The Queen of Surrey is stuck on the pontoon dock after it crashes.

It was a rough day for BC Ferries and perhaps even rougher for ferry passengers. Just days after completing a refit of the Queen of Surrey, on March 26 the boat crashed into the pontoon dock used by the Gambier-Keats passenger ferry.

Michael Brooks of Gibsons was there when it crashed. He had arrived at the terminal to pick up his girlfriend from the first run from Horseshoe Bay. When the ferry arrived in Langdale at 8:11 a.m. his girlfriend didn’t get off. Neither did any other passenger.

He said the ferry approached the terminal going toward the beach. It didn’t turn to straighten out in line with the dock. “I heard a crunch,” he said.

That was the sound of the ferry bashing into the pontoon dock. The collision appeared to create an upward curl in the ferry’s bow.

By 10 am Brooks was standing on the ferry beach, still waiting for his girlfriend to get off. Ferry spokesperson Deborah Marshall reported there were 285 persons on board. At first they seemed to stay on the inside deck. They were treated to coffee and given frequent updates, Brooks’ girlfriend reported on her cell phone.

By midday many passengers could be seen on the top, open deck, standing at the rails and gazing out at the ferry beach. There, at least a dozen people like Brooks were gazing back at them.

Ferry personnel reported that passengers were unable to leave the ferry because the ramp from the damaged boat could not connect with the dock. The plan was to send a tug boat to pull the ferry to the alternate berth on the south side of the terminal. That would place the damaged end of the ferry outward and allow passengers to disembark from its undamaged end.

Stephen Smith is concerned about the tide thwarting a tugboat rescue.

Stephen Smith of Gibsons was on the beach taking photos of the stranded ferry. He said he’s familiar with the tides, which began going out within an hour after the accident. He said the tug boat should hurry. “If they try to tow it off the low tide, they’re going to have a hell of a time.”

Meanwhile the passenger ferries and the Horseshoe Bay run were cancelled. By mid-morning BC Ferries had designated the next sailing to Horseshoe Bay from Langdale as 6:40 p.m. That was to be on the Queen of Cowichan, already scheduled for evening runs. The next day the Queen of Coquitlam would take the place of the damaged Queen of Surrey.

The damage, which was visible on the ferry’s bow, could cripple the boat for a while, a ferry worker suggested (name withheld because of corporation policy). The recent refit had beautified its interior with an expanded gift shop, new tables and other eye-pleasing touches. It also included extensive work on the engine, the worker said. It had yet to be determined whether the engine needed repair as a result of the accident.

 “I feel bad,” the worker said. “The engineers worked very hard on it.”

Once passengers heard of the day-long ferry cancellation, many left on the bus or drove out of the ferry line-up, abandoning their plans for a trip. But many others had nowhere else to go.

Maxine Davies from Coquitlam has a cottage on Keats. She was to attend a family dinner that night and would be babysitting two granddaughters. She and her husband had just come across on the little green ferry from Keats. The ferry driver told her about the accident after they had left the island. “He said, ‘you’re not going to the next sailing are you?’” Then she learned she would be stranded.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do, maybe sit in a line for six hours,” she said. She wouldn’t go back to Keats because she was needed to babysit, and even if she had wanted to she couldn’t. The Keats ferry had been cancelled. She and her husband’s truck was in the Langdale ferry parking lot. “We don’t know whether to go in the line-up,” she said, “because once you’re in the lineup you can’t get out. But if we don’t get in the line-up now we probably won’t get on (the 6:40 p.m. sailing).”

Many stranded passengers strolled to the Wheatberries kiosk or they hung around in the terminal’s waiting room. There I chatted with Jonalyn Siemens, who vowed she’d get to Victoria no matter what. She had been planning to transfer to the Vancouver Island ferry in Horseshoe Bay. Now she would miss her planned sailing.

Siemens is a member of the Sunshine Coast 101 Committee. The group wants to build a bypass from Langdale to Sechelt. It would be a parkway with proper sidewalks and cycling paths, Siemens said. It would provide an access route for emergency vehicles if the other route were blocked.

The group was going to meet the next morning with Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena in Victoria. Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons would be there supporting them.

“I’m not going to get there until midnight tonight,” Siemens said. “But I’m not going to miss the meeting.”

At 10:36 am, as we were talking, she received an email saying her reservation for the 10:50 ferry from Langdale to Horseshoe Bay was cancelled. We laughed.

“Transportation on the Sunshine Coast—we’re completely underserved in every way,” Siemens said.