14 Years

At 8:00 pm on the 21st of March, 2006, the Queen of the North, with 101 passengers and crew on board, set sail from Prince Rupert for an overnight voyage through the Inside Passage to Port Hardy. It was a route the ship and her crew had sailed thousands of times before. By all indications, this was to be just another pleasant, routine sailing. As the ferry left the berth at Prince Rupert, nobody could have imagined that this voyage was to be her last.

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It was a few minutes past midnight on the 22nd of March, 2006. The Fourth Officer and Quartermaster stood watch on the bridge. Everything seemed routine. That is, until the fourth officer saw the horrifying sight of the Gil Island shoreline just meters away. There was no time to react before the ship, traveling at 17 knots, slammed into the rocky shoreline. The ship’s momentum carried it over the rocks and into deeper water, ripping open her hull and destroying her propellers in the process.

Moments after the crisis began, the captain rushed back to the bridge of his mortally wounded ship. The rest of the officers followed closely behind. Quickly, the unthinkable truth began to dawn. The Queen of the North was sinking.

In the minutes that followed, 99 of the 101 passengers and crew were evacuated into lifeboats and rafts. The people of the Gitga’at First Nation scrambled their fishing fleet, arriving on the scene minutes before the ferry slipped beneath the waves. Immediately they began carrying survivors to their village of Hartley Bay, where the community center was converted into a makeshift rescue center. Everybody in the village banded together to rescue and care for the survivors. The village’s populace would later receive the Governor General’s Commendation for Outstanding Service for their role in the rescue. Tragically, despite the heroic efforts of the ship’s crew, the Gitga’at First Nation, and the Canadian Coast Guard, passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette were killed in the accident.

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The early morning of March 22, 2006 was a waking nightmare for 101 people, and what happened in Wright Sound that morning stunned the province and the industry. Important lessons have been learned from this tragedy. Today, we take a moment to remember those who were lost that morning, as well as the heroic actions of many selfless individuals. Today, we take a moment to reflect on the events that unfolded off Gil Island, fourteen years ago today.

Let Us Remember.

Sailing into the Sunset

To a ferry enthusiast like myself, every single vessel is a unique masterpiece with a character intrinsic to herself. No two ferries are exactly alike, and every ferry has her own “personality” and is fun to travel on in it’s own way. But an unfortunate fact for all of us in the ferry-enthusiast community is that vessels do have a limited lifespan, and many of our favorite ferries are the ones that are nearing the end of their useful lives.

Next Month will be the last month of service for two ferries on the West Coast, both of which are loved by many and will be greatly missed.

P1060172The Hyak was built in 1967, and at the time of her construction, she was one of the largest double-ended ferries in the world. Next month, the vessel will make her final revenue sailing.

The 52-year old Hyak is the first of the four Super-Class ferries. The 382-foot, 144 car ferry started off working the Seattle-Bremerton Route and has, at some point in her career, worked on almost every route in the system, though she has primarily operated on the Seattle-Bremerton, Edmonds-Kingston, and Anacortes-San Juan Islands routes. A victim of budget cuts, the Hyak never got a mid-life upgrade and was not maintained as well as she should have been over the years. The ferry still looks almost exactly as she did back in the sixties, and was originally scheduled to be retired in 2008. However, the Steel Electric crisis forced her to stay in service, and a continuous shortage of relief vessels since then has left the state with no choice but to keep the Hyak going. But with four new Olympic class ferries in service and a fifth funded, along with a staggering $37 million maintenance backlog, the Hyak’s time has finally run out. Her last revenue sailing will be on the last week of June on the Seattle-Bremerton Route- the same route on which she began her career 52 years ago.

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North of the border, BCFerries is also preparing to bid farewell to a venerable vessel. The 55-year old Howe Sound Queen will make it’s final sailing at the end of next month.

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The Howe Sound Queen will make her final revenue sailing next month on the Crofton-Vesuvius Bay route, closing the book on a storied 55-year career.

The Howe Sound Queen was built in 1964 in Quebec. Originally named Napoleon L., the ferry was sold to BCFerries in 1971 and took over the Horseshoe Bay-Snug Cove route. Shortly after her purchase by BCFerries, the vessel was pulled out of service to have her superstructure rebuilt. The ferry emerged with a greatly expanded passenger cabin and a new wheelhouse, and returned to the Horseshoe Bay-Snug Cove route, where she stayed until the Queen of Capilano entered service in 1992. Relieved of her duties at Snug Cove, the Howe Sound Queen shifted to the Crofton-Vesuvius Bay Route, where she remains to this day. The Howe Sound Queen is a fun vessel to ride, but unfortunately old age is catching up with the vessel, and that, coupled with her low weight limit and other operational constraints has sealed the fate of this venerable Queen. Next month, the Quinitsa will take over the Crofton Route, and the Howe Sound Queen’s time with BCFerries will come to an end.

So what will happen with these two ferries after their final sailings? The Howe Sound Queen was placed up for auction earlier this month, yielding a winning bid of $210,000 from an undisclosed source. Hopefully, her new owner will take care of her and put her to good use. For the Howe Sound Queen, an unknown but optimistic future awaits. Unfortunately, however, the same cannot be said for the Hyak. That vessel will almost certainly end up in the scrapyard- there just aren’t many other practical uses for a 52-year old, 382-foot ferry, and I doubt any potential new owner would be thrilled about taking on her $37 million in deferred maintenance either.

As a ferry-enthusiast, It is painful to see two venerable ferries sail their final sailings. However, their time has come. And so, it is now time to say farewell to the Hyak and the Howe Sound Queen. Take your final rides on them now, while you still have the chance.