Just over a year ago, Clipper Navigation announced it intended to establish passenger service between Victoria’s Inner Harbour and downtown Vancouver.
Then last spring the Seattle-based company had to put those plans on hold after it realized it didn’t have the right vessel for the job.
The company has now found the vessel it has been looking for and Clipper promises to have the service established by the spring of 2018.
It will be the second ferry service between the harbours after V2V Vacations announced it will start a ferry service on May 1.
“Clipper has been committed to ensuring that we have the right vessel for this route,” said chief executive Tobias Haack. “For more than 30 years, we have safely and reliably operated ferry services around the Salish Sea, and we know that customer comfort is again paramount for our new Vancouver to Victoria route.
“Halunder Jet is the perfect addition to the Clipper fleet and aligns with our high standards for customer service.”
Clipper found the vessel, the 52-metre Halunder Jet catamaran, amid the fleet owned by its parent company, Förde Reederei Seetouristik. The vessel currently operates in the North Sea between Hamburg and Heligoland and can carry 579 passengers and travel at speeds up to 36 knots.
“We are really excited about this vessel and our ability to move forward with this service,” said chief operations officer David Gudgel. “We’ve been looking at that route for a long time.”
Passenger service between the two harbours hasn’t been tried since the Royal Sealink Express shut down in 1993 after losing millions of dollars due to low ridership after just 19 months.
But starting this summer, Australia-based V2V Vacations will run a 254-passenger ferry between the Inner Harbour and Vancouver.
Gudgel said a lot has changed since the early 1990s. “We’ve been watching both cities grow significantly. There are a lot of dynamics between Victoria and Vancouver and the population bases have certainly changed,” he said. “And look at the numbers of people travelling annually between Victoria and Vancouver on B.C. Ferries.”
Last year, B.C. Ferries reported a 4.5 per cent increase in vehicles to 1.92 million between Victoria’s Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen, while passenger numbers on that route jumped 4.2 per cent to 6.1 million people.
“It’s hit a critical mass, and we believe there is a market for it,” said Gudgel. “Victoria has grown as a destination and we’ve seen the numbers grow in hotel occupancy and hotel room rates — we are just bullish on Victoria.”
Paul Nursey, chief executive of Tourism Victoria, said the addition of another ferry service comes at the right time. “More access is a good thing for the destination. We are seeing strong underlying demand, like we have never seen before,” he said. “We need more capacity and access.”
Nursey said more transportation options mean choice both for individual travellers and for wholesalers.
“As business-to-business providers, they will have more choice as to whom to partner with,” he said. “This is a really good thing for our overseas tour operators which will ultimately keep prices competitive.”
Gudgel said their new vessel will be key to their success.
At 52 metres and with a motion-dampening system, the Halunder Jet was built for use in rough North Sea waters, where it has operated since 2003.
“Those are significant conditions and it has done well on that route,” he said, noting it has only been operated seasonally so it remains in excellent condition.
That will allow Clipper to put it into service shortly after it arrives on the West Coast.
It will operate on its current route through October, when it will be loaded on a heavy-lift vessel to be transported to Vancouver by December.
Gudgel said some minor refits need to be done in terms of new seats, replacing the European electrical system with a North American one, new paint and rebranding.
He could not provide estimated travel times between the two cities, though he said at 36 knots it can travel 20 per cent faster than Clipper’s existing vessels.
Because of its size, it also offers a full kitchen, assigned seating and a chance to offer different classes of seating.
They have not yet determined ticket prices.
There is room for the Halunder Jet at Clipper’s Belleville terminal, though ramp systems will need changes to accommodate the ferry.
The V2V Vacations service, expected to launch May 1, will leave the Inner Harbour from beside the Steamship Terminal Building.