“MV Queen of Prince Rupert” Aground in Gunboat Pass 1982

“MV Queen of Prince Rupert” Aground in Gunboat Pass August 25, 1982

MV Queen of Prince Rupert - photo John Morris

Before you read the story, I must fill in a few details. My wife Karen and I were on McInnes Island lighthouse at the time of the incident. A week before the incident below we picked up the voice of the lightkeeper Henry Bergen at Dryad Point on our scanner in the house. In a loud and agitated voice he was calling “Queen of Prince Rupert! Queen of Prince Rupert! This is Dryad Point! Dryad Point! You are going the wrong way!” The reply came back that they were on a navigational exercise and they had everything in hand.

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Now the story from Harvey Humchitt1 who was on board the ship a week later . . .

It was a typical Friday in Bella Bella. My mother and brother and I had been preparing for a day trip to Port Hardy before the start of school. The trip to Port Hardy was on the “MV Queen of Prince Rupert” which took 6 or 7 hours from Bella Bella to Port Hardy. For me back then it was a holiday in itself.

The “MV Queen of Prince Rupert” was making a special stop in Bella Bella for some reason so there were a number of people from Bella Bella waiting. We all boarded in the afternoon, around 3 or 4 pm. The ferry was way behind schedule and still had to make a stop in Ocean Falls, a small ghost town 25 to 30 miles NE of Bella Bella. This trip to Ocean Falls would put the ferry even further behind schedule.

Green arrow Dryad Point; Gunboat Pass directly East; normal ferry route dotted lines.

There is a small narrow channel that cuts the time in more than half that the local natives use to go between Ocean Falls and Bella Coola. While sitting in one of the lounge rooms on the ferry I looked outside with my friend and we both noticed that we were very close to shore – closer than normal. We went outside and saw that we were heading towards Gunboat Passage, this short cut I mentioned.

Right away we went to the Purser’s Office to mention that we were going the wrong way. By the time we had reached the Purser’s Office there were already a handful of the local fisherman standing there. They were trying to tell the Purser that the Captain was going the wrong way and the Purser told them that the Captain was quite capable of handling the vessel and that we should let him do his job.

Minutes later there was a loud rumbling and the ship started to shake and bounce violently. We all, my buddy, the fishermen, and I ran to the upper decks. There were people all in a panic. Sure enough there we were on one of the rocks marked hazardous in Gunboat Passage. Immediately after hitting the rocks you could hear and feel the engines running in full reverse to remove the ship off the rocks. With not too much effort the ship pulled itself off of the rock but amazingly the Captain ordered the engines forward and we ended back up on the rock in worse shape. This time the ship could not pull herself off.

Meantime the tide has just completed the high water slack and started its 6 hour pull to low tide. Within minutes of the first impact people from Bella Bella came out in their speedboats and fishing boats to see if they could offer any assistance. Unfortunately there was nothing anyone could do until the tide came back up which would take 12 hours at least – 6 hours down, 6 hours up. At least that’s what I was told. Anyway there we sat, waiting for the tide to come back up, when I noticed that the ferry started to list. As time went on and the tide lowered, the more the tide fell the more the ferry would list.

It was actually kind of funny to see everyone walking. We were all walking on a 30’ degree angle by the time the ferry started to level back off again. The crew was pretty cool. All the food was free and the novelty store was lending out crib boards and playing cards. As well they were giving out these huge chocolate chip cookies.

To entertain ourselves, my friend and I poked fun at all the people walking on an angle. It totally changed the environment when the listing was taking place and it was like everyone had some sort of ankle problem that made them walk with a serious lean.

The next day when the sun broke there were the media and local fishing boats, a Coast Guard vessel and a tugboat or two. They all had big ropes attached to strong points on the ferry to pull it off the rock. When the word was given all the boats pulled and the ferry was pulled free from her 12 hour ordeal.

Queen of the North - photo John Morris

When we arrived back in Bella Bella under tow of the vessels that pulled us off the rocks, the “MV Queen of the North” was moored to the dock awaiting to transfer the passengers from the “Queen of Prince Rupert”. At this time we had already used up our time to get to Port Hardy so my mother decided that we would end the trip there and headed back home.

A lot of questions were asked. Not too many answered. Like why did the Captain not listen to the locals in the first place, and why did he put himself back up on the rock after pulling himself free the first time? For me it was a different kind of an adventure, watching the events unfold, seeing the expression on the faces of all the passengers who kept calm throughout all these events. I guess you could say the moral of this story is, it really isn’t worth taking a shortcut.

1Harvey Humchitt was not a lighthouse keeper at that time. At present he is the Senior Keeper at Cape Scott Lighthouse and has been there since 2006.

Harvey has a couple of nice Picasa Web Photo Albums about Langara Point Lighthouse (where he was stationed) and Cape Scott Lighthouse where he now resides.

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For more photos of the BC ferries fleet see here or here or here.

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In the early hours of March March 22, 2006 the BC ferry “Queen of the North” (see story above) sunk off the north tip of Gil Island (Lat. 53°19’46.69″N, Long. 129°16’24.47″W) on its trip from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy! What a waste. She was a beautiful ship. Now all we have are photos and memories as BC Ferries Corporation did not raise her from the bottom. 

I mention these ships here as a memorial to two great ships that sailed the Inside Passage, passing many lighthouses on their routes, especially when the Queen of Prince Rupert used to leave from Vancouver, BC and sail up the coast. The good old days!

The story above also shows the benefit of lighthouse keepers and how observant they are about coastal shipping. Now the Canadian government wants to run oil tankers through these waters. I wonder how many navigational exercises they will be making?

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