By R. Bruce Striegler

In 2012, the British Columbia government awarded a $26.5 million contract to WaterBridge Steel Inc. of Prince George for the construction of a new ferry for the 30-minute crossing from Galena Bay to Shelter Bay on Upper Arrow Lake. B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is responsible for, and operates through private companies, the lake ferries in B.C.’s rugged Southeast corner as part of the provincial highway system.

Between Revelstoke on the North and Castlegar to the South, the Columbia River broadens to form a 230-kilometre-long reservoir behind the Hugh Keenleyside Dam. Originally two distinct lakes, Upper and Lower Arrow, the 12-metre rise in water levels created by the dam mostly eliminated the distinctions. There are no bridges across and no roads that run the length of the lakes. To the East are the Selkirk Mountains, to the West the Monashee Mountains.

The new drive-on/drive-off ferry will replace two 40-year-old vessels and will transport 80 vehicles and 250 passengers. Weighing about 1,100 tonnes, the 320-foot-long and 64-foot-wide double-ended vessel is now under construction in the tiny lakeshore town of Nakusp. The twenty-month build will see it in service by spring 2014. The vessel will have wider lanes and improved ramp transitions for faster loading and unloading, increase capacity and provide environmental benefits.

The ferry service reduces a car trip from Nelson to Revelstoke from eight to four hours, and in 2011 carried 218,658 vehicles and 294,694 passengers. Marine transportation has long been part of the region, where once steam paddlewheelers provided freight and passenger service to the scattered towns and settlements on Arrow Lakes and the Columbia River extending downriver to include both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the border.

B.C. firm skilled on Northern and inland ferries

WaterBridge Steel Inc. owned by John Harding, has designed, built and operated vehicle and passenger ferries for British Columbia lakes since 1976. He was responsible for the construction and operation of the largest freight-carrying icebreaker in the world when it went into service on Williston Lake in Northern B.C. in 1995. The company also constructed the 2004 Francois Forester, which provides ferry service under contract with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on Francois Lake in Northern B.C.

The replacement vessel will include a new version of the propulsion system built by the German engineering firm Voith. WaterBridge Steel has ordered three Voith Schneider Propeller (VSP) systems. The technique delivers thrust in all directions. It is a fast, continuously variable and precise vessel propulsion system combining propulsion and steering in a single unit. VSP equipped vessels do not require rudders. Thrust and steering forces between zero and maximum are generated in any direction.

In this unique design the propeller blades protrude at right angles from the rotor casing and rotate around a vertical axis. Each propeller blade performs an oscillating motion around its own axis which is superimposed on the uniform rotary motion. The VSP is fitted in the vessel so that only the blades protrude from the hull.

On the new ferry, WaterBridge has designed two VSP arranged diagonally on the ship, the third will be used as a spare. Robust stainless steel propeller blades ensure reliable propulsion, even if they are subject to hard impacts from driftwood or ice. Voith will also supply two turbo-couplings, as well as the propeller control system for the project in July 2013. The couplings ensure soft start-up of the diesel engines and dampen any torsional vibrations. The combination mode integrated into the control system ensures that operator Waterbridge achieves a reduction in fuel consumption. When running in combination mode, propeller pitch and engine speeds are optimized for maximum efficiency.