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Hullo passenger ferry cancels sailings for a second day, delaying start of service

The first paying-passenger sailings are now scheduled for Wednesday after the company cancelled sailings for Monday and Tuesday.
spuhels-arriving-to-nanaimo-2
The Hullo ferry Spuhéls arrives in Nanaimo in this undated handout photo. Hullo was due to start service between downtown Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver on Monday, but delayed its launch after an overnight power outage and high winds in Nanaimo. VANCOUVER ISLAND FERRY COMPANY

The Monday debut of the new ­passenger-only ferries between downtown Nanaimo and downtown ­Vancouver was cancelled due to high winds and a ­late-night power outage.

Hullo also cancelled sailings for Tuesday. Service is now scheduled to begin on Wednesday.

Alastair Caddick, CEO of Hullo, said that the company wants their first sailings to be safe and comfortable for ­passengers.

“Exposing them to high wind warning, gale force type-conditions … that’s not the best way forward for our first sailing,” he said, adding that the company will be “deliberately conservative” in its first few months of operations.

Hullo cancelled the 6 a.m. sailing out of Nanaimo and the 8 a.m. out of Vancouver at around 5:30 a.m. Monday, saying safety assessments following a power outage the night before had yet to be completed.

When service begins Wednesday, Hullo said in a statement that there will be a revised temporary launch schedule through Aug. 30 that has sailings departing Nanaimo daily at 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and leaving Vancouver at noon and 6:30 p.m.

“Our long-term vision is not only to be a transportation provider but a pillar of reliability and trust in the community,” Caddick said in a statement.

About 3,800 B.C. Hydro customers in Nanaimo lost power about 11:30 p.m. Sunday. It was restored within a few hours.

The outage caused a blackout on the two Hullo ferries, which were connected to shore power at the time, said Caddick. The vessels are usually moored in Nanaimo for the night.

Engineers arrived at 5 a.m. to assess the situation and wrapped up their inspection by late ­morning, finding no damage, he said. But sailing cancellations continued, this time with strong wind as the reason.

Shortly after 3 p.m. Monday, Hullo informed customers via email that all sailings for the day were cancelled and that refunds would be available.

A strong wind warning was issued for the Strait of Georgia south of Nanaimo Monday and is expected to continue today, with winds of 20 to 33 knots expected.

Caddick said Hullo is monitoring the wind conditions. “As Hullo sets its course in these initial months, we are adopting a deliberately conservative stance, with the safety and well-being of our passengers steering our decisions.”

The company did not sell all its seats because it was planning a “soft opening” and had capped the number of seats available.

Hullo vessels can each carry up to 354 passengers, with adult fares ranging from $39.99 to $59.99 one way.

“We’re very, very, thankful for our passengers and their understanding,” he said. “We look forward to welcoming ­passengers on board very soon.”

Vancouver resident Sarah Blyth said she was looking ­forward to Hullo’s 10 a.m. sailing from Nanaimo on Monday ­morning and only found out about the cancellation when she was “steps away” from the ­terminal.

“There’s no phone to call, so it’s hard to really get an idea about what’s going on. You just got to wait for things to upload on their site,” she said.

With her plans in disarray, Blyth ended up buying a plane ticket to Vancouver International Airport and taking the Skytrain into town, a trip that cost her about $100.

Blyth, who regularly ­travels between Vancouver and ­Gabriola Island, said it’s an unfortunate first day for Hullo.

“It’s a very good idea for a service. I think it’ll be well used. But it needs to be reliable,” she said. “If it’s not reliable, then it’s going to be hard to plan.”

Caddick said that the startup company is hoping to get its “sea legs” in summer conditions so that they will be prepared for the rougher weather in winter.

Hullo ferries are lightweight catamarans that handle chop well but are more susceptible to heavy winds, Caddick said, adding that Monday’s weather conditions were atypical for this time of the year.

B.C. Ferries sailings between Duke Point-Tsawwassen and Departure Bay-Horseshoe Bay and were running as scheduled Monday morning, though there were waits of several sailings for vehicle passengers on the Nanaimo side.

The Hullo trip is expected to take about 70 minutes, with vessels travelling at up to 38 knots.

The passenger ferries, named Sthuqi’ (sta-key) and Spuhéls (spah-els), arrived in B.C. in June after being built for the Nanaimo-based ­Vancouver Island Ferry Company by Damen Shipyards in Vietnam.

mjlo@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Carla Wilson