Research Report 2008

Straight up, on ice

How do you build an icebreaking ferry for an area like no other in the world? If you’re professor Dag Friis, you start by turning to three engineering students who have created a unique prototype for the Strait of Belle Isle. What began as a request from community groups on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland and the southern Labrador coast for a new, year-round ferry turned into an innovative ship-building idea.

If the needs of the project are unique, create a vessel that’s equally unique.

People need to cross the strait year-round and they rely on the ferry for the transportation of food and supplies. But not just any old icebreaker can handle the extreme ice conditions of the Strait of Belle Isle. In the winter it’s packed tight with multi-year ice. And in the summer, throngs of tourists head to the remote region, which relies heavily on the tourism industry for economic success. The answer: Design a boat with a unique icebreaking hull, but with tourist friendly décor, gift shops.

Jacques Cartier sailed through the Straits of Belle Isle in 1534 and called the coastline “The land God gave to Cain” because it was so desolate. However, it is the waterway that separates the Labrador Peninsula from the island of Newfoundland and the closest connection Newfoundlanders have to the rest of the world.

Navigation in the strait can be extremely hazardous with strong tidal currents, depths reaching several hundred metres in some places, sea ice for 8-10 months of the year, and variable weather conditions including gales and fog. Because of these conditions, the ferry link between the Labrador Straits and the Island of Newfoundland is a perennial concern to the residents in the area as well as to the thousands of tourists who visit the Straits every year. But three Memorial University students took on the challenge of designing a ferry like no other that had ever been built. Evan Martin, Heather Brown and Jessica Coffey, students in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, designed a ferry to withstand multi-year ice conditions and possibly year round ice.

“The only other place where one has ferry operation in ice is in the Baltic where one only encounters first year ice,” explains Dag Friis, professor of engineering and supervisor of the team. “Our designs are geared to handling varying degrees of severity of ice conditions at St. Barbe.”

The students collaborated on the ferry design that could handle the winter ice in the Straits area and still be able to accommodate the summer tourists and regular users, including the transportation and shipping industry. Team leader Evan Martin says that although one of the concepts they designed was unique, it came out of a comparison of other vessels currently out there. “Naval architecture is more of an art than a science. It evolves. Each one is built upon previous designs but each vessel needs to be designed for the routes they’re serving and this route is certainly unique.”

“The Apollo has outlived its useful life and was even aged compared to normal ship life expectancies, when it was purchased from the Baltic for use in the Straits,” says Professor Friis. “Our conclusion is that, for the type of class you need for the Straits, you can’t find an existing ship like it, you have to build one. If the people of Southern Labrador want year-round service, then a new ship is the answer; two even better!”

“At Memorial, and in Canada in general, we have built up considerable expertise in understanding how to design ships for different types of ice environment,” he adds.

The request to design the ferry came from a workshop organized by the Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development, in partnership with the Labrador Straits Development Corporation and the Southeastern Aurora Development Corporation, held in 2006. At the L’Anse au Clair workshop, the tourism break-out group identified the need for a new, year round ferry to replace the existing vessel which connects the Northern Peninsula with the Labrador Straits. “This project was tremendously rewarding, as it has practical value and has the potential to drastically improve an essential transportation link for the people of Southern Labrador,” said Mr. Martin.

Copyright © 2008 Memorial University of Newfoundland