March 28, 2023

BC Ferries is looking to carry more on a new vessel with weight issues

Businesses on Pender Island say they are frustrated because they can’t rely on the ferry to service their needs. The Salish Heron is heavier than its older sister rafts.

After vehicles bound for Pender Island were stranded in Swartz Bay last week Thursday afternoon because the Salish Heron had reached its weight limit, BC Ferries has announced it will apply for permission to carry an additional 150 tonnes on the ferry, its newest vessel. .

The request to Lloyd’s Register would allow the ferry to carry additional weight in sheltered waters, such as the ship’s new route between Swartz Bay and the islands of the southern Persian Gulf. Lloyd’s classifies and certifies ships and can accept special requirements for ships.

The request is expected to take a few weeks to process, BC Ferries spokeswoman Astrid Chang said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, BC Ferries is considering replacing the Salish Heron with another vessel better able to carry heavier commercial traffic loads, he said, as he works to control the weight coming onto the ferry.

An update on a possible exchange may come within a week.

Passengers in private vehicles were shocked when the Salish Heron sailed open-deck on Thursday, forcing them to wait more than four hours for the next sailing.

According to Chang, there were more commercial vehicles in traffic than usual, which meant that the ship reached its weight limit before the deck space was full.

Commercial trucks do not have priority, but they usually arrive at the terminal extra early to ensure they can board.

Salish Heron has been in use on the route for less than a month, since October 11th. It was brought in to replace Mayne Queen, who will retire on November 20.

The Salish Heron weighs 48 tons more than the three older Salish-class ferries because of lifeboat upgrades and differences in the weight of the steel and other materials used to build the Heron, Chang said.

BC Ferries will meet with the Southern Gulf Islands Ferry Board Advisory Committee to answer questions about the ferry, he said.

Meanwhile, some Pender Island businesses say they’re frustrated they can’t count on the ferry to handle commercial and personal traffic demands on a regular basis.

“They bought the wrong boat for the job,” said Geoff Martin, owner of Pender Courier.

The Swartz Bay-Southern Gulf Islands route is known to be busy, and residents were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new ferry. “[But] they can’t take a full vehicle load,” Martin said.

Martin said his drivers often have to get to Swartz Bay around 1 p.m. to secure a spot on the 2:20 p.m. sailing, which takes up time that could be used to fill customer orders. “We need to be there just to be sure [of boarding].”

The ship is loaded on a first-come, first-served basis, based on ticket timestamp and available space on board, Chang said. “When the vehicles arrive at the terminal, the crew prepares a loading plan based on the size and type of vehicles in the lineup and the ship is loaded accordingly.”

On Friday afternoon, BC Ferries crew members were in a small boat checking draft lines on the ferry’s hull to compare them with electronic draft gauges that determine how deep a vessel can be safely submerged.

That sailing had three twin units of utility vehicles hauling gravel or other road material, Chang said. Vehicles are not weighed before loading.

Salish Heron has a restaurant that doesn’t need a 40-minute drive, Martin said. “We need space for vehicles.”

Martin sends three 25-foot trucks to Swartz Bay three times a week and a van on the fourth day to pick up a variety of items.

This includes medical supplies for clinics, supplies for hardware stores, carpets, furniture, medical supplies including time-sensitive prescriptions, pet food and veterinary supplies, and construction supplies.

Mike Gray, co-owner of Pender Island’s Tru Value Foods supermarket, hopes the Heron will be replaced by a lighter Salish-class vessel.

Another Salish-class vessel filled up on the route a few years ago, and there were no problems leaving vehicles, Gray said.

Gray questioned how the system would cope with the busier summer season, when the islands’ population grows and visitors flood in.

He proposes guaranteed loading at Swartz Bay for commercial vehicles, which now have to arrive at the terminal early to secure a spot on board.

He praised BC Ferries for its safety measures — such as inspecting draft lines — but said “we have to have a ferry system that works for everyone.”

Braedon Bigham, owner of Braedon’s Big Digem Excavating and Trucking, said the weight issues with the new rig have “just been a complete disaster” in addition to the late departures. “It’s very frustrating trying to run a business and make a plan when you don’t know what to expect.”

The company brings aggregate to Pender daily and takes one to four trucks by ferry, he said.

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