By Heather Ramsay-Had he woken up on the morning of March 22 to the news that the Queen of the North had grounded itself on Skidegate Bar, Captain Lew Glentworth, who retired in September after 24 years on the Queen of Prince Rupert, would have understood.
He says the channel between Lawn Point and Halibut Bight, just off the east coast of Graham Island, is the trickiest part of the entire northern service: "In a southeast gale, you need to keep your eyes open and be alert."
But when he heard initial reports that the Queen of the North had been grounded in six metre seas and a 75 knot wind in Grenville Channel, he knew he had to set things right. Having sailed the route countless times over the years, Capt. Glentworth knew the weather would never kick up like that in the Inside Passage. Furthermore, not even the crossing between Rupert and Skidegate is attempted during more than 3.8 metre seas.
That's when Capt. Glentworth had his moment of fame. He agreed to speak with the media about the sinking of the Queen of the North at the moment when the public was most hungry for details about what happened and why.
He calls it a circus and found it quite amusing. The Observer caught up with him after the media calls had slowed down to find out just what kind of boat the northern routes will need to replace the Queen of the North.
Capt. Glentworth said he'll leave the specifics to the naval architects, but doesn't think BC Ferries will have an easy time finding a replacement.
"I think they are not going to have any luck at all," he said from his home in Courtney.
Most ferry companies these days are building enormous ships, he said. Not only are they too big to fit into the existing ferry docks, but the newer boats are too deep to cross Skidegate Bar, except at high tide.
Those ships small enough to work in the current conditions are the same vintage as the Queen of the North and the Queen of Prince Rupert, he said.
Capt. Glentworth was involved with various committees looking for suitable ships from 1993 on. He doesn't think one is out there, and if one happens to be found, it would still have to be brought up to Canadian standards. One of the most costly aspects of enlisting a similarly aged vessel is getting rid of the asbestos on board.
"We're better off taking the money to build a new ship," he said.
As for why BC Ferries hasn't taken steps to build a ship to replace the aging northern fleet earlier, Capt. Glentworth has his own theories.
"There is simply not a business plan for it," he said.
With the corporation turning semi-private, he said, the obsession over the bottom line got even stronger.
"You can't run a ship on northern service and make a profit."
He also has his own opinions about the type of service necessary in the north. He recalls the uproar in Victoria when the Seattle car ferry service was cancelled.
"Most of it came from the merchants on Government Street," he said.
He thinks there should be a debate in the legislature about whether we should "subsidize people who rent hotel rooms in Prince Rupert."
"Is [the ferry service] to provide reasonable access to people in remote locations or is it there to promote tourism?" he asked.
Capt. Glentworth said the effect the ferry has on the tourism industry has never been quantified. He, for one, hasn't seen an explosion of tourist services and accommodation on the islands and he suspects its because people don't want it. He compared the islands to the town of Ucuelet, which he says has turned into Disneyland. "It's not nice."