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BC Ferries says it is is introducing two-ship service on the Nanaimo Harbour-Gabriola Island route effective April 12, 2022 – and has released the sailing schedule for the two-ship system.

Two new Island Class ships will replace the MV Quinsam. The ferry company has not said which of the six Island Class vessels will sailing on the route on April 12.

The ‘Mighty Quinsam’ as she is called by the local crews, was built in 1982, and has only served the Gabriola route since then. Her last sailing as the official ship for Gabriola will be the 11pm out of Nanaimo on April 11.  On April 12, the Quinsam will be in service for the Salt Spring Island (Vesuvius Bay) to Crofton route.

Regardless of which Island Class vessels arrive on April 12, one of the vessels will provide 18-hours of service on weekdays, with sailing times (starting from Gabriola) close to what is in place on the current schedule, which BC Ferries says is being done to avoid disrupting established travel patterns.

The second vessel will operate during the busiest 12-hour period of the day.

As a result of feedback from the community and the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee, the second vessel will be starting earlier than had been proposed – there will be a 6:35am sailing out of Nanaimo, and a 7:05 sailing out of Gabriola to start the second ship’s schedule.

There will be 5:15am and 5:45am sailings (out of Gabriola and Nanaimo) on weekdays only. The weekends will start with the 6:20am sailing out of Gabriola, and the 6:35am out of Nanaimo.

BCF says having the two ships serving the route will  result in a 49 per cent vehicle, and over 30 per cent passenger, capacity increase – as well as doubling the sailing frequency for the busiest hours of the day.

The Quinsam currently boasts a 70 car capacity, and can carry up to 400 passengers. She sails roughly one round trip per hour through the current schedule.

The Island Class vessels have space to carry 47 vehicles, with 300 passengers, and will each complete one round trip per hour when in operation – there will be a sailing roughly every 30 minutes from each terminal.

BC Ferries says the new sailing schedules were developed in consultation with the community and the Gabriola Island Ferry Advisory Committee through a public engagement process carried out in March and April of 2021.

“Community feedback indicated the importance of the morning sailing times to support commuters and school children leaving Gabriola, and the schedule reflects this input with a new 7:05 am departure from Gabriola. The community also asked for easier loading and unloading of foot passengers. A separate foot passenger walkway has been constructed at the Nanaimo Harbour terminal to support this. BC Ferries also recognizes the significant efforts of the local crew in bringing two-ship service to the route by participating in training, trials, and preparations for the new service, and wishes to thank them for their continued dedication.”

The six Island Class vessels are:

Island Aurora

Island Discovery

Island Nagalis

Island K’ulut’a

Island Kwigwis

Island Gwawis

Earlier this year, BC Ferries said the last two, Kwigwis and Gwawis, were to be the ships assigned to the Gabriola route, but as of press time, had not confirmed those would be the ships arriving on April 12.

Heather O’Sullivan, co-Chair for the Gabriola FAC said, “Gabriola has been dealing with challenging ferry issues  for an extremely long time. Our route has been plagued by frequent overloads, dismal online performance, and long ferry line-ups that range from chaotic to downright dangerous. While we understand that there may be some growing pains, we very much hope that the increased capacity of these two new vessels will provide the community with much-needed relief.”

Steve Earle, the other co-Chair for the FAC said, “The FAC is generally pleased with the new two-ship schedule and optimistic that it will alleviate some of the sailing-delay and overload issues that we’ve experienced. We ask that Gabriolans recognize that there will be challenges as the crews get used to the new schedules and loading protocols, and to continue to be patient.”

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