The former Captain of the Queen of the North, Colin Henthorne, is now an award winning author.
Henthorne was awarded the Canadian Nautical Research Society’s Keith Matthews Award for a book deserving special recognition for The Queen of the North Disaster: The Captain’s Story.
According to a press release from Harbour Publishing, the award is given to a maritime book published the preceding year, which, in the view of the award committee, “offers an important record that would, in the future, be cited by historians.”
In The Queen of the North Disaster, Henthorne reflected on the 2006 sinking of the BC Ferries passenger vessel Queen of the North, which happened off Gil Island, approximately 135 kilometres south of Prince Rupert. The impact tore open the ship’s bottom and ripped out the propellers. In just over an hour, she sank to the bottom of Wright Sound. And despite the crew’s skilled evacuation, two passengers went missing and have since been declared deceased. The jury lauded Henthorne’s book for providing a comprehensive and balanced account of the marine tragedy.
In an interview over the phone, Henthorne said winning the award felt “pretty good,” and he was especially pleased “because I had intended all along to write a book anybody could read, but it’s very nice to be recognized by a group of academics who value the book’s history.”
Henthrone said he has received mostly positive remarks about the book “by the large majority of people I’ve talked to, which has been very satisfying.”
He added he felt it was important to get his side of the story on record, “because if I didn’t put my story out there I’d be living in the shadow of the disaster for the rest of my life, and I wanted people to hear my side.”
While most of the people he’s spoken with stated they enjoyed the book, some of the former Queen of the North crew members were not happy with it, due to the book’s neutral stance on Karl Lilgert, the former BC Ferries officer who was found criminally responsible for the sinking of the ferry.
“There were some hurt feelings as a result of my thinking,” said Henthorne. “They wanted me to place all the blame on him. I didn’t intend to exonerate Karl with my book, and I feel I did hold him to some of the blame. For me, he definitely caused the accident, but my book was more so pointing out how it came about, and if there’s any lessons to be learned. I was trying to merely present other possibilities, because a lot of the possibilities had been disputed outright by people who weren’t there that night.”
Henthrone feels the real reason behind the ship sinking that night might never be released.
“I wish there was better evidence we could see or be shown, but there isn’t that much of anything to really go on,” he said, adding there was only two people on the bridge that night, Lilgert and his former lover Karen Briker, “and they are the only two who could possibly tell.”
He also confirmed BC Ferries has not released any comment on his book. “I haven’t had any comment from them since we wrapped up the legal issue.”
Henthorne was terminated by BC Ferries after the ferry sank, and he fought the termination from Jan. 11, 2007 until Nov. 24, 2011, when he lost on appeal to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, something he has previously stated was a “miscarriage of justice all the way.”
When asked if there might be a sequel to the book, Henthorne said he doesn’t have any plans to write anything else on the subject. “I didn’t set out to be a writer — I had a particular story that I needed to tell, and this book was the right avenue for it.”
He added he is satisfied with what he wrote for now, “but having said that, if any new evidence comes to light, you never know.”
He confirmed the book has been a success, critically and monetarily, and he was “completely taken by surprise,” by it. “I had no expectations whatsoever — it wasn’t about the money at all, though I will admit I did make some money off the book, and it definitely outsold my expectations.”
Colin Henthorne was born in Vancouver and grew up in British Columbia.
He has spent nearly all his life living and working on the water.
He got his first command at the age of twenty-one and his entire career has been dedicated to command.
He sailed as a master with BC Ferries starting in 1990 and was fifty-two when the Queen of the North sank. He has continued to work aboard and to command ships. At the time of writing he is a Canadian Coast Guard Rescue Co-ordinator at the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria, BC.
The winners of the Keith Matthews Awards were announced in August at the Canadian Nautical Research Society’s annual conference in Halifax, NS.