A mariner retires

  • Sep. 2, 2005 6:00 a.m.

by Mariah McCooey–Captain Lewis Glentworth is on his last shift on the Queen of Prince Rupert. The captain, affectionately known to all as “Captain Lew” has been working on the Prince Rupert – Skidegate route since its first run in September1981, twenty-four years ago! In the beginning, he was the ship’s chief officer, and got the full captain’s job in 1992. Captain Glentworth has seen babies born on his ship. He’s been witness to tragic accidents and medical emergencies, and been through some of the most extreme weather on the planet during his time on the QPR and the Queen of the North.
Captain Glentworth will step off the ship for the last time on Tuesday (September 13), an event which he said he was “quite excited about” until the enormity of it hit him as he embarked for the last time on Tuesday.
“I find I’m looking around me, thinking ‘this might be it,'” he said. “I have this fond hope that I’ll maintain touch, but so often I’ve seen people retire with that intent, and you never see them again.”
Regardless, Captain Lew will be missed by all the crew on the ferry and at the terminal. He got his nickname after a team came up for an inquiry into some safety issues several years ago. The investigators were horrified that the terminal and ship’s crew called referred to the captain simply as ‘Lew’ – what they saw as a total lack of respect for the traditionally stiff hierarchy at sea.
“So they started calling me ‘Captain Lew’ instead,” he said, “and it stuck!”
The captain has seen a lot of changes over the years. Now, he said, there are very clear regulations from the Ferry corporation as to maximum wave heights that they ferry will go in, largely as a result of the sinking of the Estonia in the Baltic Sea in 1994. The Estonia was a very similar design to the QPR and the Queen of the North, and it sank rapidly with a lot of lives lost.
“The Ferry Corporation was concerned, because we have the same bow,” said Captain Glentworth, “and it was temporarily welded shut.” Subsequently however, it was found that although the design is similar, a slight design difference means the wave action on the Estonia was an ‘opening’ force on the bow, whereas with our ferries, it’s a ‘closing’ force. As a precaution though, the corporation set a maximum limit of 3.8 metre seas for the Hecate Strait crossing.
“Before they did that, there were some horrifying crossings,” he said. “There’s been some close calls.”
In one situation, extreme seas caused a pop truck on the car deck to overturn, spilling gas all over the deck, which started dripping and leaking into the engine room. “If someone had dropped a cigarette, we would have been a blot on the landscape,” he said.
In another instance, he said a friend at a nearby lighthouse called him up and warned him not to attempt the crossing that particular night. “That was a good call,” he said, “that night, waves wiped out the lighthouse’s water tanks, which were over forty feet above the high water mark.”
The Hecate Strait is one of the four most extreme stretches of water in the world, he said, along with the Irish Sea, the North Sea, and Cook Strait (New Zealand). Because the Hecate is so shallow, all those huge Pacific swells have “nowhere to go but up” once they get through the Dixon Entrance.
Because it is so shallow, it also poses a unique navigational challenge, and in rough seas, coming over the sandbar “can be interesting,” he said, especially when the buoys are obliterated by wave and spray, and the conditions make it difficult to get an accurate radar reading.
But despite all the challenges, the ferry has made it safely to the islands and back thousands of times, providing the islands with supplies and the critical link to the mainland. Captain Glentworth said he’s aware of the important connection the ferry provides for islanders, particularly in winter. “I’ve been thankful, for how understanding people on island are,” he said. When the run first began, he said, people were saying, ‘come on, it can’t be that badÂ…’ when the ferry couldn’t get through. But over the years, they have become much more understanding. “Now they know, when I say we are staying at the dock, that it’s probably a good idea.”
And the captain is not completely retiring from the nautical world. “I’m retiring in the sense that I’ll be drawing a pension,” he said, conspiratorially. But he will be teaching nautical courses at North Island College in Courtenay, on Vancouver Island.
“There’s been a real decline in the marine industry on the coast,” he said, partly due to inadequate instruction and training. Captian Glentworth is looking forward to doing what he can to reverse that. His experience and knowledge will no doubt be an inspiration to students heading into the industry.