When the province of New Brunswick started looking into a new ferry to serve Grand Manan, the largest island in the Bay of Fundy, its crews and engineers began discussing where they needed to make improvements to boost capacity over the existing boats.
Pretty quickly they agreed on the answer: everywhere.
The result is Grand Manan Adventure, a 281-foot car ferry delivered in July by Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City, Fla. Compared with the 21-year-old Grand Manan V, the new single-ended roll-on, roll-off vessel carries more people and more vehicles, boasts more robust propulsion and maneuvering and offers better safety, heating, food service and passenger comfort.
Grand Manan Adventure can handle as many as 82 cars or 10 full-size tractor-trailers in four vehicle lanes (its 230-foot predecessor's maximum load was only 64 cars, or six big rigs). The new boat can accommodate 380 people; the previous limit was 300.
That means fewer vacationers and residents will be left behind when the new ferry sails between Blacks Harbour on the mainland and North Head on Grand Manan Island, which is 16 miles long and has a population of about 2,400. The boat completes four daily round-trips of 19.6 nautical miles each way.
Its powerhouse — two EMD 12-cylinder engines and three Caterpillar C-18 gensets — enables Grand Manan Adventure to handle the rough conditions in the Bay of Fundy and the wide tidal variations at its docks (two Berg variable-pitch bow thrusters help). At the same time, the variable-pitch propellers result in low vibration and are quieter.
"Technically, we have a much larger reserve of power for the vessel, so that we can operate better in inclement weather," said Tony Thompson, the province's technical adviser from E.Y.E. Marine Consultants in Nova Scotia.
"The Bay of Fundy can be quite a harsh place to operate — high winds and heavy seas and almost like an ocean environment," he said a few weeks before final delivery. "The existing vessel has a bit of difficulty docking in higher wind speeds — when the wind is over about 25 knots."
Eastern Shipbuilding fulfilled the contract for Partnerships New Brunswick, a branch of the provincial Department of Transportation. Danny Bullard, the project manager for Eastern, said passenger accommodation and comfort were a high priority for the customer.
"They wanted more capacity, and they said they could never get enough heat on the existing boat," Bullard said.
During a tour of the ferry while it was being outfitted in Panama City, Bullard mentioned several features that are unusual even on the newest ferries. Hydraulic hoistable ramps and special Eastern-designed doors expedite the stowing of vehicles, and an elevator lifts the motorists up to the passenger area. A dual marine evacuation chute system can slide passengers to life rafts from a muster point inside the ferry, so the evacuees are not exposed to the elements in an emergency.
One important new safety feature is a midship mooring and new roller fair leads.
"Right at their dock, they have like a 30-foot tide range. This is the first line they heave out, to sort of pivot the boat,â€ Bullard said. "I think these are more friendly to docking and undocking through the mooring eye. These give you the flexibility to roll. … They have a really strong bow thruster and controllable-pitch system and good maneuverability."
The high-pressure water mist firefighting system may be the first on any ferry in North America, Thompson said.
Coastal Transport Ltd. holds the contract to operate and maintain the year-round Grand Manan Adventure and to manage the ferry schedules on the route. The new boat's arrival allows Grand Manan V to shift from year-round service to summer only. The province's 46-year-old workhorse, MV Grand Manan, is being retired.
Krista MacDonald, an engineer who was the project manager for Partnerships New Brunswick, said a traffic survey revealed what most Grand Manan Island residents and visitors already knew: The ferries fill up during the summer tourist season for the one-and-a-half-hour crossing.
"Demand spikes and it seems that first run in the morning and the run at the end of the day are the busiest, and we have left vehicles behind," MacDonald said. "We absolutely had to increase capacity there."
The regulars also frequently spoke up about feeling chilly on the boats. "That is one of the biggest complaints we had on the old ship — that we had inadequate heat," Thompson said. "It can be very cold and it can be quite uncomfortable on a cold morning."
The designers used a "green" approach to help make the passenger areas more comfortable, with a nod toward energy conservation and cost savings, said David Sandlin, senior vice president of the Houma, La.-based heating and cooling provider LeBlanc & Associates. Residual heat from the ferry's power plant is channeled through the boat.
"The thing that's most unique is that we are using heating off the exhaust to heat the water that's going to heat the vessel," Sandlin said. "It's more ecologically friendly, because you are utilizing energy that would normally be waste heat. … It will help save a few dollars on heating costs."
The cooling system is assisted by enthalpy wheels and has four separate chillers, each of which can function separately if one goes down, without damaging compressors.
New guest amenities include a quiet lounge with reclining furniture, a nursing room for moms, direct access to the chief steward's office, wireless Internet throughout the passenger area and a larger gift shop. There is a kennel where passengers can sit with their animals, and the ferry even has an exercise area for dogs and cats.
The food service should be a lot better than before, MacDonald and Thompson said.
"The galley was a big upgrade," Bullard said. "One of the biggest complaints on the old ferry was the food quality. The chef designed this galley and selected the equipment."
Grand Manan Adventure is "one of the most beautiful restaurants in New Brunswick now," Thompson said.
For the crew, Grand Manan Adventure offers a separate crew mess and more storage. The wheelhouse has its own head.
The vessel's maximum cruising speed is 15.5 knots. It usually makes about 14 knots in open water.
MacDonald said the province is pleased with the results of the design-build contract structure, in which Eastern took on the entire project as general contractor, not just builder.
"Eastern Shipbuilding did the complete design using technical specs and operating requirements and performance specs. They had all the risk in this case," MacDonald said. "They have done an excellent job. We got a better price, and they used manufacturers they were accustomed to. We think that other operators in Canada will be interested in this (contract) model."
When New Brunswick awarded the contract to Eastern in 2009 it announced the value at $65 million U.S.
Grand Manan Adventure is one of the largest ferries ever constructed at Eastern. Bullard said it's also probably the most thoroughly thought-out.
"It's the most sophisticated and most outfitted," Bullard said. "They covered all the bases."