Gary Cashin, lockmaster at the Strait of Canso (Local 80824) for the last 7 years, shared with us his adventures and very surprising stories from his years working with the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). Since 1987, Gary has been interested in working on the sea. He began his experience as a fisherman in Nova Scotia and then became interested in the CCG. For World Oceans Day, we decided to share with you the stories of his 16-year career on Canadian Coast Guard vessels.
In the early 1990s, the fishing industry began to be very unstable. The money and demand for fishermen led him to look for a new career. He already had several friends in the CCG and his experience on the ocean led him to start his career in this field in 1994.
After completing several training courses, he started as a Deckhand, while also acting in various other positions, such as Quarter master, Winch Operator and Boatswain who is responsible for the deck operations. The hours of the CCG are very particular. For him, it was 28 days at sea and 28 days off. He explained the biggest challenges of his work over the years:
“The hardest thing to adapt to is the weather conditions. Everything is more difficult at sea: sleeping, eating, walking and much more. Life in general is different; it is not easy to adapt to these conditions on a long-term basis. Communication can also be a challenge, if you don’t work with nice people, this could be very difficult and isolating. You can meet up to 20-30 people each time the 28-day cycle restarts. You can’t run away from any problems you may have with the people around you. You have to deal with all of the good and bad times with people. I think I was very lucky in my career because I got to be with very nice and sociable people.”
To meet new people each time a new work cycle begins can bring a lot of positives in life. For Gary Cashin, it was one of the parts of his job that he loved the most. Even today, he has kept in touch with the majority of those that he met throughout the years. His personality always allowed him to give the best of himself at work. For him it was satisfaction and pride to put as much effort into what he had to accomplish at the CCG. He felt that he could make a difference in his team by helping each other.
Brother Cashin has participated on many teams during his years such as pollution prevention, search and rescue, operations on the icebreakers, scientific operations, and many others. He has seen all sorts of things. Gary told us about some misadventures that demonstrates that the work of the CCG is at times difficult and full of surprises.
The first story that he told us was linked to his experience as a member of the crew aboard an icebreaker. In 2003, an assignment was communicated to him and his team aboard the CCGS Earl Grey to escort a large vessel, the MV Marie Gorthon, to shore. On their way towards an area of ice to break up, the crew encountered a pressure ridge that blocked the CCG vessel. Stuck at the point, they were lucky in their misfortune. The CCGS Earl Grey was being pushed by the ice towards a rocky island, which would have caused major damage. Finally, the captain ordered the entire crew to put on their emergency gear and to prepare for the worst. The rescue team had received communication from their boat and were on the way to begin emergency measures.
At this point in his career, Gary’s current supervisor was on the CCGS Terry Fox which was on route to help with the incident.
“We had an engineer on board who had about 30 years as well as our captain who was there for a long time as well as the chief officer. They worked very hard to ensure that we got free and that we stayed away from the rocks. The next day, we were finally able to break free from the ice. We were blocked in that spot for more than 15 hours before we got back to shore.”
CCGS Earl Grey
M\V Marie Gorthon
The second misadventure began in a very big storm at sea around 2013. “I was very worried for my life.” He mentioned. during the storm the winds were very strong and the waves were so high that they were washing over the afterdeck of the ship. Normally, he explained that there is a “safety cable” that we can grab onto, however, in this case the conditions were too severe to reach this cable. Before reaching safety, he wanted to ensure that all of his deck crew were safe. He was the Boatswain during this incident, so Gary wanted to ensure that everything was under control. So as to avoid being swept overboard by the waves, he decided to hang on to a large piece of deck equipment, to avoid being washed overboard. Afterwards, the captain asked him why he didn’t reply to his radio calls and he replied that “the weight of the waves crashing over me and broke it into 3 pieces and I had a large bruise on my stomach.”
Regardless, you must also take note of the magical moments of being part of the Canadian Coast Guard. Gary tells us that the mariner life has also brought wonderful surprises. “I have been able to see lots of whales and dolphins during my ocean excursions. These animals never cease to impress me. I even got to see a sea turtle one time. Its size was impressive.” Sometime during excursions, there were opportunities to visit Sable Island. “The mysteries behind this island are really impressive. There is a large seal colony as well as wild ponies. Each time that I went there to bring provisions or to do maintenance I was impressed by this place that nature has preserved. I count myself lucky to have found places like this in Canada that are almost inaccessible to most people.”
Being onboard a CCG vessel is a physically demanding job. It is intense and varied work at all levels. It is also important to know that it is also a very isolating job. Sometimes the crew does not see land for 2-3 weeks. However, the people in these environments become like family. They help each other, get to know and live extraordinary experiences together; they understand each other.
For Gary, after working 16 years in these working conditions, it was time to find a little more stability. “This was a demanding, gratifying career but also unpredictable. I am happy and proud to have worked all of these years in this field which is also my passion. I am happy to remain in a vocation where my expertise in Canadian waters can still be of service.”