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Ownership of Black Ball Ferry Line changes hands

Jan 10 2012
The Black Ball Ferry's MV Coho  

The Black Ball Ferry's MV Coho

Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, timescolonist.com

The 52 year-old link between Victoria and the Olympic Peninsula is changing hands.

Black Ball Ferry Line, which has been operating the MV Coho for 52 years, has been bought by the company’s current executive management team including current president Ryan Burles.

Details of the deal that will see the company handed over by the Oregon State University Foundation were not released.

Black Ball had been bequeathed to the foundation by former owner Lois Acheson in 2004 as part of a $21 million gift of her estate to establish an endowment in OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Both the foundation and Black Ball’s board of directors voted unanimously to support the deal.

Burles, who has been with the company in a variety of roles since 1981, said the management team will continue the company’s commitment to the local community, employees and culture of the company.

“We will stay the course while continuing to improve our service and invest in the future,” Burles said.

The company's executive management team includes Burles as president and COO, CEO Capt. John Cox, senior vice president of finance David Booth, district manager Rian Anderson and director of marketing Ryan Malane.

The company remains a U.S. corporation.

“My aunt, Lois Bates Acheson’s wishes have been carried out exactly as she would have wanted to the mutual benefit of the Black Ball management group, the Oregon State University Foundation and the College of Veterinary Medicine,” said Donna Lee Schoen, Black Ball Ferry Line trustee and board member.

“It was her intention that the Coho ferry would continue to provide long-term employment and continuing service for the Port Angeles and Victoria communities. This is a wonderful resolution for all the parties involved. She would be very happy with the outcome.”

The Coho, which sails every day of the year between Victoria and Port Angeles, Wash., was built in Seattle at a cost of $3 million — making it the most expensive privately funded ferry built at the time. It was the pride of Black Ball Transport founder, R.J. Acheson.

The vessel, whose keel was laid Jan. 12, 1959, was Acheson's dream for four years as he worked to plan and finance it.

On its first day of service, the Coho was reported to have carried 225 passengers and 60 vehicles.

According to a 2006 study, the vessel, which can accommodate 1,000 passengers and 120 vehicles on any one sailing, ferried more than 400,000 passengers, 120,000 vehicles and brought $123.7 million into the Victoria economy annually.

The company now estimates the economic impact of the Coho to be closer to $160 million annually.

Since 1959, the Coho has transported 21 million passengers and five million vehicles over the 22.59 nautical miles (42 kilometres) between Victoria and Port Angeles — a trip that takes 90 minutes.

The Coho also accounts for about 60 per cent of total visitor entries to Victoria's Inner Harbour.

While the service is still going strong after 52 years, the Coho has seen other vessels like the Princess Marguerite car ferry to Seattle and the Royal Sealink Express to Vancouver drop out of the game.

The company employs more than 120 people and operates terminals in both Victoria and Port Angeles.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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