John Harding

John Harding

Ferry ready to hit the water as launch day nears

New Galena Bay to Shelter Bay ferry will begin on-water tests in the coming weeks as it prepares for maiden voyage on May 16.

At some point this month, there will be a new site on the Arrow Lakes. No, I’m not talking about boats being launched from the Nakusp boat ramp. I’m talking about the new Galena-Shelter Bay ferry, which is scheduled to go for its first test drive at some point in the coming weeks.

It was amazing to think that was the case when I took a tour of the ferry last Sunday, Feb 23. The deck was crowded with storage bins, which hold loads of piping waiting to be laid. The bathrooms still needed to be installed and there were no walls in the staff areas.

At the control deck, the windows still needed to be cut out of the metal framing and the glass installed. The control panels weren’t in place either, nor was the ship’s mast, which sat freshly painted in a large building on site.

Down below the deck, big 700-metre spools of wire were stacked together waiting to be installed — adding to the countless of kilometres that had already been laid. Sparks flew as welders worked away. The watertight doors that prevent flooding from one room to the next still needed to be installed. Everything still needed to be painted white.

A pirate flag stood aloft where the mast will be — waiting to be replaced by the B.C. flag when it goes in service.

From my untrained eyes, it looked like there was still lots left to do, but for John Harding, the owner of WaterBridge Steel, the company contracted to build the new ship, these are all details and it will all come together pretty quickly now.

Quick enough that pretty soon the 80-vehicle ferry will be plying the waters around Nakusp on a regular basis as they get everything ready for its maiden voyage on Friday, May 16 — just in time for the first long weekend of summer.

Work on the ferry has been proceeding seven days a week since the summer, except for a 10-day break for Christmas.

I visited the ferry on a Sunday afternoon, when only about 25 employees were on site; on a busy weekday there are 50 workers — a mix of electricians, mechanics, welders, pipe fitters and more. They work 10 days straight, enjoy four days off, and then get back to it. Unless you’re John Harding, in which case days off are a luxury — as is time to go see your family in Prince George.

The ferry has come a long way since July, when the hull was launched. Since then the superstructure has been built on top of the vessel’s deck and almost all the mechanical and electrical work has been done. The two giant engines that operate the propellor units that drive the ship have been installed; one at each end of the ferry. They’re both functional, Harding told me.

The tour started in the old mill building that was transformed into a giant shop space. Four massive steel wedges lay on sliding platforms, awaiting transportation to the Shelter Bay and Galena Bay landings, where they will replace the existing ramps. Four more smaller ones still need to be constructed.

On the ferry, the deck has been turned into a makeshift storage space, dominated by a crane that sits in the middle. Harding showed me the various rooms that will turn into bathrooms and storage space. He pointed out the giant mufflers that extend from the engine rooms below to about four metres above the deck.

We walked inside the crew quarters, where a small kitchen space and sitting area will be set up. The crew will be able to enjoy their meals while gazing out at the view, but for now the windows were boarded up.

We walked to the upper level where the control room will be. Right now it was just an empty, windowless shell. A welder was up there getting ready to begin cutting out the window frames. The control panel still needed to be installed. It will be pretty simple for the captain once it’s in place — face one way when heading to Shelter Bay, then turn around and steer the ship back to Galena Bay.

The real interesting part of the tour was below deck — an area most people will never see. Here, rows and rows of cables extended from control panels in the electrical room and ran through the ceiling, spreading like tentacles throughout the ship.

How many miles of wiring are on the ship, Harding asked an electrician.

The best he could do was guess. Each spool contained 700 metres of wire and there were several of them sitting around. The wires ran all over the ship and up to the control room four stories above. There was a dozen cables lying side-by-side, and that was just directly above us.

We walked into one of the engine rooms, where a water-tight door lay on the ground waiting to be installed. The engine was in place and working; pipes that transfer heat from the engine throughout the ship were being insulated. One more room down lay the propellor motor. It was a similar sight at the other end of the ship, where a second engine was installed.

The spaces were cramped, with piping snaking around the rooms. “Watch your feet,” I was warned, as I scrambled over some chains lying on the ground. Harding pointed out escape hatches that led to the deck above for crews to use to get out of danger.

With launch day approaching, inspectors have been visiting the new ferry on a regular basis. That will be the case for the next few months until the ferry makes its first run on May 16. Until then, the ferry will be taken up and down the lake for test drives and the crew will be trained. Most systems are automated and crew levels will remain the same with the new ferry as with the old ones, Harding told me.

Starting in April they’ll begin training the crews on the new boat. It will be painted white and the pirate flag that adorns the ship will be replaced with a B.C. flag.

On May 16, the new landing decks will be put in place and the ferry service is expected to make a seamless transition from the old to the new.

There’s no ribbon cutting planned, yet.