The MV Machigonne has returned to Gibsons Harbour.
From 1948 until 1951, the Machigonne was a passenger-only ferry providing service between Gibsons and Horseshoe Bay before Black Ball Ferries took over. Now, a Gibsons resident is hoping to restore the vessel to her former glory.
Gibsons Harbour manager Chris Lougheed told Coast Reporter he has been asked about the vessel every day since it arrived in the harbour last October. He’s not sure of the vessel’s future, but he does know of its past. He’s also “not fond” of the Machigonne’s current location, which is outside of Gibsons’s recreational waterline, given the conditions this time of year. Winters in Gibsons usually see between five and 10 vessels break loose in anchorage and then “come like missiles at my facility,” Lougheed said.
Tom Stenner, the current owner, wants to assure people with concerns that the boat is being cleaned up and is well anchored. Stenner himself is the owner of Active Marine Towing, based in Gibsons, and has been on the water since he was 15 years old.
Stenner purchased the former ferry in June last year because of its history. Although Stenner was born three years after the Machigonne retired from ferry service, his parents would have travelled aboard her after they moved to the Sunshine Coast in 1947. His father, Fred Stenner, was the manager of the liquor store that would eventually become Molly’s Reach.
When a friend came across the vessel for sale in Campbell River in 2022, Stenner’s interest was piqued.
A storied past
The Machigonne has been renamed several times, from the Gulf Trader to Coast Ranger and Saracen III, then Lahaina Lady — the name currently painted on a life ring seen onboard — and the Noble Lady. Nonetheless, the vessel is registered with Transport Canada as the Machigonne but insured as the Noble Lady. Stenner said he calls her the Noble Lady.
The Fairmile vessel was built on the West Coast for the Royal Canadian Navy in 1941 to serve in the Second World War, according to Nauticapedia. After the build was completed by Star Shipyard (Mercer’s) Ltd. in New Westminster, she was launched on Sept. 17, 1941.
From 1942 through the war years, she patrolled out of Esquimalt through the Juan de Fuca Strait and was then known as HMC ML Q-070. Stenner said it was assigned during the war as an escort boat to the U.S. Navy. After 1945, she was sold and renamed the MV Machigonne.
Before BC Ferries and even before Black Ball Ferries, Sea Bus Lines transported walk-on passengers to and from the Coast. The MV Machigonne was part of that fleet, and carried up to 140 passengers between Gibsons and Horseshoe Bay until 1951, when it was acquired and replaced by Black Ball’s first vehicle-loading ferry. (Lougheed adds that the maximum capacity would have been during Transport Canada’s more relaxed regulations.)
By 1993, the Noble Lady had not moved under her own power for 21 years, when owners Jim and Betty Lou Hunt fixed her up. Then in the early 2000s, the Noble Lady was purchased in Prince Rupert and became home to John and Karen Boyd in Campbell River for nearly two decades. In their hands, the vessel became a liveaboard and underwent extensive interior upgrades, Harbour manager Lougheed said.
From a tour he was given on the boat, Lougheed estimates the master cabin and crew cabin could sleep eight people. The vessel is 112 feet, but does not feel as big aboard, Lougheed added, “but if you’re inside that superstructure, it kind of just feels like a condo.”
For some, seeing the Machigonne in local waters again brings back memories. In 1926, the Smith family bought George Gibson’s original property, which today includes Molly’s Reach and Smitty’s Oyster House. John Smith, who still owns that land and has a connection to another historical boat, the Beachcombers’s Persephone, remembers travelling back and forth on the Machigonne ferry about once a month when he was five years old.
Smith recalls the ride as being a four-hour trip. The vessel’s top speed is listed as 10 knots.
“I was surprised when I was told that the boat in the bay was the Machigonne. I always thought the Machigonne was bigger than that,” Smith told Coast Reporter. “As kids, sometimes you think things are bigger or smaller than they actually were.”
Now the vessel is in need of repair. The Boyds, Stenner said, did a lot of work up top, but not much below the waterline on the wooden boat. While the mahogany hull does not have any leaks, the keel has some damage that may cost too much to repair.
“That’s still up in the air at the moment,” Stenner said. Still, he hopes to be able to restore the boat to “look nice and pretty, even if we just use it for ourselves.” He’s also considered offering tours on the Machigonne as it sails its former route.
Bringing the Machigonne back to Gibsons Harbour was “fun,” Stenner said. “I like history, and she was kind of coming home.”