HMCS Algonquin sails into sunset on final voyage

The Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Algonquin is making a final journey that will end with its demolition.

The 441-foot Iroquois-class destroyer, which started service in 1973, was decommissioned last June with a ceremony that saw sailors march off its deck for the final time. It is being towed to Liverpool, N.S., where R.J. MacIsaac Construction Ltd. has a $39-million contact to scrap both Algonquin and HMCS Protecteur — the long-serving CFB Esquimalt supply ship that is already in Nova Scotia, arriving last month after a seven-week trip.

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Algonquin was originally scheduled to be retired in 2017, but the timing was moved ahead when it was damaged in a 2013 training-exercise collision with Protecteur. Algonquin took the brunt of the collision with about $3 million in damage, and the decision was made to not make repairs due to the ship’s age.

One former Algonquin crew member is Mike Stege, who sailed on her from 1976 to 1980 — his first naval ship. He was coincidentally sent to Victoria as a navy disposal officer — involved in disposing of old vessels such as Algonquin.

“I’ve come full circle,” he said. “Here I am now as a disposal officer in Ottawa sort of getting rid of her.”

Stege said that Algonquin and the other Iroquois-class vessels were affectionately known in the early years as “the Sisters of the Space Age” because they had advanced to gas-turbine engines from steam engines.

“She had a lot of good years,” he said of Algonquin. “But it’s as I said: You have a ’52 Chevy, how many more miles can you put on her? Eventually, you’ve got to rebuild her.”

Knowing Algonquin is bound for demolition also brings back memories for Commodore Jeff Zwick, commander of Canada’s Pacific Fleet.

“It is very much a period of mixed emotions,” Zwick said. “I did three tours in her, about seven years of my service life.”

Algonquin covered a lot of territory, he said, and spent most of the 1970s and 1980s on the East Coast.

After being transferred to CFB Esquimalt in the early 1990s, she became the flagship for the western fleet — leading Canada’s participation in national and international exercises.

“Obviously, she’s had a long and distinguished career,” Zwick said. “She was a fine ship.”

That included time spent in 2002 in the Arabian Sea supporting a United States-led coalition against terrorism.

He recalled a rescue while he was aboard Algonquin in the mid-1990s, when a coal carrier lost power near Vancouver Island.

“Algonquin went and rendered her assistance until we could turn her over to civilian authorities.”

He said it is “bittersweet” to have Algonquin go.

“We need to rejoice in all the good things that she did,” he said.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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