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Oak Bay team rescues sailor as bitter cold, rough seas compound quickly

Marine search and rescue volunteers tow boats to Oak Bay Marina
A crew member of Oak Bay Sea Rescue helps secure David Taggart’s sailboat to the customs dock at Oak Bay Marina on Feb. 11. (Justin Stephenson Photo)

It’s always cold on the water in Oak Bay, so it was extra chilly for David Taggart when the temperature dipped to -2 C the night of Feb. 11.

Taggart is on the water most days, working on either of his two boats, a 36-foot steel-hulled cruiser and his 27-foot Catalina sailboat.

He will even sleep overnight on the Catalina, which he is preparing as a live-aboard, but always returns home to his Oak Bay apartment to take care of his cat.

Both boats are moored in the open water next to Oak Bay Marina and that cold Thursday he had tied the Catalina to the steel-hulled blue boat with four lines.

Justin Stephenson of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue outfit in Oak Bay, and local sailor David Taggart, with Taggart’s 27-foot Catalina sailboat in the background. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

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Then came the winds and waves from two to four feet high. At noon, one of his lines snapped.

“I should have noticed it was greying,” Taggart said.

He wasn’t in any panic until about 5 p.m. when everything happened in short order.

“My tender (dinghy) wrapped around the bow of the boat and was submerged,” he said.

The waves popped his outboard off where it sat, weighted, on the back of the Catalina. Luckily it was chained to the boat and landed on the dinghy. The smaller outboard motor of the dinghy also came off – left hanging by its chain.

“Basically, I couldn’t get to shore without help,” Taggart said.

His two boats were also smashing against each other. The steel-hulled boat has a working diesel engine but was without a battery.

The waves, and spray, were pooling water in the Catalina and the electric system shorted. To add suspense, a 24-foot fiberglass sailboat had come loose and was floating towards Taggart’s boats. It had a sharp front, and could very likely have poked a hole in his Catalina.

With no electricity, Taggart couldn’t use his radio. He called 911 on his cell phone. The call was re-routed to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre dispatch.

“We got the call at 5:11 p.m.,” said president Justin Stephenson of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue station in Oak Bay Marina. Stephenson is also a coxswain of the volunteer group’s Enterprise crew, and with Hans Terstappen, Peter Johannknecht and Wayne Heth, they were there within an hour.

By then it was getting dark with wind up to 30 knots, Stephenson figured.

As they say, “it” will go sideways real fast on the ocean, Stephenson noted. Making things more difficult, is Taggart is still recovering from surgery a few months ago. It limits his ability to do things such as securely tie two boats together during a storm.

“One of our crew members tried five times to pull Taggart’s 220-pound storm anchor up,” Stephenson said. “I eventually made the decision to side tow the Catalina to the marina and drag the anchor. Fortunately, it worked. We were able to drag the anchor with the boat.”

Using their iconic orange rigid-hull inflatable boat, the Enterprise crew brought Taggart’s boat to the Canadian customs slip, next to the Royal Canadian Marine Search & Rescue Station 33 boathouse, where they received permission to leave it overnight.

They also intercepted the wayward sailboat and pulled it into a vacant slip in the marina where the owner has made arrangements to keep it for a couple of months, Stephenson said.

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“I’m very grateful to the Oak Bay search and rescue team, and also to Oak Bay Marine Group, for letting me keep the Catalina here overnight,” Taggart said. “The rescue team went above and beyond.”

Taggart’s experience is a perfect example of how everything can go wrong, said Stephenson, who is also an instructor for crew members at the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue headquarters in Sooke, and a coxswain for a crew at the Victoria station at Ogden Point. The Oak Bay marine search and rescue team responds to about two to five calls a month. They vary from paddleboarders and kayakers stranded (tired out) on Trial Island to large cabin cruisers and sailboats running aground by not heeding the many warnings in place.

Oak Bay’s marine search and rescue is volunteer-based and operates off grants from the District of Oak Bay, provincial gaming grants, support from Oak Bay Marine Group, and charity fundraisers such as the baron of beef sale at the annual Oak Bay Tea Party.

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Oak Bay sailor David Taggart with Justin Stephenson of Oak Bay Sea Rescue at Oak Bay Marina. Taggart is overly grateful that Stephenson’s crew helped tow him out of trouble and into safety on Feb. 11. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)