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‘This is my home’: Hope sinks for Greater Victoria derelict boat owner

Coast Guard ramping up fines to address derelicts, as owner says ‘liveaboards’ being targeted

The Canadian Coast Guard is cracking down on derelict boats, with dozens of watercraft owners now in the crosshairs.

Today (Feb. 29), the Coast Guard announced it has handed out a ticket under the 2019 Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act. A $12,000 fine was issued to a boat owner at the Village of Masset on Haida Gwaii whose vessel, the Dorothy Gale, sunk and damaged a public dock.

It was only the second fine ever issued under the act, but a Coast Guard spokesperson says more enforcement action is on the way.

For some, this is a small step in trying to fix the long-standing problem of rotting boats that are polluting waterways, especially in B.C.

But for those who call their boats home like Mark Crocker, it seems to be part of a concerted effort against “liveaboards” like him.

Crocker, 64, has spent 35 years living on various boats in the Greater Victoria area.

His home of the past seven years — a big, blue metal sailboat named Illusie — is stuck on a breakwater in North Saanich.

Crocker is in Ontario, unable to do anything about it after having left in September to take care of his ailing mother. Now he is making funeral arrangements.

He says the Coast Guard has cut the locks and is threatening to fine him $15,000 and seize the boat.

“This my home,” Crocker said. “Everything I own is on board, and as far as I know, it’s been looted and vandalized.”

The Coast Guard was unable to comment on the Illusie and it’s unclear what timeline Crocker has been given to remove the vessel.

Coast Guard spokesperson Paul Barrett said boat owners are given plenty of opportunity — and coaching — to help solve the problems with their boats before it gets to the point of a financial penalty.

“It’s only in cases where that didn’t work, then the next step is to issue them a notice of assessment to say, ‘Hey, you’re responsible for this’,” Barrett said.

If owners don’t act at that point, they are fined.

The first ticket issued under the 2019 law was a $15,000 penalty assessed this past summer after a boat washed ashore in Cadboro Bay.

Since Jan. 1 of this year, 38 new cases have been opened and notices have been handed out to 25 boat owners to deal with their problem vessels, or be fined.

The seemingly intractable problem of abandoned and derelict boats has long plagued B.C. waters. Reliable tracking of the problem is inconsistent and funding for removal is hard to obtain.

Meanwhile, Transport Canada maintains a database of abandoned vessels and out of 1,491 entries Canada-wide, 1,048 are in B.C.

Removal is prioritized based on the danger to navigation or environmental risk such as a petrochemical leak.

John Roe of the Dead Boat Disposal Society has spent years trying to drum up money for these removals. He said there is an added environmental cost beyond leaking fluid as these old boats leach heavy metals and other chemicals into surrounding waters, endangering marine life and wrecking ecosystems.

“We’re trying to get our shellfish industry back in B.C.,” he said. “Once a boat is kind of deteriorated on the shoreline, you’re gonna (sic) lose that area harvest pretty well forever.”

The voyage of Illusie

Navigating out through the myriad channels of Van Isle Marina, luxury weekender watercraft give way to masses of smaller sailboats moored throughout Tsehum Harbour.

A sunken sailboat mast sticks out next to one mooring buoy, while an old motorboat with a floating trailer languishes halfway submerged next to another.

Van Isle is the largest private, full-service facility for docking boats in the province. It owns the breakwater, though management wouldn’t comment on the boat stuck there. They did provide a lift out to take a look, however.

Illusie is sitting up on its keel, with water lapping onto the deck.

It’s a sad state for a boat that its owner says once circumnavigated the globe.

Problems began for Crocker during the pandemic, when he said he was booted out of one marina after another.

He searched for a dock or a mooring buoy everywhere from Victoria to Comox but quickly ran out of options.

“There was just nothing on the radar,” he said. “I couldn’t get in anywhere.”

When he got to the area near the marina in North Saanich, he wanted to anchor inside the breakwater, but because of all the other boats moored in the harbour, he feared his anchor would get tangled.

“There’s so many it’s like a latticework of mooring balls,” Crocker said.

So he set up outside, in a place he knew was a bit exposed.

Then his mother fell ill. He tried and tried to get the boat out of the water, but he said owners of places that he contacted that would have been able to take out a boat his size were too afraid he’d abandon it on their property.

So he packed a bag and headed for Ontario, leaving his “pride and joy,” and everything he owns inside, tethered to an anchor. When he got a call his boat had drifted into the rocks, and he tried to get someone to help. Being in Ontario, it was too tough to mount a rescue.

When the Coast Guard showed up, they knocked off the locks to make sure there was no health-related emergency or gas spill inside.

Since then, he said he has been told to get the boat out of the water or be fined. Now that the boat has sat for so long, the prospects of saving it are getting grim. And, so Crocker has no home.

“I’m really in trouble,” he said.

About 20 metres away from Illusie are some waterfront condos, whose owners would certainly like to see the boat gone and have been vocal about it. Others have some sympathy, saying it didn’t seem like intentional abandonment.

“What if somebody said to you, ‘We don’t like the look of your house and we’re just going to tear it down,’” condo owner Brian Genge said. “I mean, you’d be devastated.”

READ MORE: ‘There are boats everywhere’: Denman Island derelict vessel burns after washing ashore

About the Author: Mark Page

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