Province lets tender for Grand Passage ferry to Brier Island

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
Published on August 19, 2014

A passenger on the Joe Casey ferry takes pictures of a huge school of dolphins in Grand Passage between Long and Brier Islands last week.

©Amy Tudor

Islanders could see a new ferry up and running across Grand Passage by next December.

The provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) issued a tender today for the construction of a new ferry for the Grand Passage service and they expect to have it in service for November or December 2015.

The tender, which closes Oct. 1, includes drawings and specifications for the 15-car passenger ferry that the department wants built to replace the Joe Casey as the main ferry between Long and Brier Islands.The new ferry will look very much like the Joe Casey which A.F. Theriault’s of Meteghan  River built in 1995.

John Majchrowicz, the manager of marine service  with  TIR says the new ferry will be easier on fuel and cheaper to maintain and service.

The boat will use a Voith propulsion system, the same as they’ve used in the Halifax ferries for 30 years.

Majchrowicz says the Voith system is more maneuverable and looks like “beaters in the water.”

He says the propulsion system in the current ferries takes a beating from the debris that floats through the passages.

“Rope gets tangled up in them and I’m paying divers to go down and free them,” he said. “With the Voith system, if a rope gets tangled up in them, you just turn the motor off and it just drops off.”

He said debris also bends the ears on the current propellers but the new system will deflect debris.

The boat will be powered by a hybrid diesel— electric system created by Aspin Kemp and Associates (AKA) made up of a generator, two Caterpillar engines and a lithium battery.

The battery would hold enough power for at least one run across Grand Passage at full power with the engines entirely off.

While that would only be done in emergencies, the captains may choose to hold the boat at the ramp with only one engine or with just battery power.

A computer will manage the power system to optimize efficiency and engine performance.

The power system could also be plugged in onshore if necessary.

Majchrowicz says the captain’s wheelhouse will have floor to ceiling glass allowing them better vision.

He says the plan is for the Joe Casey to become the spare and to retire the current spare, the Spray.

Wally DeVries is the fire chief on Brier Island and runs Robicheau’s General Store.

He says he was floored by the news.

“I was asking one of the ferrymen just the other day when they were going to start building the new one, because there had been talk of it starting this year,” he said.

DeVries says a new ferry is good news for Brier Island.

“It’s a question of reliability,” he said. “The Spray is 36 plus years old and it must be getting near the end of its service life.”

Amy Tudor, manager at the Brier Island Lodge and Resort was also happy to hear the news.

“Having a new ferry will definitely increase the confidence of travelling guests when they see a new one versus an old one,” she said. “When the smaller older ferries are on, their physical appearance can be a deterrent for tourists to bring their business to Westport.”

She is also looking forward to improved reliability.

“In the last year, there’s been two or three occasions when we were literally stranded here,” she said. “No ferries at all were running and that’s a scary feeling.

“For Islanders, it’s not so bad because we know there are 30 or 40 men here with boats who would spring into action if there was a dire emergency.

“But the number one question we get asked at the Brier Island Lodge is do those ferries run 24/7, because being stranded is a terrifying thought for people who don’t have this as a lifestyle.”

Tudor does have praise for the new Facebook group that informs Islanders the moment a ferry is out of service.

“I love it because we know right away when that notification pops up,” she said. “[A ferry breakdown] can be a game change in your day.”

She says she can’t wait to see what the new ferries look like.

“On the old smaller ferries, we’re packed in so tight, the kids can’t get out to get to the bathroom without banging our door into someone’s car,” she said.

She says the newer ferries like the Petit Princess are great improvements over former ferries because there is more room on deck and the railings are low enough that passengers can see out during the crossing.

“Changing the way people see that ferry ride, making the crossing into an experience is vital to bringing people over to Brier Island,” she said.

Tender documents including the drawings for the new ferry