Ella McKenzie is hard to miss. Even in a sea of peers, she stands out because of the way she looks.
Ella McKenzie is a tugboat, but diminishing her simply to that feels somehow like a disservice. She is more of a Vancouver legend, a local celebrity.
“It’s hilarious to drive around in Vancouver because she just turns heads; people are taking pictures constantly,” says Ella’s current owner Bourton Scott. “People are always coming up and saying, ‘Your boat is the coolest!’ or, ‘I worked on her when I was 17!’ There are all these people who come up to me all the time who have had some sort of connection to her, whether they love the way she looks, or have been following her for years, or wanted to buy her at one point. There’s something about this boat that everybody just loves. I get it.”
Indeed he does; Scott’s own infatuation with Ella, built at a now-defunct shipyard in North Vancouver, began years before he bought her. After seeing her docked at Granville Island one day, he fell in love, as many do. Shortly after, he saw that she was for sale on Craigslist. But the price wasn’t right. “It was way out of my price range, and for over two years I watched it until it dropped down to a reasonable amount, and then called the guy up and I had a boat,” Scott says, reclining in the captain’s seat and steering Ella through Howe Sound with his toe. “It was one of those surreal moments where it became reality all of a sudden. Before that, it was always just a far-off dream, and then overnight…” She was his. And he has big plans for her.
Scott, originally from Ontario, is a commercial diver by trade. He used to work for an engineering company, doing infrastructure inspection dives. But his true passion is ocean cleanup and conservation, and he has recently set out on his own to focus on that, with Ella by his side. He co-founded a not-for-profit organization called the Emerald Sea Protection Society with the focus of removing lost fishing equipment—nets and their kin—from the ocean.
“Hopefully what we learn here we can share with everybody around the world so that we can better deal with the issue,” Scott, who lives full-time on the cartoon-perfect tug, says. The main hurdle he faces is financing; it is expensive to go on these expeditions with a crew of even a few divers, so he wants to launch an eco-tourism business in which interested ocean-lovers could become part of the rescue missions. “It’s also an opportunity to have people on board—a captive audience to talk to about certain aspects of history in the area,” Scott continues. “So with the platform of this boat, we can kind of use it as a classroom.”
The tour side is still very much in the works, but in the meantime, Scott and his small team of divers will continue to search for and remove discarded fishing gear from along the coast. And Ella will continue to get them there.