It took two years longer than expected, but BC Ferries says a controversial new cable ferry from Vancouver Island to Denman Island has passed all testing and is ready to go into service in February.
The Baynes Sound Connector is the first cable ferry in the fleet, but BC Ferries is confident it will be just as reliable as the outgoing vessel, the Quinitsa, said Captain Jamie Marshall, vice-president of fleet operations.
"It's new technology to the West Coast. It's new technology to BC Ferries and so with that comes doubts and skepticism," he said.
"As we put the vessel into operation we will prove that the vessel is going to operate successfully."
Some residents of Denman and Hornby Islands have expressed concern over whether a cable ferry will be able to handle ocean conditions and West Coast weather.
New rules for other boats
They are also worried about the impact on other marine traffic in the area.
No other boats are allowed to cross over the underwater cables during the entire 10 minutes it takes for the ferry to cross between Buckley Bay to Denman Island.
Red signal lights have been installed at the cable ferry docks to indicate when other boats must stop.
"So when this thing is running in the summertime, shuttling back and forth, the channel is basically closed to traffic for a very big percentage of the day," said Peter Kimmerly, a retired sea captain — who was the senior master of the nearby Hornby Island ferry for 12 years.
Kimmerly also wonders whether all boaters will be aware of what the new signal lights mean.
Education sessions are also being held for local boaters, BC Ferries said.
BC Ferries expects to save $1.75 million per year through reduced crew, maintenance and fuel costs on the 50-car ferry, noting that adds up to $70 million over the 40-year lifespan of the vessel.
It also said environmental benefits include lower emissions, reduced wake and zero discharge into the marine environment.
"I think the thing just has to earn its rite of passage and if it does work well, then people will be relieved," said Frank Frketich, chair of the Ferry Advisory Committee for the area.
The outgoing Quinitsa will become a relief vessel for the BC Ferries fleet.