Things don’t always go as planned.
Victoria was expecting a flurry of construction in the 2018-2019 offseason. A new dolphin arrangement was supposed to allow for the Ovation of the Seas and other big ships to call with ease. That all changed when a freighter from China carrying all the raw materials hit rough weather. The crew cut loose their cargo to save the ship and nearly 400 tons of Victoria’s steel found a place at the bottom of the ocean.
Ian Robertson, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, remembers taking the call. “I thought someone was playing a bad joke on me, honestly. I said, ‘Come on. Don’t kid me.’ And they said, ‘No, no Ian. We’re serious. It’s gone.’ I said, ‘What?!’ And sure enough. It was only a day out from Victoria when they encountered heavy seas. So, we were so close but yet so far.”
What followed was an all-hands-on-deck effort. Working with the BC Coast Pilots and Royal Caribbean, Robertson and his team were able to save the Ovation call, safely mooring the vessel alongside Pier A, where Norwegian Cruise Line’s Joy and Bliss tie up when in port.
“That worked. It was great. So we didn’t have to lose that call for this year. But we assured Royal Caribbean that we will have the dolphin to go alongside our Pier B and it will be ready for the 2020 cruise season,” Robertson said. The new steel made it to Victoria late last year, as scheduled, and construction of the new dolphin is underway.
“That’s significant infrastructure for us. What that will do is allow a Quantum-class ship to moor. And we’re also planning for the future. This mooring dolphin and breasting dolphins will also allow an Oasis-class ship to moor should that ever happen.”
Victoria saw 10 percent growth in passenger arrivals from 2018 to 2019 – from 640,000 to 700,000 – and predicts the same increase into 2020, when they expect to reach 770,000.
The season is lengthening too. Twelve different lines will send a total of 283 ships to the British Columbia island port between April 3 and Oct. 21, 2020.
“From what I’m hearing there’s quite a bit of expansion in the Alaska ports. They’re adding new berths and new terminals, so, obviously, we want to learn more and keep up with the growth Alaska is forecast to see,” he said.
The port is at capacity Friday and Saturday nights and is starting to see new mid-week calls. The Carnival Miracle will call 10 times on alternate Tuesdays and the Golden Princess will call seven times, every other Wednesday.
“It’s really good to be able to spread the increased arrivals throughout the week.”
The Ovation of the Seas had been calling Thursdays at 8am and departing at 6pm but will now depart at 10pm, much to the delight of local shop owners.
Victoria has taken a major step toward its longtime homeporting goals. Already Canada’s busiest port of call, they’ll now be embarking and disembarking 100 or so guests for Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth. The four departures in July and August are strong bookers, Robertson said.
“This is really good news for us. As we’ve said in the past, one of our goals is to become a homeport. So this will give us an opportunity to really test out the idea, test out the infrastructure of having guests embark and disembark in Victoria,” Robertson said. “We’ve been pitching this for a while, and we are pleased Cunard picked us up.”