The MV Blue Fjord was launched in Victoria at Armstrong Brothers Shipyard in July, 1939 as the MV Milwin. The 60 foot vessel, built of red cedar planks on an oak frame, had been commissioned by the BC Department of Public Works, but after a year was taken over by the BC Provincial Police to serve as a floating courthouse traveling between Victoria and Prince Rupert. Originally designated as Police Motor Launch 15, it was changed to MP 15 in August of 1950 when the R.C.M.P. took over police duties for the Northwest Coast.
The aft cabin was used as a courtroom for wilderness criminal trials in the 1940’s. If the accused was found guilty, he was thrown in the brig, (the fo’c’sle or forward cabin) until the vessel arrived at a port with a real prison.
In 1954, MP 15 was purchased out of Crown assets by Kaar Norgaard of Deep Cove. Norgaard converted the police boat into a pleasure cruiser suitable for West Coast sailing and renamed it the Blue Fjord. The renovated craft could now accommodate ten passengers plus crew and had three cabins for sleeping, each equipped with its own shower and head. In addition, there was a full galley and a salon that could seat ten persons at two tables. The comfortable boat was frequently chartered for trips in the Canadian and American Gulf Islands sailing between Vancouver Island, the BC mainland and Washington State.
In 1963, Captain Norgaard, in cooperation with the Victoria Junior Chamber of Commerce, agreed to the use of the Blue Fjord as a substitute for Santa’s sleigh to deliver Christmas presents to the children living in the small communities of the Gulf Islands. You can imagine the excitement as the “Santa Claus Ship” sailed into view with a decorated Christmas tree on the afterdeck, Christmas lights on the mast and Santa waving from the bow. Each year, more than 800 youngsters in the many small communities along the coast received toys, clothing and candy. For these children, a Santa that arrived by boat rather than sleigh seemed only natural.
Ladysmith’s connection to the Blue Fjord began with its purchase by local residents Michael and Judy Durban in 1987. The Durbans operated a charter business out of Ladysmith Harbour, with cruises on the Blue Fjord lasting from one to fourteen days and travelling from the San Juan Islands in the south to Glacier Bay, Alaska. Michael was a certified skipper and naturalist guide with more than twenty years experience. Judy, a school teacher, served as deckhand, entertainer and chef. According to one local resident, “The gourmet meals served on the Blue Fjord were the main reason we kept coming back for another cruise.”
The Blue Fjord was a ship for all seasons with a flexible schedule and itinerary. From wildlife photography and whale watching to scuba diving and kayaking, the busy vessel plied the waters of the West Coast with passengers ranging from research scientists to honeymooning couples. In 1996, Captain Mike made headlines by jumping into the water with a humpback whale and cutting a rope tangled around the whale’s dorsal fin to set it free, much to the amazement of the passengers. For Mike, Judy and their dog, Shadow, life aboard the Blue Fjord was both exciting and fulfilling.
Despite their busy cruise schedule, the Durbans also took part in many of the local festivities in Ladysmith Harbour. For years, the Blue Fjord participated in the Christmas sail-past and was frequently chartered for New Year’s parties and a close up view of the annual Polar Bear Swim.
Sadly, all this came to an end on December 3, 2006 when the Blue Fjord struck a partially submerged log while making her way up Toba Inlet, north of Powell River in the Salish Sea. Mike worked frantically for 20 minutes to try and save the vessel, but the Blue Fjord’s pumps could not keep pace with the incoming water. Carrying Shadow under one arm and the boat’s generator under the other, Mike boarded their 18 foot skiff and floated down the inlet through the snowy night until he was spotted by Search and Rescue. In a float plane, Judy welcomed both Mike and Shadow, and took them to Campbell River Hospital for warming up.
“It was a great life for almost 20 years,” Mike told me during our interview, “but there will never be another ship like the Blue Fjord.”
By Ed Nicholson.