as a 19 year old arriving in Borden, Ontario for Basic Officer Training back in 1986. They took a picture of me shortly after getting off the bus and I literally have the look of a frightened deer in the headlights. I was fresh off the farm, wondering what I had gotten myself into and why was there so much yelling. During the training, my company executed a frontal assault on a defended ridge. I was panting in my gas mask, charging towards the mock enemy and clearly remember the ‘grenade’ lobbed towards me landing at my feet. I lay down at that moment knowing I was ‘fatally wounded’. My infantry experience would be nothing compared to the shock of a typical Canadian soldier being thrown into the maelstrom of death, gore and muck of a place such as the Ypres Salient. The average age of a Canuck soldier was 26, but most of the men in the infantry were much younger. In fact, by some estimates, 20,000 underage boys enlisted to fight with reports that the youngest in the trenches was 12. Most modern Canadian children are thinking about babysitting at this age, not fighting in a war. Of course, the stipulated age for joining was 18 to 45 but males at both ends of the spectrum lied about their ages. The entire affair was a monumental testament to both the inhumanity of our species and to humanity’s ability to persevere in such cruel conditions.
The last striking message to me was the sheer number of Unknown Soldiers. One quarter of Canadian deaths resulted in no known graves. Similar, if not higher numbers, were suffered by the Allies. There are German war cemeteries where each cross is used for a set amount of soldiers as circumstances dictated mass grave burials. The modern Canadian Armed Forces takes great pains to bring our dead home, giving rise to poignant national ‘Ramp’ ceremonies and processions down the Highway of Heroes. But the only closure for thousands of relatives and loved ones back then would have been the dreaded telegram. Occasionally, with DNA matching, a few soldiers are being identified and finally put to rest. Envision how devastating it was for all those swaths of families who could not hold a proper burial service.
The museum at the Halifax Citadel is holding a special free open house to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge the weekend of April 8-12. Even though it was meant to be the War that ended all Wars and happened long ago, it is still vitally important that all Canadians attend or watch a Vimy commemoration. War should not be glamourized but the sacrifices and triumphs of all those brave Canadians on those far away battlefronts should not be forgotten. There should be meaning and understanding when uttering the phrase ‘We will remember them’.
 During the German WWII European occupation, many Allied war cemeteries were defaced and damaged by revengeful German troops. After British reports of the monument being purposely damaged by Germans, Hitler did a photo-op on the Vimy Ridge grounds to prove it was still standing and unharmed. He also stationed Waffen-SS troops to guard the grounds. The site was re-taken by the Welsh Guards and verified to be unharmed in September 1944. Hitler’s Visit Still Haunting, The London Free Press, Greg van Moorsel, April 5, 2007 – http://south.greyfalcon.us/vimy.htm
(This post is dedicated to the memory of SHOTGUN 36. Scores of RCAF pilots benefited from his tireless dedication. He will be missed!)
Happy 93rd Birthday to the RCAF!
Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Steve Lucas, a spokesman for Leonardo S.p.A., laid out the company’s position for disputing the recent FWSAR contract. As a former Chief of the Air Staff and then special advisor to the consortium that put together the bid for the FWSAR, LGen Lucas had a unique insight to the twists and turns of the process. He has substantial experience from an Air Force Air Navigator and staff officer point of view. He put in numerous hours with the Spartan Team to ensure a strong technical bid that would provide the Air Force with a superior aircraft, on time and on budget. He was confused as to why the C295W was chosen when it appeared to be clearly non-compliant in a few key areas.
LGen Lucas already had several reservations about the capability of the Airbus product. He agreed that the C295W was slow compared to the C27J which puts victims in jeopardy due to higher wait times especially when a search area is at a significant distance. He doesn’t like the fact that because the C295W was based on a passenger aircraft thus limiting the usable height in the cargo area where the SAR Technicians will be working. He did concede that Airbus was planning on producing their aircraft with more powerful engines in order to marginally increase its two engine speed and mitigate issues with one engine operations.
But the main basis for the lawsuit rests on two points where the Airbus aircraft literally did not meet the Request For Proposal (RFP) criteria.
Point One – It was specified that the winning aircraft must be able to complete all SAR missions in a single crew day. In the case of a high Arctic rescue mission, the C295W does not have the speed to accomplish this scenario. The ‘out’ for Airbus was to add a fifth Main Operating Base which was allowed for in the RFP but this would add significant cost to the bid. It would make more sense just to have an aircraft that can accomplish these extreme missions without the extra resources.
Point Two – The current C295W unlike most other aircraft of its type is not built with an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). An APU is handy for self-starting the aircraft, especially in out of the way airports where start carts and qualified personnel might be an issue. An APU becomes more critical during emergencies where an engine is down and it can be used to power extra systems instead of relying on your good engine to do all the work. This would be of great concern to an aircrew on a search over the Atlantic with an engine out and a significant distance from a suitable airfield. The lack of APU and lower airspeed hurts the C295W’s unofficial Extended Operations (ETOPS) performance which is approximately 140 minutes. If this aircraft flew to the extreme Atlantic edge of Canada’s SAR zone of 30˚W, it would require an ETOPS rating of 330. The C27J has an unofficial ETOPS 240 rating, which with its speed would allow it to safely accomplish missions to the far ocean edges of the SAR zones. SAR crews flying the 295W would be unnecessarily placed into harm’s way whereas they wouldn’t have those concerns flying the Spartan.
During my research, LGen Lucas and others shared their thoughts on possible ways in which doors were opened for competition against the C27J which eventually led to the awarding of the bid to Airbus. Originally, it was alleged that the Air Force tilted the SORs so much in favour of the Spartan that it ended up being the only aircraft qualified. The government wanted to show they could hold an open and fair procurement process, so they appear to have re-jigged the competition so other companies could engage in bidding. Even with this re-jigging, it appeared that the Spartan was still going to win. The public probably wouldn’t have been happy with an expensive 10 year wheel-spinning process that just returned the government back to the original choice of the C27J. But if you fiddle with the points awarded for items like lifetime in-service support and decrease points awarded for capability, then you can skew the numbers in a pre-determined direction. For example, the lack of APU in the C295W and associated inherent weaknesses did not seem to factor against the aircraft in the bidding scoring matrix. Viola! SOR manipulation that appears open, fair and just. Ironically, this was exactly what Airbus had accused the RCAF of doing back in 2005.
The Federal government and Airbus have until April 10, 2017 to respond to the points brought up in the Leonardo lawsuit. It is expected that the courts will start looking at the claims and responses in June.
Fifth Estate did an interview with the retired LGen in 2012 about his thoughts on the proposed Air Force purchase of the F-35. At the end of the interview, he makes a statement, ‘Nobody wants to put their friends, their colleagues into a situation where they are going to come out second best’. This would seem to hold true for the FWSAR purchase. The RCAF SAR aircrews and ex-Air Force personnel supporting and putting in the Spartan bid all want what is best for the men and women out on those austere SAR missions. To borrow a few more of the LGen’s words, you don’t get any prizes for finishing second.
In 2013, I participated in the Royal Canadian Navy’s OP REGULUS and went on exchange to Chile to sail with their Navy for five months. Six freshly minted Sub Lieutenants from the RCN’s Venture training school volunteered to head south on the second rotation of officers to be sent to the South American nation. This is my enhanced report on the deployment.
Below is my original report I submitted to the Navy detailing my time aboard BRS Slight. It is not as scathing as the reports of the other officers who were on my ROTO as I wanted my message to be heard in the hopes of fixing the program for future participants sent to the Armada. But my observations along with those of the other officers never surfaced after submission. As I am no longer in the military, I can report the unvarnished opinions and impressions of my time down south.
The main points from my official report were as follows:
The language barrier was the principal reason for the majority of challenges with this deployment. Personnel should be selected with language abilities in mind ahead of time. There should be at least one dedicated English speaker on board their Chilean ship.
Officers should not be farmed out to buoy tenders and hydrography vessels. The tasks that I was asked to do could have been done by a MARS III student. And although somewhat interesting, buoy tending is pretty boring to continuously watch when you have no duties.
There should have been more of a plan to involve me in the operations of the ship but with the language barrier and the crew being too busy with work-ups, there was not much for me to do and no one willing or able to help me.
General Impressions of the Chilean Navy
While in Chile, I kept a daily log of my thoughts and activities. These points come directly from my 2013 notes.
The personnel, including senior officers, are somewhat childish in their behavior. This is possibly due to the Chilean culture but it continues to the Wardroom at inappropriate times. The worst case was a Sergeant asking if I slept with prostitutes and when I replied no, he accused me of being gay and having sex with the Mayordomo (the Wardroom steward).
The ship’s company had almost zero interest in learning anything about the RCN’s customs, procedures, methods, culture or language. I would watch their soccer games and they would have no interest in hockey.
I had no mentorship. If there was any sort of task for me, I would be told to do it with little or nothing in the way of explanation, guidance or resources. Of course, everything was in Spanish. “You must learn Spanish” was the phrase of choice.
The ship could have benefited from having a designated Cox’n. It seemed as if all the discipline ran through the Captain.
My crew wasn’t very detail oriented with little in the way of daily briefings. There were only small attempts to make sure I understood what was going on even when it should have been clear I wasn’t comprehending the tasking.
Except for about a month, there was little attempt to learn or converse at all in English. They were determined to keep me immersed in Spanish. Which was fine but without the occasional context explained to me in English, learning their language was slow and painful.
The Chileans were firm slaves to routine and tradition. Each meal on ship or ashore was the same depending on the day. Pollo (chicken) and fries, must be Sunday noon. Thursday dinner was their special navy meal of an Empanada de Horno, boiled potatoes, some stewing meat and re-hydrated apricots. (Our Canadian term for the fruit was old man testicles.) They took a couple of late 19th century naval heroes (Commander Arturo Prat & Sergeant Juan de Dios Aldea) and have made gods out of them, to be emulated and worshiped. They take no truck with joking or questioning their beliefs and rituals. (A ‘Pratfall’ wasn’t something to kid them about.)
Further to the last point, they have very short and very long memories. As for short, the Captain would absolutely spaz out on an officer for half an hour but all is forgotten by the evening. As for long, the Chileans hold grudges forever going back to the country’s formative years when they were at war with everyone else on the continent.
Their personnel are very hard workers but to the fault that they are somewhat proud of being away from their families and loved ones so much.
My crew was homophobic and mercilessly teased others who were effeminent.
Although my ship had no females onboard, the Navy had recently started allowing them to serve on their ships. The rumour was woman would serve aboard ships for a short period of time and after the experiment ‘failed’ would be removed.
Chilean Naval Procedures
Below are my observations on how my assigned ship BRS Slight went about her business of navigating the Chilean waters:
Small Boat Procedures
Some Thoughts on the Language Barrier
I put aside some time and thought into why Chilean Spanish was so difficult to learn. I was well aware that I was going to have issues and had turned down the deployment several times because of this reason. I was asked to be a last second replacement and consented to go being the good sailor that I was.
Below were what I observed to be issues for someone learning the language:
Chileans speak super-quick and slur their words. My term for their speech is papas purée (mashed potatos).
They continuously use country specific slang. In Santiago, the subway cards are ‘Byps’ because of the sound they make when passed over the scanner. Of course, the Navy has a whole language of its own with no dictionary or references.
They do not pronounce ‘S’s in the middle of a word, Esmeralda = Emeralda.
They drop whole syllables, Estribor = Tribor & Babor = Bor (Starboard & Port)
They also tend to mumble and every other sentence contains the term Weon. Weon has multiple uses such as fucker, dude, bro, buddy, ass, etc. The female term is Weonita.
Due to their military structure it turned out that I hold the honour of being the oldest Subteniente that ever served with the Armada de Chile. The Chilean Admirals were quite impressed with my résumé which included being a Rescue Diver, a military pilot and now a naval officer. One of them compared me to James Bond 007. I attempted to be very politic during those meetings as I didn’t want to offend my hosts. But I believe that the RCN should have heeded the reports coming back from their officers. If you read between the lines of one OP REGULUS Chilean public report from 2015, the issues I have described, remain.
The participants knew that part of the mission was to help open up better diplomatic relations with a possible South American naval ally. I believe that making us better naval officers wasn’t as high a priority. I just think the whole program could have been run better so that the officers could have gained a better experience other than excessive drinking and sleeping with prostitutes.
Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic) FDU(A) played host to numerous members of RUSI(NS), the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team, and other assorted diver, military and community associations at their Shearwater facilities on the morning of March 15, 2017. Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander William Barter and Operations Officer Joel Cormier gave a briefing to the gathering on the roles, responsibilities and activities of the unit. This was followed up by an informative tour of their gear and equipment.
For the general public and even for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the unit tends to be a hidden dynamo in the rough. Located over with their Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) cousins at Shearwater close to the Yacht Club, they are removed from the attention and activity that takes place at Her Majesty’s Canadian (HMC) Dockyard. Infrequently, their NA jetty sees use if a Sea King requires hoisting from a ship’s deck or if a visiting foreign submarine needs to come alongside. Ship’s companies know the unit as the place to send their Ship’s Team Divers for training. Frigates engaged in Force Protection training frequently ‘fight’ off the unit’s Fast Attack Craft when they are in the vicinity of Maugher’s Beach lighthouse. Occasionally, the unit’s dive tender vessel can be seen transiting the Narrows enroute to their demolitions site in Roach Cove up in Bedford Basin. But in the course of the briefing, the audience soon realized this tranquil exterior hid a bustling organization active in Canada and abroad.
At present, the unit has 111 Clearance Divers and support personnel with a mixture of officers, Non-Commissioned Members (NCMs) and a few civilian administrative staff. The unit also continuously employs a substantial number of Reservists. During 2016, they deployed personnel to 15 locations worldwide and plan on at least 11 deployments this year. Locally, they are constantly on call to use their specialized skills with Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) responding to cases involving military Unexploded Ordinance (UXOs). Their Area of Responsibility (AOR) includes the upper two thirds of Nova Scotia and all of Newfoundland and Labrador. As for discovered underwater UXOs, they split the country in half at the MB/ON border with their sister unit FDU(P) in Esquimalt, BC. In addition, members can be called upon to conduct Underwater Engineering duties such as emergency bearing changes or hull repairs on deployed frigates. They are on standby in case of a submarine incident (SUBSAR), other SARs such as overturned vessels or recovery operations such as the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off Peggy’s Cove. Personnel are kept busy training up to 80 new Ship’s Team Divers/year plus other training programs. They frequently cooperate with Other Government Departments (OGDs) such as the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team and Parks Canada. Notably in 2015, FDU(A) in cooperation with Parks Canada conducted historic diving on HMS Erebus in the far North. It would seem rare to catch a diver lazing around back at the shop. Even in their down time, they are busy with constant gear and equipment maintenance or community activities. The unit participated in their 33rdChristmas Daddies 50K Run last December, raising close to $12,000 for the charity. This is a dedicated, hard-working, multi-disciplined unit with a myriad of talents and responsibilities.
One of the RUSI(NS) members remarked, “The biggest surprise to me was that for a small unit (about 111 pers covering half of Canada), they have significant warfighting, training and emergency responsibilities which they hone through a significant amount of world-wide training and operational deployments.”
FDU(A)’s unique skills and expertise are in demand worldwide. Some of their recent exercises and operations include EX DYNAMIC MONARCH 14 (SUBSAR Training), RIMPAC (NATO Pacific Exercise), CUTLASS FURY 16 (Mine Countermeasure training), OP UNIFER (Training Ukrainian military on EOD disposal), OP OPEN SPIRIT (Clearing UXOs in the Baltic, link to explosion footage of a 2000 lb mine), EX TRADEWINDS (Interoperability training with the US in the Caribbean), OP RENDER SAFE (UXO clearing in the Solomon Islands), EX NORTHERN COAST (NATO training in Europe) and OP NUNALIVUT (Sovereignty exercise in Canada’s North). Anecdotally, on a recent OP NUNALIVUT, the dive team was called upon to do maintenance on CFS Alert’s fresh water pumps. The station was close to losing their water supply and without the assistance of the experienced ice water divers would have been reduced to their 30 day bottled water supply. Going back a few years to the Afghanistan war, clearance divers were in high demand for their EOD skills and were regularly deployed to deal with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Tragically, there were casualties. The unit makes regular real-world contributions in a wide variety of locales and environments.
After the briefing session, the group toured through FDU(A)’s remarkable selection of gear and equipment. The unit uses a varied assortment of dive gear including rebreathers, surface supply dive systems, different kinds of hyperbaric chambers, surface EOD suits & equipment, several types of vessels for dive tending plus a tethered Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). The CO took time to describe one piece of gear the unit members find quite useful. One particular job of a clearance diver is to literally clear an area for hazards. Typically, this is done by the relatively slow method of line searching where the diver is guided in a search pattern through tugs on a line. During the lead-up to the Vancouver Olympics, the unit acquired the relatively inexpensive (@$10000) Shark Marine Technologies Navigator. It is a diver held Sonar Imaging and Navigation System which greatly reduces searching times. The CO stated that what used to take them a week’s worth of diving could be reduced to a day! The RCMP divers were quite interested in this piece of gear.
The future for the FDU(A) continues to look bright and demanding. They are looking forward to working with the RCAF’s new CH-148 Cyclone helicopter to develop diver operations and procedures from the aircraft. There is talk of placing 6-7 person teams on the RCN’s new Arctic Offshore Patrol (AOPs) vessels. The unit is pushing to purchase an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) such as an Iver 3 AUVAC or REMUS AUV which are in use with other navies. Last fall during CUTLASS FURY 16, members had a chance to see an USN REMUS in action during their joint Mine Counter Measure (MCM) training in Bedford Basin. Lastly, like all divers, they push forward researching and looking out for new technology and gear to develop and enhance their expertise and skill sets.
The people partaking of the tour were thoroughly impressed with their morning’s activities at FDU(A). The event was well planned and executed and gave the group first-hand information and a chance to see some interesting kit. Everyone present enjoyed the opportunity to interact with and learn about one of the RCN’s best kept secrets on the Atlantic coast.
Of the five months I spent in Chile, I had a few days that will stick with me for the rest of my life. One of the more memorable was the day I spent in a Chilean National Park, Torres del Paine (Blue Towers).
The jumping off point for the park is a small tourist town of Puerto Natales. It is full of outfitter stores, guide and souvenir shops and an amazing pictorial wall depicting the Chilean version of creation. Since the town receives significant numbers of international visitors, there wasn’t an issue with communicating in English.
I was fortunate to finally have a clear day for my expedition and it started with a spectacular sunrise as I drove north towards the park. As I continued my day, I lamented over the fact that I only had my Galaxy III phone to take pictures with. If I had the chance to go back, I would choose an extended stay and bring a proper camera in order to document the fantastic vistas and abundant wildlife.
As you approach the park, you come upon a wide plain with the iconic Cuernosdel Paine (Blue Horns) in the background. I headed towards Grey Lake and along the way just about drove off the gravel road I was on. I had seen the first of my gorgeous blue icebergs (hielo) of the day. There’s a glacier at the far end of the lake where large chunks of ice cleave off into the water. Apparently, the high amounts of oxygen create the brilliant blue. As the ice breaks into smaller pieces, it turns crystal clear. I saved a piece, melted it down and returned to Canada with some authentic glacier water for special occasions. When I dropped off some Chilean gifts to my Grandmother at her resthome in Creston, BC, we shared a drink. We also snuck in a drink of rhubarb liquor native to that region. Grandma appreciated it!
Further along in my explorations, I started coming across guanaco. I had been despairing that Chile had no land mammals as I had seen practically no wildlife in my travels to that point. Of course, I took several pictures of my first novel wild llama encounter! Then I saw more and more and more and finally a gigantic herd! They were not particularly afraid of me and I was able to approach the outer edge to within about 20′. They were more pissed at me than anything as a few of the animals were laying their ears back and hissing. The burnt brush was from an accidental tourist fire back in 2011.
After leaving the llamas behind, I continued with my explorations. I took a short hike to a famous cascada nearby. It doesn’t show in the pictures but the area is known for high winds and I was battling 40-50kt gusts for most of the day. Next, I began driving again and for the second time that day just about hit the ditch. I had spied a flash of pink out of the corner of my eye and after stopping saw a flock of flamingos! Chile actually has two varieties of the bird. Unfortunately, they were too far away for me to take a proper photo.
As I drove down to a remote ranger station, I finally glimpsed high in the sky majestic condors soaring in the thermals. As the condor is the national bird of Chile, I was hoping to see one on my travels. Soon after, I came across another Chilean bird which caused me to slam on the brakes. Pecking at the ground, a few feet from the car was a substantial sized, flightless bird. I was afraid of it being startled, but it didn’t pay too much attention to me until I got out of the vehicle and started walking towards it. These rheas (ñandú) are not hunted and have a land speed of @40mph, so they aren’t afraid of a human on foot. The flock was another pleasant, surprising sight on top of all the others I saw that day. The last birds I came across were a small flock of Magellan geese (caiquén). The males are white and the females are brown and I was told they mate for life.
I wasn’t finished with the wildlife extravaganza even when I left the park. I had stopped to take some pictures of local sheep (I noticed that their tails weren’t docked as is the practise elsewhere in the world) and I was fortunate to see a zorro (Patagonian Fox) skulking about. It might have been hunting the numerous liebre europea (European hare). I had come across two types of rabbits that day. The liebre were black and white, resembling long eared jack rabbits and the conejo looked like regular rabbits. The latter had a death wish as they kept darting in front of the car attempting to get squashed.
I had a fantastic day exploring one of the wonders of the world! I highly suggest a trip to the region if you enjoy abundant wildlife, breath-taking vistas and untamed South American wilderness.
Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.
This past December, the Liberal government announced a $2.4 billion contract to acquire sixteen Airbus C295W aircraft as the new Fixed Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) platform. The aircraft will replace the remaining six Buffalos of 442 Squadron in Comox, BC and the twelve C-130H Legacy (ie. Old) Hercules flown from Winnipeg, Trenton and Greenwood SAR squadrons. The four Twin Otters of 440 Squadron in Yellowknife will undergo a Life Extension in order to extend their operational life to 2025.
In a move reminiscent of the winning bidder lobbying battles back in 2005, Leonardo S.p.A. launched a lawsuit February 21, to overturn the contract. Depending on the success of the court proceedings, the odyssey of replacing the RCAF’s FWSAR fleet may be substantially delayed once again.
Background of FWSAR Missions
Canada’s Search and Rescue (SAR) area of responsibility covers over 18 million square kilometers of land and sea. The mandate of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is to provide primary aeronautical SAR coverage with secondary maritime and ground coverage as coordinated through the regional Joint Rescue Coordination Centers (JRCCs).
Of the approximate 1000 annual aeronautical SAR taskings JRCCs assign to the RCAF squadrons, FWSAR responds to 350 calls/year. These numbers tie in with what I observed during my time with 442 Squadron in Comox, in 2008-09 where the squadron was responding to about 250 incidents (Buffalo & Cormorant) each year.
Three main principles for a successful aerial SAR are:
Speed to Last Known Position (LKP)
Availability of Time on Station
SAR Payload capacity
Once an aircraft has flown to the LKP, if they’re lucky, there will be obvious smoking wreckage or survivors waving at them. If not, the aircraft will conduct search patterns at lower and lower altitudes. The mountainous terrain of the Rockies presents the most challenging search locations due to the complex flying conditions plus the difficulty of spotting crash sites. I have seen pictures where the only evidence of the crash was a gash down the side of a tree. The Buffalo with attentive, trained spotters in the back is particularly suited for this type of flying and searching.
Captain (Ret’d) Ray Jacobson, a former FWSAR Air Navigator, gave me his operator’s point of view. He flew operationally in the SAR role in all three Search and Rescue Regions (SRRs) in Canada and has an extensive navigating background flying both the Hercules and the Buffalo. He has a unique insight into the pros and cons of those aircraft (and similar ones) as well as a very good feel for what it’s like flying and searching from Coast to Coast. He described to me how they use the Buffalo for ‘Valley Shoots’ to effectively terrain search in the mountains.
Sensor suites are fine in theory… but you cannot replace the human eye, therefore I’ll argue to my grave that you’ll always need a platform that can get low and slow enough to get a pair of eyes on the terrain. We had a procedure in the Buffalo called a Valley Shoot. When trying to contour a mountain you can’t get low enough over every nook and cranny… the valley shoot allowed the aircraft to descend rapidly and safely over a cut-line and enable the aircraft to ‘cover’ that section of the mountain at the prescribed search altitude. So you’d crest a ridge line and then drop full flap and drop the gear and then ‘shoot’ the valley. Great roller-coaster ride… as you descend rapidly to the base of the mountain. This was a very effective search technique though and it was valley-shoots that enabled spotters to get ‘eyes on’ crashed airplanes and resolve 3 of the last major air searches that I was involved with. I was on numerous searches and I’ve lost track of the number of times that aircraft were only spotted as ‘something didn’t look right’ and caught the spotter’s eye. Sensors, I’m afraid, are no match for the human eye and the associated interpretive abilities of the spotter. Only a human would notice that there were abnormalities in what he was seeing.
As he explained further, this was why Buffalos were kept in Comox instead of replacing them with Legacy Hercules.
Of course a Hercules would always be a preferable platform in Trenton and Halifax’s SRRs, but the Hercules is just too big to be operating safely in the Mountains. I have over 5,000 hrs on the Herc and flew SAR out of Namao (Edmonton) and Trenton. Flying even an H Model (the E’s were slower by 15kts) was a challenge and not very effective in mountainous (even hilly) terrain. As you have a stall speed of 110 kts to contend with, you were always dangerously close to it in the Herc as your search speed was 130 kts. Anything faster and the spotters only saw a blur! Often, though, you’d have to boost the speed to 160 kts to crest ridge lines, etc so our search effectiveness was really compromised. No problem if you had a cooperative target, but targets were rarely that. Also a Herc needs a minimum of 5,000’ of runway to land at… so that knocks out about 85% of the airfields we now go into in a Buffalo. The Herc was a good platform for most of the landmass east of the Canadian Rockies and it was perfect for the Far North and calls out to the middle of the Atlantic.
Canadian SAR is particularly difficult and dangerous. The RCAF aircrews and SAR Technicians have to continuously be on top of their game so that ‘Others May Live’. Unfortunately, their aircraft should have long ago been replaced and even with the C295W announcement, the first aircraft is not due until 2019.
The Tortuous Road of FWSAR Replacement
Below is a brief timeline of the 20+ year FWSAR replacement process:
2002 – The Air Force had long ago decided back in the 90’s that it was time to replace the aging fleets with a new FWSAR platform. They made another push in 2002 for a FWSAR replacement.
2003 – Prime Minister Jean Chrétien made the project a priority and allocated funding for 15 aircraft with first delivery date of 2006.
2004 – A FWSAR Project Office was stood up at DND and they began working on Statements of Requirements (SORs).
2005 – Airbus who was lobbying for their C295W to be chosen was upset that the Air Force seemed to be leaning heavily towards the Leonardo Spartan C27J. The main point in favour of the C27J and against the C295W was the former’s cruise speed of 315 kts was above the Air Force mark of a required 273 kt cruising speed with the latter’s pegged at 244 kts.
2006 – SORs were developed but the FWSAR Project Office was dissolved in order to work on higher priority projects.
2008 – After the release of the Canada First Defence Strategy, the FWSAR Project Office was resurrected.
2009 – The MND, Peter MacKay and the Harper government proposes to sole source contract the FWSAR favouring the C27J. The Aerospace industry was asked to submit their concerns with this plan.
Fall 2009 – DND, PublicWorks and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), and Industry Canada (IC) reviewed industry concerns. After the consultation process, the Government engaged the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct an independent review of the FWSAR SOR.
2010 – The NRC released its Final Report on the FWSAR SORs. A main point which opened the door back up to competition was their conclusion that the process should switch to a capability SOR model vice a platform centric one.
March 2012 – The federal government approved funding once again for the FWSAR.
January 2016 – Bidding closed on the project. Embraer from Brazil had their bid nullified in March, leaving only the Spartan and the C295W as contenders.
June 2016 – Bid evaluation completed
December 1, 2016 – C295W announcement made by the Liberal government.
2019 – Expected delivery of first aircraft. This is an approximate date with the effect of Leonardo’s court challenge yet to be determined.
2022 – Expected delivery of last aircraft
273 Knot Threshold
As early as 2005, Airbus was accusing the Air Force of writing their SORs too stringently. The perception was the Spartan had already been picked and the game was rigged in favour of a sole source aircraft. A main failing of the C295W is the cruise speed of 244 kts which was below a stated original SOR minimum of 273 kts. The 2010 NRC evaluation came to the following determination: It is not clear why the 273 knots cruise speed was chosen to be the target over the other calculated cruise speeds and the effect on crews that are on duty (30‐minute standby) is not addressed in the SOR or the operational research paper used to derive the cruise speed requirement. As the selected cruise speed of 273 knots does not allow the aircraft to meet with many of the stated requirements of the program, it is difficult to defend this speed as a mandatory minimum requirement. Cruise speed is a key discriminator in this program. But when you read further into the report, Furthermore, the stipulated minimum cruise speed of 273 knots would not satisfy the level of service assumption, nor maintain the current level of service that includes the CC‐130 Hercules aircraft which cruise at 300 knots. The idea was to choose a platform that would be an improvement on the existing FWSAR fleets.
In a Defence R&D Canada paper, the authors attempted to determine the ideal cruising speed required of a FWSAR platform using historical SAR incidents from 1996-2004.
The researchers used a response performance model coined Basing, Endurance, and Speed Tool (BEST) to run a series of simulations to determine the outcomes of several proposal scenarios to determine if there was an ideal cruise speed/endurance ratio. They used a variety of proposals summarized in the following table:
Below are the results after their comparison runs which indicate Proposal A is the optimum combination of cruise speed and endurance:
Table 4: Comparison of example FWSAR solution performance.
Historical Incidents SRR Extremes
This 2013 Defence study clearly shows that speeds for the new FWSAR platform needed to be at a minimum of 315 knots, an improvement on the Legacy Hercules. In the paper’s conclusion, they state that the research tools developed at DRDC would be part of the first-ever, capability-based procurement of an aircraft fleet by the Government of Canada, according to the PMO.
The premise of speedy FWSAR aircraft had even gained traction within the Royal Military College Aeronautical Engineering Department. The 2015 class was asked to develop the CV-151 Oracle, a replacement aircraft for the Twin Otter. From the original design specifications given to the engineering class, they were expected to produce an aircraft that cruised well above 300 kts.
Maximum cargo weight
STOL range (with maximum cargo)
≥ 850 nmi
VTOL range (with maximum cargo)
≥ 250 nmi
≥ 1900 nmi
Maximum airspeed (SSL)
≥ 300 KTAS
Maximum airspeed (FL100)
≥ 360 KTAS
Cruise airspeed (FL250)
≥ 300 KTAS
Stall airspeed (SSL)
98 KTAS clean
69 KTAS (dirty)
Maneuvering airspeed (SSL)
≤ 100 KTAS
Rate of climb (SSL)
≥ 4000 ft/min
≥ 28000 ft
≥ 28000 ft
So how did the C295W with its low cruise speed of 244 kts make it through the process? The research and military thinking stipulated an aircraft faster than 300 kts was the sought ideal.
SAR navigator Capt Jacobson is also disturbed by the C295J’s slower speed. Since Canada has elected a single platform solution for FWSAR then it was imperative that the platform selected be able to launch from southern Canada and be able to reach the Far North in no more than 12hrs. The Hercules was just able to do that… the Herc’s speed is 315Kts. So you don’t have to be a mathematical genius to understand that any claims that the CASA 295 could fulfill that requirement were obviously ‘cooked’. The Buffalo’s speed of 220Kts was always a handicap in this SRR… fortunately people operating in the Yukon knew that we were a minimum of 4 to 5 hrs away and they were prepared for it. Of concern in Trenton’s and Halifax’s regions is all the commercial airliner’s transiting our Far North and in addition for Halifax is all the oceanic traffic, both commercial air and marine. I flew the Buffalo out of Summerside years ago and the speed was very much a handicap in servicing that SRR. The CASA’s speed simply does not cut it… this country and its areas of responsibility are simply too vast. There is a solution to this ‘lack of speed’, (ergo ‘longer response time), but it’s an expensive one. The solution would be to base additional aircraft in the Far North (Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Churchill, Iqaluit, etc)… but imagine the extra cost!
RCAF Aircrew, military thinking and DRDC research confirmed the original Air Force stipulation that an aircraft with a cruising speed over 300 kts was required but this requirement was ignored.
Another major drawback of the C295W is the relatively low cabin height for the SAR Techs. The diagram below illustrates the height differences between the Spartan and the Airbus products:
The 2010 NRC SOR document concluded the inclusion of minimum cabin height and width requirements in the SOR was appropriate. The stated requirement for a minimum cabin height of 83 inches in height (210.8 cm) is not supported. Given the importance of minimum cabin dimensions in discriminating between candidate aircraft, it is important that the definition of minimum requirements be based on a sound and comprehensive analysis of accommodation requirements. It is recommended that DND conduct an analysis of the work envelope of SAR Technicians across a complete range of tasks and roles. The NRC spoke with SAR Techs who were happy with the Buffalo’s height range of 78-82”. But the C295J only has a height of 75”.
Capt Jacobson also agrees that the SAR Techs are going to be inconvenienced. The height/diameter of the fuselage of the CASA is way too short!! Have you ever been in the back of the Buffalo when 3 SARTECHs are trying to maneuver around one another once they have all their jump kit on? Each guy is carrying 265 lbs of extra kit and they have to be able to step around one another when they’re preparing to jump. There’s barely enough room in the Buffalo and its ceiling is a good 8 to 9’. The CASA only has about 6’, therefore any SARTECH trying to work back there will be forced to be permanently bent at the waist… this will undoubtedly lead to long-term back ailments for anyone who’s 5’10” and taller. Most of the SARTECHs are near the 6’ mark, so I really feel for them. To me, this small fuselage should’ve ruled out this aircraft as a contender, period.
SAR Techs have enough physical concerns during their career. They don’t need to be needlessly crammed into a small area for hours at a time or worrying about space issues before jumping.
C295W Power Concerns
One other important issue with the Airbus C295 that raises concerns with former SAR Buffalo pilot Scott Goebel is the aircraft’s power plant. The plane uses two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW 127G turboprop engines with a stated Engine Power (each) of 1972 kW / 2645 SHP. He believes that the aircraft may be under-powered for safe and effective flight in mountainous terrain. Moreover, he worries that the seemingly under-powered aircraft will not allow crews to use published air routes during instrument meteorological conditions that require it to maintain high minimum obstruction clearance altitudes, common for the Victoria region, in the event of the loss of an engine. In these situations crews must plan alternate routes that often lead to extended periods of time before reaching an area to deliver necessary aid.
For comparison, the C27J’s Maximum Engine Power is 4637 SHP per engine and the Buffalo uses a General Electric CT64-820-4 turboprop, generating 3,133 hp (2,336 kW) per engine.
Overall, between the slow speed, ergonomics and power plants, there appears to be significant reasons against purchasing the C295W. Capt Jacobson summed up his opinion of the purchase as, in a nutshell, the Government bought a fancy SUV when they really needed a Mack Truck!
Bad Timing for the Spartan C27J
Unfortunately when the FWSAR project office closed in 2006 for higher purchase priorities, the Air Force missed their chance for a replacement aircraft. Subsequently, key events conspired against the timely awarding of the contract.
The Air Force had been on a roll, acquiring new aircraft quickly due to the efforts of the CDS, General Rick Hillier to push through acquisitions in a timely manner. There was an anecdote that Hillier flew in a Dutch Chinook in Afghanistan where he could still see the old Canadian Air Force sticker under the new paint. This galled him to shove through a new Chinook procurement bid in 2006. He wanted a heavy lift capability and C17 Globemasters were ordered February 2007 and the first one flew for Canada later that year. New C130J Hercules were ordered December 2007 and 17 Hercs were delivered between 2010 and 2012. In 2009, the government and Air Force were flying high and were all set to sole source order the obvious choice for the new FWSAR. What happened?
Here’s a list of events that conspired to delay the new FWSAR for at least another 10 years:
Gen Rick Hillier retired as CDS July 1, 2008. Hillier was a rare CDS and instrumental at pushing programs and projects through.
The FWSAR Project Office had been stood down in 2006 and wasn’t reopened until mid-2008. Valuable time to work on the replacement aircraft was lost.
Airbus had been putting up a stink since 2005 about the favouring of the C27J over their product.
There was waning public support for the war in Afghanistan. The Captain Semrau incident, Afghan detainee issues and the cost of the war in blood and gold was wearing on the public’s acceptance of more high priced Defence department acquisitions.
The Great Global Recession! Starting in mid-2008 with the nadir occurring in spring 2009, the recession was probably the principal reason for pushing back another expensive contract for the Air Force. Sending the SORs to Industry Canada and the NRC gave the Conservative government at the time a way to stall and push off a costly purchase. Politically, they could show that they were not going to play favourites and clean up the procurement process at the same time.
A new Liberal government was elected in 2015. Their natural inclination would be to thoroughly dissect and discard any Conservative programs in favour of their own ideology.
The time to strike had passed. Policy changes, switching of government and unforeseen circumstances caused a FWSAR decision to be kicked down the road.
So what was the reasoning for Liberals picking the Airbus C295W when DRDC research, the RCAF and members of the SAR community clearly do not see it as an adequate platform? Perhaps it was partly politics and the optics of picking an aircraft that the opposition party was planning on purchasing. Chrétien refused to later purchase the EH-101 and the Sea Kings have still not been replaced after the contract cancellation in 1993. The government is going to great lengths to sole source Super Hornets in order to distance themselves from the Conservative’s F-35 choice.
Cost is probably also an issue as both the Spartan and Hercules C130J come with significantly higher price tags. Considering each year of delay was estimated to cost an extra $40M due to operating older aircraft, the 10 year hiatus will cost $400M on its own. Even the Canadian bidder, Viking Air Ltd could have built their proposed Super Buffalo and might have had it in the air by now. It seems important to build ships for the Navy in Canada, so how about considering that Made in Canada approach for the Air Force?
Regrettably, the RCAF and the SAR aircrews seem to be destined to end up saddled with a substandard aircraft. This has happened before when fighter pilots were asked to operate the CF-104 Starfighter (aka ‘The Widowmaker’ or ‘The Lawndart’), a high altitude interceptor, as a ground attack aircraft resulting in 110 crashes and 37 pilot fatalities. Another example of a poor purchase was the relatively useless CF-5 Freedom Fighter a product of Canadair, later the core company of Bombardier Aerospace. Pratt and Whitney, headquartered in Quebec, will receive more engine orders from this Airbus purchase.
It is unfortunate when politics and bureaucratic policy vice operator preference and experience seem to play such a crucial role when selecting the correct equipment for the job. SAR crews gain their knowledge through thousands of flight hours on thousands of missions in typically the worst of conditions and circumstances. Occasionally, this hard won know-how is paid with the ultimate sacrifice as with the recent death of SAR Technician, MCpl Alfred Barr. Maybe the bean counters and politicians should pay more attention to the recommendations of the people risking their lives.
I was in Sobey’s the other day and noticed a new section in the meat department called Certified Humane. A gentleman was on his cell phone speaking to his wife about what meat to buy and I overheard him describing the humane beef. I had to say something and asked if he thought the cows were petted once a day. The whole thing is just another food fad scam to fleece the consumer.
I have spent a good portion of my life around the production of food. Growing up on the farm, about the only food we didn’t produce on our own was flour, sugar, salt and pepper. Grandpa used to keep bees for a sugar substitute and my aunt did grind our wheat for her bread. We raised cattle, pigs, chickens and supplemented with fish and wild game for protein. In the spring, we netted suckers running in the ditches to can. We picked wild and tame berries and crabapples in the summer and fall. We had about an acre of land for the garden, half in potatoes with the rest being a wide variety of vegetables. Mom baked about 40 loaves of bread every other week. We milked a pair of cows for milk, butter and ice cream. Mom still has two fridges, an overstuffed large freezer and four rooms in the house dedicated to storing food. Guess what, living like that is a ton of work and needs space. I find it hilarious when townies think they can sustain themselves on a small urban garden and maybe a backyard chicken or two.
Later in life, I kept sheep and worked on dairy farms. I dove on BC salmon fish farms as a ‘mort’ diver. I am an avid outdoorsman and graze as I hike in the forest or along the shoreline. I have made chips out of rock lichen and with some certainty can show you what wild mushrooms are good to eat. I have tried just about every delicacy from the ocean including sea moss, eel, sea cucumbers, abalone, urchin, geoducks, puffins, seal, shark and whale to name a few. Unlike the vast majority of North Americans, I actually know what food and beverages are supposed to taste like. I enjoy food and drink.
What has got me so steamed like a blue mussel, is the preponderance of idiocy around food and how it is affecting young girls and boys. The food myths around antibiotics, hormones, gluten, GMOs, sugar, animal treatment, organic, cleansing, etc. are creating a generation of children with skewed values over food. I will not go into the absolute absurdity surrounding the particular hysteria over whatever ingredient is the food bogeyman of the moment. I suggest you take some time to read articles from the list of people and organizations below who are trying to enlighten people with the truth about your food vice the slick marketing campaigns from multi-national companies and activist organizations.
It may be just my anecdotal observations that my girlfriend’s daughter is around so many other girls her age with eating disorders. But I have a theory that I am witnessing the results of a more general trend of what ill-informed parents are doing to their kids. Myrtle (not her real name) decided to become a vegetarian somewhere around the age of 8. Polling shows that most vegans/vegetarians are women and their biggest concern is animal welfare. Have you heard of the phrase, ‘I don’t eat anything with a face’? Women mentally picture the animal in pain either while it is being raised or slaughtered and can’t get over that image in order to eat a steak. The anthropomorphism of animals has been hammered home for decades by activist groups, celebrities, and animal rights organizations. They scream and protest and throw blood on fur coats because they believe their Disney cartoon animals are analogues of real animals on farms and in the wild. They don’t have to be truthful, they just plaster the internet with staged videos of alleged animal cruelty with the intent of furthering their cause. A recent example of this was the howls of rage over the supposed mistreatment of a dog on the set of ‘A Dog’s Purpose’. These self serving organizations have run decades old campaigns to hoodwinked the parents on believing their ideologies and in turn have pushed their misguided beliefs down on their children.
Even using animals for their milk, eggs or honey equates to slavery or a cruel Orwellian factory setting. Raw milk fads are gaining popularity because those Holsteins are perceived as being treated to a kinder and gentler existence. People are willing to give their kids E. coli poisoning rather than drinking regular pasteurized milk. Vegans say bees and chickens being exploited if you take their eggs or honey. To be fair, when it came to chickens, my grandparents refused to buy eggs from the local Hutterites as they kept multiple hens in a single cage. Chickens peck the crap out of each other and will kill the weakest especially in a closed environment. This is why many farmers raising chickens for gathering eggs generally use a one bird/one cage method. But if you want your eggs to be affordable and available, they can’t all be free-range. Here’s a description of the pros and cons of different methods of raising chickens for their eggs: Egg Production Methods
What is really disturbing to me is how food misinformation has moved on to vegetables. What could possibly be wrong with baby carrots and broccoli? Myrtle’s father has a long list of forbidden foods and practices which include eating trans fats, white bread, processed sugar, water straight from the tap and the use of Chapstick. But coconut oil with its cholesterol issues is fine. One of Myrtle’s friends has never had anything made with processed sugar. This particular girl brings over all her own food and even water when visiting. Some of the kids for religious reasons won’t eat meat especially beef. Some of her friends are lactose intolerant. If Myrtle has a birthday party, each child has to have their own separate meal because their diets are so screwed up.
I won’t even go into how peanut butter has been outlawed in schools. Non-GMO Verified Wowbutter made from soybeans is allowed though.
I am not saying eat a Big Mac and a bag of chips every day. What I am saying is get off these food fad bandwagons and eat in guilt-free moderation. Eat a wide variety of foods and talk to the producer about where your food comes from. Large corporations like Sobey’s or A&W are needlessly spreading food fears with their high-priced marketing campaigns. Environmentalists and Luddite organizations like PETA are spreading lies about farming and hunting methods. I would suggest that farmer and hunter driven organizations like Rod & Gun clubs and Ducks Unlimited have done more for the environment and wildlife than Hollywood celebrities touting animal rights drivel.
I had a girlfriend who is celiac and legitimately had to refrain from eating or drinking gluten containing foods and beverages. Once you start looking for gluten outside of the obvious sources of bread and beer, you start to notice how much wheat is in processed foods. She was forced to make most of her family meals from scratch and to stay away from processed food in a box. But food in a box is going to have extra fillers and empty calories whether it says ‘Gluten Free’ or not. The point is to try and stay away from the boxed food in the first place.
One last personal anecdote: I totally burst the bubble of an owner of a Burger King over his passion for Angus beef when I explained to him that it was just a marketing ploy. I guaranteed to him that he wouldn’t be able to taste the difference between an Angus (Red or Black), Charolais, Hereford, Simmental, or Limousin. Yes, you can tell the difference between an animal that was only grass fed. Yes, if the meat has been aged for longer, it will be tastier. In general, no beef animal tastes better than the other if raised under similar conditions. Angus was just a more manly sounding name to some marketing executive and the whole industry has swung around to it.
Enjoy food and drink, all food and drink. Try to stay away from too much processed, instant meals but drop the guilt over the occasional plate of French fries or a steak. Stop getting hooked into the latest food fad shoved on to you from the internet or super market. That food guilt is screwing up your children and will give them lifelong eating disorders over something as basic as food and water.
One of the reasons I love scuba diving is the chance to see a myriad of sea creatures that are entirely unlike their land based cousins. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it underneath the water while on exchange in Chile but I was able to see several underwater species that came up for a visit.
I have dove with Steller sea lions around Vancouver Island without any qualms but I would be a little hesitant to get in the water with these fellows. Although, if you’re diving and all of a sudden all the little fishies disappear, I would take that as a sign of a large predator in the area. When you look up and see an animal roughly the size of a cow casually swim by and you notice you’re all alone, maybe you should be thankful they don’t see you as food.
While I was in Talcahuano, the town still bore the scars of a tsunami from three years previous. From the Naval Base, I would walk about a mile through a ‘no man’s land’, past a long row of fish restaurants and into town. I was warned that gangs would beat up navy personnel along that route but the scariest beasts I came across were the Lobos (Wolves of the Sea) by the restaurants. They would sun on the sidewalk and hop into the dumpsters to chow down on the scraps. Considering the size of their teeth, I wouldn’t want to be drunk and stumbling back to barracks and trip over one of them late at night! Along with that hangout, dozens of the beasts lived under the jetty our ship was alongside. I didn’t envy the ship’s divers when they had to inspect the hull with those critters with them in the murky water.
The Sea Lions were similar in size and build to the Stellers I was familiar with but the males had an extra swath of fur down the back of their necks.
Critters from the Marker Buoys
While I worked as a commercial diver on BC fish farms, it struck me as odd when people would go on about what ‘death’ zones they were supposed to be. Sure underneath the farms where there wasn’t much of a current was a miasma of old feed and fish feces but the bottom of the sea is mostly just muck like that everywhere. It is up near the surface where sunlight can get to living organisms is where you’ll find the most life. Basically, just stick something slightly into the water like a boat, a floating shed, floats, marker buoys, etc. and in a short time, they’ll be completely covered with sea life. Then someone like me has to dive in and physically scrap everything off or a tender ship has to pull up the buoy and service them. That was George Slight’s purpose as we sailed the pasos of Chile. Since I was bored and like the various denizens of the sea, I tried to document what came up on deck.
We were in the Strait of Magellan and made a quick trip ashore to Patagonia when I came across this example of Odontocymbiola magellanica. The snail was still alive inside and I did give it a taste back onboard. It didn’t kill me but it wasn’t particularly tasty either. The shell I brought back was about 4″ long.
I am not sure what type of snails came up on the marker buoy in the picture below but I found their striations interesting. Some of them had the usual looking barnacles (picorocos) attached to their shells.
Starfish (Asteroideos y Estrellas de Mar)
The varieties of purple starfish were familiar to me. I think the smaller one is a Estrella Chica (Girl Star)
Black Sea Urchin (Erizos)
These urchins were dead or dying as their spines were falling off. The crew told me their name for them was Helice. Chilean seafood shops frequently had urchins for sale.
The mussel is prevalent and abundant throughout the waters of BC and as it turns out in Chile. This was what a Chilean mussel looked like.
Not sure what type of crab this little fellow was but he was feisty as they all are.
It was too bad I didn’t have a chance to scuba dive in some of the locations we sailed through. There is plenty of untamed, unexplored wilderness and seascape in the southern portions of Chile to keep an adventurer happy for decades.
I will finish this latest installment of Chilean Critters with this little tidbit. Although I didn’t see one, the Chilean slang for a boy who is all ‘handsy’ with his girl is parecer pulpo or to seem like an octopus. I must have a little octopus in me because my girlfriend accuses me of being one all the time!
As promised, this latest blog on Chilean critters will highlight the cetaceans and flightless birds I had the fortune to come across during my voyages with the mighty Chilean Navy buoy tender George Slight. I am including the penguins as they were frequently companion animals to their larger sea creatures.
Although there are several species of Chilean penguins, I only came across the Magellanic version. Named after the famous explorer and his self-named Magellan Strait at the far southern end of South America, I did see a few close to a famous colony on Magdalena Island near Punta Arenas. They were swimming in the company of Toninas, a practise I had observed previously with some Bottlenose dolphins. I assume the penguins hunt with the larger animals and gather up the scraps or take advantage of the dolphin herding techniques. They also might use the larger animals as shelter from being prey themselves.
I wish I was able to get a copy of the dolphin/penguin pairing video when the ship left an anchorage near Paso Picton (49˚ 34’ S, 75˚ 20’ W). The ocean was as still as a mill pond and particularly clear. As the ship left the night’s sheltering cove, we were escorted out by a number of Bottlenosed Dolphins. In the video that one of the Chilean sailors took of the dolphins, you could see the winding bubble trail of a penguin swimming out with us alongside its friends. It was interesting that the penguin did not swim in a straight line but in more of a random, quick weaving pattern as I sketched below.
To my surprise, I saw my first penguin way to the north just outside of Talcahuano near the island where the Chilean Navy trains their sailors. We were puttering back to anchor for the night and the penguin was just lazily floating on the water in front of us. Of course, I wasn’t sure of what I was looking at on first glance but we got close enough for me to identify the bird. Along with this one, the ones near Punta Arenas, I saw one at Puerto Eden and a stuffed one in the Officer’s Wardroom at the Naval station on Isla Dawson. The stuffed penguin gave me a chance to realize that these are not the cute and cuddly creatures Disney and other animators have historically portrayed to the public. As you might be able to see in my sketch and picture, the beak has a nasty hook to it probably meant for quickly ripping out the guts of a tasty fish. The nails on the feet look lethal and are probably designed for scrabbling up steep, rocky shorelines or ice. In the CIBC commercials, they accurately portray the colouring scheme at least. Although, I notice in the latest commercials, they couldn’t refrain from adding some pink colouring to the lady penguin. Anyways, I figure that soft, pink humans wouldn’t stand a chance swimming against a couple of enraged penguins.
I saw a number of different dolphins species up and down the pasos (fjords) of Chile including Pacific white-sides and bottlenoses. I was fortunate to see some Toninas (Chilean dolphins) near Magdalean Island. The captain said they were a sign of good luck to mariners. I took pictures as best as I could but as usual, sea life is tough to photograph easily. They are also known as a Black Dolphin but that was a misnomer as they are clearly black and white. They are rare and some of the least researched members of the dolphin family and are only located in the far south of Chile.
As we travelled further south, I noticed that black and white were the most prominent sea creature colour.
While the ship was sailing the waters near Chiloé Island, we occasionally saw whales off in the distance. I couldn’t positively identify them but supposedly there is a colony of Blue whales in the area or they could have been humpbacks. Further to the south, I saw the occasional Orca and what I thought were Minke whales. As I was without the proper photographic equipment, I took a quick picture and sketched as best I could what I saw.
Last year, I noticed a report of Chilean whale strandings in the news. It was in an area known as Puerto Slight. This was a cove our ship entered in order to resupply the Armada’s lighthouse station located overland on the Pacific side. I didn’t have access to a small boat but I observed at least two whale carcasses on the beach. I was told the area was known for this. I had my own theories for how these creatures ended up here. On one of the nights at anchorage, I was called out to see the sea boiling with red-coloured krill. Literally, we could have taken buckets of shrimp out of the water beside the ship. So, the area was probably a popular food source for whales to be attracted to. Also, it was one of the few places anywhere up and down that area where there were actual beaches. Most of the waterways consist of fjords where the shoreline dives steeply into the water for thousands of feet. If I was an air-breathing creature, perhaps near death or sick and in need of a place to rest, Puerto Slight was the only place with beaches. They could have beached themselves by accident or maybe they just wash up there. Either way, more research needs to be done and although the area is extremely remote, there is a Naval station there for support.
For my next installment of Critters of Chile, I will focus on more Chilean Creatures of the Sea.
As the last ‘Sister of the Space Age’ will be paid off shortly on March 10, I wanted to write a few words on what it was like as a MARS Subbie to be aboard over the last few years. I won’t go into the experiences of the MSE, CSE or Logistic Subbies as their journey was quite different.
I have a couple of points to clear up before I get to my time with the ship. If you know of anyone contemplating MARS as a career choice, hold them down and pound them until they change their minds. Used car salesmen or politician or alligator wrangler would all be better career choices. If they are really smart, they would apply to the Air Force. Oh, I can hear the MARS community all saying, he’s just disgruntled and lashing out. Well, why does a significant portion of MARS officers immediately apply for an Occupational Transfer once they’ve completed their Naval Officer Professional Qualification (NOPQ) board? If an Athabaskan MARS officer says they love their job onboard, they have drunk the Kool-Aid and live on the Dark Side. There’s one lady who might defend her time as an Athabaskan MARS officer but she came very close one night to having my fist go through her face. A door close to the Operations Room has a crease where I almost broke my hand punching it.
Second point I wanted to talk about was the term Subbie. That’s our term to use, no one else’s. It is just as derogatory as the ‘N’ word for black people or any of the other racist words out there. We are Sub Lieutenants. The short form is too often used to belittle the person and the rank.
But that is a general short coming of the RCN. Everyone, especially the senior NCMs, seem to take pride in finding faults. The job is perfect for people with OCD, or particularly tortuous, because there are thousands of correctable faults to be found on board a ship like Athabaskan. So instead of helping to teach the new sailors and officers, people engage in endless rounds of ‘Stump the Chump’ or pointing out people’s faults and mistakes. The RCN does not provide a nurturing environment for growth and development. I prefer the Air Force model where you work as a team versus trying to trip someone up all the time.
Okay, back to the lovely life of an Athabaskan Subbie. As a general statement, in the two years I was with the ship, I have never been so continuously angry and frustrated in my life. This was pretty much the feelings of all of my contemporaries according to the Bull sessions we had in the Quads or the Quiet Area. We were a forlorn, despondent, dejected group of individuals.
I place most of the blame regarding the Subbie’s predicament on the first Commanding Officer, Executive Officer and Navigating Officer that I had. The RCN uses an antiquated system to train their newest Fleet officers. The decision to qualify and submit a new Officer of the Watch (OOW) to their NOPQ board rests entirely with the Commanding Officer (CO). All Subbies have their Req books firmly in tow and the 111 subjects are supposed to help prepare them for their Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate (BWK) and their Board. Unfortunately, we had very little oversight or guidance on how to proceed with our training and it was left up to the individual to ad hoc a method of self-teaching. In reality, we devolved to a litter of pups fighting for the one or two teats of CO nourishment. Only the most aggressive, wheedling or favoured garnered attention while the rest were ignored. In order to be noticed, we would snatch the Operations handset from each other so he would hear our voice over the communication net. In over a year, I only had a couple of short conversations with the man who was in direct charge of my career. Any other time I spoke with him, it would mostly be a grunt or some nonsensical remark. I could only engage him on the topic of my daughter, as he had grown daughters of his own. This wasn’t just an issue with me of course. Infamously, he forgot that he had not given a BWK ticket to one of the long-term Subbies while he was handing out tickets on the bridge to others. There were about a dozen of us that languished in the doldrums for years because of the lack of his enthusiasm to train and move us forward.
The next piece of excrement who contributed to the general malaise of the Subbie cabal was my first Athabaskan Executive Officer (XO). He was a universally hated man onboard the ship. He is a prime example of the failings of the MARS trade where a despicable excuse for a human can climb the RCN ranks if they are clever enough. To illustrate the disgust felt for the man, his girlfriend dumped him in hospital while he was being treated for a spontaneous lung pneumothorax. There were a couple of occasions and one particularly bad Wardroom incident with the Operations Officer where I was ashamed to be called a MARS officer. Of course, he and the Subbies had a poisonous relationship. Instead of even attempting to guide them through their training, he would at the most hold long-winded lectures mostly just to hear himself. He and I definitely did not get along. At the end, I would receive at least one blast of shit per day. In over a year, I only had one real conversation onboard with him where we actually spoke as human beings to one another. I would try to avoid him as best as I could but inevitably I would receive my daily snarky remark. This man has had command before and unfortunately will weasel into a top RCN job in the future.
The last significant personality who torpedoed the Subbie’s collective morale was our first Navigating Officer. She was particularly incompetent at her Divisional duty to progress our learning and training. She is also a clever individual who was able to personally advance her career on being able to firmly stick her head up the correct butt. There was a particular universally hated Subbie who followed her lead and had his head firmly up her butt. Like follows like. These people seem to go far in the RCN because they don’t make waves with the wrong people and sell their soul instead.
To be fair, NavOs are pretty much the busiest people in the Fleet. They never have time to themselves and with Athabaskan, instead of the usual two or three Subbies, we had up to 12 at one time. But their Divisional job is to be in direct control of the Subbies training. Instead, as in her case, we were mostly left to our own devices with little to no feedback. The CO would see our Req books maybe once a month and leave a four or five word note. She was supposed to give us quarterly Performance Development Reviews but I never received even one from her. The only real ‘help’ and guidance from her that I received was an Initial Counselling (IC) out of the blue because I had not completed my Officer of the Day training. An IC is a permanent black mark on your file and instead of guiding me towards a learning stream I should have been taking, she went straight to the heavy hand. She ended up being no friend to the group and we were glad when she was posted away.
The RCN needs a clear and standardized system when it comes to training their MARS Sub Lieutenants. The present system is too haphazard and too easily derailed by individual personalities, circumstances and an unfocused training regime. In my case, after I left the training school Venture in Esquimalt, I was never given the chance to run a day or night Man Overboard exercise. I was given only maybe 60 to 90 minutes of OOW Maneuver time over the two years. These were basic skills for an OOW and we were given next to no opportunities to practice let alone become proficient as all other priorities trumped our needs. Of course on the rare occasions that we did run the drills, inevitably there were mistakes and the CO would give us our blast of crap to be followed by the NavO bridge wing lecture. As for the numerous pre-requisites for the OOD and NOPQ boards, we had to continuously hound the proper personnel for a few minutes of their precious time. Rarely was dedicated time set aside for our studies with the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). The RCN needs to move to a 21st century training model in order to quit wasting the time, money and efforts of everyone involved.
Another leap forward for the RCN will be the retiring of these old rust buckets and the acquisition of proper vessels. Athabaskan was a particularly poor place to live, train and study in. A large portion of a Subbie’s life is taken up with standing watch, doing their pre-requisites for Officer of the Day and NOPQ boards, and studying. Along with the usual annoyances that every warship endures with weather tossing you about, broken sleep and living in close quarters, Athabaskan had her own peculiar issues that made life onboard difficult. The worst for me was the absolute lack of flat, lit spaces for studying. The Wardroom table was the only spot as the Quads were generally taken over by visiting Air Crew who needed their sleep. I don’t begrudge the pilots for being more comfortable than us. Their lives were literally in their hands on every flight and I admire their skill and fortitude especially on some of the more hairy weather days. But for a Subbie trying to study for a Rules test, I would bounce around the ship trying to find a quiet, lit space.
Speaking of bouncing, Subbies more than most, were nomads when it came to your living space. Occasionally, we would rate cabins as Athabaskan had extra due to her being a command platform. Up forward, if we were on an OP CARIBBE, the bulkheads would be black with mold. On the colder sails, the outside bulkheads would be covered in ice. The breakers would constantly be blowing due to officers using illicit space heaters or dehumidifiers in an effort to make their cabin livable. For the Subbies, we would typically end up in a Mess on the lower decks. #1 Mess with the steam hammer in the pipes was the worst. Imagine a person irregularly beating a 50 gallon drum with a sledgehammer right next to your head. We fought with the Hull Technicians for over a week to fix the issue. We were a low priority to the HT’s. #2 Mess was bad for the heat when we sailed south as it was over one of the machinery spaces. Stewing in your own juices didn’t make for a comfortable sleep. Lack of hot water on board was another major issue. We never had any for showering. Basic creature comforts would have gone a long way to making the time more bearable. I won’t complain too loudly though as the poor sailors stuck in the 50 man messes 12, 13, and 14 had it much worse.
It is said that if you want the true story of a ship, you take a look at the general mood of the Subbies. We were not a happy lot and especially under my first CO, Athabaskan was not a happy ship. In my opinion, of any other group onboard, we were the least well treated. At one time, we were up to 12 or 13 of us when normally it should have been only two or three. When there are that many, it’s natural to want to use the Subbie army as Shitty Little Jobs Officers (SLJOs). It became normal to have Safety Officers for every evolution and Dials Officers for every Replenishment at Sea. Basically, they had to invent tasks to look like we were busy. Instead, we were just getting in the way. Whenever we would try to ‘lead’, a Bosun would basically just put us in a corner so we would be out of the way. The RCN is going to have serious issues with the new reduced manning on the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships and new frigates because they have become used to all this extra manpower doing a slew of extra ‘keep busy’ work.
Coming back to our general treatment, some of the Chiefs of the Boat were definitely not our friends. One Combat Chief in particular enjoyed snapping Subbies into line. He was growly and rough on others in the Combat Department who also stood up to his bullying. I took umbrage to his ordering around of junior officers and confronted him on it. He immediately made a stink to the Combat Officer and as a Subbie I was automatically in the wrong. The other chiefs were on a so-so relationship level with us. In order to appear to be ‘leaders’, we were supposed to snap the bridge crew into line so that the CO could see us exercising charge. Instead of team building and inspiring people to perform, we were training as disdainful overlords meting out random harshness. So it would be difficult to interact with the ship’s company as like most people they don’t enjoy random tongue lashings. But again, you emulate what you see and experience.
If I had a particular task which galled me the most about being a Subbie, it would be the infuriating chore of copying out the fair Bridge logbooks. A logbook is meant to record significant actions and every RCN ship has an OOW notebook and the ship’s logbook. The notebook can be used to jot down everything and is done in pencil. The logbook, kept in ink, also is used to record events but what is recorded is so poorly understood, inevitably someone will screw up. Countless hours of Subbie time have been wasted on re-copying innumerable logs whose final resting place is supposed to be the RCN archives in Ottawa. It was maddening to spend so much time and effort on writing a PERFECT copy of nonsense log entries for a book that was destined to never again see the light of day.
Other disagreeable tasks included studying for and writing the regular ‘Big Three’ tests: Rules, Bridgemanship and Aircraft Procedures. The purpose of the testing was to prepare us for the eventual NOPQ board. Instead, the testing just served to show us how deficient our training and knowledge was. Reciting verbatim the Collision Regulations show no mastery of the Rules, they just show you’re a clever parrot. Sitting us down for testing was just a mechanism for making it look like we were busy and learning something.
Life was harsh for the Athabaskan MARS Subbies but there were a few bright spots. The shared hardships and constant disappointment drove us together. We pitied the poor new-comers that came into our pit of despair. All of the commiserating in the Quads quickly sucked the spirit and life out of a freshly graduated Venture student. A couple of enterprising, quick-witted Subbies produced a clandestine satirical publication that gave us a few chuckles. The food was generally pretty good although it was tough to get a few extra pizza slices on Saturday nights. I had some good relationships with a number of the crew who saw that I wasn’t a typical asshole MARS officer and had their best interests in mind. We did have some stellar parties in the Wardroom and during port visits. The partying and excessive drinking were symptoms of doomed souls attempting to find solace from the bottom of a bottle.
So I hope you have continued beating that misguided fool who even uttered the thought of going MARS. As the saying goes, ‘The beatings will continue until morale improves!’ Some of you might pass this tale off as the grumblings of a malcontent who found fault with his Subbie career. No, what was so disheartening to me was the fate that awaited us after our NOPQ boards. A Subbie’s dream was to become a gash Lieutenant, that blissful pause in your MARS career when you don’t have Director’s Level training and you pretty much just stand watches on the Bridge. Unfortunately for the directors, NavO, Combat Officer, Operations Room Officers and even the CO, the ass pain, belittling, demeaning of you and your actions never cease. It may not be as bad as the ‘Bad, Old Days’ but it is true that in the MARS profession, they eat their own. Even the best of people are reduced to bitter, sarcastic, disillusioned shells. The environment onboard Athabaskan was poison and ruined our sailing. (Subsequently, I sailed as a staff officer onboard HMCS Fredericton. That was head and shoulders a much better experience and showed to me how key people in the wrong positions can ruin your environment and learning atmosphere.)
I will miss most of the Athabaskan crew I served and sailed with but I will not miss the ship and what that setting did to suck the life out of good people.