Sitting on board his newest electric passenger boat named Rose, Barry Hobbis is all smiles as he lifts up a portion of the floor.
“That’s it. That’s the 16 batteries hooked up,” says Hobbis, before moving to the front of the 10-passenger vessel to reveal the 3.5 horsepower electric engine.
“It’s about the same size as a big shop vac. It’s not all that complicated.”
Last Friday was a day Hobbis had anxiously been waiting for. After launching his first electric passenger vessel, Tina, last year, Victoria Harbour Ferry has now added two more silent, zero-emission vessels to its fleet that cruise the bustling Gorge Waterway on a daily basis.
Needing more boats to keep up with demand, Hobbis, the company’s vice-president of operations, decided to switch to electric to help keep the Gorge Waterway clean. As a child, Hobbis took swimming lessons in the Gorge, but eventually the water became too dirty. Now he’s thrilled to see the water’s being reclaimed and swimmers have returned. The electric boats, he said, offer a new way of experiencing the Gorge.
“We have the ability to stop and let people look over the side. There’s eel grass, there’s life down there, there’s crabs. The work of the Gorge Preservation Society is visible now from a boat,” said Hobbis.
“You really don’t appreciate it until you get out on one and all of a sudden you realize there’s no noise. I can hear the water lapping up against the boat, I can hear the geese, I can hear a seal splash. It’s an amazing vessel.”
“The boats were manufactured in California, with Victoria Harbour Ferry installing the sophisticated computer operating system themselves. Plugs on the company’s dock were changed to 30-amps to charge the boats overnight.
Travelling at a speed of five nautical miles per hour, the boats can operate up to 160 kilometres on a single charge — enough to complete five Gorge tours a day and still have 50 per cent of the battery left over.
But it wasn’t always that easy. During the first year of operating Tina, the captains had problems adjusting to the new steering and the boats ran out of power on three to four trips up the Gorge. Before Hobbis bought two more electric boats, he needed to feel confident nobody would be left stranded.
“It took us a while to figure it out. That was my biggest fear — can we make this work?” said Hobbis, who was blown away the first time he took Tina out for a cruise.
“It was like the first time you go sailing and the sails come out. There’s no noise and it’s just a thrill.”
Victoria Harbour Ferry has been zipping people around the city’s Inner Harbour and neighbouring waterways for more than 25 years. Eventually, Hobbis would like to see the entire fleet of 18 vessels, which run on diesel, converted to electric — something he believes the entire marine industry will do as the technology improves.