Hundreds of passengers aboard two ferries that became stuck in the ice off Cape Breton finally set foot on dry land Thursday after the vessels managed to churn through the clogged waters of the Cabot Strait.
The MV Blue Puttees was delayed on its way to North Sydney with about 350 people on board after it became trapped in ice within a few kilometres of the dock. A second ferry, the MV Highlanders, arrived in Port aux Basques, Nfld., with about 450 people on board after it struggled through the ice-choked strait.
Marine Atlantic spokesman Darrell Mercer said the MV Highlanders managed to move free of the ice Thursday morning.
The Crown corporation said the Blue Puttees left Port aux Basques at 11:45 a.m. local time Wednesday and hit ice about 15 hours later off the northern coast of Cape Breton.
The Blue Puttees, aided by the MV Atlantic Vision, escaped the ice at about 4 p.m. and docked in North Sydney about a half an hour later.
"We were concerned about the northeasterly wind when we were mentioning this a few weeks ago, and of course we had that big nor'easter that moved in a few days ago, and that pushed the ice into Sydney harbour," said Mercer.
"At some places the ice thickness is up to eight feet, so trying to get through that is pretty challenging."
Passengers were on the ferry for more than 24 hours. The ferry had an ample supply of food and fuel and the captain updated the passengers regularly by intercom and briefings in the common room, he said.
Jill MacPhee was on board the MV Highlanders, travelling with Prince Edward Island's Kings County Kings female bantam hockey team to Newfoundland for a tournament.
"It was about nine o'clock (Wednesday) night when we heard word we were going to wait for the icebreaker to come and they should arrive around midnight," MacPhee said by phone. "Before that, it was slow going and we hadn't moved very far."
MacPhee, who was approaching shore when she spoke, said she was pleased with how the 16 players in her travel group handled the situation.
"Everyone is getting a little anxious as we get a little closer, but we are almost there," she said.
Some passengers used social media to share their experiences.
Adam Penney, a photographer and videographer from Newfoundland, tweeted a photo from the Blue Puttees at 10:30 a.m. Thursday with the caption, "22 hours on the ferry and we are still stuck. Keeping in good spirits though!"
Cara Wyllie, also a Blue Puttees passenger, tweeted late Wednesday: "We keep getting stuck, we back up, we go forward and break through the ice. It is quite the site."
And then at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday she announced on Twitter: "We broke through the ice and are sailing on. Lots of rolling due to the high seas. Looks like we will get home today."
Marine Atlantic expects ferry crossings to be affected by the ice for the next 48 hours.
The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larson was originally called in to free the vessels.
Paul Veber, supervisor of ice operations for the Canadian Coast Guard, said it will be at least Saturday before there is any relief in the ice conditions in the area, so the ship will continue patrols to provide assistance as required by Marine Atlantic and other vessels.
The Canadian Press