Reinventing a ferry that will link Victoria and Vancouver downtowns

A catamaran is undergoing an extensive refit at Point Hope Maritime’s yard, preparing it for V2V Vacations’ new passenger ferry service between Victoria’s Inner Harbour and downtown Vancouver.

The V2V Empress has been at the shipyard for a few weeks being reinvented as a 270-passenger vessel.

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“Work will continue to the end of the year. There’s a significant amount that needs to happen to the ship to bring it up to the standard we require for this service,” said Nick Cheong vice-president of operations for V2V Vacations.

“We are stripping the vessel down to bare aluminum, putting in all new fittings and new interior panels, new seating and, of course, the entire exterior esthetic will be totally changed as well.”

The vessel was most recently a dining and entertainment boat on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec.

A Point Hope spokesman said the shipyard expects the vessel will remain in place until early 2017, and the work will keep between 15 to 20 people busy over the next five months.

Local and regional subcontractors will be called in to do various jobs, including technical and propulsion systems, while craftsmen further afield are putting together elements such as seating.

Cheong said the seating is being shipped from Europe, where the company found high-end leather seats with the right features.

He wouldn’t disclose the total cost of the refit, but Cheong said the price tag will easily be in the millions.

Australian firm Riverside Marine, the parent company of V2V Vacations, had earlier estimated it would spend $15 million, including the cost of the vessel and its refitting, to establish a passenger service on the route.

The company had originally planned to start the service in 2016, but Cheong said delays in bringing the vessel to Victoria forced them to hold off until next year.

Victoria Clipper also intended to start a service between Victoria and Vancouver in 2016, but the company could not find the right vessel to do the job.

Clipper did not respond to requests for an update on its plans to put a vessel on the Victoria-to-Vancouver route.

However, earlier this year, founder Merideth Tall said the company intended to operate that service starting next year when it secured the right vessel.

“It is all about the vessel as far as I’m concerned. We’ve been looking at this route for years, but it has to be the perfect vessel or it’s not going to work,” she told the Times Colonist last spring.

Cheong said V2V is targeting spring 2017 as a starting point for its service, but that will depend on approval from Transport Canada and successful ocean trials, which he hopes will be held over the winter months.

The service, which will take 3.5 hours to get from Victoria to Vancouver’s Coal Harbour, is intended as a high-end experience. “We hope we will be offering something unique and different,” he said.

He would not disclose ticket prices, but said there will be different price points to accommodate people who “just want to get from Point A to Point B” and those who want a more high-end experience.

V2V and Clipper are also involved in establishing passenger-ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver.

Cheong said V2V remains committed to that and has a vessel in mind.

“It’s definitely something we are seriously considering and we are in discussions with the Port of Nanaimo and the City of Nanaimo around that process.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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