Passengers who boarded an early morning ferry from Vancouver Island to the mainland ended up spending hours stranded at sea thanks to a mechanical issue.

Ferry riders told CTV News the problem started shortly after the Queen of Coquitlam left Duke Point in Nanaimo around 5:15 a.m.

"It just kind of stopped," said Elizabeth Lingstrom. "They told us it was going to be a little while and that there was a tugboat coming to get us because the propellers weren't working."

A tugboat did eventually help the ferry dock back at the Departure Bay terminal, but the trip ended up taking nearly four hours. A ferry trip from Duke Point to Tsawwassen normally lasts about half that long.

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the Class C ferry recently underwent repairs, but was believed to be in working condition.

"We were having an issue with the controllable pitch propeller. We thought it was fixed, unfortunately it continued this morning," she said.

Engineers were sent to address the problem, and Marshall said the vessel was taken for sea trials and returned to service by 2 p.m. 

Class C vessels are generally very reliable, she added, but the company is still planning to replace them between 2022 and 2026. 

The mechanical problem forced BC Ferries to cancel all sailings between Duke Point and Tsawwassen, on a day when seven other routes were shut down over gusting winds. 

Queen of Coquitlam passengers were refunded and provided free breakfast and beverages for their trouble.

With files from CTV Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan