For the first time in 18 months, the vessel Victoria Clipper V will enter the inland port at 10:30 am Friday. As pleasant as the passenger ferry is to Victoria’s tourist economy, it may be of greater relief for the company itself.
One of the first companies forced to shut down last year by the pandemic, FRS Clipper has been on the edge of the knife as it waited for the opportunity to resume its daily operations of transporting people between Seattle and Victoria.
“This is essential for us,” said Managing Director David Gudgel. At one point, the company planned to be out of service until the spring of next year. “But one of the key things for us was the staff.”
Gudgel noted that U.S. federal unemployment benefits for many expired on September 3, and if the company could not recall its staff, it risked losing key personnel.
The company was very happy to return to work and “to retain highly qualified people who have unique credentials and a lot of institutional knowledge,” he said. “This opening is the most critical because it allows us to maintain key personnel during the winter.”
Starting Friday, Clipper will offer a four-day weekend schedule, with additional sailings during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.
Passengers, who can be U.S. citizens or permanent Canadian residents living in the United States, must be fully immunized at least 14 days prior to arrival in Canada and must provide proof of vaccination and submit travel information through the web portal. ArriveCAN within 72 hours of arrival.
Travelers must wear masks on board and inside, and will also be required to provide a negative COVID PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test result.
All Clipper personnel must be vaccinated as a condition of employment.
Paul Nursey, Managing Director of Destination Greater Victoria, said the Clipper’s return was exciting. “It’s huge, not just the short-term benefit, but the key strategic element is that we could have lost it. If they didn’t have a reopening schedule, how long would their parent company wait?
“They were in danger of losing highly qualified maritime personnel and now they are able to continue their activities, prepare for [next] summer, re-engage customers and re-engage their brand a bit. Otherwise, they were languishing, so it’s huge to get them to move forward.
Nursey said it helps to have 100 to 200 passengers arriving from Seattle four days a week, given that these are all overnight stays.
“Add it all up and it’s [the equivalent of] one convention per week, ”he said. “Considering how hard we have been affected, we will be grateful to you.”
Gudgel said the company will operate with restrictions, including the requirement for a negative COVID PCR test, which adds cost and another hurdle, and Canadians are still unable to get to Seattle by boat. While Canada has opened up the maritime border to American travelers, the United States has not returned the favor.
The Clipper will operate from Friday to Monday each week, with one round trip per day. Until October 10, the ship will leave Seattle at 7:30 a.m., then depart Victoria at 10:30 a.m. Then it will leave Seattle at 8:00 a.m. and Victoria at 10:45 a.m.
Gudgel said the PCR test virtually excluded day trippers, who made up about 30% of the company’s business.
He said Friday’s first trip already had around 100 people booked for the 535-passenger catamaran.
“We are delighted to be back – it has been a long time to be separated from our friends, colleagues, partners and suppliers,” he said.
Clipper V is expected to be met on Friday and escorted into the inner harbor and the Belleville Street terminal dock by a flotilla of boats, including a fire boat.
Clipper operated a national business this summer. Starting in May, he organized trips from Seattle to Friday Harbor that included whale watching tours. This service ends October 10.
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