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High seas drama for HMCS Yellowknife

Peter Crnogorac
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 17/06) - The city's namesake Navy ship, the HMCS Yellowknife, is out of action for the time being, but a recent mission proved that it can still get the job done.

That fact was evident on Nov. 4 when the Canadian Navy ship rushed to the rescue of a fishing vessel with four crew members onboard trapped in the eye of a vicious storm off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

"It was a little scary rushing into the storm, and even more scary running away from it," said HMCS Yellowknife crew member, sub-Lt. Mike Su.

"There were very high winds, and our boat was rocking quite steadily."

The high seas drama began for the crew of HMCS Yellowknife at 10:40 p.m. That's when Lt.-Cmdr. James Vasey was asked by the Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Centre to rescue the small fishing trawler, the Forum Star.

At the time, the HMCS Yellowknife was 100 nautical miles away.

Durin Chappe, captain of the 98-foot Forum Star, was heading southbound from Alaska to Seattle when the ship's main engine malfunctioned. It was "dead in the water" with winds and waves steadily picking up force.

"It was a little distressing," said Chappe. "I radioed Tofino Traffic about the situation, and 30 minutes later, we received word that HMCS Yellowknife was on her way."

It took the navy ship ten hours to reach the Forum Star's position.

"We knew there was a storm coming in so we had to get out to help her as soon as possible," said Vasey.

HMCS Yellowknife arrived on scene at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 5.

The navy crew quickly rigged a towline to the fishing vessel and began to bring it in to Port Hardy.

"The crew worked well together," said Su. "We routinely do all sorts of training to this effect.

"It definitely was a group effort. Everyone pitched in. Everyone contributed to the overall success," he added.

Vasey said his ship began to feel the strain of the storm while towing the fishing vessel to port.

"The towering hawser and bridle were coming under a considerable amount of strain," Vasey recalled.

"When it looked like the seas were increasing, I requested assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfred Laurier."

When the coast guard arrived, it followed HMCS Yellowknife and the fishing vessel to port, but didn't have to lend a hand.

"We felt very well taken care of," said Chappe. "I thought Yellowknife's crew did an outstanding job throughout the whole operation."

It took HMCS Yellowknife 22 hours to bring the fishing vessel to port in unrelenting seas.

HMCS Yellowknife has been officially decommissioned to undergo upgrades and repairs until December of 2007.

The City of Yellowknife will keep the ship's bell for safekeeping until that time.