Learn about the Work of Captain Bill Noon on the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier during the Victoria Strait Expedition


Captain Bill Noon addresses the hamlet of Gjoa Haven.
(Photo credit: Theresa Nichols, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Questions:

Describe the moment when you found out that the vessel which had been discovered was the HMS Erebus.

Answer:

I was called to my cabin by the Parks Canada archaeology team, along with the Government of Nunavut archeologist. They were waiting at my cabin and closed the door behind me which I found very peculiar. I had no idea what was going on as they maintained blank expressions on their faces. I actually thought something had gone wrong. We sat down and they told me that they had found one of the vessels from the expedition! It was one of those moments that I will carry with me forever. I have always been a passionate student of nautical history, so it was simply overwhelming as I fully recognized the significance of the find. It was very emotional for all of us. It quickly became an extremely joyous moment as this team had been so dedicated, so passionate and had worked so hard together to get to this stage. It seemed so deserving. As Senior Parks Canada archaeologist, Ryan Harris stated when he first viewed the first side scan image of the shipwreck, "it was like winning the Stanley Cup". As I watched the same image of the shipwreck scroll by on my screen, I had that same feeling of victory!

From a captain's perspective, were there unexpected challenges during the Victoria Strait Expedition and when the HMS Erebus was discovered?

Answer:

The ice and weather always dictate how we operate in the Arctic and this season was no exception. This year's ice conditions returned to the more "normal" condition that we used to experience in the not too distant past, where ice occupied areas in the Victoria Strait. The return of the ice to the northern search area changed the entire search strategy, and we were forced to shift our focus instead to the southern area. Although the southern search area wasn't part of our original plan, we enjoyed a very long period of calm winds, smooth seas and good visibility to allow for very productive searching. One of the biggest challenges for us was in balancing our own multiple priorities outside of the search. Our work in maritime safety actually takes precedence to the search activities, so on several occasions we needed to abruptly shift our activities. During the search window, we also provided ice escorts to commercial ships to allow cargo to keep moving through the waters and into the communities, and we conducted several search and rescue missions. Ultimately, we never slowed down at all throughout the entire expedition.

What are the main differences between the expedition this year and the ones in past years?

Answer:

Ice was the big factor this year. Since 2008, we've been lucky as this area has been largely ice-free, making searching easier. But weather has always been a challenge. It was obvious early in the season that the northern Victoria Strait search plan would be difficult to carry out, and that we would need to shift instead to the Queen Maud Gulf (Southern Area) search plan. We were also extremely busy this year due to adding more assets to the search: We carried three survey launches (Canadian Hydrographic Service's CSL Kinglett and CSL Gannet and Parks Canada's Investigator), installed a CHS multi-beam image sounder on CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and booked the helicopter to fly every day as conditions allowed. Add to that our own work, and it meant that our ship had the capacity to work 24 hours a day. Every bunk on the ship was accounted for, and our crew worked long hours beyond their normal 12 hour shifts. Daily coordination with the various programs onboard – Parks Canada, the Canadian Hydrographic Service, and the Government of Nunavut - was critical in to maximize productivity within the capacity of our crew. We also needed to coordinate our efforts with partners on other expedition vessels, including the Martin Bergman, and the One Ocean Voyager. With the limited hours of sunlight and extremely variable weather conditions, it was necessary to maintain a high level of flexibility at all times to carry out our objectives.

In the end, the program was carried out in a very similar manner to previous years but with more resources and ultimately a substantial historical achievement. This year, success changed everything. Once we identified a ship had been found, the multi-partnered team became even more dynamic in order to adapt to new demands and pressures. The new key objectives, many logistical, included the need to confirm the ship by getting divers and equipment safely to the ship site during a time where the Arctic season was closing in quickly. And once done, the field season closed and the Arctic returned to winter.

What are some of the highlights of your career with the Canadian Coast Guard?

Answer:

I have been fortunate to serve on a number of ships that supported many different programs in my thirty-three years with the Canadian Coast Guard, ranging from small Search and Rescue cutters to the 83-meter long CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier icebreaker that I serve on now. This job remains a never-ending adventure and I truly enjoy the people who make up our own crews, the experts from the many programs who come aboard and the people in the communities that we visit. Each year we are joined by teams of subject matter experts from science, hydrography, archeology, geography and more, which makes every trip unique, educational and exciting. It's hard to pick a single highlight; however, being part of the team that found HMS Erebus and the joint celebration with the community of Gjoa Haven will be hard to top.


CAPTAIN WILLIAM NOON, CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier: a native of West Vancouver, BC, joined the Canadian Coast Guard in 1981. Captain Noon served as a seaman and then Lifeboat Coxswain in Bull Harbour, Powell River, and Ganges, BC. In 1984 he attended the US Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat Surf Course at Cape Disappointment, Washington and CCG Coxswains Course in Cornwall, Ontario.

After obtaining a bridge watch-keeping certificate, Captain Noon served as Navigation Officer on numerous ships including the CCGS Martha L Black, CCGS Narwal, CCGS Sir James Douglas, CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier and CCGS Bartlett in the BC coastal waters and the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Arctic Ivik in the Canadian Arctic.

Captain Noon first relieved as Master of CCGS Arctic Ivik in 1995 and was appointed Master of the Buoy Tender CCGS Bartlett in 1997, Captain Noon successively commanded the research ships CCGS Ricker and CCGS John P Tully undertaking offshore oceanographic and SAR missions.

Captain Noon was the superintendent of the Regional Operations Centre (Pacific) 2000-2002, followed by a further command of the CCGS John P Tully, 2003-2009. He was appointed master of CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 2010.

Captain Noon has attended the Pacific Maritime Technology Institute, Camosun College, and the Canadian Coast Guard College.

His interest in maritime heritage takes up much of his time when not at sea. He recently completed 6 years as trustee for the Maritime Museum of British Columbia and currently sits on the board of the Victoria Classic Boat Festival. Captain Noon is also an active member of the Thermopylae Club of Victoria, named after the famous China clipper. The club was founded by mariners in 1932, having the goal of protecting and preserving the nautical history of Canada's west coast. His remaining time is spent restoring and cruising aboard his 67 year old wooden boat, Messenger III, a former coastal mission boat.

To read the Captain's logs during the Victoria Strait Expedition, click here

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