The Ferries are Here!

By: Brian Johnson

Volume 16, Issue 11, November 2021

Welcome Wolfe Islander IV and Amherst Islander II
North America’s FIRST All-Electric Car Ferries, from Damen Shipyard, Galati, Romania

“This ship is the only one of its kind in service in North America. It can carry 50 cars and 300 passengers, a capacity that is unmatched on the Great Lakes.”        by James Snow, Ontario Minister of Transportation and Communications MV Wolfe Islander III inauguration into service, Kingston ON

October 18, 2021: Arrival of new all electric ferries to Picton Terminals, P.E.C. Ontario.
“These ferries can run 100% electric. They will not only improve operations immediately, they are also ready for the future, as they will each be one of the first of their kind in North America.”      by Jason Buick, Head Marine Services East, Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

Wolfe Island Ferry Terminal, Kingston ON, November 6, 2017

An elated Sophie Kiwala, Minister of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Kingston and the Islands, proudly announced that both Wolfe and Amherst Islands were getting two brand new, larger ferries. Each would have more capacity for passengers and vehicles. It was now official.

The $61 million contract was awarded to Damen Shipyard in Galati, Romania. “I am absolutely delighted to bring this news and we are excited to see the continued expansion of infrastructure for our region,” Kiwala said to a gathered crowd – me included – at the Wolfe Island Ferry terminal building in Kingston. Joining her at the podium was Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) Regional Director Kathryn Moore, who welcomed everyone there, including MPs Mark Gerretsen of Kingston and the Islands and Mike Bossio of Hastings-Lennox and Addington. Mayor Denis Doyle, of the Township of Frontenac Islands and a resident of Wolfe Island, well remembers early haphazard travel to and from Wolfe Island as a child.

“This is fantastic,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. People have waited for this for a long time.”

“It’s absolutely wonderful for Amherst Island,” said Loyalist Township Deputy Mayor Ric Bresee, who was also present. “It’s about the larger vehicles,” he said. “There will now be room for commercial vehicles and school buses. It’ll make a huge difference.”

Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston and the Islands, Mark Gerretsen, remarked that the federal government has committed to one third of the funding for the new vessels. “That could mean as much as $30 million. Infrastructure is such an important part of our economy and we know that the Wolfe Island ferry brings so many people to and from the city on a daily basis, whether you are working in the city, coming to pick up supplies and return, or you are a tourist.”

“This is how sustainable communities are built,” remarked Mike Bossio, MP for Hastings, Lennox and Addington. “By partnership with different levels of government coming forward to assist our communities to thrive and grow. This is great for our whole region.”

Damen Shipyard, Galati, Romania, November, 2019

Exciting times followed. Engineers and officials of the MTO flew across to Romania constantly to see the work progressing. Right on schedule, the Amherst Islander II slid sideways into the Danube River on November 14, 2019.

And then COVID19 hit. By mid March 2020, it was a worldwide pandemic.

Work slowed. Materials slowed. Workers had to isolate. Overseas travel came to a sudden halt. But albeit slowly, work on the vessels continued. Then on September 11, 2020 the huge dry dock slowly filled and with very little fanfare, the Wolfe Islander IV was ‘launched’.

New ferries aboard heavy load carrier Super Servant 4, Galati, Romania, Aug 26, 2021 [Photo Damen Construction]

Damen Shipyard, Galati, Romania, August 26, 2021

They were finally finished. After sea trials, tests, and inspections, the ferries were towed around to a special carrier. Very carefully and very slowly, the two large, gleaming white ferries were floated into place aboard an even larger partially submerged ship alongside the pier. The heavy load carrier Super Servant 4 was already down to her maximum submerged draft of 14.5 metres as the brand-new Amherst Islander II was placed at a slight angle over the cargo deck. Followed shortly after by the equally brand-new Wolfe Islander IV, also placed at a precisely calculated angle beside her sister.

After divers ensured both vessels were exactly on their marks and safely secured, the Super Servant 4 pumped her ballast tanks to rise up to her operating draft of 8.50 metres. Crew aboard, the 169m (555 ft) long by 32m (105 ft) wide ship carrier departed Galati, Romania, on the Danube River, and onward to the Black Sea. Then, heading toward the Mediterranean Sea and the open Atlantic Ocean, the trio buckled up for their 6,660 nautical mile trip to Quebec City, Canada.

Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, September 27, 2021

Almost a month later, heavy load carrier Super Servant 4 dropped her anchor off Pointe du Bout de l’Île, the southwest tip of Île d’Orléans, in Quebec City’s harbour. Finding a berth the next day in the St. Charles River estuary, she filled her ballast tanks and both vessels floated free. Canadian inspections followed. The first to depart Quebec City was the Wolfe Islander IV on October 3. As it would be the same crew, Amherst Islander II followed on October 13.

If you were lucky, you caught them at the different locks and tie up terminals on their separate upriver journeys. Jerry Doyle: “Exceptional design and futuristic looks.” Steve Hogan: “Not sold on her looks yet but the first time I’m vehicle # 56 I’m sure she’ll look great to me!” Mary Heikamp Johnston: “They’re beautiful. I can’t wait for a ride next year.”

We caught the Wolfe Islander IV quietly passing Brockville on an overcast Saturday morning. No engine noise or smoke emission. No wake either. “She glides through the water so quietly,” remarked Rockport Boat Line Captain Janet Gaylord. A captain’s salute of one long and two short from her horn for the gathered St. Lawrence Seaway ship watchers, my wife Cathy and I included, who waved to Senior Captain Robert Woodman and Sr. Engineer Kevin O’Shea, who waved back from the bridge deck. It was a surreal moment for me. I was speechless. I just stared as she passed by. Cameras were snapping away until she disappeared into the maze of islands of the Brockville Narrows.

Later, Wolfe Islander IV passed through her new home port of Kingston. She did a casual pirouette with all fire nozzles spraying. “So very sleek and quiet,” remarked Shauna Kingstone. “It was fun to watch her circle around and throw water in salute.”

Wolfe Islander IV salutes her new home port of Kingston.

These were the most photographed ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway this past fall, as they made their way from Quebec City to Kingston.

Picton Terminals, Prince Edward County, Ontario, present day

Driving along Highway 33 from Glenora to Picton, you may catch a glimpse of both of them between the trees, out in the bay.

Amherst Islander II passing McNair Island, Brockville, Oct. 17.[Photo by Linda Noseworthy Bell]

Their oblong, gleaming white shapes reflecting the sunlight make the two ships, one slightly larger than the other, stand out sharply against the sheer, grey, limestone cliffs directly behind them in the background. Here, at long last, are the two brand-new promised vessels safely and securely moored at Doornekamp Picton Terminals. With their deck lights brilliantly illuminating their space-ship like silhouettes, the view is even more spectacular at night.  Training and crew familiarity for the new vessels will take place from here throughout the winter.

For now, the view from the highway is as close as you can get to the Wolfe Islander IV and Amherst Islander II. Built and designed to take over ferry service to both Wolfe and Amherst Islands, the Wolfe Islander IV, at 98m (322 ft) long by 19.8m (65 ft) wide, will carry 83 cars and 399 passengers. The Amherst Islander II, at 70.4m (231 ft) long by 19.8m (65 ft) wide, will carry 42 cars and 300 passengers.

The world is facing climate change. Gas emissions are rising faster than anyone predicted. As a result, electric propulsion is coming for virtually every mode of transportation worldwide, including marine transportation. Ferries are a good place to start, since they cover the same route again and again. Both ferries are equipped with four electric twin propellers STP 260FP from Schottel of Canada, each with an input power of up to 550 kw (737hp). This system will reduce emissions by the equivalent of 7 million kg of carbon dioxide per year.

Both vessels are equipped to be zero emission-fully electric, but also have twin diesel generators to allow hybrid and full diesel propulsion. Both ships have 1B ice class hulls and 1A ice class azimuth (360º) thrusters. Damen Construction is working with the Ontario Power Generation electric ferry project to install the necessary shore power, so that the vessels can recharge their batteries while unloading and loading up. This work is still in progress. Journalist Elliot Ferguson interviewed Project Manager Justin Farrell,

"The Kingston terminal will have 64 battery strings, holding 5.9 megawatt hours of energy, enough to power almost 1,950 houses for an hour. Marysville, Wolfe Island will have 48 battery strings, which can store 4.4 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1500 houses for an hour.
The terminals at Stella and Millhaven are to both have 32 battery strings, each of which can hold 3 megawatt hours of stored energy, enough to power about 1000 houses for one hour. Each battery string contains about 16 battery cells. The batteries charged from the province’s electricity grid provides the power to recharge the ferry’s batteries every time it lands at a terminal. These on-shore batteries are to be charged at off peak hours when the demand for electricity is lower."

For residents and tourists alike, the passenger lounges of both vessels are aesthetically pleasing. Regarding the Amherst Islander II: “The amenities for passengers and crew are comfortable, and the passenger lounge reflects the history of stone walls on Amherst Island,” said former Senior Captain Doug Shurtliffe, now retired and a resident of Amherst Island. “The wall coverings are actual copies from photos taken specifically for the ferry.” Doug is also very impressed with the ship itself:  “This ferry was designed to have superior ice breaking capabilities with higher grade steel. Four propulsion units and an ergonomic bow and stern. The bridge is equipped with state-of-the-art navigation equipment.”

“For Amherst Islanders, it’s exciting,” remarked resident Lyn Fleming. “It’s the first brand new ferry made specifically for us in about 66 years. It’s a huge expense and mixed feelings for many about electric verses diesel, but it is a new ferry and it deserves the hoopla!”

Vehicle traffic has been steadily increasing every year for the 45 year old Wolfe Islander III, designed to carry 50, but eventually crew were able to squeeze 55 cars aboard. Wolfe Island ferry Shore Captain Robert Woodman: “When the decision was made to build a larger ferry, I was thrilled. Not only as someone who plays a role in providing the service to the community, but as a resident of Wolfe Island. I know first hand the difficulties of getting to the mainland and back. Over the years, I have seen the volume of traffic dramatically increase. Initially, you could drive up and drive on the ferry and during the commuter rush, a few cars would be left behind. Now, even during non commuter times, a person needs to be in the queue at least 30 minutes prior to departure to ensure they will get on the ferry.”

Wolfe Islander IV and William Darrell, Horne's Ferry meet.

Bigger ferries, environmentally friendly propulsion, and better service. The future for the residents and visitors to both Wolfe and Amherst Islands finally looks like smooth sailing ahead.

‘Fair winds and following seas’ my friends and fellow crew members!

By Capt. Brian Johnson,

Brian Paul Johnson was one of 5 captains of the Wolfe Island ferry Wolfe Islander III. Retired now, he has worked for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation Eastern Region Ferries for more than 40 years, recently celebrating 34 years as captain. He has also recently retired as captain of the St. Lawrence Cruise Line's Canadian Empress. TI Life is grateful to Capt. Johnson for sharing so many articles with us and most certainly for telling us that the Ferries are Here!

Header photo by Cathrine Maskell

Brian wishes to thank: Former MPP Sophie Kiwala; MP Mark Gerretsen; former MP Mike Bossio; Retired Regional Director Kathryn Moore, MTO; Frontenac Islands Mayor Denis Doyle; Mayor Loyalist Township Ric Bresee; Patrick Helferty, Manager Regional Services and Relationships, MTO;  Jason Buick, Head, Marine Services East, MTO; Robert Woodman, Shore Captain, Wolfe Island Ferry, MTO; Douglas Shurtliffe, former Sr. Captain, Amherst Island Ferry, Loyalist Township; journalists Mike Norris, Mandy Marciniak, and Elliot Ferguson for earlier news articles; Justin Farrell, Sr. Project Manager, Ontario Power Generation; St. Lawrence Seaway Ship watchers for your comments and priceless photos; and Damen Shipyard, Galati, Romania. Thank you, one and all, for your help with this story.

Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 11, November 2021, News article, Places

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