|Captain seconds recent ferry complaints|
|Written by Trish Baily|
|Wednesday, 30 January 2013 15:38|
In the Jan. 17 edition of the Beacon, the editorial and commentaries regarding the abysmal ferry service in the Virgin Islands were excellent. What surprises me is that successive governments have not addressed the situation. It is not until we have reached the absolute crisis point that the issue is being recognised and discussed.
I shudder to think how many people have lost valuable vacation time or been stranded — and maybe missed flights — because they had no idea that booking a ticket on a ferry back to St. Thomas involves basically setting up an inquisition with all three ferry companies.
I call the companies two days before my charter guests have to return to St. Thomas. I check all their departure times and then plan where my last night’s anchorage will be. I then call the day before departure to check again, and then again the morning of departure — allowing buffer time so that if for some reason a ferry is not leaving from Road Town or West End there is time to get my clients on a taxi to wherever the ferry is allegedly leaving. It is embarrassing to do this, as it becomes apparent to my guests how poorly the VI treats its tourists.
Last Thursday, I was heading from Peter Island to Jost Van Dyke to spend the final night of charter there before scooting across to West End early for my clients to catch the Friday 10 a.m. ferry out. However, on heading down the channel, I passed the Tortola Fast Ferry heading to Road Town. My guests said, “That’s the fast ferry, but it’s not going very fast.” And I replied, “No, that is the other fast ferry: the one that doesn’t go as fast as the fast ferry you came over on. And today it’s not going fast at all, as it appears to be having engine trouble — hence, the black smoke billowing from its port engine, which we are currently choking on.” With a sickening feeling in my stomach, I also had to tell them that it was the ferry they were to take in the morning from West End.
So I made another phone call and learned that on Friday Native Son would run at all; that Smith’s 7:15 a.m. ferry from West End would not be going; and that a 10 a.m. ferry was also unlikely. Smith’s informed me that its ferries were running on schedule. However, they had not run on schedule on Thursday due to an engine problem (I knew this). In an extraordinary statement from the Smith’s agent, I was sort of assured (not much comfort) that it’s perfectly normal for the ferries to have time out — and perfectly okay to not be able to assure me of what ferry my clients may now use to get out of the VI.
Also, the agent suggested that even though they run on schedule, they maybe don’t have to run on schedule all the time and that is perfectly normal! (I am still trying to digest this piece of information).
In the end, we arose early at JVD and I motored from there back through West End and up the channel to Road Town, having been assured that the Road Town Fast Ferry would leave at 10 a.m. There was no lovely quiet breakfast in the cockpit, no final dip in the sea, no time to simply relax and take in the beauty of our anchorage on their last day.
Flying to Beef Island
So where does this put clients? First of all, I have always encouraged them to fly through Puerto Rico and onto Beef Island.
Unfortunately, charter yacht brokers have never done that, so if it’s a broker-booked charter the clients are taking travel advice from their booking agents. I encourage my clients to fly here private with Island Birds or Fly BVI — or to use Cape Air scheduled flights. However, the cost from Puerto Rico to here always seems prohibitive on paper, and then there is a big departure tax out of the Beef Island airport, which is always a bit of a shock for a family.
However, when you work it out, time lost is valuable vacation time coming in through St. Thomas — taxis, ferry fares, and so on. In the end, if you add that up and factor in travel time saved, the advantage of travelling through Puerto Rico far outweighs a slightly higher expense.
If there were a reliable, safe ferry service from St. Thomas until about 9 p.m. each day, then the option of coming through St. Thomas would again be convenient. It would also mean that clients could get here to spend their full vacation time in the VI and not overnight in St. Thomas. Now, unfortunately, many people are limiting their stay in the VI to six days, not seven, because of the inconvenience and unreliability of getting here. For just one couple chartering a boat, this can amount to a loss of a minimum of $1,200 (for food and the cost of the boat) going into the VI economy. If they are in a five-star hotel or a big crewed charter catamaran, that amount could be as high as $5,000.
So to our government: Do your homework, keep the BVI Tourist Board members on island patching up the bad name you are giving to tourism here, and work to keep the repeat tourists coming back year after year. Keep them happy first. We cannot afford to lose these tourists due to the failing ferry service promoted by our government.