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BC Ferries scramble to get back on track after windstorm forces delays, cancellations

Ferry frustrations generated by Friday’s windstorm
What was supposed to be a 90-minute ferry journey to the Lower Mainland turned into a trip to nowhere thanks to high winds on B.C.'s South Coast. Julia Foy reports on the resulting backlog and how travelers were affected.

It was a rough Saturday morning for BC Ferries and its customers as sailings slowly got back on track after Friday’s windstorm, which forced sailings to be delayed or outright cancelled.

Both terminals at Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay saw a three-sailing wait at the height of the backlog, with even those who had been turned back the night before forced to wait for hours to board a vessel the next morning.

By the afternoon, the waits had been brought back down to relatively normal levels — but the damage had already been done.

Windstorm delays ferry service
Windstorm delays ferry service

“It was a mess over there,” one man said upon arriving at Tsawwassen from Victoria.

“Very long lines, lots of waits.”

Zi Yuan told Global News she was waiting for hours to sail to Victoria for her father’s funeral at 4 p.m. Friday, attempting to get on the 11 a.m. sailing. She didn’t get on a ferry until 9 p.m.

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“They just kept promising us,” she said the next morning. “It was really upsetting to have hope every hour, and then to have them do nothing about it. They just kept cancelling last minute.

READ MORE: B.C. windstorm leads to power outages, ferry and transit cancellations

“When I finally realized that I wasn’t going to make it, it was just so sad and disheartening. I just never got that chance to say goodbye one last time.”

Many of the passengers arriving in Delta Saturday had been aboard the Spirit of Vancouver that sailed out of Swartz Bay at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

By 10:30 p.m., the vessel had been stuck for hours in Active Pass, which crews said was due to “adverse weather.” The vessel then turned back to Swartz Bay.

BC Ferries offered refunds, but passengers said they had to wait over an hour for them to be honoured. By the time the clock struck midnight, many still hadn’t answered the question of how they’d get home — if they had homes to go to at all.

READ MORE: Vancouver woman survives critical injuries after tree falls on her during B.C. windstorm

“Fortunately I had an app that helped me get a hotel room,” Maura Pajonk said in Victoria. “But when I got into the hotel, the reception area was filled with people looking for rooms. Some booked ahead, but others were just out of luck.”

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Pajonk was back at Swartz Bay Saturday morning, and said she recognized many of the people she was stuck with on the ill-fated ferry.

Another passenger on that sailing, Austin Smith, said he thinks the reason the ferry didn’t make it all the way across is because the berths in Tsawwassen were all full, which he said crews should have known about before departing.

“I think they knew we weren’t going to dock in Vancouver,” he said as he arrived in Tsawwassen. “They could have made that decision a little earlier.”

Windstorm pounds Metro Vancouver
Windstorm pounds Metro Vancouver

It was a similar situation on the other side of the water. Many arriving for a sailing in Delta Saturday had been told they wouldn’t be getting on any boats at all the night before, forcing them to scramble to find hotel rooms.

“We got the last room in White Rock,” one woman said. “When we checked this morning, the earliest reservation we could get was for 3 p.m. So we just showed up to take our chances.

“We’re getting on one way or another.”

Multiple sailings were also cancelled between Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay Friday. That route also saw heavy delays the next morning.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Power restored to nearly all customers affected by B.C. windstorm

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BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said a total of 25 sailings were cancelled Friday due to the high winds, affecting thousands of customers — primarily on the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route.

“We certainly apologize to our customers who were affected yesterday,” she said. “It’s obviously a frustrating situation where weather can come into play and forces us to cancel sailings.”

She added the cancellations were made out of necessity and were based on the best information BC Ferries had at the time.

“Safety is our first priority, and our captains and crews were in constant communication with meteorologists and Environment Canada to get all the latest information,” she said.

Blustery winds hit Vancouver’s English Bay
Blustery winds hit Vancouver’s English Bay

Refunds are still being honoured, Marshall said, who urged customers to call their customer service line for more information.

But Linus Wong said so far, the refund process has been frustrating to navigate with little information being provided by agents at the terminals.

“They could have talked a lot more and communicated,” he said. “They kept changing what we were supposed to do. Very frustrating. I’m feeling bitter; I’m feeling tired.

“I mean, I know you can’t control the weather. But if they had just made the decision to cancel all the ferries, maybe that would have been better. Would have saved a lot of time.”

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Current information about ferry wait times can be found on the BC Ferries website.

— With files from Julia Foy