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

Local Skeena candidates for the Oct. 24 snap election

Current BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross will be running again, as will Nicole Halbauer for BC NDP

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

What is the future of transportation in Terrace?

Active transportation, transit, road networks to play a big part in the coming years

Single-engine aircraft crashes near Telkwa

Two occupants of the plane sustained minor injuries and were transported to hospital

Terrace firefighters heading south to help battle wildfires in Oregon

Over 200 B.C. firefighting personnel will assist in the U.S.

COVID-19: 4 more deaths, 366 new cases in B.C. since Friday

A total of 8,208 people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 since January

Group wants Parliament, courts to hold social media to same standard as publishers

Daniel Bernhard made the comments shortly after Friends of Canadian Broadcasting released a research paper

B.C.’s Chase Claypool catches first NFL touchdown pass

Abbotsford grad establishes new record for longest scrimmage TD by a Canadian

B.C. has highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita, federal data shows

B.C. currently has 1,803 active cases after weeks of COVID-19 spikes in the province

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

181 days gone: Family continues to look for man last seen in RCMP custody 6 months ago

Brandon Sakebow’s last known location was leaving Mission RCMP cell, police say; family has doubts

B.C. unveils new cannabis sales programs to help small, Indigenous growers

Government did not say how it will define small producers, but says nurseries will be included in the policy

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Most Read