Internal Coast Guard document touts Point Race over replacement vessel

The Point Race cutter is far better suited to the local waters and emergencies compared to a new replacement vessel, according to an internal Coast Guard report.

The Point Race cutter is far better suited to the local waters and emergencies compared to a new replacement vessel, according to an internal Coast Guard report.

The document, obtained by the Mirror, was prepared by Geoff Sanders, the former captain of the Point Race who’s now retired from the Coast Guard.

“The single operational advantage of the 300B over the (Point Race) is the heavy surf survival/self-righting ability which is a top priority in areas of significant breakers, generated in open, shallow waters, such as the West Coast and NE Queen Charlottes, but is not a factor in other areas,” Sanders wrote in the report’s summary.

Coast Guard is currently building five new 47-foot (300B model) cutters at the Victoria Shipyard for a cost of $19.6 million. The federal agency intends to replace the 70-foot Point Race in Campbell River and its sister ship, the Point Henry in Prince Rupert, with the new vessels sometime this spring. The new vessels are needed, said Coast Guard Commissioner Marc Gregoire, in order to modernize the fleet and to replace aging vessels. They will also save money in operational and maintenance costs.

“First, I recognize that the Point Race has provided nearly three decades of highly commendable service,” Gregoire wrote in a Jan. 5 letter to Dr. Robert Somerville. “It is certainly understandable and gratifying that crew members and other associated individuals feel an attachment to the vessel.”

Gregoire makes no mention of the comparison report and goes on for four pages to extol the virtues of the new vessels.

Somerville, the founder of the Campbell River Coast Guard Auxiliary, has roundly criticized the replacement of the Point Race. According to Somerville, the Point Race, built in 1982, is in fine shape and has been specifically modified to improve search and rescue operations in this region.

In response to Gregoire’s letter, Somerville wrote, “It would appear that your staff has led you badly astray on this issue.”

And Somerville is not the only critic of the replacement. North Island MLA Claire Trevena and former Cape Mudge lightkeeper Jim Abram have both said the new vessel will not be an improvement over the Point Race.

Steve Daigle, owner of Daigle Welding and Marine, also takes issue with Coast Guard’s claim that the Point Race and Point Henry need to be replaced due to age.

“I have been involved in modification and repairs to both the Point Henry and Point Race over their 30 years of service,” he wrote in a letter which appeared in Friday’s Mirror. “I believe that neither of these vessels have reached their service life span and both are in good condition, mechanically and structurally.

“I would be interested to know if the Canadian Coast Guard has any reports by qualified marine personnel stating that these vessels are, in fact, structurally or mechanically unfit for continued service?”

In the 33-page report, leaked to the Mirror, Sanders provides a detailed comparison of both vessel types. Sanders still lives in Campbell River, but declined to be interviewed for this story.

In his report, the former Coast Guard captain lists several actual rescue operations where the Point Race’s capabilities were invaluable in the missions.

In contrast, the new smaller cutters have less space for additional emergency crew and equipment, less towing and firefighting capacity, a shorter range, and provide a less stable base in bad weather.

The new vessels are faster – 26 knots at full speed compared to 22 knots – but they need to reduce speed in rough weather whereas the Point Race and Port Henry do not.

In conclusion, Sanders wrote that the replacement vessels would result in a reduction “…in level of service in this very busy and dangerous area. A reduction is not support by SAR (search and rescue) Needs Analysis for

1993, 1999 or 2007.”

And a reduction in service is not something anyone wants, wrote Somerville, at one of the busiest Coast Guard bases in the country.

“Let’s cut to the chase: Prince Rupert and Campbell River will not accept a reduction of service,” Somerville wrote in his Jan. 14 letter to the Commissioner. “…the Point Henry and the Point Race have many years left in them…we are happy, the crews are happy with the status quo…build us something better, or equal, or larger size when necessary – in about 30 more years!”