B.C. Ferries Coastal Inspiration captain Behzad Safarizal, left, talks to Steve Hrabove, third officer while heading out of Duke Point terminal. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

Behind the wheel of a B.C. Ferries ferry

Big Read: Black Press gets a rare look behind the scenes of a Coastal Inspiration sailing

On a warm, clear Friday morning, B.C. Ferries Coastal Inspiration captain Behzad Safarizal looks out at the busy waters ahead of the Duke Point ferry terminal.

Boats of all shapes and sizes criss-cross the pathway of the 160-metre German-made vessel, which has just begun a more-than-two-hour journey to Tsawwassen.

“What’s this guy doing? He’s all over the place,” Safarizal suddenly says to a member of his crew as a recreational boat crosses the path of his ship.

With Seaspan, three cargo-ship terminals and a cruise ship terminal nearby, the waters around Duke Point, Gabriola Island and Protection Island are some of the busiest to navigate, according to Safarizal, who has been a captain with B.C. Ferries for five years.

“This is a busy strait of water … but all of our crew are trained to deal with it and we have a plan and we follow our plan,” he said.

Dealing with recreational boats is just one of the many activities that goes on behind the scenes every single sailing.

Late last month, the Nanaimo News Bulletin and Black Press Media was given exclusive access onboard the Coastal Inspiration. B.C. Ferries employees showed reporter Nicholas Pescod and videographer Arnold Lim what goes on behind the scenes during a typical sailing.

The Coastal Inspiration is part of the ‘Coastal class’ of ships operated by B.C. Ferries, delivered a few years before the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“I love showing off this ship, it is a big part of my life,” said Cpt. Robert Nelson, senior master of fleet operations for the Coastal Inspiration.

Anyone who has ever taken the Coastal Inspiration may have noticed that desite having seven decks, there is no deck three button on the ship’s elevators. That’s because, as Nelson explains, deck three doesn’t exist. At least not yet.

“Deck three was going to be a platform deck. It was an option when we were going to design the ship that we would be able to take cars on the main deck on two levels,” Nelson said, adding that they designed the Coastal Inspiration in a way where deck three could be installed and used as a car deck in the future.

The summer season is far and away the busiest time of the year B.C. Ferries, which means a lot more mouths to feed for Catherine Schmidt. Head chef with B.C. Ferries, Schmidt said the last sailing in the morning and the first two sailings in the afternoon are usually the busiest.

“We are definitely busy at this time of the year,” she said.

When it comes to food, the staff on board the Coastal Inspiration serves up a lot of it. B.C. Ferries, which offers White Spot meals during afternoon sailings, estimates that it serves mor than 500 customers per day on the Duke Point route alone.

Schmidt couldn’t say exactly how many pounds of food kitchen staff go through in a day. But she did say it includes about 10 boxes of hash browns and and anywhere from 15 to 20 boxes of fries.

“We get about eight to 12 pallets of food per day,” she said.

The hardest item on the menu to cook can vary according to Schmidt.

“You’ve got to watch salmon that you don’t overcook it,” she said. “But you don’t want to undercook it, so that is one of the ones you’ve got to watch right down to the seconds.”

What makes B.C. Ferries’ onboard restaurant unique from a typical White Spot is that B.C. Ferries staff are not only trained in food preparation, but are also required to have their seafarer’s medical certificates and are trained to deal with a variety of emergency situations.

“It’s not like working in a regular kitchen where it is just food, we are also here for safety and sometime safety issues arise so we get called to do that,” Schmidt said.

The Coastal Inspiration has a maximum capacity of 1,600 people and is equipped with four medium-speed diesel 5,361-horsepower engines. Each engine is coupled to a 4,800-kilo-volt-ampere synchronous alternator at 6,600 volts. The ship also has two 11,000-kilowatt electric drive motors and can burn anywhere from 3,300 to 4,000 litres of fuel in a single trip.

Down in the engine room a team of five B.C. Ferries engineers are responsible for ensuring the Coastal Inspiration sails smoothly each day.

Robert Malinowski, chief engineer with B.C. Ferries, said the biggest challenge is working on the ship without impacting customers, which is not an easy task as the Coastal Inspiration is in service for more than 20 hours a day.

“You sort of have to sort of juggle the schedule for maintenance with the schedule for sailings. We have five engineers on board and they are busy all the time,” he said. “It’s a big boat for five engineers to maintain.”

Greg Jackson, first engineer with B.C. Ferries, oversees a crew of three individuals. He said although the Coastal Inspiration is 10 years old, it is still considered modern as it has far more electronics than older vessels.

“There are a lot of electronic and electrics that you have to investigate and study,” he said.

Jackson, who grew up in Nanaimo and previously worked as an engineer aboard cruise ships, said the Coastal Inspiration isn’t a whole lot different from the much larger cruise ships he’s worked on.

“Technically it is the same thing just in smaller size, same equipment. Not all cruise ships are running diesel electric … but a lot of cruise ships run propulsion motors just like we have.”

When it comes to fire safety, the Coastal Inspiration is outfitted with a sophisticated fire suppression system known as Hi-Fog.

“The average sprinkler system has one drop full of water,” Jackson said. “This Hi-Fog [system] is a water mist. For every one drop is about 5,000 droplets of mist. It is like a fog. It actually takes out two sides of the fire triangle, it removes the heat and smothers the oxygen, so it is very efficient.”

Passengers interested in seeing the engine room can request a tour by visiting the chief steward’s office. Mostafa Nateghi, senior chief engineer for Costal Inspiration, said staff are always happy to take people down to the engine room, provided they’re not busy.

“It’s very possible but depending on what we are doing in the engine room. We could be having an emergency, we could be working on the main engine, we could be on standby, in these … times we prefer not to have any visitors,” he said. “But all throughout the year if we are doing just general sailing and nothing important is going by all means we welcome people to come and have a look around.”

Nateghi said people may not truly appreciate how much maintenance work is required for the Coastal Inspiration, explaining that engineers are working on the ship even when it’s docked. He said the Coastal Inspiration and its sister ships are extremely complicated to operate and occasionally issues do happen.

“Normally the ships are very very reliable, but at times we have challenges and we have to deal with it,” he said.

BC Ferries Coastal Inspiration

Since its founding in 1960, B.C. Ferries has grown to become the third-largest ferry service in the world. The company employs more than 4,800 people on approximately 470 sailings every day and estimates that than an average of 21 million passengers and 8.7 million vehicles travelled with them each year on roughly 174,000 sailings.

Over the course of the B.C. Ferries’ 58-year history, 58 babies have been born onboard a vessel according to Deborah Marshall, B.C. Ferries executive director of public affairs, who said when that happens the child automatically receives free ferry rides for life. The most common route for births is Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.

“We’ve even had one baby born on the Gabriola run,” Marshall said, adding that the child was named Quinsam, in honour of the ship it was born on.

Of course, there has been no shortage of items from clothes to retainers to wallets to cellphones that have been accidentally left onboard by passengers over the years. Dimond, senior chief steward with B.C. Ferries, said passengers and crew often find items.

“We get a lot of passengers and crew that turn in wallets, which is great. We had a wallet that had been lost for a couple days. It managed to get stuck way down in the seats on deck five and a passenger brought it up and it still had everything inside,” she said.

Meanwhile, Marshall said one of the strangest items she can recall being left behind was a box with an unexpected destination.

“A lost and found item came off the ship and it was a plastic bag with a box inside … and the sticker on the outside of the box said Vancouver crematorium,” Marshall recalled.

One thing B.C. Ferries staff have witnessed over the years is that occasionally individuals will spread the ashes of their loved ones at sea, but don’t factor in which way the wind is blowing.

“We’ve had that happen where people have not notified anybody and gone to the outside deck and the wind, of course, as you can imagine, it blows the ashes all over car windows,” said Dimond.

Surprisingly, the No. 1 complaint received by B.C. Ferries is not the fare prices, but the poor onboard WiFi service.

“Its definitely been a challenge for us and it is something we know we need to satisfy to our customers,” Marshall said. “We are working on it but unfortunately we don’t have a solution yet.”

However, B.C. Ferries is planning to roll out a new redesigned and mobile-friendly website very soon, according to Marshall, who said the corporation is looking forward to the update.

And for those wondering whether former MLAs still get to ride on B.C. Ferries for free, Marshall said that isn’t the case.

“Any MLA or government personnel would just pay for their fare,” she said.

RELATED: B.C. Ferries CEO says new reservation system will improve efficiency

RELATED: B.C. Ferries aims to improve passenger perceptions and onboard experience

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article contained incorrect information. The Spirit class vessels are B.C. Ferries’ largest.


nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook or follow Nicholas Pescod on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Campbell River Remembrance Day Ceremony 2019. Campbell River Mirror file photo
Campbell River Remembrance Day Ceremony to go ahead in reduced form

Public asked not to attend; event will be streamed on social media, Shaw TV

Father Charles Brandt, a hermit priest. File Photo
Black Creek environmentalist and Catholic priest-hermit Father Charles Brandt passes away

He devoted his life to protecting and preserving natural habitats

Two suspects seen outside of Gord Knight Auto on Oct. 27 at around 4:15 a.m. Campbell River RCMP are looking for information on these suspects’ identities. Photo supplied by RCMP
RCMP look for suspects in break-in cases

Two suspects caught on surveilance video

Campbell River RCMP. RCMP photo
Police investigation results in multiple property crime charges

A Campbell River RCMP investigation has lead to multiple property crime charges… Continue reading

Michele Babchuk sat on the SRD board, a position that will need to be filled after she heads to the legislature. Photo contributed
Good timing for Babchuk’s seat replacement at SRD table

SRD Board scheduled to hold chair election next week

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cowichan Search and Rescue set up near the Silver Bridge in Duncan on Wednesday morning, Oct. 28, 2020 to rescue a dog from the Cowichan River. (Citizen file)
Cowichan Search and Rescue save dog from icy Cowichan River

Search and Rescue’s swiftwater team was called in

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

The Calgary Zoo is aiding in recovery efforts for the Vancouver Island marmot, an endangered species. Pictured here, a marmot at Mount Washington. (Black Press file)
Despite challenges, 2020 good year for Vancouver Island marmot population

In 2019, the foundation counted 60 pups; this year, it reached 46

Items seized over four days of targeted vehicle checks Nanaimo and Victoria by members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. (CFSEU-BC photo)
Gang enforcement team seizes drugs and weapons in Nanaimo and Victoria

Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. checked 33 vehicles over four days

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read