As most people in St. John’s dreaded another winter morning Monday, with snow and a promise later of freezing rain, leading seaman Lynn Marie Quesnelle gladly drew in lungfuls of cold air as HMCS Toronto sailed into St. John’s harbour after a long deployment in the Arabian Sea.
“I came outside this morning and it was cold and I loved it. I don’t deal well with heat,” said Quesnelle, who is originally from Wabush, and is a naval communicator onboard the Toronto.
The weather in the ship’s deployment area was hot — the temperature in Kuwait City in July reached about 52 C.
“The cold air, it was phenomenal. Just coming in through The Narrows … there’s no other feeling like it,” Quesnelle said, being greeted by her parents at dockside.
Her father, Garry Dumaresque, flew in from Wabush to surprise her Monday. He had been expected to greet her in Halifax, where the ship was to depart for today.
“No matter what was going on, I wanted to come see my little girl come back,” Dumaresque said. “(It’s) more important than anything else. Always worried about her.
“She would leave a little note on Facebook to let us know everything was OK over there.”
HMCS Toronto arrived in
St. John’s after having spent 268 days at sea, and 375 days away from home as part of Canada’s and the Canadian Force’s international contribution to maritime security.
The ship was part of Operation Artemis, a multinational task force aimed at countering terrorism and related illegal activities in the Gulf of Oman, the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Rear-Admiral John Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, was on hand in the falling snow Monday morning to welcome the ship back to Canada, and to present some awards and address the ship’s company.
He said the mission, as all the deployments to the area, has paid off for Canada.
“It’s kept Canada in the Arabian sea, in the Indian Ocean, bringing stability to the maritime shipping lanes and denying the free use of those lanes for the terrorist organizations … for shipment of arms, drugs and movement of people,” Newton said. “By contributing to that peace and stability there, you are ensuring the economy here works at the full 100 per cent that it can.”
The crew that arrived Monday in St. John’s had been deployed for about seven months, after relieving the crew which manned the Toronto on the first half of the mission.
The patrol frigate departed Halifax Jan. 14, 2013. She assumed duties in the Arabian Sea region Feb. 3, 2013 with a crew of about 250 — including a CH-124 Sea King helicopter air detachment and a shipboard unmanned aerial vehicle detachment. The first crew completed its deployment July 28, replaced by the crew of HMCS St. John’s in a crew swap in theatre.
Over the entire mission, the ship steamed approximately 80,000 nautical miles and conducted more than 60 boardings. The CH-124 Sea King helicopter logged more than 700 flying hours, and the unmanned aerial vehicle logged more than 1,200 operational hours.
Nine narcotics shipments, totalling approximately 8.5 metric tonnes, were successfully intercepted and destroyed.
HMCS Toronto left Feb. 6 to sail home.
The first sailor off the ship Monday morning was James Gillett of Pouch Cove. He was greeted by his mother, Darlene Fiander.
“It’s a long trip. It’s mentally challenging, physically challenging, but it’s worth its while, it’s worth what we do and why we do it,” said Gillett, who will spend a couple weeks at home.
“I will hike in the backwoods, or get lost on the Avalon Peninsula on a bike.”
Fiander said it was a long seven months.
“It’s stressful, at times,” she said. “Time went pretty fast. It’s good to have him home.”
Chief engineer Sean Butt, originally from Carbonear, said he’s sailed in through the Narrows about 30 times, and each time it feels great.
“It’s fantastic coming home,” he said, with his mother by his side.
“You miss family. Family is an important part to everybody, of course. Whether you are away a month, or seven months like this, you just think about them back home.
“I still got another big homecoming at home, my wife and kids in Halifax waiting for me, as well. But it’s nice to have someone here to come alongside like this.
“Onboard ship we are all so close and tight. There are a lot of different things to see when you are halfway around the world ... and a lot of things I’m glad I don’t have to see when I’m here.”
As the ship’s company gathered on deck to be addressed by Newton, large snowflakes began to fall and gather on the caps and shoulders of everyone in attendance.
“I know there’s been ups and downs on this deployment,” Newton said.
“The engine is a big one. Sitting out that month and trying to figure out how to fix it. The death of a fellow sailor. But everything put together, this mission came through like all the other missions we’ve sent so far away from home.
“It’s hard for people to understand what it takes for you to operate that far. It takes persistence, dedication, it takes running the ship hard, staying focussed on the discipline of combat-warfare duties, planned maintenance, logistical support.
“Remember this, it’s hard coming home and getting back into your family’s lives. One thing you can do, is remember you got a divisional system. The same team that kept you together on board this ship, you talk and you use your buddies in your divisional system when you are experiencing your own trouble reintegrating back home. If that should happen, come back to your divisional system and use it.”