Saturday, 28 February 2009

Return to the island

Spring came to Gabriola in February this year - then winter returned unexpectedly.

After a smooth crossing from Vancouver in the sunshine, the clouds were hanging low over Nanaimo - a sure sign of a chill in the air. As Gabriola came into view, snow was clinging to the treetops and a smooth white layer coated the ground.

In the garden, it was evident that the lawn was not quite ready for mowing.

I'd had visitors of course - deer across the front garden, basset hounds at the back. But in the centre of the lawn, four footprints together were something of a mystery - the same size as the deer, but in a very different pattern. Something of a giant hare about it, or maybe a small kangaroo! Could this be a raccoon checking out the territory?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

All packed and ready to go.....

It seems an age since I was last in Gabriola - taking possession of our new home. Back in the fall, the Canadian Dollar was at $2.03 to the £ when we completed the purchase - which was great, as our offer had been based on an exchange rate of $1.89 - se we were very pleased when the time came to transfer the money from the UK.

Since then the bubble has burst worldwide - nowhere more so than in Canada, so the folks out west tell me. As the weeks ticked by, Christmas came and went, and by mid January the Canadian dollar had strengthened against the £ - and at one point we could only buy $1.69 to the £! And you think the Canadian economy is in a mess.....

Right now, with renovations to be started, we have watched the exchange rate daily - waiting for that golden moment to transfer more of our savings to our Canadian account. For one day - just one day, mind you, the rate was at $1.80 to the £ so, of course, we had to decide whether it had peaked .... or if it would continue to rise (or is that fall?)

It's all guesswork of course, so we moved some money that day..... and more a couple of days later as the rate started to slip once more. Right now? It's still at $1.78 to the £, so maybe we got in just in time!

So, with British Airways' co-operation, it's almost time to go. Next update will be from Gabriola.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Ferry conundrum

We're all keen to criticise BC Ferries when things go wrong.
Sure, when it's a failure on the part of their organisation then they should be held to account. But when the problem is outside BC Ferries' control, they still seem to get the blame!

Take Transport Canada's new regulations on marine staffing levels. The government has imposed restrictions that mean fewer passengers can be carried on many of BCF's smaller vessels unless crew numbers are increased - and that, we're told, would cost BC Ferries another $3 million a year. That's $3 million that they don't currently have, so what should they do?

BC Ferries are quoted as saying: "Our traffic department is analyzing historical traffic patterns so we can identify those times when we think it's going to be busier and we can add an extra person. We've also asked the ferry advisory committees and residents of the community (to) let us know if there's going to be a festival or something like that going on, where they expect to have more traffic. Then we can plan for that. But just to add that extra crew member all the time, when you don't need it for your licence, is a waste of money."

That's perfectly true, of course. An extra member of crew on every ferry would be a waste of money - because it would be our money that would be used to pay for it, through higher fares on every route, all of the time. And that would just lead to more criticism of BC Ferries - so no-one wins.

So North Island MLA Claire Trevena has experienced at first hand the impact of the new restrictions on the Powell River Queen, whose passenger capacity has been slashed from 402 to 193. Slashed by Transport Canada - not by BC Ferries of course. Yet Trevena chooses to point the finger at BC Ferries, not Transport Canada...

"The whole way that BC Ferries is operating is an argument for confusion and ferry rage" she told the Courier-Islander. when she arrived in time for the 5:25 p.m. ferry only to find that a number of young people were heading over to Camp Homewood, helping to push the passenger count to its new limit. It's BC Ferries to blame, of course, for their policy of allowing foot passengers to board before cars are loaded.

Why do they do that? Well, from what I can see it's the safest thing to do. On the minor ferry routes there's only one boarding ramp and foot passengers are loaded first so that they can get to the seating area before vehicles start to board. And yes, this could mean that if an exceptional number of foot passengers are on board, then it's the car drivers that may have to wait the next ferry. In their car, in the dry, listening to the radio. Probably with a good book.

The most likely time ferries will reach capacity is time when students are travelling to and from school. Maybe the School Board should fund the extra crew member at these times? But where does the money come from if the school boards are already cash starved? We won't blame the school board of course, because we can blame BC Ferries!

Maybe it's time for the Ferry Advisory Committees to work with BC Ferries and Transport Canada to reach a sensible solution that won't result in BC Ferries wasting our money, and won't push the fares up. Transport Canada requires extra crew to be available if the number of passengers exceeds the new limit for each vessel. What for? Not to operate the vessel - just to ensure that passengers are safe in the event of an incident. So maybe, just maybe, this is an opportunity for the community to play it's part, and for each FAC to arrange for volunteers to be trained in marine safety procedures so that there's less likelihood of a sudden surge in passengers resulting in drivers being left behind.

It should be the responsibility of any organisation that requires large numbers of people (maybe more than 20?) to travel on the ferry at one time to ensure that they have someone who has been trained in marine safety procedures to meet and travel with the group - whether that's the School Board, Camp Homewood, or any community organisation. If they don't have a trained volunteer available, then they should pay BC Ferries to provide the extra crew member.

As a transport operator for many years, I can sympathise with BC Ferries' reluctance to fund the whole cost themselves. If the regulators change the rules, then a choice has to be made - but that choice has to be sustainable. At the end of the day, the operator's responsibility is to ensure the safety of passengers - and if that means limiting the supply to an affordable level, then that's what has to be done.

If Transport Canada decided that every taxi needed a second driver on board (just in case of an incident) then we'd soon lose all of our island taxis. We wouldn't blame the taxi owners of course, because we know that they couldn't afford to employ all those extra drivers. We'd probably blame BC Ferries!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Quinsam returns to Gabriola

The MV Quinsam will return to service on Wednesday, February 18 with the 5:45 a.m. sailing from Descanso Bay.

The vessel returns to service following the first phase of its midlife upgrade that included painting of the vessel, steel replacement and sewage treatment plant improvements. The second phase of the upgrade, which will include passenger amenity improvements, is scheduled to begin in October 2009.

BC Ferries thanks its customers for their patience - but some of us came to enjoy the relative comfort of the Bowen Queen's lounges!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

More snow on the way?

SNOWFALL WARNING: East Vancouver Island
Issued at 10:13 AM PST TUESDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2009


pah! Nothing to worry about!!! Yet it's only a week ago......

"Londoners were forced to contend with commuter chaos on Monday as the worst snowstorm in 18 years sparked hundreds of flight cancellations, and the city's famed public transit system ground to a near halt.

While 20 centimetres of snow might not raise much concern in most parts of Canada, the amount has wreaked havoc on the British capital overnight and into the day, the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault reported from London."

.... and it was good to read the reaction of some Canadians !!!

Try moving to Canada to see what a REAL Winter is!. You're WELCOME anytime.......

Bloody wimps.....

That's a snowstorm ? all that slush ??? Looks like Spring to me. I live in Manitoba......

The city grinds to a halt after THAT much snow?.... Geez. No wonder they lost the Empire.......

....... Good luck Gabriola! Just don't expect any sympathy from Manitoba !!!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Olympic security exercises underway next week

Representatives from the federal and provincial governments responsible for Olympic security announced today that a milestone exercise will be underway from February 9 to 13 across the Lower Mainland and Whistler.

Rear-Admiral Tyrone Pile, Commander of Joint Task Force Games said "Exercise Silver coincides with the one-year countdown to the Games. That means we can practice our procedures with our security partners in environmental conditions that we will experience a year from now"

"During the next 14 days, we will be visible. You may see ships patrolling not only our Pacific Ocean approaches (which we do all year-round) but you may see more sailors in and around Vancouver Harbour and Howe Sound. They will conduct maritime surveillance, coastal patrols, port security operations, and diving operations".

"You may also see and hear Canadian Forces aircraft in the air. Your air men and women will be familiarizing themselves with the area in advance of them keeping watch from the air during the Games. They will practice aerospace defence, medical or casualty evacuations, search and rescue and air mobility support to security forces".

No word of armed police on BC Ferries, but don't be surprised.......

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Winter arrives in London!

A little taste of Canada came to London this week...

Click on the link below to see some of the BBC's best images
The western side of Trafalgar Square was closed today after a gritter lorry crashed into barriers outside Canada House.

Two Eurostar trains from Paris to London, each with 500 passengers on board, were stuck in the Channel Tunnel for over three hours on Monday night because of the snowy weather.

Maintenance teams equipped with ice breakers and snow ploughs worked through the night in an effort to get the crippled rail network working again in the South East.

.... and some of my favourite pics!