Bobby Sherlock and Jen Thorpe’s dog, Cutie, watches from the deck of the Nimpkish on a BC Ferries trip into Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Bobby Sherlock photo)

‘Scariest boat ride of my life’: Passengers trapped by ice on rocky B.C. ferry sailing

The Nimpkish docked in Bella Coola on Jan.12 coated in a thick layer of ice

Passengers endured a harrowing ride onboard a BC Ferries vessel that finally arrived in Bella Coola five hours behind schedule and coated in a thick layer of ice.

Bobby Sherlock and his wife, Jen Thorpe, got on the Nimpkish in Bella Bella in a snowstorm at 3 a.m. last Sunday. They said challenges were apparent from the get go.

“Three vehicles slid down the ramp when we were loading,” said Thorpe. “It was dark and snowing heavily. If we’d had an option we would have stayed put, but there is really nowhere to stay in Bella Bella, especially at that time of night.”

Sherlock, an experienced mariner who ran a sailing tour company on B.C.’s west coast, said conditions got progressively worse.

“Once we left Ocean Falls and headed into the Dean Channel, the weather got really bad,” he said. “I would estimate the wind was blowing 40 or 50 knots, and the whitecaps were up and five or six feet.”

The couple waited it out in the car with their dog, Cutie, but many passengers were trapped in the lounge for hours as the doors to the outer decks were frozen shut and the weather was simply too bad to take the stairs down to the car deck.

“People could not get to the washrooms. The boat ran out of water because the lines froze,” said Thorpe. “No one could walk on the car deck because it was covered in a layer of ice.”

Denise Wilson and Bobbie Johnson were among the walk-on passengers stuck in the lounge areas.

“I’ve gone back and forth numerous times on that ferry and I’ve never experienced anything like that,” said Wilson. “It was like a nightmare.”

They spent the journey caring for elders on board, many of whom were distressed over the conditions. It was dark for a good portion of the trip, and the boat was rocking heavily in the waves.

Only three vehicles were onboard, and they were all parked at the back of the boat to avoid the spray at the front.

“That was the scariest boat ride of my life,” Johnson said. “The crew said they’d seen worse, but it didn’t seem right to me to be traveling in all that ice.”

RELATED: Sheet of ice covers BC Ferries boat during stormy weekend sail (Feb. 2019)

In an email to Black Press Media, BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said safety was never compromised during the trip.

“The conditions were fine prior to the last leg into Bella Coola,” she said. “On the last leg, the vessel was headed directly up the inlet and straight into the wind, which generated sea spray for several hours.” She said the crew wasn’t aware of what the conditions would be like until they got into Fitz Hughes sound and up towards Bella Coola.

Wilson disagreed. “The boat was rocking hard the entire time,” she said. “If there’s bad weather anticipated on other routes, sailings are delayed or cancelled. I feel like they shouldn’t have sailed.”

The Nimpkish, which is the smallest in the BC Ferries fleet, has been criticized for not being suitable for the route, and was only brought in again when the regular boat, the Northern Sea Wolf, went for repairs.

Sherlock and Thorpe now plan to drive back home.

“At no point did I feel like I was even on a ferry. It felt like a cargo ship,” said Thorpe. “I’m not doing that again.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The view from the car deck of the Nimpkish during a scary sailing into Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Bobby Sherlock photo)

The deck and exterior of the Nimpkish ferry was encased in ice on a trip into Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Bobby Sherlock photo)

Crews could not remove a BC Ferries loader because of the ice on the Nimpkish, in Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Les Marston photo)

BC Ferries crews work to free the ropes on the Nimpkish upon arrival in Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Les Marston photo)

Just Posted

Residents around Sidney’s Reay Creek Pond welcome federal remediation efforts

It is not clear yet whether Sidney will renovate nearby dam at the same time

Camp fun still offered in Greater Victoria

Easter Seals offers day camp options to replace cancelled overnight camps

Public to weigh in on Colwood Royal Bay development Monday

Application to rezone lands north of Latoria Boulevard submitted to council

Loss of UVic dog park deals a blow to socially anxious pets

Owners of non-socialized dogs seek safe space following closure of Cedar Hill Corner

Swim advisory issued at Cadboro Bay beach due to high bacteria levels

Island Health advises against water activities, swimming

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Shellfish industry get funds to clean up at Island sites and beyond

Businesses can apply to cover half of costs to clean up so-called ‘ghost gear’

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

NHL’s Canadian hubs offer little economic benefit, but morale boost is valuable: experts

Games are slated to start Aug. 1 with six Canadian teams qualifying for the 24-team resumption of play

Most Read