Nova Scotia

18-car ferry ideal size for Tancook Islands, says marine manager

The man in charge of ferry services in Nova Scotia is convinced the 18-car ferry the province plans to build to carry passengers and vehicles between Blandford and the Tancook Islands is the right size for the service, despite criticism.

Peak summer crossings could see 12 or more vehicles per trip

The existing ferry, the William G. Ernst, is nearing the end of its lifespan. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government is giving boat builders until next week to submit bids for a new 18-car ferry to carry passengers and vehicles between Blandford and the Tancook Islands.

Although some are opposed to the new vehicle ferry and others have questioned its size, John Majchrowicz is convinced this is the right boat for the job.

"I have years of studies on all the volumes and people that we collect on the ferries," he told CBC News recently. 

As manager of marine services at Nova Scotia's Department of Transportation, Majchrowicz has crunched the numbers and determined an 18-car ferry and 11 crossings per day are what islanders need.

The provincial government has issued a tender for a new ferry to replace the aging William G. Ernst. (Government of Nova Scotia)

According to figures supplied by Majchrowicz, ferry traffic is highest in June, July and August. In 2019, the number of passengers increased from 3,600 to 4,300 to 6,700 during those three summer months. 

Majchrowicz used a two-passenger-per-vehicle model to determine how many vehicles a ferry might carry per trip during those peak summer months. In June and July, he estimated seven to eight vehicles per crossing and closer to 11 or 12 in August. That's based on a projected 11 crossings per day, not the current four.

"For example, on a sailing at 10:20, you could average up to 90 people per voyage," said Majchrowicz. "So if you look at 90 people, two people per car, I would need 45 cars.

"Because we would be running more runs, I could now distribute those cars over so many runs. So an 18-car ferry would cover the load, so to speak."

Current ferry has 1-car capacity

The ferry now in service, the William G. Ernst, has become old and unreliable. It can carry one passenger vehicle at a time and only during crossings when the tide is high enough.

Having an 18-car ferry would also allow for truck traffic on the island, another major consideration for the province.

"Right now there are no service trucks, delivery trucks of any type, that go to the island," said Majchrowicz. "In the future, you will have the school bus, the delivery trucks, the septic tank pumpers, you know, all that type of traffic.

"Because right now it's all carried by hand, virtually."

The tender issued by the Nova Scotia government calls for an 18-car passenger ferry. (Government of Nova Scotia)

Ward Carson and his wife have been residents of Big Tancook Island for 4½ years. He acknowledged there are pros and cons to the proposed replacement ferry, but said he believes the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

"Well, personally, for my wife and myself, I think they do, but I recognize that a number of people we know are less than happy about it," he said. "I think they recognize there will be benefits, but they like the existing system that we have."

Simplifying oil, firewood deliveries

What he was sold on was the possibility of having door-to-door delivery.

"People can get oil delivered to their houses," he said. "We can get firewood delivered directly to our house.... It's complicated now. I know we have, over the years, had to get firewood either in crates or cattle boxes into our pickup truck on the island."

He said it has taken multiple trips to bring it from the dock to his island home.

About a month ago, the province announced it would spend almost $10 million to replace the William G. Ernst. The tender call ends Dec. 8.

Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines said the province would need to spend about $20 million more on building ramps and a new docking facility in Blandford, and on changes to existing docks on Big Tancook and Little Tancook islands.





Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.


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