Nine months after coming under new ownership, and after almost two years of COVID-19 restrictions, the MV Frances Barkley is adding a Sunday run to Bamfield.
Lady Rose Marine Services will be bringing back the Sunday sailings on the Alberni Inlet for the month of August, says Greg Willmon, principal owner of Devon Transport, which bought the Port Alberni business in August 2021.
The Sunday runs will depart from the Lady Rose Marine dock at 9 a.m. instead of the usual 8 a.m. in order to accommodate people driving into Port Alberni. The ride to the west coast takes approximately three and a half hours. Passengers will have two hours in Bamfield instead of the usual one hour, giving them more time to explore, Willmon said.
“We’ll just be on the west side of Bamfield,” he added.
The MV Frances Barkley hasn’t done a Sunday Bamfield run in a few years; the vessel used to stop at a lodge the company owned partway down the Inlet to pick up and drop off visitors, but the lodge was sold and the Sunday run was halted a few years ago.
Sunday sailings will start Aug. 7 and run until Aug. 28, and can be reserved by calling 250-723-8313.
The MV Frances Barkley transports passengers, freight, vital supplies and mail year-round to isolated communities up and down the Alberni Inlet. Regularly scheduled runs still depart at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Willmon said the past nine months of ownership has been “a wonderful experience so far. We’re still not up to pre-COVID passenger levels yet.”
However, they’re getting there: on Tuesday, July 12 they had 96 passengers, the largest crowd they’ve had since the Nanaimo-based company took over.
The MV Frances Barkley was retrofitted earlier this year to include updated navigational aids and to reduce fuel consumption by 10 percent. The vessel is fully licenced to serve alcoholic beverages, and a new menu was recently unveiled in the café.
Devon Transport’s investment in Lady Rose Marine Services is a big deal for Port Alberni and the west coast, says Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. The new owners were recently awarded the 2022 Business Investment award by the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“This is a critical piece of the tourism industry for our community and obviously so incredibly important transportation-wise for the whole region and smaller remote communities,” she said. “Just having the stability and having someone who really cares about continuing the service is just incredible.”
Willmon and his partner kept the same staff when they bought Lady Rose Marine Services, including manager Mike Surrell—who recently signed another one-year contract to remain in that position. One of their captains has since retired but agreed to remain as a backup captain. Willmon said they have some tentative plans for expansion of their operations, but nothing concrete. Knowing the 73-acre Somass Sawmill lands will eventually be developed has Willmon anticipating a big future for the marine-based business.
“The two (Somass and Lady Rose Marine property) tie in so closely together, it’s going to be exciting—just the improvements to the waterfront,” said Willmon.
“We’ve got hopes in the future of hopefully expanding on the marina that we have here. Eventually we’re going to develop the building,” he added. “I think you’ll find over the next two years there will be lots of changes.”
Willmon spent 12 years living in Port Alberni and has a number of other business interests in the city, including partnership in Budget Rent-A-Car and some commercial real estate investments.
“Port Alberni has still got a real big spot in my heart. I loved the time I spent here and we’re only an hour away. My future in Port Alberni is still pretty bright.”