Les Leyne: MV Nimpkish hits rough sea of reviews

Les Leyne mugshot genericThe reviews are in on the MV Nimpkish. If it were a play — Voyage of the Damned, say — maybe people would have appreciated it as a gripping study of the limits of human endurance.

But it wasn’t a play. It was the B.C. government’s effort to cut costs by using a 16-car open-deck ferry — one of the smallest, oldest boats in the fleet — on the nine-hour run between Bella Bella and Bella Coola.

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Judging by the feedback collected by locals who desperately need the Discovery Coast Circle Tour to succeed, there are a few tourists from around the world suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after making the trip.

Eighty pages of responses were provided to me this week by tourist operators who distributed questionnaires to visitors.

Apart from raves about the scenery and lavish praise for the friendly, helpful and efficient crew, the responses are overwhelmingly negative when it comes to the boat itself.

“Really small, no comfortable seats, basic food, just one toilet.”

“I was distressed … 10 hours with inadequate seating (six six-foot hard benches for 20 passengers) the constant noise of the engines … exhaust fumes and no way to escape. I spent most of the voyage on the car deck and was cold and exhausted upon arrival … Nowhere was I warned of the appalling lack of facilities. Shame on you …”

“The Nimpkish is a ridiculous old boat. The staff were wonderful and did their best … The free food was unhealthy garbage.”

But while world travellers were venting about being stuck on a “tub” for nine hours and contemplated “urinating over the side of a scow you call a ferry” because the toilet was inadequate, there was one reviewer who sounded positively enchanted by the whole experience.

That would be Transportation Minister Todd Stone, the man responsible for putting the Nimpkish on the route. He and his young family made the trip last month and to hear him tell it, the ride was a highlight.

“With ample viewing areas, free snacks and refreshments, and a comfortable and recently renovated seating area, the Nimpkish is much more than many critics have made it out to be,” he wrote on a vacation blog. “We quickly realized that the Nimpkish has a charm all unto itself.

“Taking a quick read of the on-board guest book, we realized that many people have travelled on the Nimpkish this summer, and most people have really enjoyed it. Their experiences have been summed up by describing it as an adventure, an ‘up close and personal’ interaction with nature and an intimate and unforgettable rendezvous with the best that B.C. has to offer.”

(The gap between the on-board guest book and what people wrote when they got off might be explained by the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages start identifying with their captors.) Stone endorsed the trip enthusiastically, but also handed off responsibility for making it work.

“At the end of the day, my assessment is that the Nimpkish is a good tourism product if tourists are made fully aware as to the type of service it provides. If correct expectations are set, I believe the Nimpkish can be marketed as a valuable tourism component of the Discovery Coast Circle Tour,” he said.

“The decision to do this rests squarely on the shoulders of the tourism industry and tourism operators who need to decide whether or not they want this service to work … .”

Correcting expectations seems to mean downgrading them drastically. And “deciding whether or not they want this service to work” means “stop whining about it and get with the program.”

Coast and Chilcotin tourism operators were aghast when the Nimpkish replaced a bigger ferry on the route this year. Their dismay only deepened as the replies to their questionnaire came in.

While Stone wrote about Nimpkish’s “charm,” the paying customers he is responsible for serving sounded unmoved by the whole experience.

B.C. municipal leaders condemned his overall ferry policy repeatedly at their convention this week. When Premier Christy Clark spoke there Friday about her commitment to helping rural B.C., some of them thought about the Nimpkish and just shook their heads.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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