BC Ferries has confirmed that the 2019 season with Northern Sea Wolf will be extended by a full month: beginning two weeks earlier on June 3 and ending two weeks later on October 10.
This is largely in response to the requests by Bella Coola Valley Tourism and their industry partners in the wake of the “no-show” 2018 season.
“Bella Coola Valley Tourism is pleased that BC Ferries has responded to our requests for a longer season,” said Tom Hermance, President, Bella Coola Valley Tourism. “We are confident that it’s going to be successful.”
Hermance also said that, despite the ferry debacle, BCVT has still enjoyed a relatively good season, with many visitors arriving in the fall.
“We have noticed that fall is becoming a more popular time to visit the Valley,” said Hermance. “Many tourism operators have commented that they are near capacity during this time.”
In addition, BC Ferries also confirmed that after the Northern Adventure completes its last sailing on October 11, the Nimpkish will resume the Central Coast route and all vehicles and passengers will be free of charge when traveling from Bella Coola to Bella Bella, Shearwater, and Ocean Falls.
“We understand the impacts this has had on the community and we are pleased offer free fares on the Nimpkish for the remainder of the season,” said Darin Guenette, Manager, BC Ferries Public Affairs. “We hope people are able to take advantage of this service.”
The Northern Sea Wolf was originally slated to begin servicing the direct Port Hardy – Bella Coola route on June 19 of this year. That date was then moved to mid-July, then October, and eventually the service was officially cancelled.
Understandably, this left many tourism operators in the lurch as they scrambled to deal with cancelled bookings and bad press.
In an effort to make amends, BC Ferries enlisted the Northern Adventure after it had completed its annual run on the Inside Passage – Haida Gwaii. It began servicing the Port Hardy – Bella Coola route on September 16, with the company offering the service at a a 40 percent discount. It has since proved popular.
“The first direct sailing from Port Hardy to Bella Coola had 39 vehicles and 83 people,” Guenette confirmed. “We don’t have exact numbers yet from all the sailings, but the numbers are similar for most September bookings from Port Hardy to Bella Coola.”
For the record, that is more than the capacity of the Northern Sea Wolf, which is designed to hold 35 vehicles. Guenette said the vessel is about 95 percent done and is just waiting for certification from Transport Canada. Once that’s done, the community should have a chance to get a good look at it.
“We are planning to get the Sea Wolf into Bella Coola and the other central coast destinations in the next two months for dock fitting,” said Guenette. “At that time we are hoping to have a chance to invite the community on board to have a look at the vessel.”
Hermance says he’s excited for the chance to finally tour the vessel, and remains optimistic about the upcoming 2019 season.
“With the right marketing and attention from BC Ferries, in combination with our efforts as a tourism organization, there is no way this route cannot succeed,” said Hermance. “The Valley is a special place and people want to experience it.”