Buckle up: Proposed Nanaimo fast ferry can travel at 41 knots

NANAIMO — There’s a reason the two ferries proposed to carry passengers between Nanaimo and Vancouver have seatbelts — they move pretty fast.

Victoria-based Island Ferry Services Ltd. this week provided a glimpse of Island Tenacity, one of the two vessels the group has earmarked for the service.

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In October, IFS unveiled parts of its proposal to launch a fast ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver. A lot of power will be necessary to jet passengers between the cities in 68 minutes.

The 38-metre vessels pack a punch. Some 7,725 horsepower of diesel power is fed through waterjets to reach a maximum speed of 41 knots or 76 kilometres per hour, according to the vessels’ registrations with the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Island Tenacity’s sister vessel, Island Friendship, has a mostly identical registration. Both ships were constructed by the Damen Shipyard Group in Holland between 2008 and 2009.

There will not be many folks leisurely snapping photos or whale watching on the outer deck should these boats go ripping across the Strait of Georgia.

“We’re planning on running about 37.5 knots,” said IFS spokesman David Marshall.

“You’re not allowed on the outer decks when the ship is at high-speed. That’s a regulatory requirement.”

For the sake of comparison, Victoria Clipper IV shuttles passengers to and from Seattle at a top speed of about 30 knots.

Island Tenacity and Island Friendship are now in Singapore as IFS waits to close on the final details for financing.

Once that happens, the intention is to launch the service in spring and make as many as six daily round-trips between the downtowns during peak season.

The total value of the project has been pegged as high as $63.5 million.

The consortium of investors behind Island Ferry Services Ltd., which has an office on Oak Bay Avenue in Nanaimo, is in talks with two international investors to provide capital for the business venture.

Several other seed investors from B.C., Alberta and the U.S. are also involved in the project.

Marshall, the principal owner of Victoria-based Strategus Consulting, is a retired naval captain and a board director on the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. He said the group of businesspeople behind the proposal have a wealth of marine transportation sector experience.

Unlike the larger vessels operated by B.C. Ferries, these boats will not have the luxury of an onboard kitchen, but there will be limited food service and a coffee bar on each deck.

The IFS also anticipates pets will be accommodated, but how remains to be seen.

CTA has certified the boats to run with a minimum crew of eight, which includes a captain, first officer and chief engineer.

“There’s a lot more to come, I’m going to keep you guessing,” said Marshall.

Senior fares could fall below $20, frequent users around $24 and a premium fee of around $39 for business class.

Discounts for low-traffic sailing times might also be a reality to help swell the decks with people.

One hurdle that will have to be overcome in the coming months is a potential partnership agreement with the City of Nanaimo. The IFS proposal could see the city share in revenues from items such as parking and tickets, but the group has requested a five-year grace period before that money begins to move.

IFS estimated the city could see $4 million in revenue during the first decade.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said that decision will not come until “you hear the sound of engines.

“We want to make sure this thing is operational and into service before we offer any concession on it.”

Coun. Bill McKay, as former operations manager of the folded HarbourLynx fast ferry service, said the IFS proposal has some key advantages over previous attempts. “First of all, two boats. Second: built-in redundancy,” he said. “If we had a problem with an engine, we were done.”

HarbourLynx was sunk by a catastrophic and costly engine failure, as well as a surprise $500,000 sales tax bill from the province.

McKay estimated that had HarbourLynx survived, it would now be carrying up to one million passengers per year.

So far, officials say they have only seen an initial proposal and await more details to aid their decision making.

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