After nearly 50 hours at sea, passengers and crew members coming off the Sir Robert Bond in Corner Brook on Friday morning were all smiles.
The CAI Nunatsiavut Marine ferry servicing Labrador and the island had left Blanc Sablon en route for the city at 7 a.m. Wednesday with 34 passengers on board. The Bond was supposed to arrive in Corner Brook later that day, but ice conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle hampered and, at times, halted its movement.
Just before 9 a.m. the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Sir William Alexander lead the ferry into port.
Dorothy and Hayward Clark were two of the first passengers to drive off the ferry. The Happy Valley-Goose Bay couple had travelled to the city for a doctor’s appointment.
“I missed my appointment,” said Dorothy, before adding she had no complaints about the voyage. “It was pretty good, it was comfortable. It was good for me because I got some work done for myself, some knitting.”
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She said other than being a long time, the ride was a good one and the sea wasn’t rough.
Dorothy said the passengers and crew were all excellent about the situation and she praised the staff for their service. She was able to reschedule her appointment for next Thursday and said she and her husband will stay with their daughter in the city until then.
Dwayne Canning is the operations manager with CAI Nunatsiavut in Lewisporte and was in contact with the Bond throughout the crossing.
At 8 a.m. Thursday, the ferry was reported to be 90 miles from Corner Brook. At 4 p.m., Canning received an update from the captain saying the ferry was then 80 miles from the city. An icebreaker was with the vessel by that time, he said, but was having difficulty keeping the ship moving.
By 10 p.m. Thursday the captain wrote: “Ice conditions have improved substantially and it looks like we could be in Corner Brook around 4 a.m.”
But early Friday morning another update advised that the ferry had come upon ice with tremendous pressure on it.
“We’re moving, but really slowly,” said the captain.
A little later Canning said he was advised the ferry had an 8:45 a.m. estimated time of arrival. By about 9:20 a.m. the ferry was docked and the unloading process had started.
As soon as the unloading was complete, food preparation crews and laundry service providers boarded the ferry and work began to prepare for a 2 p.m. departure.
Chris Downton was one of the passengers waiting to board the ferry for the sailing to Blanc Sablon. He had travelled over from Goose Bay to pick up his belongings to move back home.
He’d been following the vessel updates for the Bond online and was actually surprised the ferry had made it to port.
“The boat updates have been getting longer and longer,” he said as he waited to find out when boarding would begin.
He said the trip over took 15 hours, and he’s not concerned about getting stuck on the way back.
“We used to get the boat from Goose Bay to Lewisporte, so we’d be two days on the boat, so I don’t mind being a little over 12 or 20 hours.”
The Bond was scheduled to arrive in Blanc Sablon late Friday night and was to leave again for Corner Brook at 7 a.m. today.
Canning said with the icebreaker Henry Larsen now assigned to the Bond, the ferry should have an easier time sailing.
Meanwhile, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the ice in the Strait of Belle Isle is the thickest since 1989.
“The ice along the western coast of Newfoundland is approximately 70-120 centimetres thick and covers 90 per cent of the coast up through the Strait of Belle Isle,” said the department in an email.
The department said cold temperatures early in the season created ice that never left. “The temperature remains very cold and the ice is becoming very thick,” it said.
The ice conditions mean the department has seen an increase in the number of requests for icebreaker service.
The department said coast guard icebreakers are allocated on a priority basis, with passenger ferries being the first priority.
Helicopters have been flying in support of ice operations, providing routing information to icebreakers and other vessels travelling in the area in order to provide the best possible updated information.