BC Ferries has confirmed the Northern Sea Wolf will set sail its first in-service route from Port Hardy to Bella Coola this summer.
“The Northern Sea Wolf’s first day in service will be on the winter Route 28S – the Mid-Coast connector,” said Darin Guenette, BC Ferries Manager of Public Affairs. “The vessel will be brought into relieve the Nimpkish on this route.”
The new vessel will run along that route starting May 18. Then, starting June 3, it will begin its regular service on a new route between Port Hardy and Bella Coola.
As predicted, the new vessel will hold approximately 35 vehicles and 150 passengers and crew.
The service was intended to begin last summer but kept getting pushed further and further into the season. BC Ferries finally admitted in early July that the vessel was facing major delays and would not be ready in time.
As a consolation they ran a larger vessel, the Northern Adventure, well into October of last year. Discounted sailings were offered and the route enjoyed success with some earlier sailings booked over the capacity of the Northern Sea Wolf, although bookings did tend to drop later into the fall months.
One of the most exciting facets of seeing the new ship will be to admire the artwork. BC Ferries and the First Peoples Cultural Council issued a call for artists in December 2017 for submissions to adorn both the interior and exterior of the vessel; the Nuxalk Nation’s very own Danica Naccarella was one of the successful applicants along with Kwakiutl artist Richard Hunt.
The two were honoured at an official unveiling of the artwork last November.
“We at BCVT are relieved and delighted that the upgrades to Northern Sea Wolf are going well and the summer service has been confirmed to start on June 43rd, “said Tom Hermance, President of Bella Coola Valley Tourism. “We are extremely proud of Nuxalk artist, Danika Naccarella for creating such beautiful designs to be displayed on the vessel.”
The new vessel has also required upgrades at several docks in the region. This past spring, BC Ferries completed approximately $10 million of upgrades to the berths at Ocean Falls, Bella Coola, Shearwater and Bella Bella in order to accommodate the Northern Sea Wolf.
Guenette said that the ship is now entering its final stages of completion, and that it’s a “vast improvement over the Nimpkish for both its customers and crew.”
The vessel is now completely modernized with a brand new galley, bridge, electrical generators, emergency generator, HVAC system, washrooms, elevator, chair lifts, cafeteria and passenger accommodation area. Guenette said that “it will be a worthy addition to the Northern fleet for at least another 20 years.”
“We are absolutely confident in completing all work and getting this vessel into service as scheduled,” said Guenette. “We have had our challenges on this project but we believe we have turned the page and are on the successful path to complete this project.”
The work is scheduled to be completed by March 31, 2019. The vessel will then undertake sea trials and crew training, and it’s planned to make its appearance in Bella Coola for dock fit trials during the first two weeks of May. Community visits and Open Houses are also planned in all the central coast communities during this time.
“We are working with the team that is coordinating the dock trials in order to plan the scope and format of the community open houses/visits. However, we don’t yet have detailed plans for these events,” said Guenette. “As soon as we are able to start planning for specific dates in each community, we will share this plan publicly.”
As promised, the corporation has extended the sailing season of the route by two weeks on either side. The first sailing will be June 3 and the last is slated for October 10. The arrival and departure times have also changed: daylight hours only, a huge improvement for both guests and tourism operators.
“Any business owners who met their guests at midnight will appreciate the new arrival time of 7:30pm,” said Hermance. “The level of comfort and amenities of the Northern Sea Wolf compared to the Nimpkish will make promoting Route 28 much easier.”