All for the love of the sea
By Rhonda Dredge
A group of passengers left from Victoria Harbour last month for the last lunch at the Grand Hotel in Portarlington before it closes for an $8 million renovation.
The journey was a memorable one for both the passengers and the Little Group which owns the ferry service.
The company bought the hotel in December 2019 as a destination then the pandemic hit and the harbour was closed.
Now Port Phillip Ferries has resumed its commuter services to Geelong and Portarlington and in February the company announced its decision to go ahead with the hotel renovation.
It’s a pity about the timing now that business is picking up but the plans had to go through the council according to Grand Hotel marketing manager Connie Trathen, who for- merly worked for the Vue Grand in Queenscliff.
“We’ve got the same architect as the Esplanade in St Kilda,” she told Docklands News as she welcomed passengers off the ferry to the last weekend of trading.
The renovations will include a new beer garden with a pizza oven and “funky vibe” while retaining the historical element and refurbishment of about 18 to 20 rooms of accommo- dation upstairs. A balcony will also be reinstated.
Ms Trathan said the renova- tions were due to be completed in November when the company would offer packages to boost tourism. She said they wanted to attract tourists to Docklands.
“We started the ferry four years ago. It was so successful we built an- other for $10 million. It was up and running in 2019. We had two ferries.”
“When we saw the success of the ferry we said let’s get the setting so we bought The Grand in 2019. Then COVID hit.”
On board the lunch run on the fer- ry were a number of enthusiastic sea- farers including Jenny Blundo who discovered this was her last chance to dine at The Grand and organised a group booking for some friends with birthdays.
“I’ll do anything to get out on the sea,” the former Coast Guard volun- teer said, who had her own five-metre runabout and regularly fished off Portarlington.
She stood at the helm of the ferry as it left the harbour, passing a COSTCO container ship being unloaded in port and another ship at anchor while waiting for a berth.
“It’s a perfect day,” she said. “You can get lost out here, the bay is so big.” After leaving the glassy conditions of the port the ferry increased speed to 54 kph. The time has been cut
down from 90 to 70 minutes, a few minutes at a time over the past two years. The wind picked up and the white caps appeared but the ferry ploughed straight through the water.
Jenny said she used to line up her boat with the aerials above Portarlington and she never returned without her full quota.
“They used to call me ‘Flathead Jenny’,” she said, as she and her friends walked up the small hill to lunch in the Grand’s traditional din- ing room •