Harbour ferry ready to take over Blue Boat service

A private ferry will launch 6 a.m. Tuesday from military property in Colwood as the Blue Boat service sails into the sunset.

A private commuter ferry will launch 6 a.m. sharp Tuesday morning from military property in Colwood as the Blue Boat service sails into the sunset.

The Baseline ferry service will shuttle civilian and military Department of National Defence staff across Esquimalt harbour during morning and evening rush hours.

The 40-foot, 40 passenger boat Grey Selkie is scheduled to carry its first batch of customers on May 1 at 6 a.m. from the Colwood D jetty to Dockyard, offering a service similar to the Blue Boats. Grey Selkie will also stop at Naden during the day, timed to employee shift changes.

Barry Hobbis, owner of Victoria Harbour Ferry, which operates the Baseline, said he is happy to provide a shuttle service at a price comparable to bus transit. A one-way ride is $2.50.

“That (cost) works for us and we think it will work for the riders,” Hobbis said. “We worked with a number of individuals who ride the boats to ensure it’s affordable and it does what they need it to do. We tried to be careful and stay as close as reasonable with transit costs.”

CFB Esquimalt decided to end the Blue Boat shuttle, first reported by the Victoria News in early March, due to the struggle to find staff for the auxiliary fleet of tugs and fire boats. In operation since 1955, Blue Boats originally shipped personnel and equipment around base property in the harbour, but evolved into a popular, and free, commuter service.

About 400 military and civilian staff from the West Shore and Sooke used the ferry daily, and faced the prospect of joining the jam-packed Island Highway and Trans-Canada Highway starting May 1. Nearly 750 DND personnel responded to a survey supporting a private ferry.

“It appears to be a desired service. Many people told us point blank that they need it,” Hobbis said.

In past months, Baseline ferry staff and its boat have been undergoing security and safety certification to work within DND property. A second boat is expected to enter operation mid May.

“We had to jump through a number of hoops to meet the requirements of Her Majesty the Queen,” Hobbis said. “There was rigorous attention to detail. The base commander, Canex staff and our staff worked through it as an affective team.”

In early April, Colwood entrepreneur Cynthia Cummings moved to launch a “Blue Bus” service to transport DND personnel from Colwood to Dockyard, but that effort was cancelled in the wake of the ferry service.

“I endorse the ferry service 100 per cent,” said Cummings, who is now working with Hobbis on managing Baseline. “It makes sense to offer a service people already know.”

Hobbis said this DND ferry service could lay the groundwork for a civilian ferry between Colwood and Victoria, although a lot of peices would need to fall in place. “(A civilian ferry) not out of the scope of where we might go,” he said.

See victoriaharbourferry.com/baseline for times and prices of the Baseline ferry service. The service is open to DND personnel only who are authorized to access CFB Esquimalt property in Colwood. From May 1 to 4 the service is free.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com