“Did you pack your long johns? RAS in HMCS Toronto
By SLt Samuel Kehler,
“Did you pack your long johns?”
That was the question someone asked me when I said I was being attach posted to HMCS Toronto for a week of Replenishment at Sea (RAS) training with the soon-to-be delivered MV Asterix. I had completed many a RAS while serving in HMCS Protecteur and in HMCS Calgary but never as a NWO (Naval Warfare Officer) and never in the cold East Coast winters I had been avoiding for the first five years of my sailing career.
The first day was a day for approaches. This is where Toronto moves towards Asterix and gets into a position to be ready to RAS. It is high speed and high stress as the NWOs, formerly Maritime Surface and Sub-Surface Officers (MARS), calculate courses to station and complete relative velocity equations on maneuvering boards as fast as they can. They do this to ensure a safe and seaman-like approach to Asterix, getting as close as 50 yards from a ship nearly five times our displacement. As a new NWO fresh into his first sail, I was decidedly eager to put my skills to the test and enjoyed the challenge of ensuring accuracy while still being as quick as possible in providing a solution.
The second day we upped the ante by attempting a dry hookup. A dry hookup is when you pass all the lines and gear required for a RAS without actually transferring any fuel. We had practiced this alongside across the jetty but this would be the first time Asterix ever actually passed any gear to another ship while sailing.
I was acting as Signals Officer, which meant I had an up close and personal view of the evolution on the top part of the ship. My job as Signals Officer was to hold either a red and green set of paddles or a red and yellow set of paddles in order to send or receive information with the crew of Asterix. It took a few tries to fire the gunline across due to the high wind we were experiencing but eventually we got that first line across and we were off to the races, the first ship to RAS with MV Asterix. Once the gunline was across, we slowly hauled in the continuous messenger until finally the span wire was passed across and hooked onto our ship. The fueling hoses travel along the span wire and seat into our bell. It took a few tries to get the probe seated, but eventually it was, and we again became the first ship to reach that step with a Canadian tanker since 2014.
Later that afternoon it was time for a real RAS approach, hook-up, and receiving fuel through the lines. This time I was the Range Officer, my job was to be on the bridge and on the bridge wing with the Captain and the Officer of the Watch (OOW) and report the distance from our ship to Asterix. First, distances were reported using the radar, then once we got closer, the laser range finder and Stuart Distance Meter. Coming from the West Coast, I have had to learn on the fly proper dress for evolutions at sea and this was definitely one of those times. After 45 minutes on the bridge wing in just NCDs and a floater coat, I realised I would never be able to complete this RAS without freezing. Luckily our Captain noticed how cold I was and I got a chance to run inside change my clothes: two pairs of running tights, a second pair of socks, a long sleeve under my NCD shirt and another jacket over my NCD jacket. I then topped that off with two toques and the issued balaclava, I was finally ready.
When I got back out we had passed all the gear and the probe was seated, exactly where we ended earlier in the day. Now it was time to start fuelling. Toronto succeeded once again and continued to lead the fleet in RAS progress by having the first successful fueling with Asterix. In the RCN it is tradition that when you RAS with a tanker you put a sticker with your ship’s crest – known as a Zapper on the fuel lines after a RAS. Well, the proof is there, Toronto was the first ship to place a Zapper on all four fuel lines of Asterix, forever saying, “We did it first.”
It was an exciting week to be on the front lines watching this capability be brought back to the RCN.