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Boaters frustrated by lack of gas dock in Ladysmith

Some 800 - 1,000 boats at anchor have no place to fuel up in Ladysmith
There are some 800 to 1,000 boats at anchor in Ladysmith at any given time. (Cole Schisler photo)

Correction notice: This article incorrectly stated that there are no plans for a gas dock or marine services in the Waterfront Area Plan. The Waterfront Area Plan does contain plans for a marine services centre located near Fisherman’s Wharf.

At any given time, there are approximately 800 to 1,000 boats at anchor in Ladysmith’s harbour. Local marinas are often booked solid with moorages, especially during the summer. It’s hard to imagine Ladysmith without the busy marine activity.

There’s just one small catch — none of those boats can fuel up in Ladysmith.

The nearest gas docks are at Thetis Island and Nanaimo. Ladysmith’s harbour has not had a gas dock since the dock operated at Page Point (now Raven Point) closed a number of years ago. That leaves hundreds of boaters with little choice but to travel to either Thetis, Nanaimo, or carry jerry cans back and forth from a local gas station down to their boats.

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David Grimstead, Commodore of the Ladysmith Yacht Club, says that when he does fuel up in Ladysmith, he has to fill up jerry cans at the Co-Op card lock on Ludlow Road and transport them down to his boat.

“I have the pleasure of carrying 40 litres at a time down to the boat in jerry cans and transferring the fuel,” he said. “I have to take approximately 320 litres. It takes me six trips over a week. I can’t do it all at once.”

Fuelling up outside of Ladysmith isn’t always convenient either. Grimstead said he’s made the trip to get gas at Thetis Island multiple times, only to be turned away because of a broken fuel pump or lack of fuel supply.

Commercial fishermen who work out of Fisherman’s Wharf also struggle to find fuel. Jesse Thompson keeps five boats in Ladysmith and goes to fuel up in either Nanaimo or Vancouver.

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“One of my boats is a 60-foot boat, that’d be a lot of jerry cans,” he said. “On average it costs about four to five thousand dollars [to fuel up].”

Thompson says getting fuel is one of his biggest challenges. He hopes that a fuel dock can be placed at Fisherman’s Wharf where fuelling up would likely be cheaper than Vancouver.

Ladysmith Maritime Society Executive Director, Richard Wiefelspuett says LMS is supportive of a local fuel dock. LMS conducted a boating visitor survey and found one of the most popular pieces of feedback was the desire for a fuel dock.

“It would be a boon for the local boaters and an element that would create yet another reason to come to Ladysmith for the boating community,” he said. “Fuel supply is on boaters minds for sure.”

One of those boaters is Richard Kinar. Kinar is a member of the Ladysmith Yacht Club and he’s fed up with the lack of amenities for boaters in Ladysmith. Kinar is working to form a coalition of boaters to advocate for increased marine amenities and services in Ladysmith.

“Ladysmith is one of the best seaside communities in Canada and we can’t even get fuel. Boats are bypassing Ladysmith and going elsewhere because of a lack of facilities and amenities,” he said.

Boating is big business in B.C., generating billions of dollars in economic activity for the province. The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to a surge in boat buying activity with more people wanting to get outdoors. On top of that, there are some 17,000 people employed in small craft and pleasure boating across the province.

That business activity comes with spin-off economic benefits for municipalities that cater to boaters. If visiting boaters can fuel up in Ladysmith and get access to other marine services, they may also head up the hill to fill up with groceries and other supplies.

Ladysmith is well-positioned to take advantage of the world-class sailing that can be found along Vancouver Island’s east coast. And given the amount of marine activity in Ladysmith, it could support a vibrant marine industry.

But Kinar says he’s hard-pressed to get any work done on his boat locally.

“You could be waiting over a year to get canvasses done. It’s such a shame that our kids are missing out on employment opportunities. Ladysmith is missing out on a big piece of the economic pie,” he said. “I have to bring a mechanic either from Victoria or Nanaimo —mobile mechanics are charging out at about $130 an hour.”

Ladysmith does have some local marine services businesses, primarily Saltair Marine and Ladysmith Marine Services which are located at Fisherman’s Wharf. However, many Ladysmith boaters take their boats to other communities for “haul-out” services because of the limited space at yards in Ladysmith. Haul-outs are done annually and much of the maintenance work done on boats requires a haul-out.

The increased demand for marine services in Ladysmith comes at a time of unprecedented growth in the municipality. The Town’s Waterfront Area Plan is starting to take shape. That plan contains provisions for a marine service centre located by Fisherman’s Wharf taht would include an improved marine vessel repair yard, additional boat lift equipment, amenity buildings, increased site parking and marine fuel services.

In a statement, the Town said they are “currently investigating the various commercial uses occurring at the Ladysmith Public Boat Launch.”

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The Coast Salish Group — the economic development arm of Stz’uminus First Nation — declined to comment on this story, citing ongoing discussions about developments in the harbour.

In the meantime, boaters like Kinar are left to find amenities outside of Ladysmith.

“Fuel is absolutely central. I don’t want to wait a year to get canvas work done on my boat. I don’t want to bring in a mechanic from Nanaimo when it should be somebody raising a family in Ladysmith.”

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