Fogo ferry mixup costs Toronto couple thousands

Andrew Robinson
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Flight missed as vessel holds space for Change Islands vehicles

A Toronto couple trying to catch an evening flight home earlier this month was forced to miss it after they were unable to board the MV Captain Earl W. Winsor leaving Fogo Island due to capacity issues.
— Telegram file photo

Kyo Song and his wife Mini Ryu of Toronto enjoyed almost everything about their 11-day trip to Newfoundland earlier this month, except for how it ended.

The couple was forced to spend more than $2,000 on new plane tickets and stay an extra night in the province after they were unable to make it on board the ferry leaving Fogo Island in time to catch an evening flight departing from St. John’s.

“I think better communication (is needed),” said Song when asked what the Department of Transportation and Works could do to help avoid situations such as the one the couple encountered the afternoon of Aug. 18.

“Besides the locals lining up in the line, I noticed a lot of people either in different levels of anxiety or not really knowing what’s going on or (wondering) how many cars can get on.”

Ryu, an interior designer, became interested in Fogo after hearing about the island from colleagues in her industry and reading magazine pieces describing the new upscale Fogo Island Inn and the Shorefast Foundation’s internationally renowned artist studios.

“We were kind of keen on seeing it firsthand,” said Song.

After spending several days driving across the island from St. John’s all the way to St. Anthony and areas in between, they arrived on Fogo Island Aug. 16, spending two nights in Joe Batt’s Arm. They visited the artist studios, dined at the inn, and were charmed by friendly locals.

“We travel quite a bit, but the observation we always have is it’s always the Canadian destinations that we want to go back to, as opposed to the international destinations,” said Song. “One thing with Fogo is when we went, we were originally only going for one night, and we just had to stay another night, and we actually changed our plans to stay another night. It was just so peaceful for both of us. We felt so at home there.”


Heading home

They were set to take the MV Captain Earl W. Winsor from Fogo Island back to Farewell at 1:45 p.m. in order to give the couple time to reach St. John’s for an 8:30 p.m. flight to Toronto.

“We didn’t hear about people not being able to get off, but we did hear that it was good to try to get (to the terminal) about an hour early,” said Song.

Counting the number of vehicles waiting, the couple assumed they would get on the vessel — they were 36th in the lineup. However, they were unaware the ship needed to save space for 15 vehicles on Change Islands.

Had they known this was the case, Song said there were a number of things the couple could have done to try to get onboard in order to make their flight.

“We could have asked somebody in the line if it was OK if we go forward a few spots, because of our flight situation,” he said, adding they were also willing to take the ferry as far as Change Islands to see if any passengers there would let them on in their place given the tight time frame.

In the end, the couple took the 4 p.m. ferry from Fogo Island and stayed overnight at a Spaniard’s Bay inn. Having originally booked their tickets with Aeroplan miles, the couple was forced to pay more than $1,000 each to fly back to Toronto on the afternoon of Aug. 19. They also missed a day of work.

“Up until the whole ferry episode, we were just so happy about the whole trip,” said Song. “It was more than an amazing experience. All the people that we met, everyone was just so amazing. I think there was not really anything negative we could say about the entire trip, and then to have it go from one extreme to the other was ... both frustrating and almost tragic for us.”

The issue of ferry capacity still being a problem for Fogo Island surprises Song, given so much money has been invested on the island to make it a popular attraction for tourists.

“My wife made the comment, ‘Can you imagine the people that were staying at the Fogo (Island) Inn, and they potentially go through the exact same experience that we just did?’ You go to a five-star establishment ... but like everyone else on the island, you’re stuck there with this ferry service that can’t really handle the traffic.”


Procedure to load

According to a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation and Works, the ferry will make room on the Captain Earl W. Winsor for at least 15 vehicles travelling from Change Islands to Farewell.

Earlier this summer, a measure was introduced encouraging drivers from Change Islands to be at the ferry terminal at least 30 minutes before departure. At that time, staff in Fogo will call to check the number of vehicles lined up on Change Islands.

If there are fewer than 15 vehicles, ferry staff will accept more vehicles from Fogo Island.

“That maximizes to ensure we don’t have any empty spaces coming over to Farewell,” she said, adding the service operates on a load-and-go basis.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: Department of Transportation and Works, Fogo Island Inn, Shorefast Foundation Aeroplan Island) Inn

Geographic location: Change Islands, Fogo Island, Toronto Newfoundland St. Anthony

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Recent comments

  • Mayrolis
    August 16, 2014 - 10:49

    Why would the Nfld government and Ms Cobb invest so much money into a Inn that is much too expensive for most Newfoundlanders to experience? The Inn is definitely beautiful but it's not for the use of Newfoundlanders. As for the ferry situation a reservation system would be great. Also why would any traveller depart an island via a ferry without giving themselves lots of extra time just in case something unexpected may happen?

  • no more nl for me
    September 03, 2013 - 23:12

    I came... i saw... i will never be back, get something done with your roads. love your small outport towns but to get there is a very dangerous drive. the goverment of NL should be embarrassed to ask tourist to come here and visit. I was almost driven off the road several times by other drivers on my side of the road trying to avoid potholes. i've never seen roads so bad in my life. bye bye NL

  • frustrated
    September 02, 2013 - 18:00

    And now the MV Captain Earl is headed for Dry dock for repairs...

  • Susan
    August 30, 2013 - 19:08

    I visited Fogo Island for a family reunion on Aug 3rd and there were many stories at our gathering about the terrible ferry service. If tourism is the new means of earning an income for some of the residents of Newfoundland why doesn't the provincial government ensure a more convenient ferry system. I agree that a reservation system for the Fogo Island ferry would be a good start.

  • Madonna
    August 30, 2013 - 11:53

    There is reservation system! It called putting your damn car in the line up the night before.

    • Carolyn
      September 01, 2013 - 20:15

      and sleeping in the car? Even if you're elderly, or have little kids? Or it's freezing cold? In Canada? In 2013? Okay then...

  • Surly .B. Gates
    August 29, 2013 - 15:00

    A little story for you: Sitting on my patio in Fogo one evening when a tourist couple walk onto my lawn to take pictures of our stage and boats laying on the flat calm water. I knew they were unaware of my presence. I kindly said, "Hello". Having no issue with their trespassing. The husband turned around and gave me a look as if to say how dare you speak to us. He quickly grabbed his wife's arm and scuttled away. I was shocked. I later found out from a local store owner who was talking to them that they were from NYC. I tried to imagine what would happen if I walked on their property without invite. Im sure it would involve hand cuffs and jail time. This is but one example how things are changing in the town I loved so well, and it's people like that that who have no clue of how this place works. If you come here respect the people and their property. Do research on what to expect with regards to the ferry system ( It is an island ). Be courteous to the people who work on the ferry. It's their job and they do it well given the situation. Above all don't expect to be treated better than residence. If you don't like it go some where different. Thank you. SBG.

    August 29, 2013 - 14:40

    It's funny, as I read the comments below, the common message implies that we're accepting the fact that we need to plan for waiting and lining up. I agree with this within reason but if there's a point to be taken away from this experience, for me anyways, is that we tend not to complain and things continue to be as they are. This situation impacted a tourist, a visitor to the island but the same underlying factors impact everyone. What about emergency situations? If we turn a blind eye to situations that we deem don't impact our own situations, then we risk being impacted the same way when we cannot afford to be. I do truly have sympathy for this couple. If I put myself in their situation and I were visiting a province or place in another country that I've never been to before, well I could very well not plan well enough for a situation but that could happen to anyone. The issue is that we have a problem with a ferry service that cannot keep up with existing demand, let alone growing demand and that impacts EVERYONE that needs to go to and from Farewell, Change and Fogo islands. Something needs to be done before things get even worse. I know that I've become fairly complacent myself about waiting in lines, whether they are in stores, traffic, government offices, etc but this is a wakeup call that we need a solution. Or will we soon just accept the fact that we have to wait 2 hours, and then 3 hours in advance. Accept or demand change?

  • Linda
    August 29, 2013 - 09:33

    Just thought I would add my experience going to and from Figo Island as a day outing to take my guest from Minnisota to have lunch at the Fogo Island Inn. The Inn, the food and the service were wonderful. However, the ferry schedule does not allow for loading and unloading so with each trip they are further off schedule. Our Vehicke was loaded to the far right side of the ferry into a tunnel area. I use a cane and was not able to get out of my vehicle as there was not enough room to open the door wide enough. I couldn't get out to use the washroom. My beautiful experience on Fogo Island was soon diminished by this treatment on the ferry. There should be a handicap line up to make sure people who need assistance can get out if their vehicles.

  • D. Davis
    August 29, 2013 - 08:01

    Ferry systems are not adequate. No argument. Not enough boats for the provincial service and they are too old in most cases. Too much money and 'issues' with Marine Atlantic. Government is not providing reliable access. It's too bad that people only get loud when they imply it is affecting Inn guests. These services are a huge issues for residents and always are. People miss medical appointments, due to the ferry. They incur more expense by having to rebook and come again to Gander or Grand Falls. They miss work too. There were a number of medical issues that put the boat to Fogo of schedule this summer. A medical emergency can't wait in the ambulance for the next scheduled crossing. When you're in the line up and see the ambulance you think oh no and then hope the person will be okay. As for the Inn, they appear to have procedures in hand from what I can see. A reviewer who stayed there said on Trip Advisor that someone was sent over to sit with their car so they could just go to the Inn rather than sitting in a line up. They also offered or put his car in the line up for departure. It's only a matter of contacting the Inn and they are very good to contact guests in my experience too. Maybe if they were Inn guests, they would have made the boat? The only negative review the Inn has seems to be very much resembling this story and these people didn't actually stay at the Inn. If they'd had dinner at Chesters or Vanessa's would they have caught the boat? I think not. I agree with a previous comment that these travellers appeared off schedule and would not have made their flight if they had caught the original trip they lined up for. They only allowed for one day near the end of an 11 day trip and then stayed a second day. Oops. It's unfortunate that their flight cost so much but again, Newfoundlanders are stuck paying these same rates in emergency situations. There aren't enough flights or competitors. Many people, probably hundreds had similar problems with Marine Atlantic this summer, costing expense in hotels, having to drive to Port aux Basque rather than Argentia and in the case of friends, having to cancel the whole trip. I'm pretty sure the 29 rooms at the Fogo Island Inn and the 60 jobs attached to them, are not responsible for this expense or these line ups either. I base my observations on 3 trips to Fogo since June where we always caught the boat (although we came close once) and seeing ferry passengers at the Inn with big smiles.

  • Jeo
    August 29, 2013 - 06:19

    Carole burden is exactly right! What were these people thinking! They should of left the day before!!

  • Gerard
    August 28, 2013 - 21:42

    "...I noticed a lot of people either in different levels of anxiety or not really knowing what’s going on or (wondering) how many cars can get on.” Holy crap. Seriously? Still? That was the case a year ago as well Tourism Newfoundland, with your over-the-top advertising to these exact people, are you listening?! They want to go see these beautiful pictures you show them, these beautiful places, and STILL the ferries are archaic and the service is atrocious and the reality is sub-par. Get serious. When I was there last year, I thought: "World class" hotel/vacation, people were talking Oprah Winfrey... and then I got on that ferry with a non-working, (yet not hidden from view) 20 year old kitchen, on ferry from 1967 or something, WHEN I frickin got on (!), everyone accepting that like it's part of life (!) "world class!" my arse. your ads look great, your product sucks. Bogus management and misspending of funds for these accessibility services for too many years. period. "You may not post insulting, discriminatory or content" what if it involves the government/management of public funds?! they SHOULD be insulted if they think they know how to manage this or any resource. and I AM discriminating: I am differentiating between what you sold and what they got. stop embarrassing us.

  • Empathetic Ear
    August 28, 2013 - 21:26

    Let's not forget that this is a COMBINED ferry service and that residents of Change Islands also experience disappointments from the disorganization associated with the ferry. Unfortunately for Change Islands residents, they have to be in the line up 30 minutes prior to departure (which for some means leaving 1 hour earlier), which is the same expectation of residents of Fogo. Each summer this turmoil begins. Noone (even residents of the islands) knows whether to park at the sign near the terminal or to go directly into the lineup TO the terminal. This causes much confusion. Then when the fall comes and there isn't as much traffic, an understanding is met... that is, until the spring when festivals begin again and lineups become harder to manage. Something really needs to be done for this type of "highway" to be successfully run. There's an old saying, "If it's not broken, don't fix it". Unfortunately, no one at the Department of Transportation & Works knows or abides by this saying! They try to "fix" the lineup situation every year, and it creates more confusion rather than less! Find something that works, and STICK WITH IT!

    • Custom Made
      February 07, 2015 - 20:20

      How often has a CI resident spent in a lineup 5 hours? After being there 2-3 hours before departure........30 minutes before? give me a break!

  • Carolyn R Parsons
    August 28, 2013 - 20:51

    The ferry system is a mess. The line ups are disorganized. I am a Change Islander who last time down witnessed two Fogo Island residents jumping into the change Islands line up taking a spot from a Change Islander who came after(only 15 spots for CI going from farewell also) and a spot from a person in the Fogo Island line up who had gotten there on time. In this day of technology why is there NOT an electronic reservation system in place? Why do the workers have to be responsible for traffic control when a simple booking system could resolve so many problems? Imagine if everybody just showed up to an airport? I do agree with Carole Burden however...the couple in the story left it too late..I would have been on a ferry the previous evening or the very first ferry of the morning if I had an 8pm flight from St. John's. An accident on the highway could have caused as long a delay as what they faced. That was poor planning. As to five star patrons...if they can afford the Fogo Island Inn...they can afford the cost of delays I imagine. There is an easy fix to this problem but the government needs to have the will to apply it. Electronic reservation and ticketing. The economy of those two islands is growing...grow with it ferry services.

  • Trudy Leyte
    August 28, 2013 - 19:21

    The five star establishment should provide transportation for its guests. by plane or by ferry. But they shouldn't be given priority over the residents of fogo island. Iam a resident of fogo island and the ferry system is hard enough for us to deal with on a daily basis without people going to the head of the line just because they stayed in the hotel. The hotel is responsible for informing their patrons of the ferry problems, regarding the amount of vehicles the ferry will hold and any other ferry issues. people coming here need to remember they are guests and as such they shouldn't interfere with the local persons need for use of the ferry, wither it be a doctor appointment for someone, an ambulance or even every day travel off the island. Get in line and take your chances like everyone else.

  • Sarah
    August 28, 2013 - 18:08

    The first article on this story:

  • Steve
    August 28, 2013 - 17:53

    It's really too bad that the ferry crew couldn't look for a way to accommodate this particular situation. There are so many uncontrollable variables when it comes to the ferry service but this was one that could've been taken care of. I recall reading an article just a few weeks back about the very same ferry leaving the port at Farewell, stopping and reversing back in to pick up a car that just drove up to the ticket gate. Hard to believe we're talking about the same ferry here..

  • Heather
    August 28, 2013 - 09:54

    The Fogo Island Ferry Service was NOT designed primarily as a tourist vessel. The Ferry is in operation out of necessity to ensure the citizens of the island have access to the "mainland" because of their isolation. As the province is responsible for this service, it is no wonder that it is inadequate in every possible way. The new tourism "boom" on Fogo Island has affected every part of life for people who are residents of Fogo Island. You can't even drive down the road without people stopping abruptly, getting out of their cars, and taking pictures of the beautiful scenery there. Areas that are private property such as stages in Tilting and other areas such as Oliver's Cove are being infiltrated by tourists who are both disruptive to the quiet life to which the residents of Fogo Island are accustomed and discourteous when it comes to people's space. The investment into the Inn and Shorefast organization by Ms. Cobb and our tax dollars, on behalf of the provincial government, should have been accompanied by a travel strategy that would accommodate the increasing number of tourists during peak season, if nothing else. Not every tourist is "rich" and can charter a plane to visit the Island. It's hard enough to deal with the "more legitimate' traffic using the ferry service without people complaining that their vacation was adversely affected. What about seniors who have no choice but to take the ferry to access medical services in Gander or Grand Falls-Windsor? Or family members who need to come home for a funeral? The provincial government and media need to recognize the REAL tragic stories about how this service is not meeting the needs of citizens of this province, rather than worrying about daytrippers who don't have a clue about where they are or what travelling within this province entails. I've taken the ferry twice in the last week and will be again on Friday. We have family on Fogo Island and there is a real possibility that we won't get to see them because of the ferry traffic. Time is more valuable than money, as is health and a sense of security. Maybe when the province starts using THAT logic, the ferry services in the province will at least meet the needs of those who require this service the most...the people of Fogo Island and their families.

  • James
    August 28, 2013 - 09:47

    It is not easy for tourists to get to Fogo island. Not many flights into Gander, shortages of rental cars and then the uncertainty of getting on a poor ferry service. There is a lot of work to be done here to ensure tourists get a good experience going over to Fogo Island. It starts with a reservation system for the ferry or maybe building a good airstrip with electronic takeoff and landing aids so people are less dependent on the ferry. Gourmet food and a swanky hotel experience can be ruined by bad travel experience.

  • Carol
    August 28, 2013 - 09:19

    "You go to a five-star establishment...but like everyone else on the island you are stuck there..." Wow. People who patron five-star establishments should get preference over families trying to get to medical specialist appointments, emergency veterinary appointments, funerals, etc? A five star establishment has a responsibility to alert its paying customers to the ferry situation when inn reservations are made, or as a previous poster commented, provide alternative arrangements.

    • Empathetic Ear
      August 28, 2013 - 21:29

      I totally agree with your astonishment with such a phrase! I can't believe that just because there is a "5-star establishment" on the island, there is an unspoken expectation that patrons should be treated like royalty elsewhere as well. Other preferences (appointments, funerals, etc.) should take precedence and I love that you noted this! Kudos to you!!

  • Terry Walsh
    August 28, 2013 - 08:46

    The whole ferry transportation system is truly pathetic from Port Aux Basques throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. It is plain to see that not only the Provincial and Federal Government but I am disappointed with the Fogo Inn for not assisting their guests by having made arrangements with the municipal council, residents and ferry operators to arrange a priority ticket for the Inn's guests. Ms. Cobb I applaud you and your vision and final product, however a few disgruntled visitors and you could suffer in attaining the vision you have created and guest will not come. why not incorporate a helipad and offer your guests an alternative, if they can afford your rates, they may well spend the extra monies for ease of travel to and from the airports.

    • dakotah
      July 31, 2014 - 08:30

      A bit late I know.. but I cannot believe that you think the Inn's guest should receive a "priority ticket". No.. they should not be put in front of residents who need to get off the island for medical appointments and others who have emergencies.. a helipad maybe but they should get the same treatment as everyone else in the ferry lineup.

  • John
    August 28, 2013 - 07:34

    The tourism campaigns never mention the poor ferry service all over the island, unfortunately you do have to plan two days for something that should only take one, part of the laid back charm I guess?

  • Dear Zita Cobb
    August 28, 2013 - 06:43

    I too was disappointed by my Fogo Island ferry experience. We spent over nine thousand dollars for our first class experience on Fogo, only to have it nearly ruined trying to get over to the island. We flew over six thousand miles only to then have to wait in a disorganised ferry lineup where others jumped the cue and the ferry staff onshore did nothing to stop them. To have a ferry service that does not have a reservation system is moronic.

  • June
    August 28, 2013 - 06:43

    Unfortunately for the residents of Fogo island......this is a regular occurrence.

  • Carole burden
    August 28, 2013 - 06:21

    We are just back from a trip to Fogo. Took the 10:15 ferry from Fogo . Arrived in St. . John's at 5 PM for a total of 7-3/4 hours including a short stop for lunch and gas. How could this couple expect to take the 1:45 ferry and make the 8:30 flight. Not possible. Don't think this couple should place the blame on ferry. They should have left after one night which was their original plan. When travelling one has to allow extra time for any car problems, etc. that might arise. By the way we had no trouble with the ferry and thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Fogo. Our third trip there with a different grandchild each time. Showing them some of our beautiful province.

    • Steve
      August 28, 2013 - 17:47

      7+ hours is quite long for that drive. I've frequently driven the Gander-St. John's stretch and average 4 hours. Now stopping for meals would indeed add time.

    • gord
      August 29, 2013 - 22:06

      Cut them some slack here, how would they even know how inefficient our ferry system is being from out of country? We deliver goods to the island and will not send our truck over there now. Goods are dropped at Farewell terminal end of story till this becomes reliable again.

    • Carl P
      August 30, 2013 - 09:15

      Not sure why an article like this is bringing out the nasty side of folks. Do any of us know or met this couple personally? Agree with Gord, an unreliable ferry system has struck again. Time to do something about it, for the sake of ALL who need to use it.

    • Carl P
      August 30, 2013 - 09:28

      While I don't believe that it's right to put the onus on visitors to (a) have to research in advance on exactly what problems we are having with our ferry system and (b) plan around these transportation shortcomings, I very much agree with you on the booking system. It really is the simple solution and long overdue since basically asking people to come visit the island. Very good point.