Coastal Renaissance: German precision for Canadian waters

Coastal Renaissance is the first of three new German-built car and passenger ferries  delivered to BC Ferries. It is shown here arriving at Horseshoe Bay, the eastern terminus of its run across the Gulf of Georgia.

Her regular route across the Gulf of Georgia is only 30 nautical miles, but British Columbia’s new 525-by-92-foot ferry Coastal Renaissance proved herself on her 10,000-nautical-mile delivery voyage.

This took her from her builders at Flensburg, Germany, through the Panama Canal to Vancouver, Canada. Several BC Ferries staff accompanied a Redwise Maritme Services delivery crew on the voyage.

 “The first night after we left the Kiel Canal for the North Sea, we spent six hours lying ahull in a gale,” recalled her senior master, Capt. Harald Stokke, “The bilge keels softened the roll but she still hit a total of 43° from side to side.”

Stokke explained that the ferry has a relatively broad flare at either end to accommodate the vehicle decks and maximize vehicle space. This flare will cause a severe pounding in extreme conditions. As a result, it was necessary to settle for the roll that they encountered again off the west coast of Mexico. But this was a super test of a vessel that is not designed for anything like those conditions. For the ferry’s normal run in the Gulf of Georgia, the specifications require it to be able to cope with a significant wave height of a little more than 8 feet, which, Stokke explains, occurs less than 0.5 percent of the time in those inland waters.

The designers wanted passengers to be able to enjoy the dramatic views of the islands and waters of the Gulf of Georgia so they created passenger areas on deck 6, above the deck 5 command bridges.

Over the course of the delivery voyage, the representatives of BC Ferries were affirmed in the understanding that this was a ship built to extremely high standards. Germany has a shipbuilding industry that has learned to cope with some of the highest labor costs in the world to deliver cost-competitive ships such as these twin-car-deck ro-ro ferries capable of carrying approximately 370 cars or a mix of cars and trucks on 6,565 feet of lane space.

While winter storms can make for some uncomfortable weather in the Gulf of Georgia, the usual concerns of the crew of a ferry like Coastal Renaissance are somewhat more mundane. “Our No. 1 job is passenger safety,” explained Chief Steward Sheila O’Neill. “Several of my shipmates even went to Germany with Transport Canada officials to do drills and check the timing for an evacuation.”

Using the 69-foot-long inflatable slides rather than the more common chutes, they calculate that it is be possible to clear 1,600 people to the life rafts in approximately 25 minutes. These are impressive numbers for a ship with a maximum capacity of 1,650 passengers and crew. The ferry has 22 100-passenger life rafts with a total capacity 30 percent greater than the maximum passenger load.

Stokke prefers the slides to the chutes, as the top of the slides are open, so that he can watch the progress of an evacuation from the bridge wing without having to rely on a crewmember’s radio communication.

Passenger safety is a huge component of the thinking that goes into designing and operation of a modern passenger ferry. The hull has eight watertight bulkheads with watertight doors that are kept closed while underway. Two separate engine compartments can operate independently in the event that one is disabled by fire or other emergency. Similarly, independent safety-control stations on each bridge of the double-ended ferry allow for the remote monitoring and operation of all safety systems.

A Marioff Hi-Fog water mist system of fire suppression that uses no chemicals is installed in both passenger and machinery spaces. The car deck is fitted with a high-volume, low-pressure drencher system. There are six fully equipped fire lockers located throughout the ship to provide ready access to firefighting equipment. Video cameras monitor 42 locations on the ship to give the bridge instant visual access to these areas, with several of the cameras being able to swivel and zoom as required. For example, it is possible to zoom a camera to read a license plate on the car deck.

Top, Third Officer Earl Pleasance and Second Officer Graham Willis on the bridge.

Above, Coastal Celebration, the third of the Super-C class ships at the dock in Departure Bay. Not yet in service, the vessel will go on the southern route and, unlike the first two, will have a buffet.

The two bridges, located one on each end of the double-ended vessel, are as well equipped as most oceangoing ships. Dual port and starboard monitors provide electronic charts and a separate ARPA (automatic radar plotting aid). The duty master directs navigation in and out of the berth with helm commands to the quartermaster, although the ship can be steered directly by the master managing the controls mounted on a central panel.

The diesel-electric propulsion allows the four eight-cylinder MAK 8M32C main diesel engines, each producing 5,361-hp at 600 rpm, to turn at a consistent speed. The electric power generated is then used for the ship’s two 11,000-kW electric-drive motors that turn the propeller shafts at either end. These shafts are fitted with 16-foot-5-inch-diameter controllable pitch propellers that turn at a constant speed of 140 rpm when the respective drive motor is engaged.

For handling into and out of the pier, the master will have control of both the forward and aft rudders and props. By balancing the amount of pitch between the two props, it is possible to bring the ship to a very gentle landing while the prop flow over both rudders gives the effect of powerful bow and stern thrusters working together.

As the ship readies to depart the slip, the master moves to the wheelhouse on the opposite end of the ship. For safety, both bridges are manned until the station that will be the bow for this trip takes control. Once out of maneuver mode, or when the boat is moving 8 knots or more, the forward rudder is locked at 0°. The forward propeller is also feathered so that the blades are in a neutral fore and aft configuration to reduce drag.

The dual end design allows the ship to come quickly up to its normal operating speed of 20.5 to 21 knots, as there is no need for turning after leaving the slip. In the event of engine failure, the diesel-electric multi-engine configuration means the vessel can still maintain an 18-knot cruising speed with only two of the four engines.

Top, the wash of the forward prop slows the ship as it approaches the dock. The ferries have controllable-pitch propellers.

Above, Gordie Robertson assistant engineer, in the engine room.

The hull design allows for minimal wake, a feature that saves time in getting out of the terminal areas, where beaches and pleasure boats need to be protected from strong wash effects. Stokke, who also served as master on the BC Ferries’ fast catamarans, points out that it was excessive wake issues that spelled the end of that program. The hull design of the Super C class ferries, of which Coastal Renaissance is the first of three, has a block co-efficient of 0.32 percent and generates between a third to a half less wake than the similar length, but older, C class ferries.

On a relatively short 30 mile run, such as Horseshoe Bay on the mainland to Departure Bay on the Vancouver Island side, any slow bell requirement can add significantly to the scheduled 1-hour-35-minute crossing time. The ship can make a comfortable 22 knots, but fuel costs mandate balancing fuel conservation and maintaining schedule. Anything from a stalled car to a lost child can delay an offload. In the summer, when most trips involve the full complement of vehicles and passengers, there is a 10-minute flex built into the schedule, but the goal is to offload and load in under half an hour. This allows for crews to make two round trips per eight or nine-hour shift.

Crews work eight days followed by four days off. Fire and boat drills are carried out for each eight-day assignment, with a range of other safety drills fitted in at various intervals.

As did several others from the engineer sector, Coastal Renaissance Senior Chief Engineer Michael Atto spent time at the Flensburg shipyard as the ship neared completion.  As Coastal Renaissance was the first of three vessels, they were able to train on the completed vessel while observing the launch of the second, Coastal Inspiration, and the pre-assembled modules for Coastal Celebration, while their piping and wiring were still exposed. This initial instruction continues with shipyard personnel in British Columbia for training and troubleshooting through the two years of the vessels’ warrantee period.

“These Super-C class ferries don’t require SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) classification, but since that is the minimum standard at the Flensburg yard, that standard has been met,” Atto said with the same pride  shown by the crew throughout the ship.

Shipyard construction and design survey responsibilities were delegated to the American Bureau of Shipping by Transport Canada. Since these are the world’s largest dual-wheelhouse double-end ferries ever built, the Flensburger design team worked closely with BC Ferries’ project management team to meet the particular requirements of the routes.

Passenger comfort was not neglected, with the Schottel controllable pitch propellers being tank tested to minimize vibration. This, along with resilient engine mounts, lighting and other refinements, earned the ferries the ABS Comfort+ classification.

The vessel affords passengers quiet spaces where they can buy coffee and cake and read newspapers.

The passenger decks are provided with a wide range of amenities, from coffee shops to restaurants, gift shop to video room, and computer carrels to children’s playrooms. One of the most generous acknowledgments of passenger primacy is the placement of passenger spaces on deck 6, above the two deck 5 command bridges. This allows for full windows in an observation lounge from which passengers can enjoy the spectacular views along the route. Additional passenger spaces are located between the two bridges on deck five.

When ferry construction involves politicians and citizens, there is often heated public discourse about where and how the ferries should be built. This was the case in British Columbia a decade ago during the last round of ferry building and questions were raised about building the current vessels in a foreign county. But since their delivery, there appears to be real customer satisfaction with these very serviceable German-Canadian ferries.

By Professional Mariner Staff