PORT ANGELES — Passengers disembarking from the MV Coho received quite the welcome from a small but boisterous crowd that welcomed folks into to the U.S. from the marine crossing for the first time in 20 months.
The event, organized by the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce, included many people at the docks with American and Canadian signs to greet the passengers.
“I am touched,” said Jean Francios Bienvenue, a cyclist from Quebec. “My heart is jumping around. I never thought it would be like this … it’s really great. You guys are great.”
Bienvenue started his cycling journey in the White Horse, Yukon, hoping he would eventually be able to cross the U.S.-Canada border to continue his cycling trip to Los Angeles, Calif.
“When I finally got the news that the border was opening, I had to wait an extra two weeks. Otherwise, I would have gone home,” Bienvenue said.
Many of the folks traveling on the Coho are continuing to travel to other parts of the U.S., seeking warmer climates for the winter, said Edna Petersen of the Port Angeles Business Association.
Some planned to stay in the Port Angeles area for a few nights before they go back to Canada or travel on to other parts of the country, she said.
“I believe that most of our visitors that are coming today are on their way to home in California, Arizona, Nevada, and I would tell them to drive safely,” Petersen said. “Some are taking advantage of the Coho packages and staying in town for a couple of days, because making all of this happen has been problematic … but I am thrilled that they are back.”
The Coho set sail at 8:20 a.m. to pick up passengers in Vancouver, British Columbia, as the border between the U.S. and Canada officially reopened Monday. However, international travel, even between the U.S. and Canada, still has some COVID-19-related hurdles.
Those traveling to the U.S. only need proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours prior to sailing. Those traveling to Canada — even Canadian citizens — must also have a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which costs about $175 in the U.S.
“Once Canada drops their PCR test requirement, I’m expecting a lot of pent-up demand for folks to head north to Victoria, as we saw with the sold-out boat that arrived today,” said Marc Abshire, executive director for the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
The Black Ball Ferry Line brings in more than $80 million for the regional economy when it carries full loads to and from Canada.
“I think we’ll see a nice bump because of the Coho starting back up again – perhaps not as much as when the border is fully open,” Abshire said.
Black Ball anticipates there will be more southbound than northbound traffic for the next few months, but like Abshire, hopes that removal of the PCR test requirement will encourage more northbound travel.
“We want to be able to continue daily service, hopefully, the next step is that the restrictions will start to decrease so that we can get back to what people are used to which is the ease of travel,” Rian Anderson, Vice President of the Black Ball Ferry Line said.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached by email at [email protected]