Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Watery Wednesday ~ The night the ferry sank....

View The Night the Queen of the North Sank in a larger map
The marker on the right is where the Queen of the North sank and the marker on the left is where we were.

On the night of March 21, 2006 I was on board a 52' schooner called the "Anvil Cove" riding out a storm at an insecure anchorage just off Limestone Island on Haida Gwaii. I was part of a team of volunteers who were delivering supplies, building a cabin and setting up the 2006 Limestone Island research camp. We had travelled from Queen Charlotte City to Limestone Island earlier in the day towing a herring punt full of lumber and supplies. We had off loaded the supplies, anchored the boat and headed ashore to join the rest of the team to start opening camp, build a new cabin and make supper. As the day wore on the winds picked up and created some rough seas.
Photo: Anvil Cove Charters
The Anvil Cove is a steel hulled boat built on the Island and she is heavy. This night we also had a 25' aluminium herring punt tied up along side and her anchorage was not as secure as her captain would like. I offered to stay aboard with the captain the night of March 21/22, 2006.
When you work and live on the water your radio is your lifeline. It is on all the time and this night was no exception. I was sleeping in the midship bunk and Barb was in the aft bunk. It was a noisy night as the herring punt slammed up against the boat in the rolling sea and high winds. Around 11:30 p.m. the weather started to settle and we could begin to relax. There was chatter on the radio with captains talking between one another or to their loved ones at home. I had dozed off when I heard Barb say "did you hear that?". It was about 12:30 a.m. on March 22, 2006. I hadn't, but I was now awake when another call came over the radio. It was broken and full of static but we got bits of it...."Queen of........hard aground.........", "vessel calling in please repeat.." came a voice from Traffic(like air traffic controllers), a few minutes later we heard "Queen of the North hard aground and taking on water, standby for coordinates" from a calm but abrupt voice. "Are you calling in a mayday" came a voice from the Coast Guard listening in, there was no response that we heard. By this time Barb and I are bolt upright and listening to the conversations. On some radio channels you only get one side of the conversation and for much of this event that is what happened.
Photo: BC Ferries
The Queen of the North was built in Germany in 1969 and bought from her original owner in 1974. She serviced Vancouver and Vancouver Island until 1976, was decommissioned until 1980 where, after an extensive refit she began servicing the Inside Passenge and Queen Charlotte Islands in May of that year. She is/was 125 m(406 ft) long and could carry 700 passengers and 115 vehicles. She was stable in the water and handled the rough winter weather of the Hecate Strait with ease. She had just come back from her yearly refit only a couple of weeks earlier.

The chatter went back and forth on the radio but we only got bits and pieces of it. About 40 minutes after the first transmission we heard "109 all clear". Barb and I talked for a bit and then went to sleep. We had no idea she had sunk! In the morning all was calm and we headed to shore to have breakfast with the rest of our crew. When we asked if anyone else had heard the radio chatter, they said "no". There is no power on Limestone island but we did have a battery and a transit radio, so as we prepared breakfast the boys connected the radio. Most of us did not eat. What we heard over CBC Prince Rupert left us speechless. The stories coming over the radio were harrowing and heart breaking and had not been censored by BC Ferries yet. How in a country like Canada could a ferry sink, our ferry? It was just unbelievable.
I could not find a credit for this photo
Taken as the Queen of the North was sinking on March 22, 2006

There are all kinds of stories about what happened but the end result was "human error". There were 46 crew(crew do two weeks on and two weeks off and live aboard so there are two complete crew shifts on board) and 51 passengers when she ran into Gil Island at 17.5 knots. Two people were missing and have been declared dead. The ship sank in 427 m(1387 ft)of water and remains there to this day. It sank in less than an hour. We now know that that last transmission we heard was the time that all passengers and crew where clear of the Queen of the North(just over 40 mins).

The fifth anniversary of this terrible accident is today and it is one of those events that you know exactly where you were when it happened.
P.S. For anyone who would like to read more just google "Queen of the North". I actually found the visual simulation of what happened that evening with the actual radio transmission..."the voice was not as calm as I thought".


Gaelyn said...

What a scary experience.

The Anvil Cove is a beauty.

Powell River Books said...

I remember that night well. We were riding out a big storm of our own up Powell Lake in the float cabin. When that happens we turn on the radio and listen to CBC, not that they give any weather information late at night, but it is a welcome link to the world when your own is a bit scary. We heard the news even as we were still rocking and rolling in the dark of night. I can't imagine what it was like for the passengers and crew to go into those cold, dark waters not knowing what would happen. One of the crew was originally from Powell River. He had his copy of "Up the Lake" on board with him. After he contacted us, we sent off a replacement copy. The least we could do to help out. - Margy

Linnea said...

Wow! What a story. It's always sad when a boat, especially a ferry, sinks.

jeannette said...

What a heartbreaking story.

Greyscale Territory said...

O what a story! I did not know this! Very stirring and tragic and scary!

chubskulit said...

Oh that is so pretty.

Come see my watery Wednesday, have a lovely day!

Meandering Michael said...

Wow. Great entry.

Linda said...

Dreadful. I don't remember hearing about this here.

Clytie said...

I don't remember hearing much about this, I'm not sure why. What a tragic night ... I can't imagine what it must have been like for the people on board.

Janie said...

Wow, your experience and the story of the ferry sinking are harrowing. That's quite a memory.

Wilson James said...

I'm a little (about a month) late commenting on this post... I got here via your comment on Margy's more recent post (Chuckanut day cruise) at Powell River Books.

I have my own vivid memories of hearing of the sinking. A few days after the sinking, after I scoured the media and got more details, I realized that I had worked with the Master on duty that night when the Queen of the North sank.

In the meantime, after I heard about the couple who had lost their lives, I started to wonder about those left behind. That was the genesis for my book A Family Legacy: The Watson Works. I started writing the book only days after the sinking and didn't stop until I had my first draft completed a few weeks later. That book made it into the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, now has a top 1% ranking at Barnes and Noble, and is also available a many other online retailers.

Reading your post brings back the thoughts of how awful it must have been for the two victims. Having spent much time at sea and having been about the Queen of the North and numerous other BC Ferries on the BC Coast, I could really empathize with what it must have been like on the cold, dark night.

Thanks for this post.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin