As Queenscliff sails this Wednesday for its last weekday passenger service, we will all grow lyrical with our favorite Manly ferry moment. Cue music: Australian Crawl’s James Reyne sings: “Like the Manly Ferry Crossing the Road to Circular Quay.”
For me, it’s my teenage rides sitting on the deck outside, the smell of salt water and freedom from the suburbs of my nostrils getting soaked by sea spray as the huge vessel maneuvers its heads. For former Prime Minister Paul Keating, it was to catch the red rattlesnake from Bankstown and board the double voyage with the freshwater class and jump off the back of it when it came to Manly.
Both Sydneyers and foreigners will all get their eyes fogged by saying goodbye to the first of the last four freshwater classes, our city’s trademark for transportation and tourism. As we begin the process of sending them all back to Balmain Quay and show up for weekend getaways, let’s hope their fate is not the same as Dee Why’s, which in 1976 was removed off the coast of the Long Bay Reef.
Yes, we can mourn the loss of the 70-meter Australian-made double ships carrying 1,100 passengers, compared to the 35-meter, 400-passenger emerald-class ferries made in Indonesia and China that will replace them.
There is no doubt that Transport for NSW and TransDev, which operate our state-owned ferries, will argue that there is a good business case for replacing old diesel-powered ferries with new diesel-powered ferries. But instead of taking a sentimental journey to nowhere, why do we not look to other maritime cities around the world for inspiration.
Like the Finnish city of Turku and its struggle to save the 117-year-old ferry, The Fori. Built in 1904, it was steam powered until 1955, when it was converted to diesel. In 2015, it was considered too dirty and noisy and was ordered to be taken out. However, a huge backlash followed: the Turku people banded together to save their beloved ferry. State authorities reversed their decision and instead of scrapping the vessel replaced its polluting diesel engines with electric motors powered by batteries.
Andrew Westwood, global senior vice president of Det Norske Veritas, the world’s largest global marine classification society and former chief engineer of the merchant navy, says: “The vessel was back in operation in 2017 and has exceeded expectations from both passengers and operators and maintained maritime history. ”
Westwood has prepared a paper on how electrification can save the freshwater class of Manly ferries, describing how the vessels can be charged on Circular Quay and Manly, and how Cockatoo Island can be used as a source of renewable energy. He cites examples from around the world of how similar double-stranded ferries have been converted to electricity while reducing operating costs. He presented it to the NSW government, but he believes the government gave its work “not much consideration at all”.
He has often talked about how Sydney designers and boat builders have worked on electric ships to London and San Francisco, but they have not approached those located at the port just outside our doorstep. Our city is home to one of the best maritime architecture schools in the world at the University of NSW, he said, but instead of harnessing that brain power, we looked abroad to replace our branded ferries.