Former Queen of the North captain wins book award

Victoria author Colin Henthorne, captain of the B.C. Ferries vessel when it sank in 2006 with the loss of two lives, has won an award from the Canadian Nautical Research Society for his firsthand account of the sinking.

Henthorne, 63, was “absolutely” happy to hear the news Wednesday evening that his book, The Queen of the North Disaster: The Captain’s Story (Harbour Publishing, 2016), is being honoured.

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He didn’t know when he was contacted by the Times Colonist. “Really?” he said. “I’ve never heard of this award.”

According to the society website, the Keith Matthews award for a maritime book deemed deserving of special recognition, is named for “the renowned maritime historian from Memorial University” in Newfoundland who was a founder and first president of the research group. Keith Matthews died in 1984 and the first award in his name was made the following year.

The award is given to a book published the preceding year, which, in the view of the award committee, “offers an important record that would, in the future, be cited by historians,” said a statement Wednesday from Harbour Publishing.

The jury praised the book, published a decade after the disaster, as providing a comprehensive and balanced account.

Ninety-nine of 101 passengers were saved in the early morning of March 22, 2006, but Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette were never found. Navigating officer Karl Ligert was convicted of criminal negligence causing death in 2013 and is now on parole.

Henthorne’s book was ranked sixth on the B.C. Bestsellers List as of Aug. 13.

Henthorne said his aim was to write a book readable by anyone, not just those with marine or technical backgrounds, so it’s “very satisfying” to get the nod from the academic community as well. He had been captain or first mate on the Queen of the North for 16 years before the sinking. He said he started writing the day it happened, for posterity, and to keep his memory sharp for inquiries and legal proceedings, but not with the intention of turning out a book.

“This valuable record recalls with accuracy and detail that ill-fated voyage and reveals an inside look at a modern marine disaster,” the statement from the Ottawa-based society said.

The Queen of the North sank barely an hour after going aground off Gil Island, about 135 kilometres south of Prince Rupert, with the impact having destroyed both the ship’s bottom and propeller. Henthorne was awoken by frantic banging on his door at 12:30 a.m. to take charge of efforts to abandon ship.

About 10 months later, he was fired by B.C. Ferries on the grounds of being surplus to requirements, despite the corporation advertising for captains. He was reinstated, then fired again, but cannot discuss any terms of his departure.

Born in Vancouver, Henthorne received his first command at 21 and sailed as a master with B.C. Ferries from 1990 to age 52, when the sinking deep-sixed his ferry career. Now 63, he basically was without a job for three years after leaving B.C. Ferries. He is now the Canadian Coast Guard rescue co-ordinator at the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria. “I love my job, I have a very good job, it’s very satisfying and I am very grateful to have landed such a job.”

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