When Nick Cheong looks at the 40-metre long vessel that was towed from Quebec to Victoria last spring, he sees a blank canvas that needs a lot of work.
But now that blank canvas is in the process of being transformed into the V2V Empress, which will offer a passenger service between Victoria and Vancouver harbours in the spring of 2017.
The ship came out of the water at Victoria's Point Hope Maritime about three weeks ago, marking the start of the extensive refit process.
According to Cheong, all of the vessel's systems will be upgraded to make sure it's reliable for the three-and-a-half hour journey across the Salish Sea. The interior has also been completely gutted to make way for new ceilings, floors, walls and finishing touches on the main and upper deck.
The refit process is expected to take until the end of the year, at which time more details will be announced on the exact pricing for different classes on the ship that will carry around 270 passengers.
“There's definitely the option for the commuter that just wants to get from here to Vancouver or Victoria, and then there's the option for people who want a little bit more luxurious feel when they come on board the ship as well,” said Cheong, VP of operations for V2V Vacations.
“What's cool for us is that everyone we speak to or tell about what we're doing in passing sees that element tying into their lives in some way, shape or form. Even from a local perspective, there's been a huge buzz around it so I think we're challenged to deliver on those expectations.”
In its past life, the ship was operating as a dining vessel on the St. Lawrence River, but was no longer working when V2V Vacations purchased it at the end of last year.
The ship was towed out of Tadoussac, Quebec, then placed on a series of heavy lift ships that brought it from Halifax, through the Panama Canal, and eventually to Victoria in April after traveling a distance of 7,800 nautical miles.
“It was really a big deal for us to see it finally arrive,” Cheong said.
V2V Vacations is operated by Riverside Marine B.C. — a division of Riverside Marine Australia, which has operations stretching around the Sydney area and across Queensland. The idea for the service was envisioned by CEO Hume Campbell and his wife when they were visiting Vancouver and wanted a direct way to get to Victoria.
Earlier this year, the company reached an agreement with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) to lease the top and main floor of the Steamship Terminal for its operations.
The Victoria Clipper, which operates the ferry service between Victoria and Seattle, also has plans for a similar service that's expected to start in the spring of 2017.