The harbour’s the problem

Trevor Taylor
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So the MV Blue Puttees is back on the Port aux Basques to North Sydney run. And the Atlantic Vision will shortly be back on the Argentia run. We will put that little inconvenience behind us. All is well that ends well, I guess.

I suppose it is not appropriate to delve into the “what if” category, but given the nature of the Blue Puttees accident, it is hard not to. In spite of the significant inconvenience to passengers, the delays in the movement of cargo to and from the province and the further damage to Marine Atlantic’s reputation, it obviously could have been a lot worse.

Since mechanical failure has apparently been ruled out, and the old T.J. Hardy wharf did not move, there must have been an error on the bridge. I know I am only speculating, but in the absence of high winds, there aren’t many other conclusions one can come to.

So, what if the Blue Puttees had managed to make part of the sharp turn she needs to make in order to exit Port aux Basques harbour? What if she got halfway through that turn and instead of hitting the old dock, actually ground her way along the breakwater she’s supposed to pass on the way out the harbour?

And what if, with the significant amount of momentum she would be carrying at that point, she actually made it past, to the deep water at the mouth of the harbour — with her side partially ripped open from her encounter with the armour stone of the breakwater?

I know you are saying, that is a lot of what ifs. True, but there is a reason why the ferries don’t leave or enter Port aux Basques when there is anything more than a moderate breeze, and there is a reason why ferry officers spend time on the simulators at the Marine Institute. It is not because the ferries can’t handle the winds and swells of the Gulf crossing. It is because getting up enough speed to maintain steerage from a docking start in the harbour, or maintaining enough speed while having the ability to stop when entering the harbour, is difficult.

Call a spade a shovel. Putting one of the Marine Atlantic ferries into Port aux Basques even on the best of days is like putting a gallon of ship into a quart bottle. No matter how good the ships or the crews, Port aux Basques is, has been and will continue to be the primary bottleneck to the movement of people and goods to and from the province.

Whether it was a mechanical failure, an error in navigation or wind, Port aux Basques harbour in its present configuration is no good. Had the Blue Puttees managed to make half its turn exiting the harbour, the scenario I previously laid out, she undoubtedly would have taken on water, listed and, barring some extraordinary work by the crew, gone down. And no, that is not sensationalizing. That is a fact. Fortunately, it did not happen.

Fall is just about upon us. With it comes the winds and the inevitable delays to the Gulf ferry service. With it will also come a litany of complaints about Marine Atlantic, the ferries and the decision-makers who purchased them for this run in the first place.

While I am not a cheerleader for Marine Atlantic, in my view, the problem is none of the above. The problem is Port aux Basques harbour. So we can continue to complain about what is not the problem, we can spend a shipload on dynamite to change the harbour, or maybe it is time to start running the ferries into Stephenville. Either way, something has to give.

Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under the Danny Williams administration. Email:

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, MV Blue Puttees, Argentia Marine Institute

Geographic location: Port aux Basques, North Sydney, Stephenville

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Recent comments

  • TRUE
    August 28, 2013 - 06:22

    This is not going to please Craig or those who agree with Craig, but I agree with Taylor in this particular instance. Port Aux Basques is the problem. Short of spending millions of dollars trying to improve the approaches in that harbour, perhaps it is time to consider an alternate port on the west coast. I know, I know......the people in P.O.B. will be howling with indignation to that suggestion, but this is not about P.O.B., it is about providing a safe and efficient link to the mainland for the people using that service. Craig drags out the poor old rural Newfoundland getting the gears argument, when the fact of the matter is that this is not even a rural/urban issue. It is time to rethink Port Aux Basques in favour of Stephenville or Corner Brook.

    • Craig
      August 29, 2013 - 07:18

      I am very pleased that you have exercised your right to express your opinion. However, obviously you (and Trevor) thinks that efficiency/cost effectiveness is one of the top two reasons to close up PAB and move it to a more "urbanized" setting. If I was like you two and thought the same thing I would have a far more efficient less costly and just as safe proposition. There is already a ferry terminal in Placentia, it is ice free all year round (unlike Stephenville and Corner Brook) and it is on the Avalon Peninsula where practically all of the thriving business are located and it also has over 1/2 the entire population of the island. Lets debate the efficiency of that hey boys? Thankfully though I am not like you two and feel that every option should be considered and every stone unturned before we close up any more of our rural towns.

  • Craig
    August 27, 2013 - 10:35

    Obviously Trevor's days as a minion in the Danny Millions cabinet infected him with the anti rural virus that was so evident in that administration. In his last column he was singing the praises of spending a few hundred million on a research ship and now he is suggesting we board up Channel Port Aux Basque and move everything to Stephenville. Unbelievable!!! With friends like Trevor, rural NL surely doesn't need enemies!