Salish Eagle assumes Gulf Islands duties

The newest member of the BC Ferries fleet launched service last Wednesday, winning positive reviews from crew and passengers alike during the Salish Eagle’s first cruise through Active Pass and the Southern Gulf Islands. 

“I’m really happy with the all-round visibility and the way the ship handles — it handles like a dream,” Captain Derek Sweet said from the bridge during the vessel’s first-ever passenger run out of Long Harbour.

The first of two dual-fuel-capacity ships to join service on the route, Salish Eagle was meant to complement the Queen of Nanaimo this summer in place of the smaller Bowen Queen. Ironically, the Nanaimo had a major mechanical issue Thursday that took it completely out of service for a week, just one day after the Eagle came on and one day into the summer schedule. 

BC Ferries announced Wednesday that the Nanaimo would be returning to service beginning with the 6:20 a.m. sailing from Long Harbour on Thursday, June 29.

The Nanaimo’s retirement from BC Ferries this fall will be well deserved after more than 50 years in service, and many islanders have a fondness for the older ferry. Several of the senior crew aboard the Eagle have especially strong connections. Senior master Sweet, chief engineer Ian Williamson and chief steward Kitty Byron — all of whom graduated from Gulf Islands Secondary School — have each spent their entire careers aboard the Nanaimo until now. For Sweet that means 30 years with the vessel.

The new Salish class ships have come with more complex systems, but exciting new capabilities and improvements. And senior crew like Sweet and Williamson have actually been part of the design process, meaning their sense of ownership and understanding of the new vessels is high.

Each of the three ships has unique artwork by a different First Nations artist on its outer hull, but inside they have been built to be identical and therefore interchangeable if need be. The first vessel that came on line was the Orca, which began serving the Comox-Powell River route in May. The Raven is the third and final ship. It arrived in Victoria on June 7 and will be commissioned this fall.

For more on this story, see the June 28, 2017 issue of the Driftwood newspaper. 

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