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Smooth sailing for new ferry

The MV Legionnaire is the new ferry on the Bell Island-Portugal Cove route.
The MV Legionnaire is the new ferry on the Bell Island-Portugal Cove route.

“Today is a day I thought I would never live to see,” said of Wabana Mayor Gary Gosine said Monday.

Gosine has been part of the Bell Island Ferry Users Committee since he was 17 years old.

“At every meeting for the past 43 years, everyone knew I was going up to the microphone to talk about a new boat.”

Monday was Gosine’s 60th birthday. This year, he got a very special gift, with a $100-million price tag.

The highly anticipated MV Legionnaire was welcomed to the Bell Island-Portugal Cove ferry service during an onboard ceremony.

The MV Legionnaire will be able to hold three times the number of cars, and five times the number of passengers.

Given the increase in size, loading and offloading times will increase.

Minister of Transportation and Works Al Hawkins took part in Monday’s ceremony.

“Today is a very special day, and marks an important milestone for Bell Island residents,” Hawkins said. “We’ve all been patiently waiting for this day to come.”

“Despite the many challenges we have faced, our government will continue to work to ensure that we have a reliable ferry service.”

The MV Legionnaire was supposed to be in service by 2016, but construction to the wharves in Portugal Cove took longer than expected.

The Legionnaire is the sister vessel to the MV Veteran, which was taken out of service many times last year.

“We have investigated every issue on board the Veteran, and addressed it on the Legionnaire,” Hawkins said.

Gosine told The Telegram that residents of Bell Island will no longer need to take a survival kit when coming into town.

“Everyone from Bell Island takes a change of clothes, and a meal or two with them when they go into town,” Gosine said. “Because of the fact that the ferry system was unreliable. That has changed today. It will no longer take me three to seven hours to go to my 60-minute physiotherapy appointment.”

Carol Brown of Bell Island says the new vessel is going to be a game changer for her.

Brown works on Bell Island, and doesn’t have to make a regular commute into St. John’s.

“There are certain services that aren’t available on the island,” said Brown. “So of course I have appointments in town from time to time. But personally, in the last number of years, I’ve been going less and less because of the amount of time it takes to commute.

“Now I’ll be going into town more often, going to plays, or whatever I feel like doing.”

Bell Island resident and Legionnaire Don Sweeney says he has been waiting for this vessel for many years. He sees just one problem with the MV Legionnaire.

“They need a small ramp for the elevator,” Sweeney said. “To spend $100 million and still have people in wheelchairs struggling to get on is ridiculous.

“I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to access everything as easily as I should have been able to.”

But he said he is hopeful the small change will be made.

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll fix it. I’ve been talking to all of the right people,” Sweeney said.

As requested by the Bell Island Ferry Users Committee, there is a new operating schedule for the Legionnaire and the Flanders.

“Trying to make a schedule that works for everybody is not an easy task,” Hawkins said. “We don’t always listen to people’s opinions … my department often gets criticized for that. But in this case, who would know better than the people who use the service every day?”

The Legionnaire also honours four notable Bell Islanders.

The observation deck is named after musician Harry Hibbs.

The first lounge is named after David (Nish) Jackman, a politician in the 1940s and ’50s.

The second lounge is named after the late, well-known radio personality Tom (Big Tom) Fitzgerald and his father, Tom Fitzgerald Sr.

“Today, I see the future of Bell Island,” Gosine said. “There is no happier man than me here today.”

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