Robert Stanley was in Tofino when he heard about the house fire that claimed the life of an Ahousaht First Nation member last week. He had traveled from his home on Flores Island to attend a nine-day Captain’s Boat Camp.
The loss weighed on him heavily and his first impulse was to drop-out of the course and return home. It didn’t feel right for Stanley to be so far away from his grieving community.
Before he could follow through, members from his nation encouraged him to stay, saying, “there was nothing he could do.”
Emotionally tapped out and disinterested, he struggled through the beginning of the in-class marine training. It wasn’t until he was out on a boat during a practical session that Stanley started to feel more at peace.
“The water soothed my heart,” he said.
Along with four other Nuu-chah-nulth students, Stanley was taking the boat camp to get his certifications to be a captain on a small commercial vessel.
The $3,000 course was offered to 16 Nuu-chah-nulth participants from Ahousaht and the regions of Tofino and Ucluelet at no cost. It was limited to those geographical areas due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Funded by the Canadian Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the course was facilitated by Uu-a-thluk, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s fisheries program.
Selected on a first-come-first-serve basis, 11 participants signed-up and will walk away with certifications for Small Vessel Operator Proficiency (SVOP), Small Domestic Vessel Basic Safety (SDV-BS), Restricted Operator Marine Radio Licence (ROC-M) and Marine Basic First Aid.
Stanley works as a commercial fisherman and has been driving trollers since he was 11 years old. No stranger to the water, he never uses a map for navigation. Instead, he relies on the traditional markers his grandfather taught him, like the top of Lone Cone Mountain.
He enrolled in the course to renew his certificates so that he could run his brother’s boat. While he has no trouble maneuvering through local waters, Stanley said he “loved the practical training” that allowed him to practice his skills.
Joe Titian also traveled from his community of Ahousaht to attend the course. Although he has been on boats since he was nine years old and started commercially fishing at the age of 12, he needed to renew his certificates to run a water taxi for his brother-in-law.
As he pulled out of the Tofino marina, the 63-year-old quoted Dolly Parton and said, "Everybody wants happiness, nobody wants pain; but there can't be a rainbow without a little rain.”
Relying on his fellow classmate, Brianna Lambert, for navigational directions, Titian continued driving out into rough seas up the Tofino Inlet.
Datum Marine Services instructor, Marla Barker, guided them through a “person overboard drill” where Titian had to demonstrate a high-speed turn to rescue a fallen buoy, they covered anchoring and docking a boat, along with slow-speed maneuvering.
After catching up with the other participants who were on different boats, the rain stopped as the skies parted. A vibrant rainbow emerged that arched across the inlet.
It was like the ancestors were comforting the students in an embrace.
As the day ended, the group gathered on a dock in Cannery bay.
“You guys showed a lot of courage for hanging in there,” said Ed Houlihan, a Datum Marine instructor.
While Stanley said he couldn’t wait to get back to his family and community, he was proud to have made it through the course.
“It’s what my community wanted,” he said.