By Keith Norbury

A new ship on a 7,200 nautical mile voyage from one coast of Canada to another is bound to encounter a few unexpected mechanical glitches. So it was with Captain Goddard M.S.M. and M. Charles M.B. — the last two of nine Hero class Canadian Coast Guard Mid-Shore Patrol Vessels that were constructed by Irving Shipbuilding under licence, pursuant to a $194 million contract awarded in 2009— on their 39-day voyage from Halifax to their home port on Vancouver Island.

At Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, leaking oil coolers on both of the $21.5 million vessels needed repairs. Unfortunately, replacement parts weren’t on board. The ship engineers had the presence of mind to check out the local Home Depot and find what they needed for a temporary fix. “We had to MacGyver some repairs,” said Brian Phillips, a test and trials manager with Irving Shipbuilding, from Goddard’s deck as it berthed at the Institute of Ocean Sciences near Victoria, B.C., a few days after the ships completed the voyage.

Mr. Phillips and fellow Irving manager Brian Briggs were on board during the trip to assist each of the nine-member crews as they familiarized themselves with the ships and their new equipment. That included advice on how to start the engines, maintain the gear, and expedite the shipping of replacement parts. “And then if there are repairs, just how we put stuff together that might not be obvious at first,” Mr. Phillips said.

At Home Depot, the engineers found Dremel tool sanding bits, and fashioned their rubber compression fittings into plugs for the leaking oil tubes. That did the trick until the crew could do proper repairs once the ships reached Los Angeles. Aside from that glitch and having to replace a fuel injector on one of the ship’s engines, all systems on the ships — such as propulsion plants, navigational aids, and alarm monitors — performed as expected. “We’re biased but we thought they did exceptionally well,” Phillips said of the vessels and their overall performance.

The two ships are the last of nine MSPVs that Irving built for the Coast Guard at a combined cost of $194 million. Five of those ships are on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway where their major mission is marine security enforcement with the RCMP. The other four are assigned to work with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on conservation and enforcement off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The ships are called Hero class vessels because they are named after fallen Canadian heroes. Goddard honours the memory of Capt. Nicola Goddard, who was the first Canadian female combat soldier to die in combat when she was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. M. Charles is named in tribute to Coast Guard Seaman Martin Charles, an hereditary chief of the Nitinat First Nation, who received a Medal of Bravery for his role in a rescue at sea that also involved a helicopter crash.

The new ships will continue the work of the Coast Guard’s Post vessels, although the Hero ships are an entirely different class, said Capt. Bob Bennett, who skippered Goddard on its long voyage. The Hero ships are larger and faster than those Post ships, which were built in the 1970s. Sooke Post, for example, is 19 metres long compared with the 43-metre length of Goddard and Charles. The latter have a top speed of 25 knots, nearly double the 13-knot maximum of Sooke Post. “You can’t really compare apples and oranges because they’re technology built in the ’60s and ’70s compared to today’s technologies,” Capt. Bennett said.

Powering each of the Hero ships are twin 2,496-kilowatt (3,350 horsepower) 12-cylinder German-made MTU diesel engines, which Goddard Chief Engineer Matthew Jackson called his favourite feature of the vessel. “They’re very high tech,” Goddard said from the engine room’s control panel. “They’re designed to run at optimal fuel efficiency at low load and be able to run consistently at low load without having any negative impact on the engine. Yet they can produce a lot of power. So they’re efficient when we want to save fuel and transit slowly and then have the power there when we need it to be able to get up and go fast.” And, he added, “They sound great when they’re running.”

Each ship carries a Coast Guard crew of nine — captain, first and second officers, three deckhands, two engineers, and a cook. On patrol, they also have two fishery officers on board.

The crews received a Heroes welcome during a ceremony Feb. 23 at their home port, four days after they finished the voyage. About 100 Coast Guard workers, naval officers, and other dignitaries gathered for the occasion. It featured a video presentation by Capt. Bennett and Capt. Jeff Nemrava, skipper of M. Charles, of the voyage, which at times resembled a slide show of a Caribbean cruise vacation. For the most part, they encountered good weather and calm seas — not to mention balmy temperatures during the tropical portion of the journey, which included transiting the Panama Canal.

The crews certainly had their share of laughs. For example, when the ships came close to the Bermuda Triangle, the midnight- to-noon watch on M. Charles put on tinfoil hats. “I was always afraid to go up to the bridge in the morning,” Capt. Nemrava said. “You never know what they were going to throw at you.” They did, however, have a few actual spooky experiences. Such as on day two, not far from Halifax. “The ships were pounded,” Phillips recalled. “Really, 15 to 20 foot waves, 40 knots of wind.” Capt. Nemrava said he and Capt. Bennett had been studying weather charts in search of an opening to make their departure, which happened on Jan. 11. “Now, some of the crew didn’t agree with our version of a weather window,” Capt. Nemrava said as he showed a photo of water crashing onto the window of the bridge. “We actually had to explain to the crew that it actually wasn’t just about the wind; it was about the icing.” Not only was it warm enough to prevent the ship from icing up, the swells weren’t that bad — at least for a sea captain. “It gave everybody their sea legs,” Capt. Nemrava said. Or, as Stef Olcen, a leading seaman on M. Charles, observed later: “You just have to suck it up.”

The Hero ships are based on (Holland-based) Damen’s Stan Patrol 4207 design, according to the Coast Guard website. Constructed with steel hulls and aluminum superstructures, each ship has an estimated 257 tonnes displacement, seven-metre beam, 2.85 metres of draught, a cruising speed of 14 knots, and a range of 2,000 nautical miles. The ships are designed to carry two rigid hull inflatable boats (a.k.a. RHIBs) on the main deck. However, the fishery patrol versions only carry one RHIB each. Their starboard sides are fitted with machinery for hauling in shellfish traps and fish nets.

Among the vessels’ high-tech features is the Electronic Chart Display & Information System, or ECDIS. “So with this and the proper settings we can go paperless,” said Chief Officer Rhona Lettau of M. Charles. “We’re not there yet, but we could.” She said “it’s been a treat” to work with all the new technology. And she described the voyage home as a “once in a lifetime trip.”

One of the biggest challenges was organizing the ship for that adventure. Now the crew members have to switch to a different mode and organize for the program work, which will keep them mostly within about 25 miles of the shoreline, although they’ll range out as far as 120 miles. Capt. Bennett said he expects the ships will begin patrols around March 23, starting with familiarization and training of the fishery officers.