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Canoers rescued on Howe Sound Saturday

The women set off toward Squamish from Britannia Beach when the wind picked up; this was the second time the pair needed rescuing this year.

They’re two grandmas who have gotten lucky twice, says Danuta Rogula, 62, of being rescued with friend Katarzyna (Kasia) Opiol, for the second time this year by search and rescue crews, most recently on Saturday.

On July 10 the women set off into Howe Sound in a canoe from Britannia Beach, where art gallery owner Rogula lives. They steered for Squamish.

"It was a beautiful day, and so flat," Rogula said, adding they knew to leave early — about 10 a.m. — to avoid the windiest part of the day.

But once on the water, they got distracted by all they were seeing. 

 "We lost track of time. It was so beautiful. We were watching the rocks and going further and further... suddenly it started blowing,” Rogula said. 

That was a bit before noon. 

They started heading back toward Britannia Beach, but the waves were so high and the wind so strong that their paddling was getting them nowhere. 

"Next to us was just the vertical wall of the rocks,” she said. 

The wind was blowing 20 to 25 knots from the south and the seas were between two and three feet.

They headed toward a flat-looking rock, planning to wait for the winds to die down, but then the boat capsized.

They managed to scramble atop the rock on the south/east shore of Watts Point.

At first, they used their whistle to attract passing boaters, but it seemed they couldn't be heard. 

Luckily, Opiol was recently given a floating, water-proof container for her cell phone. 

They called Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 4 — Squamish (RCMSAR). The red and yellow rescue vessel with five volunteers aboard arrived on the scene within about 20 minutes of receiving the call, according to Mike Sheehan, who was coxswain on the rescue. 

The women were dropped off safely at Britannia Beach by 12:30 p.m. 

Once safe at shore — their canoe in tow — Rogula gave the rescuers paintings from her gallery as a sign of appreciation.

The women are not new to adventures or being rescued. Rogula, often with Opiol, completed 70 hikes in six months last year.

She has been out on her canoe before, too, but now is swearing off the open ocean and will stick to lakes, Rogula said. 

The pair were also rescued back on March 17 at Petgill lake trail by ground search and rescue (SAR).

"We were wearing crampons and there was a lot of snow at the top — almost one metre. We were going back and we took off our crampons. It was the last patch of ice and then she slipped and broke her ankle,"  Rogula recalled. 

"We were lucky grandmas twice. First by helicopter and then rescued by boat yesterday," she said when she spoke to The Chief by phone on Sunday.  

Rogula has three grandkids, while Opiol has two. 

For others who head out, Rogula said it is important to know how quickly the conditions can change. 

Lessons learned

Sheehan said it is always important to check the marine forecast when heading out on the water and to make sure the vessel you're in is the right vessel for the conditions. 

“This time of year especially, the winds start to increase late morning and through the afternoon. Always wear a properly fitting PFD. Always let someone know where you're going and expected return time. Always carry a reliable means of communication,” he added. 

Sheehan said Station 4 also responded to two other calls while they were out on the canoe rescue.  

After they finished the call at Britannia Beach, they were just north of Porteau Cove and came across two paddleboarders who had fallen into the water and were unable to get back on their paddleboards, which had drifted away. 

“They waved to us indicating they needed help so we proceeded to their location and pulled them from the water and retrieved their gear. They were very cold but had no other injuries. We then transported them to Porteau Cove where their vehicle was parked,” Sheehan said. 

The third incident was as the rescuers were coming back into the Mamquam Blind Channel and noticed a small sailing vessel that was trying to get out into the harbour under power. The wind had blown the vessel into shallow water and it was partially aground. The marine rescuers were able to get alongside the vessel and get a tow line over to them. 

“We then proceeded to pull them to safer, deeper water where the tow line was released and they were able to continue on their way,” he said. 

“All in all a busy day on the water for us and glad to see the positive outcomes for sure.

We have a highly dedicated group of individuals in Squamish RCMSAR  — and ground SAR for that matter — who train very hard for exactly the type of day that we had yesterday and we couldn't do so without the donations that we receive from the community so thanks to all that help to support us.”


*Please note, this story has been corrected since it was first posted. Originally, the location of the women's second rescue was wrong. It was actually Petgill Lake trail.