Victoria Harbour’s new marina still finding its sea legs

$35-million Victoria International Marina slowly building clientele of larger yachts

Victoria International Marina is still two or three years away from hitting its stride and drawing in a steady stream of business, according to its chief executive officer.

Craig Norris of Community Marine Concepts said the $35-million marina just beyond Victoria’s Inner Harbour is in its infancy and has a few more seasons of learning to go before it becomes a significant player in Pacific Northwest yachting circles.

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“Year 2 will be another learning year and we will have another two of those before we are [on the map]. It takes four or five years before a marina really catches on,” he said. “Yachters have a pretty set itinerary and captains don’t like varying their plans. Uncertainty is not what they want to put in front of their owners.”

Norris said last year, the 28-slip marina’s first, was a good start as it hosted 80 vessels, which on average spent between $20,000 and $30,000 on supplies and provisions during their stays.

“That was more than we expected for the first year, plus we didn’t really open,” he said of what ended up being a season-long soft opening.

Norris said they decided to use the first season and the Melges 24 World Championship yacht race last June as a test to ensure their systems were working, their staff was trained and they were functioning efficiently and with few mistakes.

He said they have already booked 80 vessels for this year and expect as many as 160.

And this year they will be ready for them. Unlike 2018, the marina, which has been built to accommodate vessels between 65 and 175 feet in length, is now fully functional with all of its amenities up and running.

A 7,000-square-foot restaurant on the marina’s east side, called Boom and Batten, is expected to open in the first week of May.

“The property is finished and we have everything ready, we couldn’t say that last year,” said Norris.

It has been a little frustrating to see the marina empty much of the year, he acknowledged. “As a business person, I would love to see boats flying in and out of here, but it takes patience, time and we’re learning.”

They are planning a few events to mark the grand opening of the marina on July 1. To complement Canada Day activities around the Inner Harbour, the marina will host a unique fashion show — inspired by the length of runway they have on their docks and the plastic refuse that seems to collect near one part of the marina.

Called Future Oceans, the show is a challenge for 10 fashion designers to create wearable artwork fabricated from plastics pulled from the ocean.

Proceeds from the show will go to ocean conservation.

While its docks may have been infrequently populated, Norris said they have been a regular haunt for many Victoria groups who have been using its other facilities, such as its 7,000-square-foot multipurpose building on the west side of the marina, to host concerts, meetings and other events.

“There’s definitely a demand for smaller event space on the water in Victoria,” he said, noting they have been busy almost every week since last summer. “We have turned into a bit of an event venue, which is something we always knew we would do but didn’t know how much.”

They are also working on establishing Victoria as a home to yacht charters. That is a long-term plan, but it could be lucrative.

Norris said there is a trend of people chartering instead of buying large yachts, and he can see the marina taking advantage of the appeal of the west coast as a cruising destination because they now have the facility and resources to get into the game.

Home porting a charter vessel can be worth up to $1 million a year to the local economy.

Currently, the marina, which employs six people, is in the process of hiring staff for the summer. Norris said they will probably take on three full-time dock workers and as many as five other part-time workers, depending on the demand.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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