Nfld. & Labrador

Meet the Qajaq, set to sail the Strait of Belle Isle in 2019

The ferry replacing the Apollo has been refitted and rechristened, and is almost ready to begin its run.

Norwegian-built ferry replacing the Apollo this winter

The MV Qajaq W has been tied up in Blanc Sablon since February 8. (Submitted)

The new — to Newfoundland and Labrador, at least — ferry for the Strait of Belle Isle crossing now has a new name in advance of its first run, a little later this year.

The Norwegian-built ship, formerly the MV Grete, has been rechristened the Qajaq W, the Inuktitut spelling of "kayak," pronounced the same way.

"We wanted a name that was Labrador. We wanted a name that reflected the Indigenous elements of Labrador," said Peter Woodward, president of the Woodward Group, which bought the ferry and will operate the run via its subsidiary, Labrador Marine.

Woodward Group announced its purchase of the Qajaq in September, along with its sister ship, the MV Hiiumaa​, which will service Labrador's north coast and has yet to be renamed. At the time of the announcement, the Hiiumaa was set to run on the Strait of Belle Isle, but that decision was later reversed.

New paint, new floors, new lights

A new name isn't the only change the Qajaq has undergone since its arrival on our shores.

In the months following the purchase, crews refitted both ferries from stem to stern: carpets and seats have been ripped up, flooring redone, and each ship completely repainted.

"We basically have redone the ships from one end to the other," Woodward told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning, adding that even though the ferries are between eight and nine years old, he now considers them in new condition.

The Apollo is 48 years old.

Peter Woodward, centre, says the Qajaq will have half the carbon footprint of its predecessor, as it will burn about half the fuel. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

The new ships will even shine brighter than the old, thanks to all-new LED lighting.

"The vessels have a much brighter appearance than they did in the past," he said.

Smaller ship, smaller carbon footprint

When the Apollo first arrived in Canada from the Baltic Sea in 1999, said Woodward, it was far more ferry than its run required.

It had hundreds of cabins that were never again used, along with a capacity for 1,500 passengers, when only about 300 people crossed the Strait of Belle Isle at any one time.

The MV Apollo is 48 years old — 40 years older than the Qajaq. (CBC)

At 98 metres, the Qajaq is a smaller ship, with a capacity for 600 passengers, although Woodward predicts its runs will probably top out at around 400. With that reduced size comes a reduced need for fossil fuels.

"This vessel is going to have half the carbon footprint. It will burn half the fuel that the Apollo burnt," he said, noting that while the Qajaq has half the horsepower of its predecessor, it does have two ice-strengthened bows.

The Qajaq should go into service later in January or possibly February, he said.

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