Sunday, May 22, 2005

All Islanders at some point have forgotten themselves and showed up on a Saturday evening in Snug Cove for a 7:05 sailing to Horseshoe Bay, or (more frequently) rush to make the 7:35 home and remember once they get there that there is no sailing at that time. From 7-8pm on Saturdays, the Queen of Capilano ties up in the Cove and the crew spend an hour doing drills - mostly fire drills I think. And every ten days on a crossing, the ferry will stop and the alarms will sound and the crew will muster at the the Zodiac on the ferry's sundeck, lower it into the water and head off to rescue a target.

Occasionally people moan and complain about these drills. But today the value of all those "un-sailings" and mid-sailing drills paid off.

The ferry was nearly an hour late today as we waited to board the 12:35. It's not unusual on a weekend for the ferry to run late, and we just rolled with it - what can you do after all? When it arrived it didn't take long to learn of the reason for the delay.

We have had a pretty wicked spring storm the last day or so and the waters of Howe Sound are sloppy - chop on top of rolling swell. There were still heavy winds out this morning, and around 11:00 the mate glanced off the bow and noticed two men crab fishing in an open 12 foot skiff. They were waving frantically. They were swamped and in danger of capsizing and motoring as hard as they could towards the ferry. The alarm was sounded and the rescue team got into action, and by the time the Zodiac had reached the men, their boat had capsized and the men were in the water. Howe Sound is never very warm, especially in spring, and you would have a hard time surviving for more than a few minutes if you were swimming in this morning's seas. The ferry crew rescued the two men, brought them on board and - quite literally - saved their lives.

When the captain announced the reason for the delay on the loudspeaker, the passengers broke into applause for the crew.

During the ferry worker's strike a couple of years ago, lots of disparaging things were said about the ferry crews. BC Ferries even tried to staff up a ship with less than a full crew, many of whom didn't have rescue training. Despite the inconvenience of that strike, many Bowen Islanders - especially those that spend any time on the water in boats and kayaks - had lots of time for the ferry worker's cause. They don't just sell coffee, load cars and vacuum carpets. These folks play a significant role in coastal safety and anyone who knows that holds the training and professionalism of the ferry workers in high regard.

This evening, there are two more people who now know this too. Lucky to be alive.