CORNER BROOK — It will be load and go when it happens, but it’s still touch and go for the Strait of Belle Isle ferry run.
The MV Apollo has been unable to get into Blanc Sablon since last week because of heavy ice conditions on the Quebec side of the Straits.
The last crossing the ferry was able to make was from Blanc Sablon to St. Barbe last Thursday.
The ship did make an attempt Sunday. It left St. Barbe, but had to abort and return when it hit the packed-in ice about six miles outside of Blanc Sablon — roughly halfway across the Strait of Belle Isle.
Dave Leyden, operations manager for Labrador Marine, the company which operates the MV Apollo, said these kinds of ice conditions can make for tricky navigation.
“We couldn’t move one way or the other and were drifting at two knots,” he said of the Apollo’s thwarted attempt Sunday. “If that kind of (situation) were to take you on shore, then you’d be looking at a disaster. We couldn’t get through, so we had to turn around and come back.”
The decision to make an attempt is based on the recommendations of the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker on duty at the time. So, although the Labrador Marine website indicates the next estimated time of departure is 8 a.m. this morning, Leyden said the call likely won’t be made until within the hour before that when the ferry operators hear from the ice experts aboard the Terry Fox, the icebreaker currently assigned to the Straits.
The daily movement of the ice is largely dependent on wind speed and direction, along with tidal currents and temperature.
“The icebreakers are in constant contact with the captain of the Apollo and what they recommend is what we go by,” said Leyden. “They might tell us that it looks like the ice is loosening up and they will update us again at noon.”
Traffic is starting to build up, especially on the St. Barbe side. Leyden said most people, especially those familiar to the area, understand the delays.
If the ferry can get across today, Leyden said there will still be a backlog, but a second crossing should clear everything up.
“We will be load-and-go the full day if we can operate,” he said. “I’d really like to get two departures out of St. Barbe because that’s where the most traffic is backed up. Our goal right now, though, is to get at least one crossing, so we’ll at least have something moving.”
During the winter, the MV Sir Robert Bond operated the Straits run between Blanc Sablon and Corner Brook. Leyden said having that ship still on the run would make no difference to the current situation.
“If it was the Bond coming up from Corner Brook, then she would be sitting outside and not able to get into Blanc Sablon either these last couple of days,” he said.