BC Ferries’ NEW, NEW, NEW Southern Gulf Islands Schedule

By:  Brian Hollingshead, Chair of the Ferry Advisory Committee

Well, the announcement is new.  The schedules actually go into effect early next year when the two new 145-car ferries, the Salish Raven and the Salish Eagle come into service, replacing the venerable 190-car Queen of Nanaimo.  The full schedules will be available for viewing July 11 on line at http://www.bcferries.com/about/publicconsultation2/sgi-consultation.html

Despite having gotten off to a rocky start last summer, the schedules are generally an improvement over what we’ve had previously.  BC Ferries listened to our communities, including the voices of the dedicated SGI representatives on the External Working Group.  There are specific improvements, a few minor losses, a number of ‘wait-and-see’s’ and some changes that will be viewed positively by some and less so by others.

Some examples:


  • having both vessels in service during the shoulder season (May and June, September until Thanksgiving) vs just the Nanaimo previously, will provide much needed greater weekend service for all islands
  • for Pender: resolution of the long-standing overload situation on the 11:45 AM sailing to Swartz Bay during the Fall-Winter-Spring schedule
  • for Pender: a direct (no transfer) Sunday night sailing to Tsawwassen in the off-peak season
  • for Mayne: a new direct sailing from Swartz Bay (10:10 AM in the off-peak season and 10:25 AM in the shoulder season)
  • for Saturna: a long-sought 3:10 PM departure from Swartz Bay, permitting a through-fare connection on the 1:00 PM sailing from Tsawwassen, which cuts 2 hr off the trip, and more time in town for a vital mid-day turn-around
  • for Saturna:  Friday PM access to Tsawwassen all-year, new for Saturna while standard for the other islands
  • for Galiano: provision of an earlier Friday afternoon option from Tsawwassen during the off-peak season.

Some minuses:

  • for Pender: having to make two transfers (Village Bay and Sturdies Bay) to get to Tsawwassen on Friday nights in the off-peak season
  • for Saturna: loss of the 2 hr 5 min Sunday night trip during the off-peak season from Tsawwassen, replaced by a 3 hr 55 min trip via Swartz Bay
  • for Saturna: moving the first trip off the island from 6:25 AM to 6:15 AM.  Hard on anybody, particularly the more elderly. This means 5:45 AM at the terminal for trips to Tsawwassen.
  • for Mayne: loss of the Sunday afternoon passenger-only sailing to Tsawwassen in the off-peak season, replaced by a single 7:05 PM sailing.

The ‘wait-and-see’s’:

  • for all islands, the off-peak Friday PM sailing to Tsawwassen sees Pender, Mayne and Saturna traffic gathered up for transfer at Sturdies Bay en route to Tsawwassen.  This is about 20 vehicles and 50 passengers, fairly steady all winter.  Whether Sturdies Bay can handle this traffic efficiently remains to be seen.
  • for all islands: the Friday PM schedule from Tsawwassen in the off-peak includes a 3:20 PM sailing to Galiano and Salt Spring, followed by a 7:50 PM milk run to all four islands and Salt Spring.  It seems likely there will be overloads on that later sailing.  Early reservations recommended.

Pluses and minuses:

  • These generally relate to earlier and later Sunday sailings to Tsawwassen in the off-peak season.  Galiano, 7:45 PM vs 5:05 PM now.  Saturna, 5:30 PM vs 3:35 PM now.  Pender, 3:45 PM vs 7:20 PM now.  Mayne, 7:05 PM vs 8:05 PM.  Some people will appreciate earlier arrivals in Tsawwassen while others prefer more time on-island.

It should be noted that our much-prized inter-island connections, in jeopardy last summer, have now been retained.

BC Ferries have advised us that a number of aspects of the new schedule will need to be put into practice to see how well they actually work.  If there are problems with them – overloads, on-time-performance – they are prepared to reconsider those aspects of the schedule.  As well, they have prepared us to not expect perfect performance from these ferries the first day they go into service.  There can typically be minor teething problems with any new ferries.

Likely the biggest thing we’ll need to get used to will be driving down through the main deck to the lower deck and back up again at the departure point.  It works in Europe, so it’s expected by BC Ferries to work here.  We have advised BC Ferries that these ferries’ success will depend on having adequate width of the opening in the main deck and a shallow enough angle on the ramps to the lower deck.  They have assured us they’ve heard.

While not part of the new scheduling process, BC Ferries’ improvement to the through-fare system is much-welcomed as it will reduce some of the sense of loss in those instances where direct service has been downgraded to a through-fare connection via Swartz Bay.  As well, BC Ferries’ commitment to promote the improved through-fare process has the potential to benefit island tourism by clearly presenting all the options available.

We look forward, optimistically, to the arrival of the new boats while, at the same time, we know we’re going to miss (some aspects of) the Nanaimo.