BC Ferries share the Salish Sea sometimes to its own peril

Yesterday’s post introduces the first blog clip about a series I am compelled to paint about the newly named Salish Sea. Today I am going to take us on a photo journey where BC Ferries share these busy waters, sometimes to its own peril.

The main thoroughfare between Vancouver, the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island is Active Pass and it is as busy as the name implies. BC Ferries share these waters with fishing boats, freighters, kayakers, pleasure boats, sail boats, whale watching boats, tug boats and float planes… in addition to whales, seals, salmon, sea lions, sea otters, eagles, cormorants and seagulls.

Often, whether on the one of BC Ferries vessels or on shore, the three blasts of the ferry horn can be heard warning another sea traveler to get out of its path. But an accident like yesterday morning where rope tangled around the propeller of the Queen of Nanaimo preventing her from slowing adequately as she came into the Village Bay berth at Mayne Island is, thankfully, a rare occurrence.

Four passengers and one or possibly two crew members were injured as a result of the accident. The vessel is reported to have sustained damage to the rubbing strake and bow door frame. The terminal sustained damage to the wingwalls, which are part of the berthing structure, as well as to the ramp apron. Village Bay has two berths, so the terminal remains operational.

On Friday July 30, 2010, I left Mayne Island for a long weekend visit to Oroville Washington high desert. The ferry terminal was waking with stunning beauty as BC Ferries vessels and fishing boats appeared and disappeared in the drifting fog.

The Mayne Queen departs after dropping off passengers and vehicles from Saturna Island who join us in the wait for the Queen of Nanaimo. Blasts from the ship’s whistle can be heard as she navigates through the thick mist

I slip into the back of my pickup truck “Miss Prissy” to get a better view as the vessel that left Salt Spring Island and then Pender Island approach the Village Bay terminal. I am on my way to Vancouver. The Queen of Nanaimo is the ferry that will take me there after another stop on Galiano Island.

In minutes we are on board and I move around the outer decks taking photos…

Morning coffee aboard the Queen of Nanaimo

fishing boat and BC Ferries

View and purchase full resolution image here.

and the mist hanging on Galiano Island as we enter Active Pass.

View and purchase full resolution image here.

Yesterday, on my scheduled return trip, BC Ferries staff wait to reach me before I get to the Tsawwassen ticket booth. Do I have a reservation? I did. The Queen of Nanaimo has been in an accident. The ship can’t be moved. I am being rerouted to Victoria. I will be given priority on sailings going to Mayne Island at 3:00 pm and 4:25 pm. I won’t be charged any extra fare. I move forward in the line.

My mind begins to scramble with making all the necessary changes – make sure David has food for lunch, cancel my afternoon coaching sessions and all the other details that come to mind when our plans are set aside in the immediacy of the unexpected. I reach the ticket booth and hand over my credit card to verify my reservation.

Numbly I ask the ticket agent what happened. She gave me a brief rundown. The ferry hit the berth hard on its approach. The cause is under investigation. I ask if anyone was hurt. My heart sank as she confirmed that “yes, people had been hurt.” I line up in row 40 to wait for the large new Coastal Celebration ferry that will drop me at Swartz Bay around noon… just about the same time as I had expected to be home. I start making phone calls sorting out the changes to my day. It is summer tourist season. Many people around me are from someplace else speaking a language I don’t understand. I look for familiar faces and find one. We recap the morning sharing bits of information as we try to create a new reality that is different than the one we had imagined.

The rest of morning and afternoon I continue to make ongoing adjustments. No I can’t go into Victoria. The scheduled runs are overloaded. We are told to proceed directly to the terminal area for the Gulf Islands. Extra trips are scheduled but by the time it is decided who will go on which ferries and extra staff are found we leave at the scheduled 3:00 pm time only stopping at Mayne Island first before the Mayne Queen continues on to Saturna Island.

By the time I arrive home and see the Queen of Nanaimo still sitting in the berth at Village Bay – the very vessel that was to bring me home five hours earlier – I was exhausted but pleased with my ability to ride with the changing currents with the sun at my back and the wind in my face.

The Vancouver Sun reports:

Injuries to the passengers ranged from a concussion to a possible broken ankle and possible cracked ribs.

Mike Corrigan, B.C. Ferries executive vice-president and chief operating officer, said the preliminary investigation points to “a significant amount of rope in the propellers, especially in the port propellers.”

He said the rope, likely from crab or prawn traps, made it impossible for the crew to adjust the propellers. “So when the captain tried to go astern to slow the vessel down, basically the propeller was stuck in a forward position and wouldn’t let him do that.”
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Ferries+Ropes+tangling+props+caused+ferry+dock+hard/3354052/story.html#ixzz0vfG5tFE5

The Queen of Nanaimo will have to undergo sea trials before it is back in operation. A smaller vessel will try and do some of the regular schedule but it won’t nearly be enough at the height of the tourist season. This story won’t be news today. The world will have moved their attention on to other events. But if you live in the Southern Gulf Islands or were planning on coming to our beautiful part of the Salish Sea the waves of this incident will continue to ripple for days.

Sprout Question: When was the last time your day ran ahead of you while you skidded along behind hanging on to its tail?

© 2010 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

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From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada