'A strong and gentle love': Master sailor grieved at memorial ceremony as HMCS Winnipeg returns home

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Canadian military leaders and crew and family of Master Sailor Duane Earle met for a solemn memorial ceremony Friday, as the ship where Earle served returned to port in Esquimalt, B.C.

"He was a rock for so many. He taught me much about patience, compassion, staying calm, honour, kindness, and offered a strong and gentle love," said Tracy Hull, Earle's wife, during the memorial ceremony Friday morning.

"Always walking me through fear with unconditional acceptance. Always holding my hand. And always saying, 'It will all be good, trust me, Tracy, just trust me.'"

Earle, 47, is believed to have accidentally fallen overboard while serving on the HMCS Winnipeg early Monday, about 925 kilometres off the California coast. A 30-hour search ended Tuesday evening, but Earle's body was not found.

Sailor 1st Class Valerie LeClair/MARPAC Imaging Services
Sailor 1st Class Valerie LeClair/MARPAC Imaging Services

On Friday, the ship arrived home to Esquimalt after a 4½-month deployment. During the ceremony around 11 a.m., a bell rung out into silence before The Last Post was played. A flag flew at half mast as the gathered crowd stood at attention.

Military officials gifted a Canadian flag to Hull, and a lanyard made by Earle to his sons.

"Like he did to so many people, he brought me light, so much laughter and helped me spread my wings," Hull said in her address.

In their remarks, Earle's loved ones described his adventurous spirit and dreams for the future, including sailing the world with his sons and seeing Europe with Hull. Friends have said he loved the sea so much he was called Squid.

"He loved me. He loved our children and families. He loved the sea, and being a sailor, and he will always be our everything and Squid," said Hull. "He is deeply and painfully missed."

Sailor 1st Class Valerie LeClair/MARPAC Imaging Services
Sailor 1st Class Valerie LeClair/MARPAC Imaging Services

Amy Mahar, Earle's close friend and the mother of his sons, said in an address she'd never met anyone who loved their job as much as Earle, nor anyone so strong.

"When it came to his sons however, they were always his priority – and they simply adored him," Mahar said. "In the 15 years that I have known him, one of his dreams was to buy a boat and sail the world with them."

The HMCS Winnipeg departed on Aug. 1 to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific off the coast of Hawaii. After completing the exercise, the ship sailed to the Asia-Pacific region, where it executed two mission mandates under Operations PROJECTION and NEON, Maritime Forces Pacific said in a release Friday.

In their remarks Friday, Hull and Mahar thanked everyone who has supported their families and who helped search for Earle.

"Your courage and tenacity in the face of this heartbreaking tragedy and uncertain times after a long deployment made more challenging due to COVID, is appreciated in a way we cannot articulate," said Hull.

"We love you all and the sacrifices you made for Duane will never be forgotten."

Valerie LeClair/MARPAC Imaging Services
Valerie LeClair/MARPAC Imaging Services