Before I write trip report, I should do a short bit on the Bass Strait ferries.
Back in the 70s, the Empress of Australia
carried passengers between Melbourne and Devonport, and many of us schoolkids had her picture on our schoolbags.
In the mid 80s, the State Government bought a replacement. A competition was held to choose a name. I can't remember what the prize was, probably a free trip for two, or what our suggestion was, although we did drop an entry in the box at the display at the Launceston Show. So came the Abel Tasman
. Then, the ferry was the cheap alternative to flying to Melbourne, particularly if you were only going one way. This was also the time of the national pilot's strike. All the commericial airline pilots went on strike. If you didn't have your own plane, there was only one way in and out of Tasmania -- by water. By the ferry.
In the early 90s, our Abel Tasman was replaced by the Spirit of Tasmania
, also known as the Cattleship. There is video footage of her in the rough waters of Bass Strait getting up quite a bit of sway. I travelled on this one, in 96. A one way way fare on the plane was the same, or more, than a return ticket, and the ferry was still the cheap alternative. The cheapest fare got you a bunk in the dorm room and as you could eat at the buffet.
There was a bit of grumbling because that meal added quite a bit to the ticket price, $35 if I recall correctly, and if you're travelling on a budget, that's a an expensive meal. There was also grumbling at the time the trip took -- leave Devonport about 6 pm, arrive Melbourne about 8 am. The advertising campaign promoted it as "a cruise to start your holiday with". When you want to get quickly from one point to another, you don't want a cruise.
The Devil Cats fit in here. Short version -- the wave piercing INCAT catamarans were faster than the Spirit and ran a shorter route (George Town, at the top of the Tamar, to Port Welshpool, IIRC) but they kept running into problems, especially with the rough sea, and couldn't meet their schedules.
This Spirit must have been in use when Ansett crashed in 2001. The major airlines both flew regularly in and out of the state. Then suddenly one was gone. Many, many people stranded in Melbourne with no way to get home. No train to catch, or bus, or car, or even hitchhike as a last resort. The ferry was running full. Qantas planes were full. Not a good situation. Ansett managed to resurrect themselves for a short while, but they pulled out Launceston airport soon after, because travellers weren't supporting them. Virgin Blue took over their space. And so begins the era of cut-price plane fares. When a one way fare on the boat is almost as much as a return on a plane, the slow and inconvenient ferry becomes less attractive.
Then came the twins. The Cattleship was replaced by two Greek ferries, Superfast III and Superfast IV.
There was a lot of publicity surrounding their arrival. They went down to Hobart, where they were opened to the public. TT-Line announced that as they had invested so much in the branding of their ferry's name, and possibly inspired by the new additions' original names, they named the pair Spirit of Tasmania I and Spirit of Tasmania II. (Look at this twice.)
To show that the government does listen to the people, the cheapest fare did not include the cost of the meal. Or a bed either, even on the night run, and it was about $5-10 less than the fare on the old Spirit that did include a bed and a meal. But it was cheaper
and, between them, the red ships brought in many, many tourists and the economy boomed and life was good. So much, that the government bought a third one, Spirit of Tasmania III, that ran from Devonport to Sydney. Let's just say, it wasn't a good idea.
The advertising for the red twins is aimed at mainland holidaymakers. That's obvious even from the first page of the website
with its "Tassie" all over the place. Lately though, there's been an advertising campaign aimed the other way, with Boonie
pointing out how using the Spirit means dollars stay in the state. It might work. The advertised fare is attractive. I do think though, if TT-Line wants to appeal to the local market, they've missed the boat. 20 years ago, they ran a competition to name the new arrival and people still cared about our
ferry. Now it's all flash and colour and does anyone really care about the overly red ferries? Maybe they do in Devonport.