It was with mixed emotions that passengers, BC Ferries staff and former crew members said goodbye to the Howe Sound Queen on Tuesday evening.
The retirement of the vessel at the end of the June 4 schedule will mean the end of an era for the Vesuvius-Crofton route. Despite frequent overloads over the past few years, a certain affection often comes with familiarity.
“I’m enough of a ferry geek that this is kind of emotional,” BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins admitted. “Because for us ships are not just things — they’re alive and they have unique personalities. So it’s a big thing.”
BC Ferries executives were on board the ship for two farewell round trips Tuesday afternoon, handing out cake to passengers on the 3:35 and 4:50 sailings out of Crofton and the two return trips from Vesuvius. Also on board were several people who came out for the historic moment, including two former masters of the ship: Dennis Gee and Dan Clement.
“We had an office with killer views. That was my favourite part,” Clement said about his experience captaining the ship.
Current BC Ferries worker Edward Frisch also attended a farewell sailing, stating he would miss the boat even with its tricky loading issues.
“It was like real life Tetris pretty much, with figuring out the weight, balance, list and different vehicles. Sometimes you don’t get everyone on board but you do your best,” Frisch said.
The Howe Sound Queen was built in Sorel, Que. in 1964 to serve the St. Lawrence River. As such it had a heavy hull with ice-breaking capacity, which would create overweight loading difficulties later on the Salt Spring route. The ship was purchased by BC Ferries in 1971 and assigned to the Vesuvius-Crofton run in 1992. A major refit in 2008 included removal of toxic interior finishing such as asbestos and lead paint as well as an engine overhaul.
Collins, who worked on the ferry’s transformation when he was part of the engineering team, said the Howe Sound Queen is being retired not so much because of age but obsolescence. Issues include lack of elevator/mobility access, narrow parking lanes and high vibration that can have long-term effects on employee health.
Some passengers on board Tuesday night said they will miss the Howe Sound Queen’s open upstairs lounge and wooden detailing. Others expressed concern about the transition to the Quinitsa, which has smaller deck capacity.
Collins agreed that some “wobbles” could be expected as the crew gets used to the new ship this week. However, the absence of weight restrictions and an added sailing on the route will mean around the same daily capacity is provided overall, Collins said. Passengers will no longer experience seeing the ferry leave with open deck space because a heavy logging or delivery truck is on board.
“I absolutely get that frustration, but it won’t happen with the Quinitsa,” Collins said. “What you see is what you get.”
The Howe Sound Queen was sold by auction with the final bid coming in at $210,000. BC Ferries is still assessing the bid before the deal is finalized.