Sean Potter takes Campbell River’s new Coast Guard lifeboat

New Coast Guard vessel arrives

Controversial replacement for the Point Race already put into action

The troll mode is definitely not for fishing.

It’s actually used when in tow mode and is just one of the “bells and whistles” on Campbell River’s new Coast Guard lifeboat, the Cape Palmerston.

“I served on the Point Race in the 1980s and this is far more manoeuvrable,” says Kevin Tomsett, Coast Guard’s superintendent of small vessels, during a media tour in Discovery Passage on Thursday morning.

Replacing the venerable cutter Point Race with the Cape Palmerston has been a contentious issue among mariners in the Campbell River region.

Long-time Coast Guard supporters criticized the replacement, stating the lifeboat has fewer capabilities than the cutter and would result in a reduction of service.

In an internal report comparing the two types of vessels – prepared for the Coast Guard by the retired captain of the Pt. Race – Geoff Sanders wrote that the replacement vessels would result in a reduction “…in level of service in this very busy and dangerous area.”

But Coast Guard stood by the decision to replace the 70-foot Pt. Race with the 47-foot Cape Palmerston which is faster and is self-righting in case of a rollover in treacherous seas.

“It will take care of us. It’s one of the most capable lifeboats and self-righting is the biggest benefit,” says Sean Potter, one of the Cape Palmerston’s two officers in charge.

During Thursday’s tour, the crew had the Cape Palmerston’s twin 450-horsepower engines fired up and ready to leave the dock in under six minutes.

Potter took the vessel out to the Cape Mudge Lighthouse and noted how the wake is much smaller than that of the Point Race, which is good for smaller boats passing by. As well, it can slow down much quicker, with less wake to rock a smaller boat in need of assistance.

The lifeboats were designed by the U.S. Coast Guard and have been in service for several years. The Cape Palmerston is the latest model and is one of five built in Victoria for a total cost of $19.6 million.

“These are extremely capable lifeboats,” said crewman Philip Hawkins, who served on a similar Coast Guard lifeboat in Port Hardy. “There are seven watertight compartments in here which makes it inherently safe.”

The vessel has large and small tow lines, firefighting capability, and space for at least a few stretchers in the survivor’s compartment.

“We’ve actually had 14 people in the survivor’s compartment,” notes Hawkins.

The Point Race had a much longer range than the Cape Palmerston, but officials don’t think that’s much of an issue. At top speed of more than 27 knots, the Palmerston’s range is roughly 200 nautical miles, or much more at lesser speeds. One of the furthest distances it would travel would be to the head of Bute Inlet which is 80 nautical miles. And, in the case of a major emergency, other Coast Guard vessels would be tasked to the region and the lifeboats can refuel from any one of them. The Cape Palmerston was christened Thursday afternoon, but already had responded to two calls since its arrival last week.

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