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Boat sinks as campaign to clean up bay begins

On the morning of January 4th, Bruce Russell stood in the window of his home office on the north shore of Mannion Bay, or Deep Bay as many of us know it, and did a routine scan with his binoculars.

On the morning of January 4th, Bruce Russell stood in the window of his home office on the north shore of Mannion Bay, or Deep Bay as many of us know it, and did a routine scan with his binoculars. Russell noticed that a boat named the Hillbilly #1, which he had previously reported as being full of "chattel" and low in the bough, was particularly low that morning. By the time he finished writing a set of emails to various officials, including Transport Canada, Russell says the boat was standing perpendicular in the water, and clearly, sinking.

When Russell called the RCMP to report what he saw out his window, they told him to call the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard proceeded to dispatch someone, by hovercraft, to the site of the now-sunken Hillbilly #1 to ensure that no human in distress because of the sinking, and to look for potential contamination to the water caused by fluids leaking from the boat's engine.

"By that time," says Russell, "The contents of the boat were floating over to our place. It was like, when they talk about the Tsunami in Japan, waves of junk were just floating over."

Russell recalls a few of the items: a red metal air compressor, styrofoam coolers, a waterski, plastic piping and miscellaneous plywood among the debris released into the water following the sinking of the Hillbilly #1.

According to Bowen Island's Senior Bylaw officer, Bonny Brokenshire, says that if the remains of the Hillbilly #1 turn out to be a navigational hazard, Transport Canada will remove the vessel. If not, it will remain at the bottom of Mannion Bay with the dozens of other boats that have sunk over the years.

The sinking of the Hillbilly #1 occurred two-days prior to Transport Canada's visit to Mannion Bay to post notices on mooring buoys non-compliant with their standard to say that if they are not brought up to standard within 30 days, they will be removed.

This is part of what Brokenshire calls the "first wave" of the clean-up of the Bay, which aims to remove vessels that have abandoned or simply hazardous from the Bay. The sinking of the Hillbilly, as Russell points out, exemplifies the importance of such a strategy.

"The Hillbilly was never sea-worthy," says Russell. "If the owner had been diligent, he would've known that and got the boat out of the water."

As a waterfront property owner with a history on Mannion Bay, Russell has made it his mission to get the Bay cleaned up. To this end, Russell announced the launch of the Friends of Mannion Bay fundraising campaign, with a goal of raising $50 thousand, to help the Municipality cover the costs of the project. In the presenting his case before council, Russell outlined what he called a "roll call of problems" on the Bay:

-there are a number of uninsurable boats which are most often beyond maintenance when they first drop anchor, most of which never or seldom move; the immobile long-stay anchorages often break loose from their moorings ending up on nearby Sandy or Pebbly Beach generally abandoned by the owner for the costly removal by the taxpayers

-docks to accommodate the rafting of other boats or providing more space for generators, patio tables, firewood and other "chattels"; on occasion the parties are held on the beach with questionable conduct and offensive language

-some of the boats are occupied by live-aboards, few or none of which have sewage holding tanks or properly functioning or regularly serviced tanks (as in properly discharged or pumped out) which likely is directly related to the often high fecal count and very noticeable excrement frequently mentioned by those bold or foolish enough to swim in the Bay or at the beaches. The toilet habits of some of the boat owners and live-aboards leaves much to be desired. It has been reported to me on a few occasions that while stark naked some boat owners, or occupants, defecate in the Bay while squatting on the deck with their posterior facing a nearby waterfront property owner. If that disgusting act was not bad enough, they choose to give the property owner the one-finger salute as if to say, "see what I just did and what I can do so what are you going to do about it"

Ask Joel Lepage if he's heard about any such behaviour by people living on boats in Mannion Bay.

"I haven't heard that specific story but, you know, there are always people around who need to work on their manners. What I wonder about that story," he adds, "is really, how good a view someone would've had from their window to someone out here on one of these boats. Me, I like being here because you're not in a fishbowl like you would be if you were in a marina. If someone wants to see you they've got to make the effort."

Lepage makes his home on the Zen State, one of 25 boats currently anchored in Mannion Bay.

Ten years ago, Lepage says he moved to the West Coast from the prairies. He said he couldn't stand the idea of living in the city, so he got a boat. The boat also allowed him to pursue carpentry work on different islands. Then, six years ago, he broke his back and had a major concussion.

"I used to be a work-a-holic," he says. "But sometimes you need something like that to happen to you to slow you down."

Now, living aboard the Xen State he does odd jobs. For example: now that Transport Canada has marked 49 mooring buoys in the Bay as requiring updates, Lepage is helping people make those updates, by painting people's buoys bright orange.

He's only been living on the Xen State for two years. Before that he lived on the Celeste, a smaller, wooden-hulled sail boat which he points to in the Bay, a hundred or so meters away.

"I want to sell it," he says, "Its a good boat I just haven't gotten around to advertising it."

Lepage found the Xen State beached on the shores of Mannion Bay and with the help of a friend, pumped the water out and patched the hole in the concrete hull.

"When you see a piece of garbage on the beach," he says, "you should pick it up. And a boat is just a big piece of garbage if its lying around on the beach."

The Xen State makes a cozy little home, with a wood-stove for cooking and a small propane fueled fireplace to keep him warm at night, but Lepage says he does not consider it his boat, which is why he doesn't want to register it.

"That's just not how I live," says Lepage. "The owner of this boat might come back some day and if he does, I'll give it back."

Lepage says he understands the problems caused by negligent boat owners in this Bay. He says over the year's he's salvaged 12 boats that have washed ashore, and this year, bought a boat called the Bella which had broken from its moorings four times.

"The owner sold it to me for what he'd bought it for a few months before, he would've just abandoned it if I hadn't bought it," says Lepage. "You've got to stay steady with maintenance of a boat. People give away junk boats, and the people who get them are super-excited about it, but they don't have the money to deal with them so the boats end up on the beach."

He is concerned though, about how far the clean-up will go.

"There aren't many safe anchorages left, they've all become marinas," says Lepage. "Not all of us can afford that."

Damien Bryan owns two mooring buoys in Mannion Bay, both of which he will be updating, at a cost of $800, to bring up to Transport Canada standards.

He uses the buoys to anchor his sail boat, the Sea Fiesta, in the Bay through the summer.

"I'm concerned this isn't a very good long-term solution," says Bryan. "And I'm also concerned that cleaning up this Bay means getting rid of boats that people think are unsightly, but that are perfectly sea-worthy. What one person regards as a piece of junk is another person's dream 40 years old and docked for the winter in the Union Steamship Marina.

"There are three guys living out in Mannion Bay right now, and I'm not sure you can blame them entirely for the water quality problems in Mannion Bay," says Bryan. "I think when we're looking at long-term solutions on this issue there are ways that these guys could actually be included in a positive way."

Bryan suggests that offering leases on moorage, as they do on Keats Island, could work, and that having someone who lives in the Bay actually manage those leases would give them a sense of ownership over the bay. Offering a mobile pump-out station to boaters in Mannion Bay might also make it easier for them to get rid of their waste, says Bryan.

Bowen's Senior Bylaw Officer, Bonny Brokenshire, says the next phase of the Mannion Bay clean-up will be more focused on tackling long-term issues and will likely go to public consultation.