Storm stops 75 ferry sailings

Weary would-be travellers breathed a sigh of relief when the Spirit of British Columbia left Swartz Bay at 4:24 p.m. Sailings were expected to run late throughout the rest of the day.

Sirigon Sukpan and her friends arrived at B.C. Ferries’ Swartz Bay terminal at 6 a.m., expecting to catch the 7 a.m. sailing to Tsawwassen. More than six hours later, they were still waiting, and hoping to hear when a ferry would depart.

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“We want to go across the border to get [Canadian] landed immigrant status for my friend,” Sukpan said.

The pressure was on, because they had only until Wednesday to submit the application.

In a nearby SUV, Mich-elle Hollingshead, Sean McKenna and their teenage kids were trying to get to the mainland so they could fly to Maui for Christmas. They had a reservation for the 1 p.m. sailing at Swartz Bay but hoped the cancellations wouldn’t get in the way of their departure today from Vancouver International Airport.

Warryn Berry, who was heading to Penticton, got to the terminal at 8 a.m. and was waiting along with dozens of others in a packed lounge. He spent the hours of waiting looking at his smartphone, listening to music and talking to a friend who was also stuck.

Seventy-five sailings — affecting 11 out of 25 routes — were cancelled up and down the coast Wednesday, said B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall — and not just because of winds exceeding 70 kilometres an hour. Wind speed and direction, along with wave height and sea state, also play a role.

“It’s a combination of factors, and then you look at the type of vessel, the size and how much power it has,” she said. “It was a combination of everything.”

Docking at Tsawwassen in high winds is a challenge, because the terminal is exposed and the larger Spirit-class vessels have to back out. Coastal-class ferries have an easier time in the wind, since, with a bridge at both ends, they can sail straight out, Marshall said.

“With the Spirit class, if the wind hits right on the beam, it can blow it into the berthing structure, and that can damage the berthing structure or the ship.”

The number of ferry cancellations was unusual as the storm hit a large area, but no records were set. Last year, 100 sailings were cancelled in a single day, Marshall said.

Ironically, sailings on the northern routes, often the first to be hit by bad weather, continued Wednesday. “It was flat calm in Port Hardy,” Marshall said.

Harbour Air cancelled all flights Wednesday. “We lost about 90 flights — people trying to go shopping or get home to their families,” said executive vice-president Randy Wright. He noted the planes can fly in 130-kilometre-an-hour winds, but “we don’t want to shake people up. Safety is our No. 1 priority.”

The company’s policy is to cancel flights once winds reach 50 km/h.

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