Scillonian III's £2m overhaul almost complete
THE smell of new paint is still fresh in the air as you step aboard the Scillonian III.
The vessel, which battles rough and smooth seas between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly, is being given a little TLC to the tune of £2 million.
The overhaul has been carried in Penzance Dry Dock and, with just a few short weeks until the start of the season, sea trials follow later this month.
Taking a look around, you would be forgiven for thinking there was still a lot to do. Old furniture waits for new covers, seats have yet to be installed and a coffee bar still needs to be fitted: but this is all cosmetic.
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Much of the work has been on overhauling the engines and structure. New 35-seater lifeboats also replace the old 25-person rafts and a passenger lift now gives direct wheelchair access to the main deck.
"We've listened to feedback from our passengers and that has informed the improvements that have been made," said Jeff Marston, chief executive of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company.
"All the work carried out at the Penzance Dry Dock – operated by the company – is aimed at improving the customer experience and making travel on board the Scillonian III pleasant and enjoyable for everyone."
Some might question the timing, especially when the Steamship Company is already shelling out £1 million on a new terminal at Land's End airport which is due to open in April, the lease of a Twin Otter passenger plane and additional improvements to the freight ship Gry Maritha.
There is also talk of replacing the Scillonian after 2018, so was all this investment really necessary?
"The £2 million is money well spent; it'll ensure she's fit for purpose for the next five years and demonstrates our commitment to investing in our assets and for the support of the community we serve on the Isles of Scilly," said Mr Marston.
He said the need for a new ship was continually reviewed and a decision would need to be made within one or two years about whether to buy one.
"We reviewed the need for a new ship prior to the decision to extend the life of the Scillonian III, but clearly there is a time frame," he added.
"If we have to make a change in 2018, then we have to start the process fairly soon."
The major refit has also had another added bonus. As she went into dry dock, summer staff and crew were asked if they wanted to carry on working through the winter months to help refurbish the Scillonian III. Many said yes and now the ship's captain is working alongside his crew and sub-contractors to get the works finished.
"I wanted to be involved and see things take shape," said assistant purser steward Karen Bray, 40, who hung up her uniform and donned a hard hat to help spruce up the ship.
"It's been really good for staff morale and once we're sailing in the summer we'll be able to say, 'This is our baby and our project'."
Karen, who is looking forward to her third season with the Scillonian, has been helping with all areas of the refurbishment, from sanding and varnishing to painting.
"This has been brilliant; I'd have had to find another part-time job for the winter if I hadn't done it," she said.
"I've learned so much over this winter and I know so much more about the ship."
The Scillonian III is due to start sailing on March 25.