Hornby group frustrated after BC Ferry engine trouble leads to more sailing cancellations

Hornby group frustrated after BC Ferry engine trouble leads to more sailing cancellations
Photo: BC Ferries
The Kahloke ferry is pictured.

A community group is voicing frustrations after the only ferry providing service between Denman and Hornby islands broke down Family Day Monday, resulting in nearly a dozen sailing cancellations before noon.

The Hornby Island Community Economic Enhancement Corporation (HICEEC) calls BC Ferries’ Kahloke ferry its “reliable workhouse,” but notes a mechanical issue with the ship’s number two engine led to 10 morning cancellations between Gravelly Bay and Shingle Spit.

It says sailings between 7:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., a “crucial time window,” were scrapped Monday due to the issue with the engine. But more sailings were at risk of cancellation if crews couldn’t fix it, said BC Ferries in a notice around 8:30 a.m.

(Photo: HICEEC)

“Our crew is working hard to resolve the issue, if they are unable to do so, all sailings for the remainder of the day are at risk of cancellation,” it said at the time, apologizing for any inconvenience resulting from the cancellations.

In an update at 12:38 p.m., BC Ferries said the Kahloke’s mechanical issue had been repaired. “The vessel resumed service with the 12:05 p.m. sailing from Shingle Spit, which departed 30 minutes behind schedule,” it added.

Yet the HICEEC says the Hornby Island ferry service “continues to grapple with challenges,” particularly involving the Kahloke ferry.

It says it understands “the frustrations and inconveniences faced by fellow ferry passengers underscores the very real impact on people’s lives,” pointing to early Monday morning when people were already lined up for soon-to-be-cancelled sailings.

‘Ferry-dependent community’

In August 2022, CHEK News spoke with local residents who, at the time, said travelling to and from Hornby Island was the hardest it had ever been.

Hornby is a “ferry-dependent community,” notes the HICEEC, so last-minute cancellations have a “very real impact” on people’s lives. It says unexpected waiting leads to hunger, and the ferry terminal also lacks wifi and a public pay phone.

“At 9:45 a.m., a queue of 26 vehicles had formed, with passengers from all walks of life, each with their own unique stories of urgency and necessity. Local resident Cath Gray, in line since 6:45 a.m., is en route to provide essential child care for her working daughter in Victoria tomorrow,” it said in a statement to CHEK News Monday.

According to the group, the “underlying problem” lies in the age and reduced capacity of the Kahloke, which saw a 10 per cent weight-carrying capacity reduction in November 2021. It says the larger Quinitsa is scheduled to return to the route in mid-April, subject to availability as it serves as a relief vessel for the region.

The 21-car Kahloke was built in 1973 and has capacity for up to 200 passengers and crew, while the 44-car Quinitsa came into service in 1977 with room for 300 people.

Island Class on the way

Locals had previously told CHEK News they were hoping for a larger, year-round ferry amid the ongoing issues.

“BC Ferries has heard the requests from Hornby Islanders for a larger vessel on the route, and we understand the strong desire for an increase in service. We realize there is a need for more capacity on this route at peak times, as well as a number of other routes throughout the ferry system,” the company said in 2022.

“For the Denman Island – Hornby Island route, we are planning to deploy a larger vessel in the peak season starting as early as next summer. The MV Quinitsa, which carries approximately 44 vehicles, will replace the current vessel, the MV Kahloke, which carries approximately 21 vehicles in the summer months.”

But Hornby residents said a larger vessel in the peak season wasn’t enough, reiterating the need is year-round.

The HICEEC had also launched a petition demanding the upgrade, and, in a statement Monday, BC Ferries says a new ferry is on the way.

“Last month we announced a contract to build four more Island Class vessels. When they come into service we will redeploy an Island Class to the Denman — Hornby route,” the company said.

Battery-hybrid electric Island Class ferries carry 47 vehicles, according to information on BC Ferries’ website.

Still, the HICEEC says it’s continuing “to lobby for safe, reliable, affordable ferry service,” adding, “Hornby Island needs a more substantial, year-round solution. We understand the impact on daily lives…”

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-with files from CHEK’s Dean Stoltz, Mary Griffin

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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