— 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.”
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.”
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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.