While West Coast Launch Ltd. operates the yellow Inside Passage catamaran this summer for grizzly bear tours and whale watching, the family-owned and operated marine transportation business has expanded with a newer vessel — the Aurora.
Built in Port Alberni by Canadian Maritime Engineering, the 25.8-metre custom-designed catamaran made it’s way up to the North Coast this spring. The Aurora arrived in time to relieve the Inside Passage from Kitimat so that it can return to Prince Rupert to host popular tours in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary starting May 12.
“That’s why we built the new boat so that we can get the Inside Passage ready for the season because we have a lot of bookings this year,” said Debbie Davis, owner/manager of West Coast Launch.
For the last 12 years, West Coast Launch has been providing marine transportation to Rio Tinto, the aluminum smelter facility in Kitimat, using the 18.2-metre vessel Georgia Master, which comfortably seats 25 people. But a bigger vessel was required with Rio Tinto constructing a second tunnel from its Kemano Powerhouse to guarantee power for the aluminum plant in the future.
The project has brought in 250-300 workers who need to go to and from their camp to the tunnel expansion project.
“We knew that this project was going to happen, so we looked to build this boat specifically for the camp workers in and out,” said Jared Davis, vice president of West Coast Launch Ltd. “We were lucky to have the Inside Passage in our back pocket, or else we wouldn’t have gotten the contract.”
Since August 2018, the Inside Passage has been servicing the contract, running crews back and forth to the project site.
“We had to shorten our tours a little bit,” Debbie said. But they managed to juggle both the tourism and transportation business at the same time by limiting tours to the weekend, and continuing contract work in Kitimat until Sept. 10.
The design process for the Aurora began in May 2016. It was the largest vessel Canadian Maritime Engineering had built. The engineers had to rent a shed from the port authority in Port Alberni harbour just to fit the vessel in. The custom-built vessel cost the Prince Rupert business more than $5-million. Owners, Debbie and Doug flew down to see the boat launch on March 10, 2019.
“The workmanship was top notch,” Debbie said.
The Aurora can carry 100 passengers who are seated on the lower deck, and there’s an open deck for vehicles.
“It’s multi-purpose built. We did contact Rio Tinto to see what kind of needs that they would have. So it can take a fair bit of freight, it has a large crane on it,” Debbie said.
When Debbie travelled down to see the launch of the new vessel she said she felt like an ant standing next to it.
“Although it’s the same design as the Inside Passage, the hulls, like the tunnels that go through the water because it’s a catamaran, they’re actually steeper so it can take more weather and bigger waves,” she said.
While Prince Rupert had calm and sunny weather early in the year, Kitimat experienced intense outflow winds.
“We chose that design because going in and out of Kemano can be very rough. The weather’s very unfavourable in the winter months, up to 50 plus knots and we’re still required to get the passengers in and out of Kemano,” Jared said.
Safety is number one, and the boat needs to be run back and forth all year to finish the project.
West Coast Launch got their start in 1988. Doug Davis worked as a contract captain all over B.C., but being away from home while his boys were growing up in Prince Rupert drove him to begin a water taxi business. Six years later, the family purchased the 100-passenger Inside Passage catamaran to dip into the tourist business with Prince Rupert Adventure Tours.
The family business has grown to have a staff of 17 people, seven vessels, and an office in Cow Bay.
READ MORE: Inside Passage makes one-time voyage
Shannon Lough | Editor
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