BC Ferries has relaunched its non-stop service between Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Bella Coola, the gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest on the Central Coast of the mainland.
The scenic 10-hour route through the calm and protected waters of the Inside Passage, one of the ferry corporation’s longest itineraries, is made possible by the use of the Northern Sea Wolf — a newly-acquired, newly-renovated, 246-ft-long vessel that can carry 150 passengers and crew, and 35 vehicles.
This is a seasonal service, running five times per week until October 10 of this year. It is both a critical transportation link for northern coastal communities and a tourism generator.
Fares start at $199.25 for adults, $99.75 for children between the ages of five and 11, and $403 for a standard car.
“We are excited for the Northern Sea Wolf to start service on this important route connecting the Central Coast, and are proud to offer customers a breathtaking journey on board this ship,” said Mark Wilson, BC Ferries’ vice-president of strategy and community engagement, in a statement.
“This vessel will provide safe and reliable service for these communities for years to come, and help drive tourism to the region.”
The vessel, previously known as the Aqua Spirit, was originally constructed in 2000. In 2017, BC Ferries bought the vessel for $12.6 million from its owner in Greece.
A complete refit of the vessel was conducted at a facility in Richmond, where modernization work entailed a new galley, bridge, electrical generators, HVAC system, washrooms, elevator, chair lifts, and new cafeteria and passenger accommodation area.
As well, an outdoor passenger area on the top deck also provides passengers with the ability to enjoy breathtaking views.
First Nations artwork on the exterior of the vessel, designed by Kwakiutl First Nation’s Richard Hunt and Nuxalk Nation’s Danika Naccarella, honours the legend in which the sea wolf is a manifestation of the orca, with the sea wolf symbolizing family, loyalty, and the protector of those travelling their waters.
However, some complications with the upgrades caused the budget for the purchase to increase, and the launch of the vessel for regular service was delayed by a year.
The original budget for the vessel — both the acquisition and renovation costs — in 2017 was $55.7 million, but by February 2018 it increased to $63.4 million when it was determined that further upgrades were necessary.
The total cost of the vessel is now $76 million, including $15.1 million in funding from the federal government.
“The major upgrade work to bring the vessel up to BC Ferries and Transport Canada’s standards took longer than originally anticipated,” Deborah Marshall, the spokesperson for BC Ferries, told Daily Hive, adding that “in many aspects the vessel is [now] totally new.”
While this route is considerably long, it is still shorter than the travel time of BC Ferries’ longest route — the 15-hour seasonal route from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, which is an experience on a vessel with staterooms given the overnight itinerary.