Master sailor remembered as devoted father who was keen to get home to young sons for Christmas

Master Sailor Duane Earle loved the ocean so much his friends nicknamed him “Squid.”

Friends remembered Earle as a devoted friend and father Wednesday, after the Royal Canadian Navy called off a search for him in the seas off the California coast.

The boatswain is believed to have accidentally fallen overboard after he was last seen early Monday, while the frigate was sailing toward its home base in Esquimalt, B.C.

“It’s just devastating,” Mike Foster, his best friend since kindergarten, said in an interview with Gregor Craigie, host of CBC’s On the Island.

“There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for any of his friends, shipmates, his friends, his family.”

Foster said Earle, who was in his late 40s, leaves behind two sons, aged seven and 10.

Although he grew up on the prairies, Earle was irresistibly drawn to the ocean, his friend said. 

“You couldn’t keep him out of it, whether it was scuba diving, sailing, sailboard, wake-boarding, kite-boarding, water-skiing, you name it. You couldn’t keep him out of the water.”

“We called him Squid and it’s stuck over the years,” he said. 

The childhood friends spoke virtually every day, although storms at sea would sometimes interrupt communications.

Boot camp, 1990: Duane Earle (centre, wearing a cap) joined the HMCS Chippawa navy reserve division in Winnipeg as a teenager. (Submitted by Melanie Mileham Campbell)

Still, Foster found it odd on Monday when he had not heard from his friend for 23 hours, before he learned of the search. 

In their last conversation, Foster said “he was in high spirits, he was looking to get home.”

Earle told him he had just talked with his sons and explained he would be home in few days with presents for them. 

“He’s been talking of nothing, nothing but the future,” Foster said. 

“We had plans to sail down to the Sea of Cortez [Gulf of California], make port there and sail the world.”

Canada’s navy warship HMCS Winnipeg sits dockside in Vancouver in June 2014. It was returning from a five-month deployment in the Asia-Pacific region when Earle disappeared. (Jimmy Jeong/The Canadian Press)

Melanie Mileham Campbell, another friend and a former navy colleague, remembered Earle as “a great listener.”

Campbell and Earle met in Grade 11 when they both joined the navy reserves at HMCS Chippawa in Winnipeg. 

She remembered late nights when he would walk to her home and they sit and talk until 3 a.m., “just because we were bored teenagers, nothing else to do and no cellphones back then.”

The loss of MS Earle was acutely felt in the Township of Esquimalt, home of the Royal Canadian Navy Pacific fleet and of many Canadian Forces members and their families. 

Flags at half-mast

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said municipal staff began lowering flags to half-mast on Wednesday in honour of MS Earle.

“”We are home to the navy and the navy is part of our family,” Desjardins said. 

“They are our neighbours. And so we come together at times like this.”

Once the time and date of the HMCS Winnipeg’s return to Esquimalt is confirmed, she said, “there will be people waiting for them to come in, to show their respect as the ship enters the harbour.”

To hear the interviews with Mike Foster and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins in full, tap the link below: 

On The Island10:12A sailor’s sailor. A friend’s friend – hear from a close friend of Master Sailor Duane Earle who is believed to have fallen from the deck of HMCS Winnipeg

Gregor Craigie spoke with Mike Foster, a best friend of Master Sailor Duane Earle. Earle is believed to have fallen overboard from HMCS Winnipeg as the Canadian navy vessel was returning to its Canadian Forces base at Esquimalt. 10:12


With files from CBC Radio On the Island