Burrard Pacific Breeze

In the contentious and often politicized world of ferry design, it is rare to find a boat whose passengers are consistently pleased with the service. It is doubtful if anyone will match the record of the Vancouver SeaBus where, after 30 years of successful service, a new vessel has been added to the fleet that is built to the same basic concept and design as the two originals.

Commissioned in 1977, Burrard Beaver and Burrard Otter run backwards and forwards across Vancouver Harbour’s Burrard Inlet. The 1.75-mile trip takes 10 to 12 minutes. At each end, as many as 400 passengers stream ashore from one side of the vessel while another 400 board from the opposite side in a process that takes just three minutes.

Left, Mate Russell Karvas updates the log book while Capt. Randy Penland lands the 400-passenger ferry at the end of its 1.75-mile trip. (Alan Haig-Brown photos)

A series of six ramps to port and starboard, with wide sliding doors, make this rapid turnaround possible. A crewmember operates the terminal ramps from a control boom that extends from the pier and aligns with an open port in a crew space on the main deck level. Once the ramps are lowered on the offload side of the vessel, the crewmember opens the passenger doors.

With all passengers offloaded, ramps go down and the doors open to board passengers on the opposite side of the vessel. The catamaran-style, all-aluminum ferries fit neatly into the piers and connect with nearby public transit systems on both sides of the inlet.

The new Burrard Pacific Breeze, at 112 feet by 41 feet over all, is virtually the same size as the earlier vessels, so it fits the same docks. But it incorporates a lot of updated features. Like the originals, the new boat is powered by an engine in each of the four corners of the hulls, but the new Tier-2 MTU Series 60 diesels producing 400 hp each are slightly more powerful than the two-stroke Detroit Diesel 6V-92s in the original boats. Each of the engines on the new boat drives an HRP 3000 azimuthing z-drive with 41.3-inch by 37.6-inch thrusters.

The new SeaBus looks like its 33-year-old predecessors but the hulls were redesigned for lower wake and better fuel efficiency. Each of the boat’s four MTU Series 60 diesels drives an HRP 3000 azimuthing z-drive.

Although it’s not obvious to the commuters rushing on and off the SeaBus, the twin aluminum hulls were dramatically redesigned to offer a lower wake and improved fuel consumption. The reduced wake and increased hull efficiency speak well for the design work of Vancouver naval architects at BMT Fleet Technology. Ray Moon, manager of BMT’s Vancouver office, explained that the hull form was a total redesign of the original boats’ and was optimized using computational fluid dynamics and tank tested.

Two operators of the vessel expressed satisfaction with the reduced wake, but said that overall, the boat had a “heavier†feeling than the earlier boats, which they described as “hot rods†in comparison. In fact, the new vessel is marginally lighter, so the slower response may result from different and slower settings in the turn rate of the azimuthing drives, or perhaps from the addition of bulbous bows on all four corners of the hull.

Capt. Penland

The operators are delighted with the dramatic improvement in the pilothouse size and layout. The much larger space allows for separate fore and aft control stations. The wheelhouses of the older vessels are designed almost like aircraft cockpits; they have a single pilot chair with the joysticks mounted on the arms (to reverse directions, the operator simply reverses the chair). On Burrard Pacific Breeze, the operator walks a few feet to the alternate control console and pushes a button to take control at that location. Access to the wheelhouse on the new boat is by a set of stairs as opposed to the ladder access on the original two vessels.

The passenger accommodation area has also been stretched a little while keeping to the overall envelope of the earlier boats. Seats are upgraded from molded plastic to cushioned. Passengers range from regular commuters to tourists getting an inexpensive harbor tour or going over to take advantage of the restaurants and shops at the North Shore terminus, but unfortunately for camera-carrying tourists, the expansion of the accommodation area’s inside dimensions has reduced a small deck space that is located fore and aft on the older boats and allowed for regular cleaning of the windows through which Vancouver’s skyline could be photographed. Neither the old nor the new ferries have any outside decks for passengers.

The key to disembarking passengers from the SeaBus and taking on the next load of commuters is a series of six ramps with wide sliding doors on each side of the vessel.

All of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are located in a half-deck under the wheelhouse and above the passenger area. This gives the wheelhouse an increased height relative to the original boats, which the operators like as they can now see over the top of the roofs on the terminals for better visibility on departure.

The project cost of the new SeaBus was C$25.5 million, of which the Canadian government contributed up to C$5 million through the Federal Gas Tax Fund, and the province of British Columbia an additional C$5 million through the Provincial Transit Plan. TransLink funded the rest.

The construction of the passenger block and connecting structure was carried out at ABD Aluminum in North Vancouver. It was then transferred by barge across the Gulf of Georgia to Victoria, B.C., where it was mated with the hulls that had been fabricated at Victoria Shipyards.

The hulls each have four watertight doors dividing them into five separate compartments. The two end compartments contain the drive units. The main engines are in separate compartments next to that and a larger central compartment in each hull contains a Northern Lights generator set and switching panels. As with the earlier boats, Burrard Pacific Breeze is capable of maintaining its schedule with only three of the four main engines.

Seats in the passenger area are now cushioned.

On completion, the vessel was outfitted in Victoria prior to traveling on its own power back across the Gulf of Georgia to enter service in Vancouver Harbour.

With a gray and yellow paint job that matches Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain and buses, the new ferry has quickly become an integral component of the area’s public transportation system.

By Professional Mariner Staff