Eyes on the ice

New Arctic navigation course at CFB Esquimalt one of two in the world

Lt.-Cmdr. Mark Raeburn stands in one for the Venture simulators with a program for sailing through Arctic conditions on the screens behind him.

Lt.-Cmdr. Mark Raeburn stands in one for the Venture simulators with a program for sailing through Arctic conditions on the screens behind him.



Lt.-Cmdr. Mark Raeburn peers out the Canadian frigate’s windows.

Ahead, layers of ice coat the surface of the Arctic waters against a backdrop of snow-covered hills. Snowflakes begin to fall.

This is the Arctic – only the view from the ship’s bridge is computer-generated, just as the snow and scenery are.

Raeburn works the control panel inside the simulator at Venture, the Naval Officers Training Centre at Work Point in Esquimalt, and the snowflakes disappears.

The school recently made Canadian naval history when seven students were put through their paces during a new Arctic operations course.

The navigation course is one of four in the world, and one of two that provides Arctic training.

For five days, three Canadian and four New Zealand naval ship commanders, navigators or operations officers learned what it takes to sail Canada’s Arctic waters.

“Aside from going up there yourself, this is about as (realistic) as we can make it,” said Raeburn, head of navigation training at Venture, and one of five instructors who taught the pilot project. “It’s very hard to get this kind of experience.”

The course, which took a year to develop, will next be offered in February 2012 as part of a full Arctic training program. The navigation portion, including simulator training, will be offered at Venture.

For three days in the classroom, students learn about Arctic regulations and sovereignty, ice formations, ship design and manoeuvring through ice. They take what they learn and apply it to situations they face in the simulator.

“It’s a very challenging environment and certainly you do need some kind of training before you’re up there, especially when it comes to ice – 90 per cent of it lies under the surface and that’s what you have to worry about,” Raeburn said.

Even veteran mariners face countless challenges in the Arctic, such as limited global positioning system coverage. Navigating the Northwest Passage – a sea route through Canada’s Arctic archipelago that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans – is also risky.

“As soon as you start straying off those (routes), you’re actually operating into unknown territory,” said Raeburn, who has travelled to the Arctic and Antarctic.

The timing of the Venture course is no accident, given the federal government’s move to assert its authority along 162,000 kilometres of Arctic coastline.

Currently, Canada’s naval vessels aren’t able to sail year-round in northern waters, especially when there is ice, but that will change when two federal shipbuilding contracts – worth a combined $35 billion – are awarded, possibly later this month or in October.

Up to eight armed Arctic and offshore patrol ships will be built to navigate and crunch through ice-filled Arctic waters, conduct surveillance, enforce Canada’s sovereignty and do search and rescue operations.

“We’re actually looking then at extending the navy’s reach into the Arctic, and that’s why we have to start these courses now, for us to get a corporate knowledge of the Arctic and start building that back up again,” Raeburn said. “We’re trying to generate that now so that in five years’ time, when we start operating these vessels, we won’t be going up there blindly.

“We’ll have a good idea of what we’re getting ourselves in for.”

Just Posted

COVID-19 exposures have been reported at Colquitz Middle School and Tillicum Elementary School, both on June 14. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Two Saanich schools report COVID-19 exposures

Exposures reported at Colquitz Middle School and Tillicum Elementary School

Sooke RCMP seized cocaine, ketamine, MDMA, prescription pills, $6,000 cash, a machete and pepper spray during a bust June 15. (Courtesy of Sooke RCMP)
Sooke RCMP seize drugs, machete, pepper spray

Man arrested near Evergreen Mall following drug deal

This conceptual rendering shows revisions to the proposed warehouse in Sidney on land under the authority of the Victoria Airport Authority. York Realty, which plans to build, then lease the building, said significant changes to the the massing and height of the building respond to community feedback. Additional feedback can be submitted until June 30. (Screencap/York Realty)
Sidney warehouse proposal lands Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce endorsement

Public has until June 30 to submit additional comments after significant modifications

Staff will be reviewing public feedback from second-stage designs for cycling infrastructure in James Bay, part of the City of Victoria’s 32-kilometre network. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria sends James Bay bike lanes choice to next phase

Design modifications based on community input to be delivered to council this summer

An eastern cottontail rabbit on the UVic campus. (Evert Lindquist/News Staff)
Wild rabbits persist at the University of Victoria

Feral rabbits are still absent, but another non-native species has arrived on campus

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

Most Read