Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching an idle ferry

Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft
A Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft stands by, fans off and ready to evacuate passengers of the Queen of Surrey at BC Ferries’ Langdale terminal. Photo by Mike Robinson
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Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft
A Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft stands by, fans off and ready to evacuate passengers of the Queen of Surrey at BC Ferries’ Langdale terminal. Photo by Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson“Please be advised that the next sailing from Langdale to Horseshoe Bay has been delayed by at least four hours. Those passengers wishing instead to return to Powell River, please pull over to the right-hand side as you exit the ferry, and you will be guaranteed a return trip. …”

“Hmmmmm. What’s that all about?” I wondered to my son as we headed down to Vancouver.

“Let’s keep going,” he ventured. “We’ve both got appointments and things will probably work out.”

And so we did.

A quick glance at my cellphone indicated that the Queen of Surrey had somehow hit the Langdale wharf at about 8:10 a.m. It was now about 10:30 a.m. We stayed in touch as we wove our way down the Sunshine Coast Highway, wondering how the ferry hit the wharf.

“It’s probably some kind of mechanical failure,” I thought to myself. “I can’t imagine human error. After all, I’ve travelled this route for over 60 years and never heard of a ferry missing the slip or hitting the dock.”

At about noon, we pulled into the Langdale ferry terminal. The Queen of Surrey was strangely stopped with her bow wedged onto the very end of a concrete finger-float designed to guide the ferry into the slot for unloading. She was hung up on a metal spool of some kind.

We asked the ferry ticket attendant what our options were.

“Well, the next boat will be the Queen of Cowichan, probably about a 6:40 p.m. departure.”

“Can we leave the terminal and go to Gibsons for lunch?” I enquired.

“If you don’t have a reservation, you may miss the 6:40 as we can’t reserve your spot.”

So that was it – a six-and-a-half-hour wait at Langdale, B.C. A family record for sure.

We drove in and got spot No. 5 in the unreserved lane for the upper car deck. I got out and strolled down to the loading ramp. BC Ferries staff milled about looking concerned.

The Queen of Surrey had a sharply up-bent bow tongue and her crew and passengers were all looking down from the upper decks.

Two enormous red tug boats, the Seaspan Kestral and the Seaspan Raven, were idling along the ferry’s port side. Off to the east, a Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft was roaring towards us from its Vancouver base. A search and rescue Royal Canadian Airforce Buffalo plane was making lazy circles in the sky.

Surrounded by rescuers and uniformed BC Ferries staff, we waited. Occasional public announcements informed us of our likely departure time from Langdale: 6:40 p.m. still seemed possible.

Soon, TV news crews arrived and began setting up camera tripods on the adjacent beach and mud flats, next to where the Coast Guard hovercraft hauled out and shut down her fans.

I noted a growing crowd of baby boomer-aged men were laughing, gesturing and offering free advice from the crowd of waiting passengers. Nothing seemed to be happening. At one point, after 2 p.m., an older guy shouted out: “Hurry up!” The crowd broke out in laughter.

At about 3 p.m., a welding crew with an arc cutter showed up and began cutting a chunk out of the upthrust bow plates.

The Kestral and the Raven made very controlled and impressive circles and reverses adjacent to the ferry. The crew on the hovercraft explained that they would stand by to evacuate the passengers if needed.

By now, many of us were wishing we had gone to town for lunch and a beer. We lined up at the terminal and bought ferry coffee and vegetable chilli instead.

Suddenly the PA system announced that Department of Transport approval would soon be granted to push the ferry free. The tugs nosed in and readied for the push.

Just after 6:30 p.m., they accomplished their task. With a great grinding of metal against metal, the Queen of Surrey was free of her wharf hookup. Then the tugs guided her back in to unload the cars and trucks. At about 7 p.m., the vehicles began their exits after 11 hours aboard ship.

Spontaneously, a crowd of onshore passengers and drivers lined up, waved and gave thumbs-up as the ‘survivors’ drove off, many honking, smiling and waving back. It was a Canadian moment.

This morning, I read that the stranded passengers had free food while on board! We had to pay for our dinner, and arrived home at 10 p.m. What a day.

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

By Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson’s career combined his academic training in Law and Anthropology at UBC and Oxford University, in frontier regulatory compliance work at Petro-Canada and PolarGas, and the leadership of three national NGOs: The Arctic Institute of North America, The Glenbow Alberta Institute, and The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art. In addition, he has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, The David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004 he became a Member of the Order of Canada.

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