It’s been one year since a strong atmospheric river brought heavy rains to Greater Victoria, washing out highways which connected the region to the rest of the Island.
BC Ferries is marking the day by shedding light on how one of its ferry crews stepped up to help the community in its time of need.
The Klitsa and her crew are known by many on Vancouver Island as the scenic alternative to taking the Malahat section of the Trans-Canada Highway, but on that fateful day, the vessel became a critical lifeline instead, BC Ferries said in a release.
Nov. 15, 2021, began like any other day for the crew, with a 7:30 a.m. sailing leaving Brentwood Bay bound for Mill Bay. As they set sail, however, conditions were already deteriorating on the Malahat.
“It didn’t take long to figure out what’s going on,” said Ryan East, captain of the Klitsa. “Whenever there is an incident on the Malahat our lineups get big real fast.”
With demand growing, the crew shortened the ship’s shutdown break from one hour to a half hour, and by 4 p.m., an extra sailing was added to the schedule. A half-hour later, the vessel went into shuttle mode and traffic control staff were called into work. By 5:15 p.m., extra crew were sourced and seven more sailings were added to provide continuous service throughout the night.
On land, terminal staff showed up to help with the heavy foot passenger traffic that had materialized. Neighbouring communities became parking lots for stranded travellers, and residents responded with empathy. On both the Brentwood Bay and Mill Bay sides, people prepared sandwiches, fruit, and drinks to offer waiting ferry passengers.
As the sun rose on Nov. 16, the Klitsa crew resumed their regular schedule. No one knew the status of the Malahat just yet, but the lineups offered an indication. Rough estimates put more than 250 vehicles – a 15-sailing wait – on each side. It was a big ask for a 50-year-old vessel with an 18-vehicle capacity, but the crew and the ship went to work.
“During this time we gave priority loading to ambulances and medical personnel,” said East. “Emergency crews dealing with the floods in the northern portion of the Island also moved to the front of the line.”
Four more sailings were added to the end of the regular shift with crews eventually punching out at around 2 a.m. – the first break for the Klitsa in more than 40 hours. The extra efforts got more than 60 additional vehicles with passengers and dozens more foot passengers to their destinations.
In all, BC Ferries said the Klitsa and her crew performed the equivalent of five days of work in just 72 hours as they quickly turned their scenic sailing into a critical lifeline.
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