BY PRISCILLA EWBANK
Special to the Driftwood
The MV Mayne Queen is retiring after 57 years in our waters, 40 of them serving the Outer Gulf Islands. Our request to BC Ferries and her crews — to have a chance to say a fond and respectful goodbye and not have her just disappear — was warmly met.
Last Sunday, Nov. 20 she came to Saturna, engines throbbing their familiar tones, whistle sounding, flags flying, seagulls and cormorants flapping and flying off of the wing walls as she gently came into the slip. That day, she pulled into all of her daily ports of call to meet her cheering fans on Pender, Mayne, Galiano and Saturna islands as she did her “bon voyage tour.”
She was captained by Capt. Sam McCandlish and all the crew from “B” watch sailing with retired long-serving captains and crew members who wanted to take a last sail, and Senior Capt. Ryan East. She was met at every port by a large crowd of well-wishers who came to pay their respects for her splendid, utterly dependable service across 40 years. All declare her to be a classy, fast, reliable, maneuverable ferry — low-profiled, excellently engineered, easy to handle for our inland waters with big tides and winter south-east gales. She often makes up time on her schedules for her other slower partners. Islanders who know her thank her crews — well trained and capable — who have become like family. There are many stories of crews going above and beyond the demands of their job to help islanders. Their friendliness mirrors that of the ship they sailed on. As one crew member told an islander, “We choose to work on this ferry.”
We are all proud of Captain Sam, who got her captain certification papers while working on the Mayne Queen as first mate.
We, on Saturna, view her as “our” boat. She has served us for almost half a century. We’re the first islanders on at 6 in the morning and the last off on her fourth run of the day before she returns to Swartz Bay. We figure in her 40 years she has done about 40,000 runs up Navy Channel to Lyall Harbour. Day in and day out, she takes us off island to town or away, and then always brings us home. Once aboard you really are already at home.
Many of us have grown up with her, arriving with our dreams and plans, ready to make a life, have families, make our way in already well-established island communities. And we learned and our plans shifted and changed as we saw the island had her own rhythms, one of which was the lifeline of our ferry.
As one of our three ticket agents, Ingrid Gaines, said, “I think it is hard to explain the emotion the Mayne Queen evokes in so many of us here on Saturna, but love her we do.”
Ingrid and many other Saturna Islanders came home, as newborns, on the Mayne Queen with parents who had moved to the islands at some earlier time. The Mayne Queen has served generations of islanders old and new. She is part of our identity, a common thread. We all travel on the Mayne Queen. We all come home on the Mayne Queen.
Every islander on Saturna has a Mayne Queen story. Every islander knows when they arrived on Saturna and what their thoughts were at the time. I have heard again and again, “I got off the Mayne Queen and I knew I was home.” The funny thing is that as I got to know islanders from other islands, they said the same thing about Pender, Mayne and Galiano.
“We were regular summer visitors . . . we hated at the end of summer to take the September Labour Day ‘loser’ boat back home!”
“The ferry was just pulling out . . . and the ferry lady called her back and said, ‘You get one of these in a lifetime!’”
“My mom came down the ramp with my back pack and the ferry guy said, ‘Throw it on.’ I could have died!”
In the 1970s, a sign in the MQ ladies bathroom: “Do not wash your hair in the sink! If you do, clean up after!”
So many stories for each generation. She sailed into the rhythm of our individual lives and the collective heart of our community.
Besides us islanders and visitors, the Mayne Queen has taken and brought everything that we want for our businesses, services and connection to families and friends. The Mayne Queen in her years of service has worked to accommodate changes in population and the habits of islanders. The General Store truck goes in twice a week for supplies, as does the pub truck, and then there is recycling, garbage, construction materials, the mail, our Saturna Ecological Education Centre students, all of the gravel and vehicles for roads maintenance, the Victoria health care vaccination squad, our doctor and medications, BC Hydro when the power goes out and for new installations, bottles for the winery, logging trucks, our fire and ambulance vehicles for upgrades and inspections, and on and on. For two months she carried monolithic trucks and their trailers full of boulders, gravel and giant culverts to fix the destroyed parts of Saturna’s roads. This is what you call a lifeline; this is another part of our gratitude.
In the Mayne Queen we know we had a classy boat. Bone simple and plain, it was built in 1964 at Victoria Machinery depot with her two sister ships — the Bowen Queen and Powell River Queen — easy to repair and get parts. The “sisters” are some of the longest serving ferries in the fleet. No tinted windows, no TVs, no mini mall, no cafeteria — she’s sized and scaled to fit the inland waters. Close to the sea, you can see her bow wave curling through the gunwale holes as you get into your car, the sea gulls on the driftwood, the glorious summer sunsets as she glides down Navy Channel in the long summer evenings or the sun rises over Mount Baker in the spring and summer dawns.
Saturna truly turned out for her royal send-off party. We figure 125 to 150 out of a winter time population of about 300-plus. Only something of the magnitude of the Mayne Queen leaving could have gotten so many islanders down to the dock, determined to be a part of an appreciative and loving farewell. Eighty-nine-year-old Bettianne Hayward and all of her grown children and their kids, to 14-month-old Isla Foster of the Blackhall clan, to Jacques and Nan Campbell who were born to parents who came to the island between 1935 and 1948, and all the rest of us.
We could see her coming down Navy Channel, the eight-foot banner was unfurled and held high! “Thank you, Mayne Queen for 57 years of Splendid Service.” Islanders streamed up to see the wheelhouse and to tour the immaculate giant engine room with the generators and the four Z-drives at each corner. Then we came down to the empty car deck and shouted a rousing “Hip Hip Hooray,” shared our two celebratory sheet cakes — baked on Saturna — and sang along with a song our musical neighbours had written for the occasion to the tune of John Denver’s Leavin’ on a Jet Plane:
Oh, the ramp is up and she’s ready to go, our hearts are heavy and our spirits low
We hate to say goodbye to our old friend
‘Cause she’s leavin’, yes, the Mayne Queen’s leavin’, she won’t be back again
Oh, how we hate to see her go!
Captain Sam called over the loud speaker “Time to depart!” And she left, flags flying, whistle blowing, she had a schedule to keep! Other islanders waiting!
So many rich island stories of marine rescues and standbys, of births and homecomings — funny and sad, for every day and on special days.