A sea of hugs: Clipper returns after 18 months, families reunite

There were hugs and tearful reunions Friday morning as the Seattle-based Clipper ferry made its first trip to Victoria in about 18 months.

For Suzanne Sorensen, the arrival of her son Dune on the sailing meant it was time to shift into Christmas/family reunion mode at her house.

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“We’re calling it Festivus so as not to confuse the small kids,” Sorensen said with a laugh.

She said the idea of having a Christmas celebration is to do something for her mother, since last Christmas was curtailed due to COVID-19.

“She’s very strong on ­tradition.”

Sorensen said she has managed to see her son — who works for Apple Music in Seattle — from time to time during the pandemic, but this will be the first occasion in a long while the larger family can gather.

“So we have my sister and her family from Quebec, my nephew and his family from Alberta and my niece from Sechelt.”

Roast beef rather than turkey will be the main course, she said.

Among the other greeters on the Victoria side were Marlene Lavallee and friends Annette Barclay and Karen Mayer, who dressed in red-and-white Canada-themed garb to welcome Lavallee’s son, Paul, and his wife, Lee Ann Mangin.

“I haven’t seen them for almost two years,” Lavallee said as she waited for them to come out the terminal door. “We’re all vaccinated so we’re all looking forward to getting together with friends and family.”

With the rain falling steadily, Paul Lavallee had to wade through a large puddle to finally reach his mom.

“This is pretty special,” he said. “Just glad to be here.”

Mangin added with a smile that her mother-in-law is still the “same crazy lady.”

Paul Lavallee said he saw his mom and her friends waving their flags as the ferry approached.

“I went: ‘Oh dear, family’s always embarrassing.”

He said the Clipper makes the trip to Victoria very easy.

“Downtown-to-downtown, great welcoming committee.”

Allegra Calder, along with husband Gabriel Grant, stepped off the Clipper to see her mother, Elaine, for the first time since December 2019.

Elaine Calder said the long-awaited reunion was both wonderful and heartbreaking.

“It’s great, it’s just great,” she said. “We’re going out tonight. We’re just going to spend a whole lot of time talking.”

Even some ferry staff were emotional at completing the long-awaited trip to Canada.

For now, the Clipper will be on a four-day-a-week schedule, making trips Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and will likely not be back to a daily routine until April 2022, although there will be added sailings for the Christmas and American Thanksgiving periods.

The Coho ferry, which sails out of Port Angeles, will not run until 2022. Black Ball Ferry Line president Ryan Burles has said that the company is waiting until the U.S. border opens and Canadians can travel south again.

Marine borders reopened to Americans Sept. 7, but Canadians still aren’t able to sail south because the U.S. border is remaining closed for marine travel by non-Americans.

Clipper Navigation chief executive David Gudgel called Friday’s sailing “monumental,” and said the down time has been tough.

“Eighteen months has just been brutal and the uncertainly during that time has been really difficult to manage,” he said. “People were really excited to be on board. We have people who are coming up for the wedding of their son, folks who are visiting their daughter at the University of Victoria. We have somebody who bought a house here just before COVID and is finally going to return to it.”

Paul Nursey, chief executive of Destination Greater Victoria, said the return of the Clipper means a lot to the region.

“It’s a huge occasion and we can’t take any of this for granted,” he said. “What the pandemic has taught us is our customers are valuable and Americans are vital to our success here.

“We’ve got governments at all levels that have put restrictions in place and now we need to work to roll those back safely.”


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