Last month, a number of Cortes Island residents recognized a familiar face directing traffic at the Whaletown Ferry terminal. Mind you, Mike Moore is better known from the days he sailed the Misty Isles than as the Mate on a BC Ferry. He was in Alert Bay when Cortes Currents caught up to him, but let’s go back to the beginning.
“I was waiting in the lineup at Campbell River on a hot May or April day, when I saw in the media how BC Ferries was struggling. I was looking over at Quathiaski Cove, seeing the two ferries there, one of which was not running. It was promised to be running, but it wasn’t yet, and the reason why it wasn’t is partially because of staffing problems. I just went, ‘Ah man, this is a good form of community service that I can step up to,’” explained Moore.
“I was professionally trained as a Mariner at the Canadian Coast Guard College in Sydney, Nova Scotia, after quite a few years of fishing experience here on the West Coast. I did the four year officer Cadet program from 1986 and graduated in 1990. Then I worked as navigation officer on the Coast Guard ships out of Victoria until 1997, which is when I got out of the Coast Guard and picked up the Misty Isles. I believe I received one of the finest educations in maritime science and navigation that you can get and I continue to use it. Celestial navigation just went into ‘Star Talks’ for me, and in navigating Misty Isles and other vessels. I’ve always had that ticket in my back pocket.”
There have been a lot of technological and even operational changes since Moore last worked on a ship, but he still has a chief mate certificate and a 500 ton master certificate.
“Those are valuable, and Ferries recognize that. It’s been a very steep learning curve for me, but at this stage in my life, having let go of Misty Isles, having let go of a lot of things, I am in a position where I could just step up and go, ‘All right, let’s do this.’”
He spent most of the summer studying, starting with a course on electronic charting and navigation at Ladysmith in June.
“My first onboard vessel training was on the Hornby Island ferry, the little ‘Kahloke.’ They threw me into that on the Saturday of the August long weekend. Kahloke was in the news because of the incredible lineups to get on and off Hornby Island this summer. We never saw a scheduled run the whole eight or nine days I was there because we were in constant shuttle mode,” said Moore.
His next ferry was the Tachek, on the Cortes to Quadra Island run.
“That’s really nice to work at home again. Everybody wants to stop and talk and I have to keep them going because we’re running a schedule, but I love to talk to people on board. I think a lot of people are surprised to see me in this position. Right now I’m up in Alert Bay doing training on the Island Aurora, one of the new island class hybrid diesel electric vessels.”
Moore referred to his position as a ‘glorified loader,’ in charge of the ferry’s deck department.
“The Mate is the loading officer, and one of the biggest parts of the job is getting people and vehicles on board safely. Various vessels have got different parameters, different height restrictions, different lane width restrictions. You’ve got to learn dangerous cargo. The other part of the job is being head of the deck department.”
“I am also in charge of being on top of all the safety systems, the life saving appliances, the firefighting appliances, the ship maintenance and that sort of thing. It’s a tremendous amount to learn. Each vessel is different; each run is different.”
He is based out of Little River, Comox, the headquarters for the Northern Gulf Island Ferries. They operate all the way from Thetis Island, Penelauket and Chemainus in the south, to the Port McNeil – Alert Bay- Sointula run that he was working on at the time of our interview.
“I’m a casual Mate. I don’t have a scheduled regular run. I go where needed and obviously that is a position which is needed right now with people going off sick. You can’t show up to work with the sniffles anymore like you could in pre COVID times. This is why I’m getting cleared on three vessels at the moment,” he said.
“I’m hoping to get cleared on a fourth, and then if something happens on those vessels, those are the vessels and routes that I’d be cleared on. At this point, I couldn’t jump on the Quadra Island ferry, for example, because I don’t know the safety plans. I don’t know the firefighting plans. Even though I do know the route, I haven’t been cleared on it and how that vessel reacts in the currents and things like that. As of early November, I’ll be cleared on the ‘Island Aurora’ up here and so I could be sent up here at any time.”
BC Ferries has promised Moore 15 days of work a month. When you count days travelling to and from assignments, that theoretically works out to about 20 days a month. However he is often on the job for 12 hours or occasionally even longer, so Moore suspects he will actually be working closer to 10 days most months.
This is similar to the workload during his coastguard years.
Moore seemed to be working more when he owned the Misty Isles. There wasn’t a day when he wasn’t checking his emails, or planning for upcoming trips.
“I don’t see a diminishment in quality of life,” he said.
His partner, Kate Maddigan, looks after their home back on Cortes while Moore is off working. Their son Fergus is with her ‘halftime,’ and they currently have 3 homestay students.
Kate had some time off and came up to Alert Bay with Moore this trip. They stayed in a cabin provided by BC Ferries and at the end of his shift they cycled around Cormorant Island.
While the crew generally have to find accommodations, BC Ferries pays for it and has an approved list. Moore said sometimes, especially for last minute assignments in the summertime, it can be difficult to find a place.
“A lot of the accommodation providers are really good. They do give ferries a priority because we are an essential service, and we are a good customer. This is my understanding anyway, but if they see a gap in the bookings, they may fill it.”
Some of the ferry workers tow their trailers from place to place, or live on their boats.
“If I could find a nice, safe, secure place to anchor off on Hornby Island, I would take our sailboat down there, but Hornby Island doesn’t have any enclosed bays,” said Moore.
“I’m learning about the company and the vessels. I think with a lot of organizations, and especially marine organizations, it’s been a tough go with human resources. Now we’re also switching up technologies.”
He was serving on a hybrid-electric vessel, but there is no infrastructure to provide a fast charge in Alert Bay. So they need to run on diesel, in order to charge the batteries.
They would face the same challenge if one of these vessels was transferred to Cortes Island.
“We’re already in a brown out situation in the winter time because there just isn’t a power capacity to take all the loads that we demand of it, and if people start plugging in their electric cars and an electric ferry that’s going to really affect the power grid. Once the infrastructure goes up, we’ll be set for it,” said Moore.
Top image credit: The Island Discovery in its berth at its Quathiaski Cove on April 8, 2022 – Photo by Roy L Hales
Sign-up for Cortes Currents email-out:
To receive an emailed catalogue of articles on Cortes Currents, send a (blank) email to subscribe to your desired frequency: