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By Susan Merrell HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, June 7, 2011) - At dockside, Balmain, Sydney Harbour on Saturday there was much excitement in the air as volunteers and crew did their final preparations for the sailing of the Lady Wakehurst - bound for Honiara to start her new life as an inter-island Solomon Island passenger ferry.

The former Manly ferry was due to set sail from Sydney at midnight - first stop Yamba in northern NSW for some last-minute routine maintenance and then full steam ahead for the Solomon Islands.

At first the Lady Wakehurst will operate as a passenger ferry in KiraKira and the Western Province but will later incorporate Malaita.

The Lady Wakehurst will not arrive in Honiara empty-handed.

When she arrives, some time in July (depending on the weather), she will have on board many tons of medical equipment donated by St. Vincents Hospital in Sydney destined for Solomon Islands Hospitals to re-equip the emergency rooms and operating theatres.Amongst the volunteers with all hands on deck was Sir Trevor Garland, Honorary Consul-General of the Solomon Islands in NSW and someone who has had a long-standing relationship with St. Vincents Hospital through the 10 beds program where St. Vincents treats 10 sick Solomon Islanders a year in Sydney.

When asked about his involvement in the project, Sir Trevor replied, "My role has really just been as encouragement for Craig" referring to Craig Short - the mastermind of the project.

"This has really been a labour of love by Craig," said Sir Trevor.

Craig, who has been working as a helicopter paramedic in the Solomon Islands since 2004, has seen his job take him to many remote locations. Missing his Manly home and especially the ferries on which he used to travel as a child, including the Lady Wakehurst, he thought how beneficial a Manly-ferry-type service between islands of the Solomon Islands would be.

And so a germ of an idea took hold three years ago that is about to become reality.

Although it is a long way from Sydney to Honiara, Craig is very confident of the safety of the vessel and her capacity to operate in rough waters, even the open sea.

The ferry comes equipped with state-of-the-art navigation equipment and has passed the most rigid safety surveys.

"She’s even once weathered a cyclone on her way back from Auckland," adds Craig.

As far as comfort, cleanliness and entertainment goes commuters are in for a treat.

"We’ve got airline style seats," said Craig, "as well as giant TV screens and surround sound."

Craig is also awaiting delivery of a donation of computers loaded up with educational programs to keep the young ones busy on their voyage.

The boat features a refrigerated cargo hold so that transportation of the day’s catch will be possible too.

"We’ll be arriving in Honiara, blowing whistles and waving," said first mate Terry who has spent many decades working on the Sydney ferries.

"I’m so glad the lady Wakehurst has found a good home," he added affectionately.

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