It’s a saying that many recreational boaters have learned at their own expense, especially the owners of larger and larger pleasure craft: “A boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money.”
Why? Because boat ownership is a lot like home ownership, except your investment not only needs regular maintenance on top, the substance it’s sitting in is happily trying to damage it with corrosion and all manner of calamity, as well.
It’s a message the provincial government probably knows all too well, and one that was underlined this past weekend when yet another member of the province’s aging ferry fleet, the MV Beaumont Hamel, ran into electrical problems on the Fogo Island run, leaving the island without ferry service “until further notice” — which turned out to be Tuesday morning.
The Beaumont Hamel was already acting as a replacement for the Earl W. Windsor, which was out of commission for a two-week underwater survey and inspection.
It is, of course, a familiar refrain for users of this province’s ferry service: almost anyone who depends on one of the vessels has their own horror story about breakdowns. The province’s financial accounting for things it purchases without tender has emergency maintenance items for one ferry or another in the fleet almost weekly.
The entire fleet is even more strained after the provincial government decided to stop throwing good money after bad, and took the nightmarish Nonia out of service.
A used Estonian vessel that was supposed to be a low-cost, quick solution, the Nonia was a multi-million-dollar fiasco from Day 1 — but losing a vessel is still losing a vessel, and it meant the government had one less vessel to shuffle around, trying to fill one breakdown after another.
The government has argued that it wouldn’t make the same mistake in purchasing used vessels, and has promised new ferries — an ongoing promise that Conservative governments have been making for close to a decade. Only two vessels have been built so far, and they both blew their budgets, well, out of the water.
One thing that can certainly be said about the situation, and it’s not a good thing. There’s a long lead-time in building ferries, especially for those that haven’t been tendered yet — and even moreso for those that haven’t been started yet in times of fiscal shortfalls. (The fleet is a financial sinkhole in another way as well — ferry users are wildly subsidized in this province, paying about 10 cents in fare for every dollar of costs.)
Whatever problems people are experiencing with the ferry fleet now, they can expect much of the same.
In fact, as the average age of the province’s ferries continues to rise, users can probably expect things to get worse, and downtimes to stretch out.
Oh, and there’s another famous saying about vessels, too: “The happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day they buy the boat, and the day they sell it.”
The provincial government, and in particular the minister responsible for the province’s ferry fleet, probably feel pretty much the same way.
But, required to provide service to the far-flung residents of this province, selling isn’t really an option.