Bojan Fürst

SOS for Princess of Acadia

In Photography, Print on June 24, 2009 at 11:58 pm
Life preserver on board Princess of Acadia.

Life preserver on board Princess of Acadia.

(Originally published in the Telegraph-Journal)

The first thing chief engineer Roger Lightfoot will tell you is, that for a salt water ship commissioned in 1971, she is in an exceptionally good condition. Even a cursory glance at the interior of the Princess of Acadia will unmistakably reveal the age she was built in. Boxy lines and oddly coloured furniture in rather dark tones throughout the ship somehow scream 70s. The bridge sports an old fashioned telegraph that was once used to communicate with the engine room, and the old radar equipment is still operational. None of it is in use today. Radio connection replaced the telegraph and ultra-modern radar systems using as many as nine Global Positioning System satellites are in place to guide a ship safely on its route between Saint John, New Brunswick, and Digby, Nova Scotia.

It is an easy and convenient way to cross the Bay of Fundy. There is a modest restaurant on board, spacious lounges, a small movie theatre, VLTs, pinball and video game machines, several candy and pop dispensers and an information officer who will happily direct you to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick attractions or explain anything you want to know about the ship.

Captain Oral Hamilton is taking Princess of Acadia out of the Saint John ferry terminal on the West Side.

Captain Oral Hamilton is taking Princess of Acadia out of the Saint John ferry terminal on the West Side.

Passengers stroll on the decks, gaze over the sea, or play a game of cards to shorten the three and a half hour ride. Children roam around the ship or watch cartoons on a large screen in the lounge. If Digby is your destination, there is no more pleasant way to get there. However, this ease comes with a price. At approximately $55 per person (depending on the season) and up to $147 a vehicle for a round trip, a family of four just might decide to skip whale watching and go around the long way.

There is a group of golfers on board. They left their vehicles in Saint John and are planning a two day stay in Digby. They are the happy bunch playing crib and poker in the lounge. There is a lot of joking going on as they share golfing stories. They all participate in a tournament with their Nova Scotia friends. They play Digby Pines once a year, although individually they might go more often than that. They are also quite confident they would never make the trip to Digby without the ferry.

A woman is sleeping on board Princess of Acadia on her way to Digby, Nova Scotia.

A woman is sleeping on board Princess of Acadia on her way to Digby, Nova Scotia.

That, of course, is the crux of the matter. The survival of the Digby ferry service is up in the air. On one hand is 130 jobs, a piece of heritage and line that keeps families separated by the Bay of Fundy in contact. There are also businesses, in tourism and transportation, that find the link indispensable. On the other hand, cold economic realities of rising fuel prices, slow down in tourism and wood products industry are making it difficult to justify the service.

Princess of Acadia arrives in Digby, Nova Scotia.

Princess of Acadia arrives in Digby, Nova Scotia.

There is a lot of nostalgia connected with the ship as well. She was built in Saint John and some of her crew have in fact worked in the shipyard at the time. For many Saint Johners, seeing the Princess of Acadia go is another blow to the image they have of the city and of themselves. With traditional industries that were and are sources of pride and identity disappearing, it is hard to take another hit. A rally in support of the service in Saint John attracted a small crowd and every politician in the region. Making vows to save the ferry was the order of the day and it was impossible to figure out how much of it was electioneering and how much is based on a solid and economically viable plan.

The thing is that the ride on the ferry is a lovely experience. It is very peaceful in the way a train ride is. People are socializing, gazing over the ocean and may be rekindling a romantic flame or admiring beautiful blue sky and ocean. Somebody spots a couple of minke whale and passengers rush to the decks hoping to catch a glimpse of a leviathan. It is decidedly a more pleasant journey than a crammed family vehicle loaded with luggage and cranky kids with energy to burn.

Once you arrive in Digby and get to the town centre, it is obvious what the cancelation of the service is going to do to that town. The main street lined with dozens of restaurants and shops including a lovely bookstore and incredibly charming toymaker’s shop will become a ghost town. The transient nature of tourists who visit Digby means that they are there on their way to or from ferry terminal. They may have come for a few rounds of golf at best, but they rarely came to see Digby.
Digby ferry terminal is half empty on a Friday night. As the Princess of Acadia docks at the terminal, family and friends hug and rush out wrapped in conversations and news from the other side of the Bay.

Second mate Brian Foot directs crews efforts to load cargo and vehicles in an orderly and secure manner. Princess of Acadia can transport 155 automobiles or 33 tractor trailers in one crossing.

Second mate Brian Foot directs crews efforts to load cargo and vehicles in an orderly and secure manner. Princess of Acadia can transport 155 automobiles or 33 tractor trailers in one crossing.

Fridays are slow, I am told. Especially the evenings from Digby to Saint John. A few personal vehicles are in the hold and may be all together around 40 passengers. There are quite a few commercial vehicles transporting everything from fresh hake to lumber. Second mate Brian Foot is in charge of loading operations and he and his crew are very efficient about it. There is a locking system in place that ensures large commercial vehicles remain in place. A few personal vehicles and motorcycles are loaded and Mr. Foot raises and locks the bay.

The old telegraph used to issue commands to the engine room is today replaced by radio connection. In the background is quarter master Carvin Chamberlain.

The old telegraph used to issue commands to the engine room is today replaced by radio connection. In the background is quarter master Carvin Chamberlain.

Once on board some of the passengers grab a quick meal at the restaurant. There is not really much time to do it. The restaurant and all the other services, including a small gift shop, close well before the ferry reaches half point in its run. It will arrive in Saint John shortly before midnight. Little kids curl up next to their parents and watch a cartoon on the big screen. Some passengers are dozing off, others are watching news or reading. It’s quiet. The bridge is dark allowing the crew to see out. It’s a clear, beautiful night and the lights of Saint John are clearly visible.

Bob and Janet Ferguson are returning to their home in Florida after an extensive cycling tour of southern Nova Scotia. In the background, a group of passengers with children are watching a cartoon in the theatre located in the ship's lounge.

Bob and Janet Ferguson are returning to their home in Florida after an extensive cycling tour of southern Nova Scotia. In the background, a group of passengers with children are watching a cartoon in the theatre located in the ship's lounge.

As we dock, few minutes ahead of schedule, the passengers quickly disembark and disappear into the night.
The Princess of Acadia and its crew will have ship ready for its night run back to Digby.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: