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'This was his swan song': Widow decries West Vancouver lifeboat vandalism

The rescue boat targted by vandals is named after a former volunteer who died in 2008. His widow has something to say.

When vandals tagged the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue’s main Horseshoe Bay vessel, it wasn’t just a piece of life-saving equipment they were damaging. It was also a floating memorial to a dedicated volunteer who delivered to the community.

That’s the message from Geraldine Rea, widow of longtime search and rescue volunteer Craig Rea, who died in 2008 after living for years with kidney disease.

“He wanted one last adventure before he died and he got his skipper’s licence, and he joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary,” she said. “He really revamped the lifeboat society. He spent hours in his office, reorganizing everything, and he raised enough money to buy that lifeboat.”

When the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue launched the vessel in 2012, it was dubbed the Craig Rea Spirit. It cost about $650,000.

Sometime around 11:40 p.m. on Thursday, May 4, a group of three young people were caught on camera appearing on the dock in Horseshoe Bay. One of them was captured walking down to the RCMSAR boat and spray-painting the word “Jeans” on the hull.

Rea described her husband as someone who was always finding new ways to contribute to the betterment of his community.

“He liked to help,” Rea said. “And this was his swan song.”

That’s why Rea said her family was left feeling so “wounded” when they learned the vessel he worked so hard to provide and which bears his name was deliberately damaged.

“To think anybody would attack a lifeboat when they might need it themselves one day, it just makes no sense,” she said.

Rea said she is speaking out now because she hopes it sends a message to those responsible.

“It may just prod their conscience a little bit more,” she said. “And they can realize that there are people who contribute to the welfare of others.”

According to the West Vancouver Police Department, there have been no substantive updates in the criminal investigation. Rea said if the suspects are ever caught, she knows what the appropriate punishment would be.

“[The volunteers] put an awful lot of time and effort into this, so I think a little bit of community work would really hammer it home,” she said.

Search and rescue vessel repaired

The spray paint used in the graffiti can damage the structural integrity of the Zodiac’s inflatable hull, and in the days after the incident, it appeared the hull would have to be either repainted or fully replaced, which could cost upwards of $28,000.

As word of the damage spread, the team did receive a bump in donations to help cover the cost of repairs, but Gerard McKenzie, RCMSAR 1 president, said a local contractor has been able to remove the remnants of the paint.

“For the low sum, we consider, of $470.40, he was able to take the tag off and we don’t have to repaint it,” he said, adding that it comes as a “huge” relief for the team, which has to do its own fundraising.

“The real issue now is, how do we increase our security to make sure this does not happen again” he said. “We will be talking to the West Van District.”

McKenzie said Craig Rea’s name and reputation are still held in the highest regard on the dock.

“It was absolutely amazing what a human being he was,” he said. “For the people that worked with him in our station to name a boat after him is an indication of how much they thought of this man.”

With her husband’s legacy on water intact, Rea said she hopes to see others continue supporting the team through donations or by attending their 2023 Dinner on the Dock fundraiser on July 6.

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Video produced by Alanna Kelly