Evening ferry-goers aboard the Skeena Queen are seeing some relief as BC Ferries reinstates upcoming Friday and Saturday sailings in time for the B.C. Day long weekend.
In an updated notice Monday, the company said cancelled July 29 and 30 sailings between 5:50 p.m. and 9 p.m. from Victoria (Swartz Bay) to Salt Spring Island (Fulford Harbour) and vice versa are now expected to travel as scheduled.
However, following a weekend of cancellations due to a crew shortage, more nixed Skeena Queen sailings are on the horizon from Monday, July 25 to Thursday, July 28, according to BC Ferries.
That means the 5:50 p.m. sailing departing Fulford Harbour, 7:00 p.m. departing Swartz Bay, 7:50 p.m. departing Fulford Harbour and 9:00 p.m. departing Swartz Bay are all no-goes those four days.
“It’s a staffing problem again. In this case, it’s one of the senior people on board. He’s been ill, but he’s coming back,” Harold Swierenga, Salt Spring Island ferry advisory chair, told CHEK News on Monday.
“By the time the last sailing goes, the commercial traffic is pretty well done for the day. So that’s a major advantage. However, people coming and going, sure, it’s a real problem,” he said.
To help combat cancellations, BC Ferries says a 48-person water taxi will provide free service between the two islands on the regular posted schedule, beginning at 5:50 p.m. from Fulford Harbour.
“Sailings will depart from the Government dock adjacent to Swartz Bay, and the Government dock at Fulford Harbour. The walk from the Swartz Bay foot passenger booths to the dock is approximately 10 minutes, and terminal staff will be available to provide directions,” states the notice.
Swierenga says recent ferry cancellations come amid the busy summer rush and mean people have to alter how they do business, himself included.
“As far as people coming to the island, we have a guest cottage as well,” he said.
“Of course, most cottages and B&Bs only rent by the month in the summertime and the change-over day is usually on Friday or Saturday. We’ve been notifying people to make sure they catch the ferry.”
In an interview last Friday, Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce operations manager Alexander Fischer-Jean noted constant cancellations were causing stress and difficulties for residents and businesses alike.
Fischer-Jean also said that a lack of affordable housing for ferry workers may be contributing to the problems on local routes.
Apologizing for any inconvenience customers may experience due to cancellations, BC Ferries says the decision to cancel a sailing “is made when we have exhausted all options to find replacement crew.”
“We require a specific number of crew members on board the vessel to ensure the safety of our passengers in the unlikely event of an emergency and to comply with Transport Canada regulations,” it said.
The company adds that customers who travel via water taxi can leave their license plate number with the ticket agent to receive free parking at the Swartz Bay terminal.
But people not having access to their cars when on Salt Spring Island is something Swierenga calls “a real pain in the butt.”
“Looking ahead, hopefully, this will all be over by next weekend, and we can go back to some normality which has been tricky lately,” he added.
-With files from CHEK’s April Lawrence.