SEATTLE — The Victoria Clipper set sail Friday after 17 months of suspended service due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
FRS Clipper resumed its fast ferry service from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia, on Sept. 17. The Victoria Clipper will now operate on a four-day schedule, with additional sailings around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
The Victoria route is the bread and butter of the organization. Yet, even though the Canadians relaxed the rules for Americans last month, there have not been reciprocal agreements on the U.S. side.
Marine crossings were also given special attention and limitations, which has stopped the Black Ball Ferry out of Port Angeles to resume travel. Washington State Ferries cancelled the Sidney run for all of 2021. The Clipper will run the route on weekends.
"There is a great symbolical impact having the boat up and running," said Victoria, B.C. Mayor Lisa Helps, who was out in the rain cheering the ship in Friday.
The mayor said Victoria's burgeoning tech industry needs it, too.
"The link between Seattle and Victoria is really important economically, socially, culturally."
The point was echoed by Alexya Skrlac, who runs the On Gelato shop on Government Street in Victoria.
"It's never been a summer that we've experienced, without the cruise ships and without tourists from other parts of the country," she explained.
Paul Nursey, president and CEO of Destination Victoria, said tourism dropped to 30% of normal in 2020, and creeped back to about 60% of normal this summer.
Besides all the COVID-19 protocols, the Province, and as a result, the city started a vaccine mandate for most businesses.
"It provides certainty for hotels, restaurants and nightclubs," said Nursey. He said the Clipper's return is key to a recovery.
"We know the numbers will be slow to starts, but at least we have that possibility now," he continued.
Paul Lavallee was among the first passengers on Friday, and saw his mother Marlene for the first time in two years. "Great welcoming committee," he laughed, after embracing his mother who was seen cheering on the harborside.
Meanwhile, on Government Street, Skrlac said she will continue to serve up hope, with a side of gelato, until the tourists return.
"We hope they come back, and then pandemic comes to end soon, and people get vaccinated," she said.