British Columbia

BC Ferries breakdown leads to 'bedlam' on Mayne Island

Engineers are still working to solve problems with Queen of Nanaimo, which broke down last week.

Engineers still working to solve problem with Queen of Nanaimo, which broke down last week

Cars were lined up down the road outside the Village Bay terminal for much of the afternoon. (Lucy MacKenzie/Twitter)

BC Ferries has apologized after hundreds of weekend travellers were caught in a massive traffic jam trying to leave Mayne Island on Sunday.

All sailings of the Queen of Nanaimo between the Lower Mainland and the Gulf Islands were cancelled on Friday due to propeller problems. The vessel won't be back in service until at least Thursday.

The smaller Salish Eagle has continued to run between Tsawwassen and the islands, but it was no match for traffic after a sunny weekend — that, coupled with travellers leaving Mayne Island's annual music festival.

Village Bay terminal was packed and — for a while — only one BC Ferries employee was on hand, leading to widespread confusion.

Passenger Chris Leigh said it took him 10 hours to get back to Tsawwassen when it usually takes an hour and a half.

"Gongshow is a light word," Leigh said, describing the situation at the terminal.

"Traffic was lined up so far down Mayne [Island] that they couldn't get cars through," he said.

"There was a lot of arguing, a lot of shouting, complete miscommunication. No one knew what exactly to do, where to go ... [people asking] 'Are my reservations good? What's going on?'

"It was bedlam for a couple hours there. Even locals couldn't get out of their driveways."

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said extra staff were called to the terminal later in the day, offering an apology to those caught in the mayhem.

"We did have some hiccups at Mayne Island yesterday ... we know we had those challenges and we do apologize to our customers," said Marshall on Monday. "We know it's inconvenient in the summertime."

Repairs continue

Despite working through the weekend, Marshall said, engineers still don't know exactly what went wrong with the Queen of Nanaimo. They did, however, find a second "mechanical issue" that will also need to be fixed.

BC Ferries plans to retire the Queen of Nanaimo, which was built in 1964 and has a capacity for 164 cars and 1,004 passengers and crew.

The 53-year-old vessel is being retired this fall. There's been speculation that the corporation isn't allocating resources to keep it running smoothly, but Marshall said that's not the case. 

"It's difficult with an older vessel ... but we do need to maintain that ship through the end of her operational life which means making repairs that are necessary."

Extra sailings have been added with the Salish Eagle along the route this week and the Salish Raven is being prepared as a replacement vessel. The Queen of Cumberland was also running extra sailings.

Marshall said passengers can also reach the Southern Gulf Islands from Tsawwassen via Swartz Bay.