Cortes Island’s Adrift Vessels

Cortes Island’s Adrift Vessels

Two more abandoned derelict vessels washed up in Cortes Bay on January 15th, 2020. When Jenny Hartwick, Harbour Manager for Harbour Authority Cortes Island (HACI), reported them to the Coast Guard, she was told they were dealing with similar reports from multiple locations. Cortes Island’s adrift vessels are part of a province wide problem. 

1,400 Abandoned Vessels

“Every oceanside community in British Columbia has problems with derelict vessels,” says Hartwick. ” When I spoke to the Coast Guard officer, he said, ‘Okay, we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. It won’t be today. We hope it may be by the end of the week. We got hit quite bad this last week. For example, there are six boats in Cadboro Bay (near Victoria) alone.”  

There are reputedly more than 1,400 abandoned vessels scattered about the province; the Dead Boat Disposal Society believes the number is closer to 2,400.  

“Most of the vessels that wash up are not liveaboards, but boats that have [either] been left at anchor or on a mooring with an absentee owner. The media has tried too hard for too long to link derelict vessels to liveaboards, but they’re finally realizing that they are two separate entities,” says Amanda Glickman, a founding member of the BC Nautical Resident’s Association (BCNRA) and a Director of HACI. 

Jan 3, 2020, Incident In Gorge Harbour

Only there have been incidents with “liveaboard” boat owners who are not adequately prepared for the lifestyle they adopted. 

Hubert Havelaar lived ‘on board’ himself for fourteen years, in the 1970’s and early 80’s.

“It was an appealing, wonderful, lifestyle – I recommend it, but there are responsibilities attached to the lifestyle that some people either ignore or are ignorant of. If a boat is on a mooring, it should have power and not just be sitting there derelict. If something happens, you should be able to fire the engine up and get out of there,” he says.  

Neither of the rafted-together-craft that collided with his sailboat, on January 3, 2020, possessed a motor. The owner was therefore incapable of dealing with the situation until Hubert, whose house is on the beach, came to his assistance.

“If I hadn’t been able to get out there and help, all three boats, mine included, would have probably ended up on the beach.”

“I’m feeling very vulnerable. Our location at the west end of Gorge Harbour makes us sitting ducks for anything that comes adrift to windward of us … We’re increasingly getting boats that aren’t mobile, no power on them. Some of them are lived on; others are seemingly parked here without a lot of attendance. On a chart, Gorge Harbour looks like a safe refuge but the wind really whistles in here. On January 3, my estimate was gusts of 50 knots and I’ve seen hurricane force of nearly 70 knots in the past.”

Danger To Other Vessels

“Clearly these vessels, when they have difficulties, constitute a danger to other vessels and probably the marine environment,” says Andy Ellingsen, one of HACI’s Directors. “There is also the element that occupants of the vessels are themselves endangered when a vessel breaks loose and the occupant strives to rescue it under stormy conditions.”

He added, “There is clearly another side to this story. As a result of the lack of affordable housing, people are occupying vessels without adequate provision for secure and affordable moorage.” 

Educating Liveaboards 

“BC Nautical Resident’s Association’s mandate is to help educate liveaboards on these matters,” says Amanda Glickman. “Our primary challenge IS the lack of adequate moorage. Most liveaboards would prefer to be in a marina, recognizing the challenges of living life “on the hook”. There is a tremendous lack of information with regards to mooring construction and DFO doesn’t really provide any clear guidelines. Moorings around here are also expensive to have constructed (although that’s a relative term) and so many people “do it yourself.”

“Regulations will not resolve the issue. Working with BCNRA has a better chance of it as this group is taking the public position of being the face of liveaboards. The problem is that due to so much discrimination against liveaboards, authorities are reluctant to include us at the table (Harbour Authority Association of British Columbia in particular), seeing us as a bunch of rogue personalities.”

Cortes Island’s Adrift Vessels

Cortes island's most famous grounding
The Rolano after it ran aground in Gorge Harbour – Courtesy Amanda Glickman

Only one of the ten groundings cited in this article involves a liveaboard, the remainder were either abandoned or had absentee owners.

  • During one of the annual Gorge Harbour clean-ups, Amanda Glickman found a small boat buried in the mud.
  • She sent in photos of three other derelict vessels.
  • A few years ago, a half submerged boat floated beside the government wharf at Squirrel Cove for days before sinking to the bottom.
  • HACI dealt with a derelict vessel tied up to their Cortes Bay dock. 

The Coast Guard brought in the Western Canada Marine Spill Response Corporation to clean the spillage after the Rolano was grounded.

Amanda Glickman wrote about the incident, explaining that this vessel “ … was moored in Gorge Harbour, Cortes Island for the past two years. In a high winds she was snagging boats at anchor in the west end of the harbour. The owner moved her to the south end where she languished at anchor until very recently. Sometime around February 9th, 2019, her anchor cable snapped and she ran aground on a local oyster lease.”

Jan 4, 2020, Incident in Gorge Harbour

One of Gorge Harbour's Adrift vessels
Ex-fishboat hull beached in Gorge Harbour on Jan 4, 2020 – Courtesy Hubert Havelaar

The day after the incident with his sailboat, Hubert Havelaar, “ … went down to check a friends boat close to the log dump, and to my horror I saw that there was a converted fish boat hull lying on its side on the beach”

The owner wasn’t  around, but his brother was preparing to effect a salvage that night. When Hubert returned the next morning, the boat was still there. He smelled diesel fuel and observed a fuel slick along the beach right into an oyster lease. He reported the incident to the Coast Guard, who responded by installing  an absorbent floating boom around the hull. They spent the next week trying, unsuccessfully, to contact the owner directly.

Some of the local residents contacted HACI, which was sympathetic but has no jurisdiction beyond the five Cortes wharves it managers. ,

“Eventually Dave McCoy strapped his barge alongside and lifted the boat off the beach. Fortunately the hull was still watertight and they were able to pump it out and float it to the log dump where it was dismantled and recycled ashore,” Hubert said.

Going Forward 

Hartwick is encouraged by the federal government’s ratification of Bill C-64, “That gave the Coast Guard a whole lot of funding and more power to enforce laws against  abandoned, wrecked and hazardous vessels.”

On the Canadian Bar Association website, Brad M. Caldwell wrote that this Act ” … prohibits the owner of a dilapidated vessel from leaving it stranded, grounded, including on the shore, anchored or moored in the same location or within a radius of three nautical miles, for a period in excess of 60 consecutive days.”

” … If a vessel is abandoned or deemed abandoned, the Minister may dispose of it, sell it, or destroy it. If the Minister reasonably believes a vessel poses a hazard, the Minister has many powers including the power to monitor, perform repairs, move, destroy, or sell it. The Minister may also direct any other person, such as a harbour authority, to take such measures.”

British Columbia’s Coast Guard now has three Vessel of Concern officers, who are currently mapping out the locations of abandoned vessels throughout the province. 

Top photo credit: One of the sailboats that ran aground in Cortes Bay on January 15, 2020 – Courtesy Jenny Hartwick

7 thoughts on “Cortes Island’s Adrift Vessels”

  1. “Eventually Dave McCoy strapped his barge alongside and lifted the boat off the beach. Fortunately the hull was still watertight and they were able to pump it out and float it to the log dump where it was dismantled and recycled ashore,”

    So the boat didn’t have major damage but was “recycled” anyway? With the owners consent i hope?
    Please clarify.

    1. Sorry for taking so long to respond. Aside from the fact the owner’s brother was involved in the initial attempt to get the boat off the beach and also subsequent conversations, I do not know the answer to this question. I am forwarding it on to my source.

    2. There can be a world of difference between an old hull which still floats and one which is worth the substantial effort and resources to make seaworthy again..The boat in question had a very rotten deck and cabin and definite hull issues,all the mechanical and electrical equipment had been immersed in seawater for over a week and the Coast Guard finally had to take on the responsibility of dealing with it appropriately because the absentee owner did not. It’s sad to see an old wooden boat reach that stage in its life largely through incompetence and lack of maintenance,but the reality is that vessels like it represent a very real threat to the marine environment and all its stakeholders. Every boat owner needs to be aware of their ethical and legal responsibilities,and the financial repercussions that they’re liable for in these kinds of incidents.”Get your ship together!”

  2. Key is making the part which leaves the ship, thick chain only, eliminating the chance of it chafing thru at that point. Then strong attachment point for that chain. Older plastic boats t end to have weak decks with rotted out cores, to weak to put a strong attachment point in. A bow eye in the stem is a much more reliable option

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