<strong>Historic coastal boat seeks new owner</strong>

Michael Johansen newsroom@thewesternstar.com
Published on February 23, 2013

The old MV Taverner is up for sale and now's the time to act: the price has been slashed by nearly half to a mere one-and-a-quarter million American dollars.

It's a 1,183-tonne cargo/passenger vessel built with two sister ships (the Hopedale and the Petite Forte) in Collingwood, Ont., in the early 1960s. It was first used as a ferry between Port aux Basques and North Sydney, but then became a coastal boat working around the province until the early 1990s.

It was a pretty and popular boat, roomy enough for several dozen passengers and a ton of gear - which was loaded on board with a boom crane situated below the wheelhouse windows. It had comfortable cabins, a better-than-average galley and an airy lounge where almost every evening passengers broke out guitars, fiddles or accordions and practised their singing voices.

The Taverner made its last voyage down the coast of Labrador from Nain to Red Bay and on to Lewisporte in 1993, and made its last trip along Newfoundland's south coast in 1995. Marine Atlantic sold it two years later, after which it got a preliminary upgrade and went west to be renamed the Pacific Aurora.

More renovations designed to turn it into a cruise ship deprived it of its crane, replacing it with a raised deck to enlarge the cargo space, which was converted into cabins. The formerly open deck behind the wheelhouse, around the main funnel, was also enclosed to create a new Upper Forward Lounge.

The engines, electrical systems, decks, cabins, crew quarters, galley, dining area and wheelhouse were all refitted to provide room, power and staff enough to take up to 82 passengers on luxury cruises up and down the British Columbia coast - something it never, ever did. In fact, when the Taverner wasn't in dry dock, it spent all its time just waiting for one grand scheme or another to proceed, but they all failed.

The company that took the former Taverner to B.C., Inside Passage Cruises Inc., went out of business and the ship eventually became the property of British Columbia Discovery Voyages, a corporation formed for the express purpose of reviving the abandoned Aurora Project. Discovery Voyages wanted to run weekly cruises from Port Hardy to many points on the B.C. coastline and islands. At $1,660 to $2,165 per ticket, the operators might have made a good living at it if they'd got it going, but the revival itself was abandoned.

The Pacific Aurora was sold in 2007 for US$1.4 million to Marine Growth Canada Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of a Florida-based company that wanted to sell the passenger cabins off as timeshare condominiums. The ship was to be berthed in Vancouver, the sixth of a fleet of similarly used ships in various ports around the world. Operating under the name Waterfront Lifestyles International, the company planned to offer 22 condo units for sale starting at $189,000 for a single room and up to $599,000 for a larger suite. The purchase price would not have included the annual $12,000 to $32,000 maintenance fee, but would have covered housekeeping, three meals a day and frequent cruises to local beauty spots.

However, like Project Aurora before it, this venture did not set sail either. Marine Growth Canada was declared bankrupt in 2009. The Pacific Aurora was put back on the market that year for $2.45 million, but apparently the global demand for small cruise ships is quite slack and the asking price has recently dropped to $1.25 million - a steal any way you look at it.

Since the former Taverner hasn't had any luck on the west coast of Canada, why not bring it home? The people who live on Labrador's north coast desperately need a good boat to provide a good passenger service, and there are many who don't need to take their cars along with them when they sail from port to port.

If the provincial government takes back the $5 million Nalcor plans to use to subsidize the oil industry, it will have plenty of money to purchase this well-refurbished ship and have lots left over to hire a crew. The coastal boat could resume its Lewisporte-to-Nain run and everyone could again enjoy the public service.

MichaelJohansen is a writer living in Labrador.