CCGS Vancouver

CCGS Vancouver above is at Ocean Station Papa, the North Pacific weather station. Weather Station Papa no longer exists. The job of early weather detection is now done by satellite. CCGS Vancouver and her sister ship CCGS Quadra, were used for weather and oceanographic research work in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In the sixties and seventies, the Pacific Oceanographic Group (POGO) had personnel on board to study the ocean and everything it had to offer science. Each trip lasted a total of 7 weeks. The weather "MET" men studied weather by releasing balloons and using the special radar. They also advised international flights and ships at sea about weather in the Pacific, and sent all their data to the weather center in San Fransisco.

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Weathership CCGS Vancouver in Burrard Dry Dock Ltd. Port of Vancouver.

Weathership CCGS Vancouver at sea

Canadian Coast Guard


Canadian Coast Guard got two brand new weatherships, the CCGS Vancouver and CCGS

Photo courtesy of Canadian Coast Guard
Quadra
, to replace the old Second World War St. Catherines and Stone Town.

These modern ships saw most of their service in the 70's. They had 86 men and spent seven weeks each in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The writer made four of these trips to Ocean Station "Papa." On the last trip, on the CCGS Vancouver, the weather was so rough that the forward, officer's lounge portholes, were punched in. The waves were 20 meters crest to trough, one of which took the forward crane (in foreground) with it. The sister ship, which we were relieving in the hurricane, was limping into port with damage. Steve Cochrane (CCGS Quadra 1973-1976) remembers that day.

    "I was on the Quadra as Jr. Eng - Day Mechanic, during the storm when the Vancouver was sent to relieve us. We had lost 80% of our propulsion, and kept station until the St. Anthony came to tow us. We did have a cross over connection to put the 20% power to both propulsion motors, but the Chief was afraid to try it, since it hadn't been tested. When the St. Anthony arrived, they tried the switch, and it worked, so we had 10% on each propulsion motor. Just as the St. Anthony was nearing us, I was walking forward in the alleyway outside the ship's office. We were being tossed around quite a bit. Suddenly, ahead of me, was a 2' X 2' column of water coming out of the heating/cooling grill outside the Sr. Officer's Lounge. We had taken a big roll to Starboard, and a wave had washed through the air intake on the AC room on the deck above. I raced up, opened the door and was almost washed away, with the amount of water still contained in the room."



I had just landed my job with the Canadian Coast Guard. My first assignment was St. Catherines. It was a small ship by comparison with the new sister ships. I was a steward, and my job was to help mothball the ship. The boatswain was a Dutchman, who would always tell me "If I were a young man, I'd ship out on a Norwegian." Some of his words must have sunk in because a year and a half later I was on a Norwegian bulk carrier M.S. Tresfonn working my passage across the Atlantic to my native Finland. After a month on the "St. Kits," I was introduced to the CCGS Quadra.



The Last Voyage of Captain Nesbitt

It was Captain Nesbitt's last voyage, and one he would not forget. He planned to retire after this final trip, so he wanted it to be special. But the weather didn't know or care a thing about this old sailor's wishes. The trip would be special alright. The wind was gusting to over 100 km per hour on shore, and he was supposed to take his ship into it, plus travel 3 days to the birthplace of the worst weather in the North Pacific, and I was going with her.

The sister ship that was out there in the storm was damaged. Reports came in that she was limping back to port with only one generator running. Captain Nesbitt was going out to get his share with his crew. The one thing you needed in a storm was power. If the last engine were to go, that would be it. I'm not sure if they had a sea anchor to keep her bow into the storm...Well, there was nothing he could do about the weather. He was ready to go straight into it. I had been aboard in rough weather before, and did not think this would be much different. Well, I was wrong.

Pulling out of Esquimalt, it looked like it might not be too bad, except when we got out to the continental shelf, the waves suddenly grew and really gave the aluminum/steel vessel a wild ride. The superstructure was aluminum, which had cracks every time we came back to port. The huge waves made getting the old sea legs a little harder this trip. Perhaps it would have been prudent to slow the ship somewhat, but captain Nesbitt was determined to get to station Papa on schedule dispite the weather, that certainly turned out to be a "Perfect Storm" to retire by.

The CCGS Vancouver steamed straight into a howling hurricane at 16 knots. Contrary to popular belief that the Pacific Ocean is calm, it was sure showing its wild side now. It was rough but we seemed to be managing. There was talk that the waves were hitting the wheelhouse. That's bad. I knew that this was not an ordinary storm. I went over to the helicopter deck after supper with Mike and we were fooling around to see how high we could jump like a couple of kids. If you timed it right, you could jump perhaps a meter straight up without too much trouble.

The next morning I was puttering around the officer's mess when I heard this huge thump and saw water gushing as if from a firehydrant, right past the starboard forward door. My first reaction was that we must be sinking, so I ran up to C deck, but still felt the ship swaying, so I ran back down to the torrent of water like rapids flowing down to the lower decks. One sailor was being taken to the ship's hospital with blood flowing down his face. The captain announced over the public address system that the ship would be turning about to put the stern into the waves so that damage can be assessed, and repaired. Plywood was put over the portholes that had been smashed in, and the sea water was mopped up.

The forward winch was gone along with most of the portlights and deadlights in the forward lounge. Almost everyone was scared. I checked every stateroom to make sure everyone was OK. Some of the men were saying their prayers, and I don't blame them.

The ship was tossed about like a cork. If this doesn't teach you respect for the forces of nature, nothing will. You really have to know what you are doing to be out in this weather. No wonder they call it a weather ship. Notice the winch is missing from the bow but is in the previous pictures. Half of the hull portion of the ship must have gone into one giant wave. Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt physically, but many would never come out here again, including the writer.

The Guitar and the Sea

The storm raged and after making the necessary repairs, the ship continued on to station at reduced speed. We were told the waves were 20 meters crest to trough and the winds reached over 150 km per hour.

Nothing much to do on board, and after work we tried to keep occupied. I was the ship's projectionist, having learned to operate the projector at Victoria High School. We even fished for salmon. Sometimes when our lines were deep enough we got some pretty strange looking fish. Singing would sometimes be heard from my cabin. After six weeks at sea, the excitement of getting home is just too much, and we break into song. Perhaps even something like this:

I've been out here, on Station Papa
Now six weeks, and a day,
But when I wake up tomorrow morning,
This ship will be on its way.
Refrain:
And Oh, I'm going home,
Oh, I'm going home,
Oh, I'm going home, I'm going home, I'm going home.
A sailor was born to wander,
And you know I'm the rovin' kind,
But to sea I'll go no longer,
A job on shore I will find.
(Refrain)

Osmo Joronen


The guitar and the Sea - A German song about a guitar and the sea by Freddy Quinn. A hit many years ago.
Seeman - by Freddy - an old German Sailor song.

The ships were also useful in oceanography, and Nansen bottle dips were taken daily and the results are still being analyzed and interpreted, especially CO2 data. Since the Amazon Rain Forest absorbs 20% of the earth's CO2, its destruction is causing climate change. We have to stop the destruction, including subsidizing the farmers to stop encroaching into the forest. (Ocean Station Papa documents on the web)

The grid area was off-limits to all ships by international treaties, but a Soviet ship came straight toward us, then turned and showed off its hammer and sickle. Soviets had their own rules I guess - not very cooperative folks. Not long after these trips, I became a landlubber and got my degree in zoology which forms my "body of general knowledge" as I do not work in the field. My career was in civil engineering, in the construction end, working for the Ministry of Transportation all over BC. I remain a friend of all life on earth and spread the word about conservation in our disappearing natural world. In 1971 I entered the University of Victoria, Canada and in 1975 I graduated with a general degree in biology and industrial psychology. My experiences living on the Pacific Coast and working with the Canadian Coast Guard inspired me to study the natural sciences.


Pacific Oceanographic Studies:


Here we were, 3 days sail from shore, beyond help in any emergency, 4200 meters above the ocean floor. That is hard to imagine. The volume of water is huge.