Donna Mackay assists passengers boarding the Naiad Explorer in Alert Bay

Coping without a ferry: Sointula and Alert Bay residents show resilience

When the Tri-Island ferry couldn't deliver last week, North Islanders pulled together to make sure Cormorant and Malcolm islands got what they needed.

  • Apr. 14, 2011 6:00 a.m.

When the Tri-Island ferry couldn’t deliver last week, North Islanders pulled together to make sure Cormorant and Malcolm islands got what they needed.

Ferry service stalled before the day even began, Tuesday April 5.

“The Quadra Queen II had an electrical failure of a sub-component of the central control system in Alert Bay Tuesday morning before starting the day’s schedule,” said Deborah Marshall, spokesperson for BC Ferries. Morning sailings were cancelled, and when it became apparent the repair would not be a quick fix, BC Ferries commissioned the Naiad Explorer, owned by Mackay’s Whale Watching in Port McNeill, to fill the void.

The Naiad followed the regular ferry schedule, with some additional runs to accommodate the morning rush of commuters and students, to transport passengers between the island communities.

“It was really nice,” said Donna Mackay. “We got to visit with everybody from all the communities. No one seemed too upset and they were really pleased to be getting to their destination faster. Most people were marvelous. They really were.”

She said BC Ferries was also good to work with, “especially the ladies at the ticket booth.”

The Mackays hired on some extra help and carried passengers as well as the mail, hospital materials, newspapers and even an injured eagle. Passengers also had a lot of cargo, said Mackay.

“A lot of people arrived with their vehicle in Port McNeill full of purchases and had to get their stuff on the boat,” said Mackay.

Drivers had to leave their vehicles in Port McNeill, and parking overnight was a concern for some, but harbour manager Hiltje Binner said vehicles weren’t towed or ticketed under the circumstances.

“At first we were running down and putting ‘Don’t tow’ signs on windows but then I called the towing company and they said they wouldn’t be towing anyone,” said Binner.

But while people were getting back and forth, goods and supplies also needed to get to the communities, most importantly food and fuel.

BC Ferries arranged with Sam Cook of Alert Bay towing for a dangerous cargo run Thursday by barge, to take care of the fuel as well as runs for groceries to Alert Bay both Tuesday and Thursday.

“Sam Cook and his crew were absolutely remarkable,” said Shop Rite store manager Kim Mercer. “They went above and beyond in their willingness to help. They barged in about 30 palettes of groceries and other supplies.

“We owe huge thank you to Eric Gregory too,” continued Mercer. “I asked him to help with his truck. He had to take time off work, but he helped without hesitation.” Gregory used his vehicle to transport the groceries from the dock to the store.

Mercer said at first customers panicked that the store would run short of food and supplies.

“They don’t realize we have resources we can pull in,” said Mercer. “It shows a small community can pull together to pull off a huge feat.”

In Sointula, garbage day was disrupted Tuesday. However, a run was made April 11 and the garbage pick-up will be back on schedule every other week starting April 19, said Patrick Donaghy, manager of operations for the regional district.

“It did cause some problems,” said Donaghy, “but as much as possible we are trying to get the solid waste off the island.”

At the Co-op supplies of milk, bread and eggs were running low, so general manager Tosha Nelson recruited the community and her supplier to get what she needed for her customers.

Danni Tribe, captain of the Spirit of Yalis, the foot passenger ferry used for students, offered her services to transport supplies. Barry Peters at Island Foods in Port McNeill transported the food to the dock and had his crew load it by hand onto the vessel. Back on Malcolm Island, Nelson recuited her staff and two pickup trucks to unload the cargo.

“It was low tide and ramp was frosty,” said Nelson with a laugh, calling her staff rock stars. “We carried it all up from the dock.”

Nelson said the senior captain of the Quadra Queen II, Brian Hart, came to visit her during the breakdown and was very helpful.

“He phoned as soon as he knew the ferry would be running Saturday,” said Nelson.

When the load arrived Saturday, the staff, even those not scheduled to work, came in to deal with the volume. Nelson said the store is still short on a few brands of beer but otherwise well stocked.

“I had to make an executive decision and brought in the milk,” she laughed. “Really, our customers were amazing.”

Meanwhile, over at the Quadra Queen II, which was still tied up in Alert Bay, a technician and the necessary parts were flown on Wednesday to start repairs. The hope was that things would be running again by Friday, but the work took an extra day and then sea trials were conducted before operations were resumed Saturday.

 

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