For Newfoundlanders hoping to get home for the holidays, or waiting for mail-order gifts to arrive and local supermarket shelves to be restocked, there’s some relief in sight.
After experiencing huge backlogs from ferry cancellations Wednesday and Thursday between Port aux Basques and North Sydney, N.S., due to inclement weather, Marine Atlantic has confirmed three ferries were to returning to service Friday.
The MV Blue Puttees, MV Highlanders and MV Atlantic Vision were to resume scheduled crossings in the gulf for the 11:45 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. runs.
However, the break in the weather could be short-lived, as another weather system is forecast for Saturday, which could disrupt things again for scheduled crossings Saturday night and Sunday morning.
“These past two weeks have been a little different (from previous holiday seasons), simply because we’ve had numerous storm systems move through in such a short period of time,” Marine Atlantic communications director Darrell Mercer told The Telegram Friday.
“The lead-up to Christmas is very busy from both the commercial and passenger perspective and if we lose any crossings during that lead-up to Christmas, that will back things up.”
With the 11:45 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. crossings on Wednesday and Thursday cancelled at both North Sydney and Port aux Basques, a total of 784 passengers — including those booked for Friday morning and the cancelled crossings — were scheduled to travel Friday morning. That includes 546 passengers crossing from North Sydney and 238 out of Port aux Basques.
For Friday night’s crossing out of North Sydney, there were 439 passengers booked, and 189 passengers out of Port aux Basques.
“So, you can see that more people are trying to come to the island this time of year for Christmas,” Mercer said.
“Between Boxing Day and New Year’s, we’ll start to see that traffic flow back (to North Sydney).”
In terms of commercial traffic, Mercer said, there have been several commercial vehicles, including tractor trailers, parked on the dock for the past few days.
Friday morning in North Sydney, there were 180 commercial vehicles waiting to cross. There were 240 in Port aux Basques.
“The good thing about that is that the majority of those (in Port aux Basques) are empty trailers that have already unloaded and are heading back,” Mercer said.
“While we want to get that traffic moved as well, right now it’s the product that’s in North Sydney that’s trying to get here for the last Christmas rush — the Christmas gifts that are on board, food for the grocery stores, mail.
“So, if we can get those three sailings in today, as well as the crossing (Saturday) morning, we should be able to clear most of that commercial traffic.”
The concern now, he said, is regarding the weather system expected to move in Saturday night.
He said snow and rain doesn’t affect the vessels. It’s primarily the high gusts due to the speed of wind, the wave heights and wind directions, which affect docking ability.
Mercer said Marine Atlantic has contacted customers booked for Saturday night and Sunday morning crossings to let them know there is the potential for a weather impact and to look at their individual travel circumstance and see if there’s an earlier crossing that they might be able to take.
“We’ll be keeping a close eye on that over the next several hours,” he said.
“That’s why we’re warning customers, if you are scheduled for (Saturday) night or Sunday, we don’t want anybody to be disappointed and stranded before Christmas.”
As for next week, Mercer said, they have been advised there are some weather systems in the long-range forecast.
“It’s a little too early to discuss schedules at this stage,” he said. “But it certainly looks like it’s going to be a challenging Christmas from a weather perspective.”