Malane: MV Coho likely to sail this year

The MV Coho will likely once again sail to Victoria — and maybe in time for the planned 2021 Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival.

“I’m hoping we’ll be back in service towards the end of the year,” Black Ball Ferry Line co-owner Ryan Malane said on April 28.

Malane, speaking at the Clallam County Economic Development Council’s weekly virtual program, Coffee with Colleen, cited general timelines provided by provincial and Canadian federal officials for when COVID-19 restrictions can be eased by Port Angeles’ northern neighbor.

“They have said there will be no international travel for some time, perhaps fall at the earliest, but then, that is not a given,” Malane said.

“They are talking about opening domestic travel in the late summer or mid-summer, and BC residents are going to continue the same type of restrictions that they have for some time.”

He saw as positive the 13 percent of Canadians who are comfortable with having U.S. visitors, a percentage that has jumped from 3 percent.

“It’s actually kind of a positive move forward for us, and we hope as people are vaccinated, things will change,” he said.

Malane said most Canadians don’t want the border opened up until the U.S. achieves herd immunity.

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said that will happen when 70 percent to 85 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“I think our friends in Victoria are equally as frustrated with the border being shut down, and I think they’re starting to appreciate that the U.S. is tackling the COVID issue and doing so in a remarkably quick way, so sentiment is changing,” Malane said.

“I know a lot of people on the island are my dear friends who desperately want to cross the border.”

Seafood festival Executive Director Scott Nagel said Wednesday he’s hoping the vessel is back plying the Strait of Juan de Fuca by Oct. 8-10 — if county health officials approve plans to revive the event after 2020’s COVID-19-inspired shutdown.

Nagel said they meet Gov. Jay Inslee’s guidelines for large gatherings.

Nagel wants to attract the thousands of Canadian visitors who usually flock annually to the city waterfront festival, he said Wednesday.

And even if Canada is still restricting travel, the Crab Fest would still greet Peninsula and greater U.S. seafood lovers from its usual site, offering 14 restaurants booths, scaled-down culinary demonstrations — and tent-capacity limits.

Kokopelli Grill and Coyote BBQ Pub owner Michael McQuay, the EDC board chair, announced plans for the festival at the EDC event, asking if the Coho will be sailing by October.

“It’s very dependent on the Canadian side,” Malane responded.

“Even (with) what has been discussed after full vaccination, there is still a lot of hesitancy, so could we be operating? It’s possible.

“Could we be operating at full capacity? I think it’s probably less likely.

“Unfortunately, that’s conjecture at this point,” he added.

“I would love to see a Crab Fest go off with thousands of Canadians coming back again and really have it be a fantastic event this year.

“I certainly can’t commit to that. I think it’s unlikely we’ll see a full crab festival this year by October.”

Thanking local, state and federal legislators for supporting the company, “we know we’re going to make it through this,” he said.

While the ferry has been shut down since March 29, 2020, and furloughed most of its employees, Malane said the company has used a rainy-day fund targeted for investing in other parts of the business to stay afloat.

He also credited assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, awarded through the county, that allowed Black Ball to continue paying for health care for its employees.

Clallam County commissioners allotted $500,000 in CARES funding to Black Ball in October.

Black Ball also received enough Paycheck Protection Program funds to carry it through two months last year.

“We have maximized all the benefits of the federal programs that we’ve seen, and there is very strong potential for some of the legislative action to assist Black Ball,” Malane said.

“That remains to be seen, kind of has to come through federal, state, local and other authorities, so we’re optimistic in that regard.”

In what he said was a response to a frequently asked question regarding potential use of the Coho during its down time, dinner-cruise fundraisers are off the table, he said.

“It isn’t an easy undertaking to activate a ship and operate under our international requirements and crewing,” he said.

“It’s not inexpensive to that, and the potential return would be probably be a lot smaller than people might expect, if any, in doing those kind of events for fundraisers, that kind of thing,” he said.

“Saying that, we’re still open to ideas,” Malane said.

“But we also need to be fully aware that we don’t know when we can return to service,” he added, responding to a suggestion that the company sell tickets in advance to help its bottom line.

“We don’t want to sell someone a ticket for the future on a date that we don’t know we can actually provide them service.”

He said Victoria has seen a sharp downturn in visitors, losing more that 100,000 tourism industry jobs.

The pandemic has cost tourism dollars and jobs in the Clallam County community, Malane said.

The price tag has included 500,000 fewer visitors, thousands of hotel room nights, 600 to 900 jobs and $16 million in state and local taxes.

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