If anything had happened, God forbid, to the Sea Adventurer while it was cruising from St. John’s to St-Pierre Saturday evening, Canadians would have felt the loss. Among those on board were authors Margaret Atwood and Kevin Major, musicians Tom Barlow and Duane Andrews, filmmaker Barbara Doran and Conne River Chief Misel Joe, along with half of St. John’s City council, including Mayor Dennis O’Keefe — on, believe it or not, his very first cruise.
Fortunately, the ship seems not to share the same ill fate as its twin sister, the Lyubov Orlova.
The Sea Adventurer, chartered by Adventure Canada, which specializes in outdoor adventure and expedition trips across Canada, was on a special run, celebrating 20 years of cruises in Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John’s is the Ontario-based company’s home port, and ships regularly leave here on circumnavigational tours of the island and up the coast of Labrador.
“It actually started with my father, Matthew Swan, meeting author Farley Mowat,” Adventure Canada’s logistics and human resources coordinator Alana Faber said. “He had recommended that we actually travel along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. That sparked some interest in my father and he made a trek out to Newfoundland and Labrador shortly thereafter, and thought that one of the best ways to see it would be via cruise ship.”
About 80 per cent of Adventure Canada’s customers are Canadian, including some Newfoundlanders looking to see their home province from a new angle, and they generally get to close to 30 ports on the island portion of this province and a dozen in Labrador in any given year.
Adventure Canada doesn’t own or operate any ships, but charters them, and will charter one or two a year, including the Sea Adventurer.
The Sea Adventurer (originally the Alla Tarasova and the Clipper Adventurer) and it sister ship, the Orlova, were built in the former Yugoslavia in 1975. Unlike the Orlova, it underwent a $13 million retrofit in 1998, which included cabin makeovers and stabilizers, and has been used by Adventure Canada since 1994.
When the Orlova was arrested and brought to St. John’s in 2010, it was due to debts the owners owed to adventure cruise company Cruise North Expeditions, after a cruise had been cancelled because of faults with the ship. The vessel, left derelict, was tied up in St. John’s harbour for about two years before it was bought for scrap and set to be towed to the Bahamas, but its tow line snapped and the ship was set adrift. It was last seen floating in February 2013, and is presumed to have sunk.
A couple years ago, Adventure Canada bought Cruise North and absorbed the brand but none of the problems related to the Orlova, Faber said.
On Saturday, after being ceremoniously given the freedom of the port by Mayor O’Keefe, Adventure Canada’s invited guests set sail aboard the Sea Adventurer for an expenses-paid overnight trip to St- Pierre. Where the Orlova had retained its 1970s decor, including plush carpets and brass fixtures, the Sea Adventurer is seemingly better and more modernly maintained, with decent-sized cabins and an enthusiastic crew. Children are welcome on board (and at least three young members of the Swan clan were aboard on this trip), and well catered-to, and guests enjoyed never-ending buffets and entertainment that, boasted the cruiseline’s creative director, ranged from the “sublime to the ridiculous.” The sublime included performances by Andrews and Barlow and a game of bluff with Atwood, Major and storyteller Dave Paddon; the ridiculous involved a saxophone-playing horse.
Though O’Keefe has been involved in the cruise industry for at least 10 years, he had never before taken a cruise himself.
“Tremendous,” he said of the trip before disembarking on the French island. “It’s very fitting that my very first cruise was from St. John’s to St. Pierre.”
The advantages of having Aventure Canada home-porting in St. John’s - not the only cruise company to do so, but the one with the longest record - are numerous, he explained, and not limited to financial benefits, though O’Keefe reckons the company’s monetary contribution to the province over the past 20 years is in the millions of dollars range.
“They’ve brought thousands of people over that period of time to Newfoundland and Labrador... so they’ve actually introduced (them) to our culture and our history and our heritage and all of the natural beauty and all the wildlife that we have right across the province, from polar bears to icebergs and on it goes,” he said. “There’s a benefit from that aspect; heightening the profile of Newfoundland and Labrador as a tourist destination.
Adventure Canada’s connection with the province is genuine, O’Keefe said, noting the company has given back on a personal level. In once instance a few years ago, it raised money to help a family on the south coast who lost their home in a landslide.
“Their interest transcends the economic impact,” He said. “What they have is a very intimate connection.”
The Sea Adventurer left St-Pierre last night on a new Adventure Canada cruise, which will take passengers to Conne River, Gros Morne and L’anse aux Meadows, before heading up the coast of Labrador to Torngat Mountains National Park.
To see a video report from the St. John’s to St-Pierre cruise, visit www.thetelegram.com.