The contingency plan for the disruption-plagued Blanc Sablon to St. Barbe route, announced last week by the Department of Transportation and Works, is the best option available to accommodate travelers while the MV Apollo is dry-docked for repairs to a damaged propeller.
When the damaged propeller is removed, the MV Apollo will return to service for several weeks using its last remaining propeller to power it across the Straits until new parts arrive at which point it will return to St. John's to complete the refit.
The MV Astron will replace the MV Apollo for the first six to seven days and will return to service when the new propeller is installed.
Air service will be provided between the airstrips in Forteau, Labrador, and Sandy Cove on the Northern Peninsula and a shuttle service will be provided to bring passengers to and from the marine terminals in Blanc Sablon and St. Barbe and the airstrips.
Passengers will not pay extra for the air travel or shuttle bus service, however the inconvenience caused has many business owners worried about the damage to the coast's reputation.
Transportation minister Tom Hedderson said it was the only option available and wouldn't add an extra travel time for passengers.
He also said concerns raised over the age of the vessel had nothing to do with the propeller damage - rather, it was ice and weather conditions that conspired against the MV Apollo.
"Despite all the armchair captains saying we should be sailing, our responsibility first and foremost is the safety of the passengers and if the conditions aren't safe, we simply won't go," he said.
"I understand the frustration of those travelling but even if there were another ferry up there, the conditions meant it could not have travelled anyway. It's not as though I have another ferry in my back pocket.
"I am very pleased with the record of that boat. It has been one of the most consistent ferries bar none."
Mr. Hedderson said he supported the construction of a fixed link road tunnel under the Strait of Belle Isle but added that project could be anywhere up to 30 years away.
"I hope some time in the future there is a tunnel but we have to deal with what's happening now," he said.
This is not the first time the contingency plan has had to be used and there is growing concern the latest black eye to travel across the Strait will leave a sour taste for many travellers.
"I've heard people say it - they've said they would never come back because of the ferry service. Simple as that," said Chad Letto, owner of Northern Light Inn at L'Anse au Loup.
"The long-term effect is that people won't rely on the ferry so there will be less people travelling."
With food running low and frustrations running high, Mr. Letto said if a similar incident happened in the middle of summer, during the peak tourist season, the effect could cripple the coast.
"It would be devastating to Southern Labrador and it would be devastating to the Northern Peninsula," he said.
Mr. Letto said the Southern Labrador business community rallied together in the midst of the stoppage to form a coalition to force the government into action in the wake of the MV Apollo fiasco.
"We created a business network to address this issue, to bring this to the attention of the government," he said.
"This is a vital link and if it goes down we need to know there is a contingency plan but as far as we can work out there is nothing. There's not another ferry anywhere near here that could handle the traffic."
"Despite all the armchair captains saying we should be sailing, our responsibility first and foremost is the safety of the passengers and if the conditions aren't safe, we simply won't go." - Transportation minister Tom Hedderson
Mr. Letto said most ships were retired after 30 years of service yet the 40-plus year old MV Apollo was still being used and was potentially stifling growth and progress in the region.
"How can you expect a region to grow when you have to deal with issues like this?" he said.
"We want to work with government towards a future here."
Some of the group has already started on the leg work to help government by tracking down possible replacement options for the ferry.
"There were two tractor trailers that finally managed to come over on Tuesday that were bound for the mines in Happy Valley-Goose Bay so this is not just about Southern Labrador, this effects all of Labrador," he said.
Those two Mill's Heavy Hauling trailers didn't make it very far, said the company's Nova Scotia-based general manager Jeff Mills.
Mr. Mills told the Pen it was the first time his company had taken that route and the week-long wait in St. Barbe cost the company time and money.
To rub salt into the wound, once they made the crossing more bad luck struck.
"They made it across, drove 25 miles, then got stuck in a snow storm and couldn't go on any further because the road conditions were terrible," he said.
"This is expensive for us; all of it is costing us money."
The company had been contracted to move a crane but because of spring road limitations through Quebec, the three heaviest trucks were forced to come up through Newfoundland and Labrador.
While 13 vehicles made it to their destination, two of those sat idle for more than a week then the last truck couldn't make the crossing on Tuesday.
"It's been brutal there's no doubt about it," he said.
It's been brutal for shop owners as well.
Last week Randy Earle, of Earle's Groceries in L'Anse au Loup, had four and half plane loads of produce flown in to fill shelves that were almost empty.
Because of their own shipping schedule and the subsequent issues with the MV Apollo, their last dry grocery delivery was on March 27.
"It got that bad we almost ran out food," he said, adding that that all the talk of the air foodlift subsidy was a "smoke screen".
"Everybody's saying that now the subsidy is on everything is okay but it only applies to perishable produce like fresh milk," he said.
"That's only 20 per cent of our product which still means we have 80 per cent of stock not accounted for that we had to fly in."
The last business in Southern Labrador to stock fresh milk, Mr. Earle said prior to the subsidy taking effect last Monday, he was forced to bump the price of a two litre bottle of milk from $4.69 to $6.69 to cover the cost of air travel.
Mr. Earle bore all other costs himself by not increasing the shelf price of any other product that arrived via plane.
In fact in a supreme act of generosity, a family that bought eight litres of fresh milk the day before the subsidy took affect received a welcome reimbursement.
"I gave them the $8 back the next day," he said.
"You can't take advantage of people."
It's a simple message he hopes government takes note of.