Bobby Sherlock and Jen Thorpe’s dog, Cutie, watches from the deck of the Nimpkish on a BC Ferries trip into Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Bobby Sherlock photo)

‘Scariest boat ride of my life’: Passengers trapped by ice on rocky B.C. ferry sailing

The Nimpkish docked in Bella Coola on Jan.12 coated in a thick layer of ice

Passengers endured a harrowing ride onboard a BC Ferries vessel that finally arrived in Bella Coola five hours behind schedule and coated in a thick layer of ice.

Bobby Sherlock and his wife, Jen Thorpe, got on the Nimpkish in Bella Bella in a snowstorm at 3 a.m. last Sunday. They said challenges were apparent from the get go.

“Three vehicles slid down the ramp when we were loading,” said Thorpe. “It was dark and snowing heavily. If we’d had an option we would have stayed put, but there is really nowhere to stay in Bella Bella, especially at that time of night.”

Sherlock, an experienced mariner who ran a sailing tour company on B.C.’s west coast, said conditions got progressively worse.

“Once we left Ocean Falls and headed into the Dean Channel, the weather got really bad,” he said. “I would estimate the wind was blowing 40 or 50 knots, and the whitecaps were up and five or six feet.”

The couple waited it out in the car with their dog, Cutie, but many passengers were trapped in the lounge for hours as the doors to the outer decks were frozen shut and the weather was simply too bad to take the stairs down to the car deck.

“People could not get to the washrooms. The boat ran out of water because the lines froze,” said Thorpe. “No one could walk on the car deck because it was covered in a layer of ice.”

Denise Wilson and Bobbie Johnson were among the walk-on passengers stuck in the lounge areas.

“I’ve gone back and forth numerous times on that ferry and I’ve never experienced anything like that,” said Wilson. “It was like a nightmare.”

They spent the journey caring for elders on board, many of whom were distressed over the conditions. It was dark for a good portion of the trip, and the boat was rocking heavily in the waves.

Only three vehicles were onboard, and they were all parked at the back of the boat to avoid the spray at the front.

“That was the scariest boat ride of my life,” Johnson said. “The crew said they’d seen worse, but it didn’t seem right to me to be traveling in all that ice.”

RELATED: Sheet of ice covers BC Ferries boat during stormy weekend sail (Feb. 2019)

In an email to Black Press Media, BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said safety was never compromised during the trip.

“The conditions were fine prior to the last leg into Bella Coola,” she said. “On the last leg, the vessel was headed directly up the inlet and straight into the wind, which generated sea spray for several hours.” She said the crew wasn’t aware of what the conditions would be like until they got into Fitz Hughes sound and up towards Bella Coola.

Wilson disagreed. “The boat was rocking hard the entire time,” she said. “If there’s bad weather anticipated on other routes, sailings are delayed or cancelled. I feel like they shouldn’t have sailed.”

The Nimpkish, which is the smallest in the BC Ferries fleet, has been criticized for not being suitable for the route, and was only brought in again when the regular boat, the Northern Sea Wolf, went for repairs.

Sherlock and Thorpe now plan to drive back home.

“At no point did I feel like I was even on a ferry. It felt like a cargo ship,” said Thorpe. “I’m not doing that again.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The view from the car deck of the Nimpkish during a scary sailing into Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Bobby Sherlock photo)

The deck and exterior of the Nimpkish ferry was encased in ice on a trip into Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Bobby Sherlock photo)

Crews could not remove a BC Ferries loader because of the ice on the Nimpkish, in Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Les Marston photo)

BC Ferries crews work to free the ropes on the Nimpkish upon arrival in Bella Coola on Jan. 12, 2020. (Les Marston photo)

Just Posted

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

A Kelowna clinic decided to immunize their patients in a drive-thru flu clinic earlier this month. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Interior Health anticipates increase in flu vaccinations this season

Some 300,000 doses of flu vaccine ready for distribution across Southern Interior

Grade 7 Trafalgar students show off posters they put up around downtown Nelson with information about residential schools. Photo: Tyler Harper
Trafalgar class puts up residential school history posters downtown

The Grade 7 students made their own websites and QR codes

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read