Fast Ferries Fine Ferries

Posted on Monday, May 09 at 14:41 by BC Mary
Act 1, Scene 1, 1982, San Francisco. A conference paper is presented by Paul Hercus outlining the virtues of high-speed catamaran ferries. He described them as: * simple to build * requiring standard diesel engine technology * simple propellers * affordable to own, operate, and travel on. North America became the testing ground for high speed ferry, commuter, and tourist transport. Such backwaters (I'm thinking like a CanWest editor now) as Boston, New York, Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington State had tried hydrofoils, hovercrafts, the Boeing Jetfoil, the Surface Effect Craft and "Exotically-powered Monohulls" all of which were complex, experimental, unsatisfactory, and expensive, given the results achieved. But (returning to sanity) that's what happens when embarking on a new technology: innovation -> prototypes -> testing -> start over. Scene 2. The first Catamaran was delivered to Washington State in 1984 and operated between Long Beach and Catalina during the Olympics, with faster crossings and good response from the public. This vessel then went to Alaska for successful tourist service in Prince William Sound. Another catamaran operated in Puget Sound for many years between Seattle and Alderbrook Resort before being sold for operation between Oakland, Alameda and San Francisco. Another catamaran was then purchased for sightseeing around San Francisco Bay. So Act 1 has established that the high-speed catamaran was not only accepted world-wide but had become a craze because of its simplified technology. Customers were lining up for shipyards capable of building them. British Columbia was ideally situated. Act 2: Fjellstrand, one of the first new overseas designs to sell, inaugurated Clipper Navigation's service between Seattle and Victoria. At this point in the report, "Fifteen years of Fast Ferries in North America," it shows the basis for B.C.'s decision to enter this proven industry and it was good. Other catamarans had begun service in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, as troop transport in the Marshall Islands, on the Great Lakes, and one fast ferry which docked at the foot of Wall Street in New York. The king's decision seemed wise as well as good. [Applause, applause.] There was a set-back, however, before B.C. Ferries entered the scene. 1987 brought a Wall Street crash which was felt world-wide. As interest rates rose, businesses stopped investing in new projects. This didn't affect the Fast Ferry industry until 1990 when aluminum prices began to rise, and wash problems were being documented in Rich Passage, between Seattle and Bremerton. Mono-hulls produced even greater wash. But Washington State Ferries kept testing and found that their two Fast Cats with longer, more slender hulls produced much less wash. However, that process of testing took several years, so orders were held up for that reason. These setbacks are inevitable in a new technology but the outlines of a coming Shakespearean tragedy are forming. Act 3. 1994 A new boom in Fast Ferries begins and U.S.A. is looking for new vessels. British Columbia's N.D.P. government takes the giant step forward and calls for "Expressions of interest" from marine designers around the world. B.C.'s expressed aim is written in: "To put together the best possible team to design and construct a car- and passenger-carrying ferry system which would bring the greatest economical benefit not only to B.C. Ferries but to B.C. as a whole." BC. ferries received 22 proposals, 14 of which were for catamarans. They chose the one best suited and granted the design contract to International Catamaran (Incat) of Sydney, Australia and to Canadian naval architects Robert Allan Ltd., in December 1994. British Columbia was nicely placed for a booming market ... which, by 1998, would see a virtual explosion of Fast Cat building. Act 4, Scene 1. Vancouver, B.C. PacifiCats, as they were now called, were being watched closely, for two particular reasons (as well as a secretive 3rd reason). * B.C. wanted to train its own skilled workforce, * B.C. wanted to build its own aluminum facility. Although very few citizens could have been expected to understand, at the time, how this tragedy would unfold, there were also: * powerful people in British Columbia who wanted the Fast Cat project to fail. Our first clue (would Shakespeare have written a song to ridicule such a low ambition?) was the name the enemies chose. These beautiful B.C.-built ships were to become known, the rascals hoped, as the Fast Ferry Fiasco. Act 4, Scene 2. "All expectations were met" when the first PacifiCat Explorer was launched in 1998. By the time PacifiCat Discovery was launched in 1999, and PacifiCat Voyager in 2000, the cost for all 3 ships had gone from the expected $250 million to $450 million and the media went mad. "Extreme public scrutiny" dogged every move. But others pointed out (to no avail) that the simple cost of having trained those workers in regular classrooms would have equaled this price. Somehow the media didn't want to know. "... the revitalized [B.C.] shipbuilding industry should feel particularly proud of their achievements," concluded the 15-page report by Ben Hercus. "The future of Fast Ferries in North America could, at last, be considered safe and secure" as, by 1998, no less than 27% of the world's 59 Fast Cats had been built in North America. And B.C. shipyards were now ready to build more. If this really had been a Shakespeare play, the stage now would darken as the king collapses on the floor with a dagger in his back; in the background, there would be a shipyard is in flames. The villain, in a smooth business suit, swaggers to take over the throne as the curtain slowly comes down. The end. Many British Columbians simply couldn't believe that anyone would be so evil as to deliberately set out on a campaign of falsehoods to wipe out the government they had voted into power. Nobody could imagine British Columbian leaders actually destroying a proud B.C. industry. But the Oligarchy felt they had to create the tragedy so that they -- and they alone -- could "save" us. It was the price we paid for them to take over the government. The truth only began to dawn when the PacifiCats were put up for sale. The Oligarchy didn't want the ships to be sold, either. They wanted no redeeming feature to remain. The barrage of insults intensified. Who would buy a used car if everybody in town screamed that it was a "fiasco"? Who could risk using the fast cats as public ferries or for tourist cruises if they had been denounced as terrible ships? Even as scrap metal, the 3 ships were worth $60 million. But in the end, with no other buyers daring to show up, the 3 beautiful PacifiCats sold to the Washington Marine Group for $17 million. It was beyond a pity. But Fate would give one more proof to British Columbia, perhaps hoping we'd wake up to the danger. Or perhaps the Oligarchy simply stopped being subtle. When new ships were needed for the B.C. Ferries fleet, our own "revitalized shipbuilding industry" -- which had built the beautiful big B.C. Ferries "Spirit" ships -- did not get the contracts. Nor were B.C. shipyards invited to tender a bid. The Gordon Campbell government gave the contracts to a German shipyard which ... incidentally ... wasn't capable of building our new ships. Only by making their employees take a cut in wages they were able to re-fit their shipyard. Will Shakespeare would have discarded an ending as hopeless as that. Because no population deserves to wake up to that kind of treachery. If I could re-write the play, I'd start back in 1985 by taking a flying leap at the then-leader of the Opposition, Gordon Campbell, and tell him to call off his dogs. After reading the history of the PacifiCats, I think that's all it would take, to have opened a successful new chapter in the B.C. shipbuilding industry. I don't see how any new project, or any new industry, could possibly function properly if it's hit every day by a relentless barrage of insults and inuendo. I don't see how any buyers could feel comfortable buying something which the hometown elite had insisted, over and over, was a "fiasco". If only Gordon Campbell's group had co-operated, there would have been a very happy ending in B.C. And I wouldn't be thinking that the West Coast media's performance was almost criminal. I certainly don't think the Fast Ferries project was terribly awful ... or at all bad. In fact, I think it just barely, tragically, missed being spectacular. [Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on May 9, 2005]

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  1. by avatar Milton
    Mon May 09, 2005 11:17 pm
    Good post BC Mary, I didn't trust Gordon Campbell when he was running for mayor of Vancouver and I was crest fallen when the BC electorate made him premier. I am looking forward to seeing him sentenced to a long jail term.

  2. Wed Oct 19, 2005 4:57 am
    Whoo! Not too hard to see the author is an NDP'er is it?
    $450 million to get a select few between Vancouver and Vancouver Island in 15 minutes less time than a regular ship could do it.
    How many conventional ships could have been built in BC with that kind of dough?
    B C Ferries needs greater vehicle capacity not fast cats.
    Hats off to Glen Clark for shooting British Columbia in the foot!

  3. Thu Oct 20, 2005 7:27 pm
    Not sure we arent talking to NDP'er or just a union worker that thinks all BC TAXpayers want to keep creating job for the sake of creating JOBS. We all have to be accountable for our actions. Former NDP leader Clark started a project that would cost BC people 450 million. And put us behind in our transportation and Tourism industry 15 years.
    The NDP started a corporation for the fast cats and made it a CROWN Corp. So they could have hugh overruns as they knew from the very beginning they had no idea the cost for the ships.
    When the original plans were designed they had normal gas engines, but after the project started they were told from the BC FERRIES corp that they had to put DIESEL engines in the project was doomed, the engines didnt meet the needs for the boat and they had to run the motors at over 86% and it caused the motors to become unstable.
    When you want to get new boats and spend the taxpayers money you should get the best deal for your dollar.

  4. Thu Oct 20, 2005 7:58 pm
    Dear Anonymous:

    Know something? I didn't say that the entire
    Fast Ferries project was marvelous. I didn't
    say that the ships themselves ended up with
    no flaws whatsoever.

    What astonishes me is that the ships were so

    In fact, it astonishes me that the ships got
    built at all, considering the level of pressure
    applied to hurry up, or stop, or change, or
    denigrate the project.

    And the CanWest campaign succeeded, to
    the extent that they scared off most buyers
    by the time the Campbell government had
    decided to sell off the ships ... ships which,
    incidentally, are still tied up in North Van.

  5. Sun Oct 23, 2005 8:02 pm
    Oh. And did I mention that I hold no political memberships, having
    let my Conservative Party card lapse when I saw how they treated
    David Orchard ... and I have never belonged to a union.

    Darn. Such a disappointment.

  6. Tue Dec 20, 2005 2:59 am
    Washington Marine Group is now planning to run the FastCats themselves between North Vancouver and Duke Point.
    They have been poaching BC ferry employees and have hired one of the top engineers from the original BC ferries staff who was envolved in the original running of the vessels.
    Monday 19th December 2005

  7. Tue Dec 20, 2005 4:36 am
    Washington Marine Group is now planning to run the FastCats themselves between North Vancouver and Duke Point<<

    A person has to ask why the private sector found the vessals capable when Campbell's political party didn't. Of course Campbell wants to scrap the BC ferries and had made the ferry corporation into a quasi-privately run enterprise. Will it be long before Campbell can squash BC Ferries and leave the routes to the private sector? Campbell may hesitate, seeing that the Washington Group is Canadian and not American. But won't hesitate for long.

  8. Tue Dec 20, 2005 5:01 pm
    I wrote the fast ferries off when I saw the first seatrial reports, but what amuses me is that people still keep on yammering about the $450. million "lost", when much of it went into the pockets of BC workers and businesses.

    Yet, when Campbell lost a yearly $2.5 billion in taxcuts to his sponsors, in his first week in office, much of it taken abroad, or when $500. million goes into German ferries, the moaners and groaners are strangely silent.

    The problem with the fast ferries was the word and concept of "fast", which requires large extra inputs of energy. E.g. to double the speed of a ship, the energy requirements may have to be squared, depending on the design. Newton figured this one out 300 years ago and somebody should have told Clark about it. But then, what could one expect from a program with Jack Munro as president.

    Ed Deak, Big Lake, BC.

  9. Wed Dec 21, 2005 6:34 am
    Washington Marine Group must have more money than sense and knowledge to take something that has been bastardized to the point where IT IS uneconomical to operate and to try to resurrect them.

    If the BC government had left the design to the designer they would have finished up with something that worked. When was the first time the government did anything and showed a profit, except take taxes from the people.

    Why are fast cat ferries operating so successfully in other parts of the world? Because they were designed, then built to their design specs and operated by businesses that had to show a profit and did not have an endless source of tax payer funding and ego's that had to have a hand in something they knew nothing about.

    Sure the money partly went back into the BC economy, but that's a cop out, and in the long run it was the short run and not what could and should have been.

    Cat ferries do work and they are the most economical type of water transport, but to bring back a bastardized dinosaur from the dead is throwing good money after bad. If they are looking to set up a real ferry service, with real catamaran ferries and not just pick up a deteriorating pile of scrap aluminum and try to make a profit from them, just because they can buy them CHEAP, then all I can say is, “caveat emptor” my friend and don’t call on the government to spend more tax payers money to bail you out.

    If WMG really want to go into a successful catamaran ferry business, then they should do more market and catamaran design research and check out the successful services now in operation and the advances made in high speed ferries since “these” tin cans were “destructed”. There are no bargains in boats.

    Capt. Graham Pfister

  10. by Patm
    Wed Dec 21, 2005 5:05 pm
    Hmm, the Cat's were useless piles of junk, incapable of performing ferry services when Campell had them. Now that WMG has them and the media focus has shifted, WMG sees them as a profitable enterprise...

    So, Campell lied his ass off. If they are incapable of being used as ferries and had to be sold off, they should still be incapable of that role, should they not?.

    Time for a criminal investigation - this sure looks like fraud to me. Selling *OUR* assets at pennies on the dollar to political friends so they can make huge profits.

  11. Thu Dec 22, 2005 10:38 am
    They were relatively useless and if you think that companies who operate ferry services would be frightened off by negative newspaper articles, I have a bridge I want to sell you.
    They are underpowered and WMG want to go downtown to downtown and have a trip time of plus two hours. That is not what I would call fast. BCMary's original post i would put in the Dickens class. You know "what the dickens she talking about?" Half the marine design people in North America were trying to tell Clarke that thre were laws that had to be adhered to so his cats even if they could go twice as fast could only do so for about 60% of the trip so the most they could drop the crossing time by was about 20 minutes. Why spend an admitted 450 million on something that rediculous.
    Finance Minister Cull wrote off 600 million of BC Ferry debt in her budget because it was extraordinary and unavoidable for the corporation. The only thing that fit that criterea at that time was Jack Munro'S (SKILLED BOAT BUILDER THAT HE WAS)idiotic fast cat company. Designing the cats to only carry cars doomed them as saleable. Commercial traffic is what subsidizes the car traffic, something the NDP master minds could not fathom.

  12. Thu Dec 22, 2005 9:33 pm
    From Joseph C.
    Some comments on the above;
    1. Somewhere in the the time frame of 1995, I undertstand that Mr.
    Clarke requested advice from the successful shipbuilder (fast
    ferries) Austal, from Western Austarlia. The were contracted by the
    BC Govt to review the feasibilihty of building the vessels here and
    running them between H'shoe Bay and Nanaimo. The senior
    delegation spent a week or so here and their conclusions at a
    meeting held at the Australian consular office were:
    a. With the learning curve required of the work force to develop
    the skills in working with aluminum, it would be impossible to build
    the ferries for the stated budget of $M72 per vessel. Even they
    could not build them for this price.
    b. Given the above, the construction schedule would be
    impossible to meet.
    c. the distance between H'shoe Bay ansd Nanaimo was too short
    to warrant the implemetation of a fast ferry service. They advised
    against a fast ferry service.
    Mr. Clarke's direct response to the Austal delegation (unusual for a
    minister to be present at such a meeting. Normally it would have
    been left to the govt officials who would then report back to the
    minister) was to the effect: "We in BC beg to differ. Thank you very
    much, gentlemen"

    The rest of the construction project is history.

    That being said, a detailed report was produced by a naval
    architect in Vancouver in 2000. It showed the benefit of running
    the vessels at less than the design speed. The advantages being:
    lower fuel consumption, major reduction in engine wear and
    hence maintenance costs, no wake and wash issues. In addition,
    if two of the vesels were assigned to the Langdale route running at
    20 knots, their allowable (Transport Canada) carrying capacity
    would be boosted by an additional 500 tonnes, thus allowing the
    bus lanes to be filled with trucks too (achievable with a small
    change in the thickness of the deck-head insulation).

    Overall advantage: an addition of three 200+ car capacity vessels
    to the fleet and deferring huge capital expediture required for new
    vessels by up to 10 years.

    The report was given to BC Ferries, NDP and the Liberal
    opposition. The report was buried.
    NDP wanted to wash their hands of it;
    Liberals would not want any option to succeed as they'd loose
    years of egg-throwing opportunities at election time ("Remember
    the NDP's fast ferry fiasco!"); t
    he BC Ferry personnel were told to keep quiet.

    Even when the Liberals got into power, they could have been the
    saviours of the taxpayers money and at least try the suggested
    option (what could you loose?). Rather, they preferred to sacrifice
    taxpayers money to have an NDP legacy to use at election time.

    Undoubtedly, what WMG are looking at doing is running them at
    below the design speed with all of the inherent advantages of this.
    In numerous surveys carried out by BC Ferries, what the public
    cares about is getting on the sailing, not on how fast the vessel

    My best wishes go to the WMG to make a success of the vessels

    As an aside, the vessles were very specifically designed to
    operate in "protected waters" and to fit into the BC Ferries'
    terminals. As a result, there were few if any locations in the rest of
    the world where they would have been certified to operate. Hence
    the lack of success in selling them internationally.

  13. Thu Dec 22, 2005 9:55 pm
    From Joseph C.
    A few corrections on the above:
    1. Some of BC Ferries' senior personnel knew what to expect
    regarding costs for the vessel. Both an internal and external
    detailed analysis stated that a more realistic cost would be in the
    order of $M100 per vessel BEFORE upgrade costs to facilities,
    personnel training and transportation costs between the various
    construction sites. The final costs of the vessles were about
    $M115, $M104 and $M97 for the first, second and third. The
    balance of about $M150 was for the other associated costs which
    were never publicised prior to commencement of the project.

    2. Gasoline engines are NEVER used in large vessels - NEVER.
    If you mean Gas turbines, there was a proposal that they should be
    powered by gas turbines in order to achieve the design speed.
    The cost of turbines would have blown the cost by at least another
    $M100-200, not to mention the additional training and
    infrastructure to support this system of propulsion - just not a
    reasonable option. If the diesel engines had been able to run at
    85% of their Max Continuous Rating (MCR), it is probable that the
    engines would have performed very well. As it was, they were
    required to run at 97% MCR which put a huge load on the
    engines, increased their maintenance requirements and increased
    fuel consumption. The engines never became "unstable", they
    simply ran too hard - analagous to running your car at 7000 prm
    for most of the time - it's still below the red-line but you can imagine
    the impact this would have. Large marine diesel engines are very
    happy to run between 75% and 85% MCR . Anything below that is
    either a bonus or your engines are oversized for the task.
    Hope that helps.

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