Marine Link Tours In the Media
Reprinted with permission: "Crusing the Inside Passage-by Freighter" Holly Quan, Northwest Palate Magazine, March/April 2002
"I'm going on a cruise!" you exclaim. Instantly, your friends conjure images of you relaxing on deck while your gleaming white ship carves through a sea of liquid turquoise. Ah, the onboard entertainment! The food! The exotic destination! But yours will be a cruise like no other. For one thing, the number of passengers won't be in the thousands; in fact, there will be a total of 12. For another, your luxury liner will be the M.V. Aurora Explorer - a freight boat!
Story and photography by By Holly Quan, Northwest Palate Magazine, March/April 2002
A voyage on the Aurora Explorer features everything cruises are known for: great food, stunning scenery, unique onboard activities, an escape to relaxation. Beyond these essentials, an Aurora cruise also offers direct contact with the crew and a first-hand glimpse into the remarkable life of British Columbia’s Inside Passage.
Meet the M.V. Aurora Explorer
As cruise ships go, the Aurora Explorer is singularly unlovely. Her lines are straight, her bottom is flat, and her bow is dominated by a drawbridge-like landing ramp and a large crane. Her hemlock-plank deck is long and wide, a floating football field. At her stern is a high square structure that houses cabins, the galley and dining areas, and the wheelhouse.Not a graceful curve in sight.
Streamlined and sleek the Aurora isn’t , but maneuverable she is. The ship is propelled by diesel engines at the rear and equipped with a bow thruster, giving her the marine equivalent of fourwheel drive. She can slip into tricky moorings, slide over shallow water, and turn on a dime, making her the ideal vessel for accessing tiny coves and bays.
Al Meadows is president of Marine Link Transportation Ltd., which owns the Aurora. He explains, “It was once common to travel all along the B.C. coast by freighter, but freight and steamship lines have gradually disappeared. The passenger tradition almost died,too, until we revived it.”Today, the M.V. Aurora Explorer is the only freighter on the Inside Passage that takes paying guests along for the ride.
The Aurora’s home port is Menzies Bay, about halfway up Vancouver Island’s east coast. From here she travels among the jigsaw puzzle of islands that lie between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland. She visits isolated villages, logging camps, aquaculture installations, fishing resorts, and other lonely outposts, delivering groceries and mail, truck parts and livestock. “There is no road access to most of these places,” says Meadows. “We’re the coast’s lifeline.”
And therein lies the charm and attraction of voyaging aboard the Aurora Explorer. As a passenger you not only get great scenery and hearty meals, but you witness fascinating real life on the “working coast.”
An Aurora Sampler: Bute Inlet
It’s late afternoon and you’re gathered with fellow travelers in Marine Link’s reception room. Steward Sarah Martin leads you down to the waiting Aurora Explorer. The ship’s deck is already piled high with freight; you weave your way between pallets, boxes, rolls of cable, and a pickup truck, then clamber up the steep stairs to the stateroom deck.
Despite the Aurora’s utilitarian purpose, passenger facilities are perfectly comfortable.The six two-person staterooms are clean and cozy, with twin or bunk beds. Storage is at a premium, and passengers are requested to pack lightly. Also on this level are shared toilets and showers plus a common room complete with a small bar fridge for passenger use.
Another flight up is the dining deck, where you’re surprised by the homey scent of fresh baking. Bookshelves hold novels, B.C. guidebooks, cards, and board games; powerful binoculars are perched on the wide windowsill. Toward the stern is the crew’s dining table and an efficient L-shaped galley. Cook Donna Sawatzky greets you with gingersnaps, bowls of fruit, and steaming mugs of coffee or tea that instantly take the chill off.