Alan McGillivray has made a $3.5-million bet on Victoria and he may be considering a second one.
The president of adventure-tour operator Prince of Whales said he believes in the city, its economy and its ability to draw millions of tourists each year, which is why he spent $3.5 million to design and build a new 95-passenger catamaran, the Salish Sea Dream. “I’m very bullish on Victoria. I grew up in Victoria and I have the ocean in my blood,” said McGillivray, who started his company in 1993 as a water taxi business in Sidney.
McGillivray, who now has 14 vessels in his whale-watching fleet, showed off his new 78-foot catamaran in Victoria’s Inner Harbour Monday.
The Salish Sea Dream will offer tours between Vancouver and Victoria.
“We have been doing trips from Vancouver for 12 years and did it on the Ocean Magic sister ship, which is an indoor-outdoor vessel, but I always knew that was the bare minimum needed,” he said.
The route needed an upgrade to deal with chilly mornings in Vancouver and the cold of crossing the Strait of Georia. He said the route has been building ridership each year and a few years ago it reached a point where a vessel upgrade made sense.
McGillivray conceived it, had Victoria-based Gregory C. Marshall Naval Architect design it and it was built in Port Angeles at Armstrong Marine.
“I always knew that with the right boat we could find a bigger market,” he said.
McGillivray said he will look at the numbers after the busy summer season and determine if a second boat makes sense.
The second boat would take about two years and $3.5 million to build. It would allow Prince of Whales to have catamarans berthed in Victoria and Vancouver.
McGillivray said if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. “We are one of the few whale-watching companies whose whole fleet is purpose built. I am an engineer and I don’t believe in buying some piece of crap and retrofitting it,” he said. “I believe things have to be designed properly, built properly and run properly.”
Paul Nursey, chief executive of Tourism Victoria, said investments like this are a signal of positive momentum.
“I was on a retreat with Canadian tourism leaders and they see positive momentum here and want to do business in Victoria. They see things happening — a plan for Ogden Point, a plan for [cruise-ship] home porting and for expansion at [Victoria International Airport]. They say if I am going to put my capital at risk, I think this is one of the areas to consider.”
McGillivray said the vessel takes into account the environment and the adventure experience. Its top speed is 34 knots and cruises at 28-29 knots. It was designed with four quiet jets, no propellers, a hull that offers little resistance and muffled engines.
“There is very little ambient noise above the water and almost no noise in the water,” he said.
The nimble nature of the vessel allows it to get off the main routes between the Island and the mainland and explore areas around the Gulf Islands and follow the wildlife. “Rather than being in the shipping lanes it can go to where you have to to give people the best opportunity to see wildlife,” he said.
That is the focus of the vessel. There are floor-to-ceiling windows to ensure great views, and functional chairs and tables, but nothing extravagant.
The Salish Sea Dream’s Ultimate Day Tour leaves downtown Vancouver at 8:30 a.m. and arrives in Victoria at 12:30 p.m. Passengers take a shuttle to Butchart Gardens where the Salish Sea Dream will meet them at 4:30 p.m. and depart for a sunset cruise, arriving in Vancouver at 7 p.m. Adult fare, including garden entry, is $310.
The vessel also offers a Whales and Gardens package that leaves downtown Victoria at 1:15 p.m. and arrives at Butchart Gardens at 4:15 p.m. Return shuttles run from 6:15 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Adult fare, including garden entry, is $150.