Saturday, 18 December 2010

Whatever happened to Christmas?

As the years roll by, some of us start to get a bit tired of all the pre-Christmas razamatazz that seems to start earlier each year. Back here in the UK this year, the elves were waiting in the wings as early as mid November - and, as soon as Remembrance Day was over, the shopping malls switched on that Christmas muzac - doomed to run on a continuous loop for countless weeks.

Maddening as it all gets, it's not until you step outside that you realise Christmas has been neutralised. Like so much else these days, it's been transcended by political correctness. Our local council no longer wishes us a Happy Christmas in glittering lights strung perilously across the street. No, the banner now simply proclaims Season's Greetings. No particular season, just Season. Strangely though, it's only there in December - no sign of acknowledgement to religious festivals from January to November, then suddently the place lights up.

December means different things to different faiths of course - Hanukkah, Al-Hijira, Bodhi, Ashura, Yule and Christmas are all celebrated this month, but let's be honest, if it wasn't for Christmas falling on the 25th, how many towns and cities would put up a single light in celebration? Is it really so awful to acknowledge Christmas in public?

Back in BC, a different phenomenon has taken over. Holidays.

"Happy holidays" say the banners, the greeting cards and the word-perfect shop assistants. Where did "Happy holidays" come from? To a newcomer like me, it's a mystery. Is it more political correctness?  An imported trait from south of the 49th Parallel maybe? Or is it simply a ruse invented by greeting card manufacturers to ensure they can rotate their stock six times a year instead of once?

Whatever it is, it's good to know that,  lurking somewhere just beneath the surface, Christmas is still there. It must be. Walmart says so. 

This year could well be our last Christmas in the UK for a while. With luck, we will celebrate Christmas in Gabriola again next year. We were there in 2007, and again in 2009. Both times, Britain was paralysed by snow (well, a couple of inches, anyway) and Gabriola missed out - then when there was more than you could cope with in 2008, we were back here in the rain in England! It seemed we were doomed to miss out on the white stuff wherever we were. 

So, in 2010, the prophets of doom forecast a long, cold winter for Gabriola - and for Britain too. Who can we believe? Well, it started early on both sides of the pond, and we shall have to wait and see whether the predictions were right both times. In the meantime, here's evidence from the old country that, just occasionally, we do still see some snow. And yes, once there's an inch on the ground, the whole place still grinds to a halt.

Happy Christmas! (ooh, am I allowed to say that?)

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Snow arrives on the islands

Thetis Island webcam

Rathtrevor Beach,  Parksville webcam

This morning's snowfall on Salt Spring Island - as captured by Gulf Islands Driftwood

Friday, 19 November 2010

There's always one......

We've all seen them. Drivers who leave long gaps in the ferry line-up; drivers who stop alongside their pals for a chat; drivers making a quick u-turn in Taylor Bay Road to join the line-up ahead of the guy who's just gone round the turning loop.

But today, this idiot just took the biscuit. He (or is it she?) saw the chance to join the line-up at the North Road/Taylor Bay junction and did just that - oblivious of the chaos caused by his or her trailer, which was left blocking the whole exit lane from Taylor Bay.

Never mind how many near-misses occurred as a result - it's good to know that he (or she) avoided all that extra driving to turn round on Taylor Bay Road. Or maybe the trailer was so overloaded that the brakes wouldn't hold on the hill. Either way, you deserved a ticket.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Too good to last.....

Remember how we all celebrated back in October, when BC Ferries hacked a massive 65 cents off the cost of taking your car from Gabriola to Nanaimo and back, courtesy of the government's decision to let the corporation off paying import duty on its new ferries?

Well, let's hope you didn't let it go to your head, because from December 1 that fare goes straight back up again, because BC Ferries has decided it's time to drop the 2% fuel rebate.

It was fun while it lasted I suppose......

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

BC Ferries still want us to go to Duke Point

Last week, BC Ferries produced a document entitled Opportunities for Enhanced Efficiency in Performance Term Three to the BC Ferry Commissioner, as part of their Performance Term Three Submission, from which the Commissioner will determine price caps for each of the route groups for a four-year period from 2010 until 2016.

Emphasising that these opportunities for enhanced efficiency are not, in fact BC Ferries' proposals, but are "matters of public policy for consideration", the report goes on to propose the scrapping of two southern routes and significant changes to several others. Among the changes suggested is the following:

Change in Terminal Location for Route 19 – Gabriola to Nanaimo Harbour

Cost savings and better utilization of the Quinsam in the form of additional sailings, could be realized from moving the Route 19 terminal on Vancouver Island from Nanaimo Harbour to BC Ferries’ Duke Point Terminal. Please note this option was rejected by local residents in a recent survey.
Also up for consideration - and being promoted in order to deliver cost savings on fleet and terminal renewals - is the withdrawal of Route 12 between Mill Bay and Brentwood Bay, the elimination or restructuring of Route 9 (Salt Spring - Tsawwassen) and the closure of Salt Spring's Long Harbour terminal. Plans for a cable ferry between Buckley Bay and Denman Island are also still on the table.

None of us would argue that some of BC Ferries' vessels are long overdue retirement, and maybe it is time to review the future of the Mill Bay route (the only route in the BC Ferries' network for which there is a road-based alternative) but we must hope that the Ferry Commissioner will not be tempted to reopen the Duke Point debate once more......

The full text of the BC Ferries' Efficiency Statement can be found here.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Long way back

The journey between our old home in the UK and our new home in Gabriola is always long and tiring. No matter what time of year, the uncertainties of transcontinental flights make it unwise to commit to booking floatplane connections at this end, only to find that you're still somewhere over the Rockies as your floatplane soars off across the water, taking your money with it as it goes.

Add to that the challenge of making the journey at the start of Thanksgiving weekend, and all prospect of a smooth return to the island goes out of the window. 24 hours before my arrival at YVR, pretty much every floatplane seat to Gabriola or Nanaimo was sold out for Friday afternoon - and warnings of walk-on passenger overloads on BC Ferries had also appeared.

I hadn't chosen to travel yesterday because it was Thanksgiving weekend, that was just a bonus (?) - Friday 8th October was a date when I could get a return flight from the UK - with taxes - for
just £350 (about $550) with Thomas Cook, and it seemed an offer too good to miss. Especially when you think how much it costs to fly anywhere in Canada these days. But there again, if I hadn't flown to Vancouver, I could have flown to Italy and back for just £20 ($32) with Europe's favourite (and most reviled) low-cost airline, Ryanair. How do they do that?

Anyways, back to yesterday. Having got a good deal on my flight from London, I thought I would see whether I could carry that through on the rest of the trip to Gabriola. With meticulous planning and a following wind, I had worked out an itinerary which seemed doomed to failure at every step of the way - but if it worked I'd be here in time for fresh-cooked pizzas with my cousins at around 6 in the evening.

Getting from home to Gatwick Airport before 8am is always a bit of a lottery, but on Friday mornings the traffic around London's orbital motorway is lighter than usual, as so many people seem to take Fridays off work these days. Travelling with just hand luggage doesn't actually save you any time at check-in with Thomas Cook (you still have to get in line for your boarding pass) but it sure does when you get to the other end. The flight departed on schedule at 1010 and touched down at YVR five minutes ahead of schedule, at midday. So far, so good.

I knew that my itinerary would succeed only if I could be on the Canada Line before 1230, and arriving just behind our plane was a Korean Air 747 no doubt laden with complex challenges when they all reached the immigration desk. My luck held, and by 1220 I was on the Canada Line platform with transfer ticket in hand. Fortunately, someone had handwritten a whiteboard next to the ticket vending machine to say that Horseshoe Bay was a two-zone fare; there was nothing on the machine or the posters behind to tell me that. Maybe TransLink really wanted me to pay $10 for a 3-zone ticket just in case?

Just after 1245 and I stepped out from Vancouver City Centre station to find the bus stop for the Horseshoe Bay Express. I knew it was close to the station, but couldn't remember where. The bus stop outside helpfully said "downtown". Nothing else. I head back into the station looking for an interchange map, or even a real person to ask. Nothing. Undeterred, I crossed the street to where a large crowd of people were gathered around a bus stop. Half of them were waiting patiently in line, the other half under the canopy of The Bay, keeping out of the rain. Bus stop says that the 250 to Horseshoe Bay and the 257 Express both stop there. Just when was anyone's guess. The 250 was the first to arrive and I ponder the idea of not waiting for the Express, in case it's full, or doesn't turn up. About half the crowd packs into the 250 and away it goes, leaving the rest of us standing there. Hopefully.

My mental itinerary told me the express bus went at 1300 and it wasn't long after that the bus appeared and, creaking ominously under a very  full load of passengers, headed off a few minutes later towards Horseshoe Bay. I made it to the last seat, right at the back, and was very grateful that I didn't have a suitcase in tow. Thankfully, only one more passenger boarded along the way and with about 20 standing along the aisle, it wasn't really surprising that the driver was very careful NOT to pull to a complete halt at the stop signs as he climbed 15th out of Park Royal to the highway. I'm not saying the bus wouldn't have started again if he had, but I did begin to wonder.

As we crossed the bridge high above the ferry line-up at Horseshoe Bay, the full joy of Thanksgiving weekend on BC Ferries was unfolding. Diving through the maze of narrow streets that is Horseshoe Bay village, the bus misses all this mayhem and pulled up right outside the ferry terminal just before 1350. I avoid the queue for tickets and head straight for the self-serve machines - and the message that says no tickets will be issued less than 15 minutes before departure. It's 1352 and my ferry leaves at 1410. The machine fails to read my card first time, so I curse, and quickly sort out another card. Done - with 1 minute to spare!

It was good of BC Ferries to schedule an extra ferry at 1410 on October 8th. They must have known I was coming. Saved me an hour's wait for the regular ferry - and aboard Coastal Renaissance the line-up for food goes halfway round the ship. I opt for the easy option - a large Latte and muffin at a window seat in the coffee bar. Sitting with me are a couple from Alberta who joined the ferry line-up in their car a full half hour before I landed at YVR. I'm feeling sort of smug.

As we approach Departure Bay, the rain's running down the windows and I try and remember what time the bus leaves for downtown Nanaimo. It's 1547 as I walk through the terminal. I know that, as I thought to myself that I wouldn't quite make it onto the 1545 ferry to Gabriola.  Next one was 1700 and as I left the terminal, found the bus stop. No information, just a bus stop. My memory said there wasn't a bus until about 1615, so (taking heed of the advice that everyone seems to give about Nanaimo's buses) I decide to walk. The rain's stopped and I've plenty of time.

Walking past Nanaimo Shipbuilders I can see the hulk of the MV Sun Sea - towed in that morning from Victoria, where it arrived on August 13th with 492 Tamil migrants aboard. It beggars belief that someone made a fortune selling weeks of hell to hundreds of people so they could be packed like sardines onto a rusting hulk. It's incredible that only one of them died along the way - or so we were told.

Crossing Maffeo Sutton Park, I pause to watch an impatient wedding photographer trying in vain to choreograph a dozen or so suited wedding guests (bride and groom in the centre) to join hands and jump in the air simultaneously in front of the harbour wall for the wedding album. At the third failure, they all collapse in fits of laughter and I decide that it might be a long wait. 

As I approach the harbour, the floatplanes are roaring in packed with more fortunate souls, and I catch sight of the Quinsam rounding the harbour entrance. I quicken my step just a little, to be sure I don't miss it. I curse to myself as I realise I left my BC Ferries experience card on Gabriola back in August and grudgingly pay my $8.90 for the privelege.  Even so, I've made it; against all odds my itinerary worked and I saved over $50 in the process.

Twenty minutes later, and at the end of my 20 hour journey, I see friendly faces waiting to give me a ride back to my island home. Bad news. They haven't had time to light the pizza oven.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Come on Gabriola, take a leaf from Bowen's book

It's almost two years now since Gabriola floated the idea of Car Stops - a concept pioneered by the local community on Pender Island which, like Gabriola, has no public transportation.

The Pender Car Stops scheme started back in 2008 with 16 signs funded jointly by the Regional District and the Lions Club of BC. Because these were permanent signs, permission had to be obtained from the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure (MOTI) before they could be erected. A further 13 Car Stops were added in 2009, with the aim that there should be a Car Stop within walking distance of every home on the island.

Gabriola's hopes of establishing a similar scheme in 2009 were dashed by bureaucracy - when a generous $3,500 grant offered by MOTI flew straight out the window while we waited in vain for the Regional District of Nanaimo to issue permits for the signs and to decide whether they would accept liability and maintenance responsibility. Since then - nothing. Despite every good intention, the community seems to have accepted that the whole idea is just too complex and there's nothing we can do about it.

Back in the UK, hundreds of small rural communities have developed voluntary car schemes with no formal signage and no intervention required from local government. So why can't Gabriola do the same, I asked. No, it can't be done here, I was told - the insurance regulations wouldn't allow it. And anyway, there's probably no-one with the time to co-ordinate such a scheme.

Then, along comes Bowen Island with a voluntary lift-giving scheme that does just what it says on the tin

Launching their new website this week, Bowen LIFT needs no roadside signs, no co-ordinator, no funding from MOTI and no government permits. It's just a self-help website on which offers or requests for rides can be posted, and self-printed car signs to let folks know that you're able to offer a ride in the direction indicated on the sign. So simple, it could have been invented for Gabriola.

How often have we walked onto the ferry and trekked the lines of cars hoping to see a friend or neighbour who can offer a ride home? Or set off up the hill, telling ourselves that there's no point thumbing a ride until we've made the turn into Taylor Bay, North or South Road? With a small sign in the front of the car, it would be so easy to spot cars heading in the right direction - even on the ferry.

So come on Gabriola, don't sit there with your head in your hands saying it's all too complicated. It can be done - and I, for one, will be watching with interest to see how Bowen Island's initiative pays off. And if, like me, you think this is a scheme worth promoting, let me know by email at . We could have this up and running in no time!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Extreme fire alert reinstated

Gabriola Fire Department have today reinstated the Extreme level of wildfire alert, meaning a complete shutdown on the use of gas powered equipment at any time.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Double whammy for regular ferry users

Hot on the heels of BC Ferries' announcement that they are to reduce the fuel rebate on the minor routes from 5% (average)  to 2% came a splendid email yesterday to those of us who are registered Experience Card holders (or "valued customers" as the email calls us) informing us that, in future, the rebate will now be calculated as a percentage of the discounted fare, rather than as a percentage of the standard fare. 

This being such good news, it is, of course, a "system enhancement", as this extract confirms : Effective August 17, 2010, BC Ferries is implementing a system enhancement which will enable us to apply a percentage based system for fuel rebates and surcharges on the fares paid. Customers who use an Experience Card and receive a discount will now see that the rebate or surcharge percentage is based on the discounted fare paid.  Currently our system calculates the rebate on the fare prior to the discount.

What does this really mean for Gabriolans? Well, if you currently pay the regular fare for a car and 2 adults ($39.85) the fuel rebate will reduce from its present 3.6% ($1.45) to 2% ($0.80) - effectively an increase of $0.65 on the amount you will pay.  However, as "valued customers", Experience Card holders will see their fuel rebate reduce from $1.45 to $0.49 - an increase of $0.96 on the final charge. Or, put another way,  that's a 4% increase in fare for Experience Card holders compared to a 1.6% increase on the regular fare. 
So that's not just one, but two more examples of "Ferryspeak" for my fellow blogger to add to his collection:
System enhancement = a mechanism for doubling the fare increase for prepaid customers
Valued Customer = someone who is mug enough to pay the double increase

Monday, 2 August 2010

Rain and Suffering - again?

Of sea lions, the author of Rain and Suffering - the Real Gulf Islands Guide says that the Gulf Islands have twice the load of sea lions as most places. The Californian sea lion, born quite a ways south of here, shares much of the territory of coastal British Columbia with the locally born Stellar sea lion. This unfortunate sharing makes both sea lion populations edgy, and name-calling and fighting can frequently be heard up and down the Straight of Georgia.

True enough, the bellowing at certain times of year can disturb the sleep of those poor unfortunate souls with beachfront property, but for the rest of us the chance to see one of those edgy, angry Californian beasts at close quarters preparing for battle, makes up for all those sleepless nights.

This solitary Californian sea lion prepares for battle on the floating dock right alongside the Mill Bay ferry terminal.  Apart from having to swim out into Mill Bay a couple of times each day for lunch and dinner, only the arrival of the Brentwood Bay ferry every hour so so breaks up the obvious stress of the battle lines.

Rain and Suffering

On a visit this week to Galiano Island, we picked up a great little guide book to life on the gulf islands. Entitled Rain and Suffering - the Real Gulf Islands Guide, it starts to answer some of those questions we hadn't dare ask. Questions like "why do people choose to live here?"

The guide claims to be the antidote to travel guides, stating that "an overzealous travel industry with neither shame nor morals has created the myth that the Gulf Islands are a paradise waiting to be discovered - a myth perpetuated by lying tourists who stayed here and are now too proud to admit their mistake."  Instead, the book focuses on 'the true perils of visiting the Gulf Islands, and the wretchedness that comes with Gulf Islands living' - extending a sympathetic thought or two for those who now realise that island life has its downs as well as the occasional up.

Of Gabriola, the guide says we are a 14.5 km by 4.2 km sausage shaped retirement community - rumoured to rise six to eight feet every week when its senior citizens catch the 9am ferry for their weekly shopping in Nanaimo - and to really get a Gabriola resident going, start talking about how easy it would be to create a bridge across to Mudge Island and on to Vancouver Island. Depending on the company, you might just be returning to Nanaimo duct taped to the last ferry of the night.  Hhmmm - there could be some truth in that.

Of BC Ferries, the author concludes that the management have stripped and sold off anything worth buying on the ferries - including most of the life saving equipment and much of the mechanics of the ships, so spend your trip across the Gulf itemising all items in your car that could be used as flotation gear.  Maybe a little extreme, but after experiencing the best and worst of BC Ferries this week, I can see where he's coming from.

A closer inspection of this picture of the Queen of Burnaby reveals what can best be described as a rotting hulk, still plying the waters between Powell River and Comox. Rust everywhere, bulging decks, sealed off lounges oozing asbestos from every crevice. 

 Not everything is bad about BC Ferries of course - and this week we've enjoyed many pleasant "mini-cruises" aboard that reviled fleet - top among which must be the 50 minute journey aboard the Island Sky between Earls Cove and Saltery Bay - and 40 minutes each way aboard the Bowen Queen (remember the Bowen Queen?) through Active Pass en route from Salt Spring to a relaxed dinner at the Galiano Inn one evening. Active Pass is so much more impressive on a smaller vessel like the Bowen Queen, on which you can actually feel the swirling currents.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Four legs or two?

In England, there is a myth that a certain beer reaches the parts that other beers cannot reach.

In Gabriola, the myth applies to the deer, not the beer!


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Today's visitors

This morning's visitor to the garden.....

....... and in the evening ........

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The tide's turned.....

..... maybe someone should tell them?

Friday, 16 July 2010

Out of the sun........

It's great to get home from a long walk and find the locals resting under the trees.

At least they're not eying up the vegetable garden!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Fast ferry to Gabriola?

These fine blades would certainly move Quinsam along ......

... and they're sitting on a Seattle dockside right now!
Do you think anyone would notice if they went missing?

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Summer's arrived

Ok, so we get back to Gabriola on the 11th. And when do the temperatures fall away?

Sunday, 4 July 2010

HM in Canada (2)

" If you can hang on for a week or two, my government will be selling off Canada on eBay. You should get it for a good price if you're quick....."

Thursday, 1 July 2010

HM in Canada (1)

"Do you know, Liz, Canada smells just like England - wet paint everywhere"

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Canada Day - off island !

Just because we're not at home tomorrow, it doesn't mean we can't celebrate Canada Day in style. Tim Horton's coffee, Sleemans Ale and Mission Hill wines form the liquid offerings to wash down Bison Burgers, Poutine and Timbits galore - in Trafalgar Square, London!

For the fifth year running, London's famous landmark will be a sea of red and white as Canada's 143rd birthday is celebrated all day long - and late into the evening.

The day begins at 10.30 with the Canadian Tenors leading a rousing rendition of O Canada, after which the Canadian High Commissioner will drop the first puck in a day-long competition of street hockey.

At the end of the day, the Square is transformed ready for a three hour concert featuring a host of performers from across Canada.

Such a pity the Queen will miss out on all the fun. Now where is she again..........?

You can see a full run down of the day's events here.

Friday, 25 June 2010

The school bus challenge

This week, the Ministry of Education has announced that they are to spend a cool $12.5 million on 106 new green [well, yellow anyway] school buses - of which just two will find their way to the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District.

In a news release this week, Minister of Education Margaret MacDiarmid revealed:

“Student transportation services cost more than $90 million annually. Over the coming months, we will be looking for new ways to provide bus transportation for students that will save money that can be reinvested in classrooms.”

Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District expects to spend $1,285,000 on transportation this year - of which $1,239,000 is the direct costs (excluding administration) of running 17 school buses around the district. That's an average $73,000 a year for each school bus. On top of that is the capital cost of the buses themselves - with the new 42-seat buses costing $114,000 each, rising to $140,000 for bigger, 84-seat buses.

MacDiarmid suggests that some school districts are saving money by providing students with Transit passes instead of running their own buses. That's great - providing you have a transit service to start with! Needless to say, there is no transit service on Gabriola - and one cost saving measure proposed by the School District is to assign a mechanic to drive the link bus from the Gabriola ferry to NDSS and back, instead of employing a driver - meaning there's less time spent on maintaining the buses. Sound economy? I'm not so sure.

And meanwhile, Gabriola cries out for a transit service to help the ever growing number of older folk - and young families without their own transport - access the necessities of life. BC Transit has promised a review of the potential for a transit service - but it doesn't look like it's coming anytime soon. And yet we have a school bus on the island that sits idle most days between 9am and 3pm, and daily from 5pm onwards.

Now I'm not suggesting that the yellow school bus should be used to provide a transit service during the day - anyone who has peeked through the door of the school bus will know that you need the agility of a mountain goat to climb the flight of steps inside the bus - which is the price that you pay for designing a school bus on a cheap, mass-produced truck frame.

No, what is needed on Gabriola is some joined up thinking between School District 68 and BC Transit to invest in a step-free transit bus that can be used for both services. Yes, I know that means there would be no transit service before 9am or for two hours in the afternoon - but by sharing the running costs between BC Transit, School District 68 and Nanaimo Regional District, we could secure a transit service for shoppers, medical appointments and leisure trips at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated transit bus. Once that's established, then it's time to consider whether a second bus - for peak time travel - can be justified.

It's time to accept that it's no longer sustainable to run two separate transport systems in rural communities : it's time to think outside the box and look for an integrated solution to secure transport services for the future. The yellow school bus working for just 4 hours a day is living on borrowed time. And meanwhile, Gabriola walks.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Whale watching with a difference

Photos : courtesy of the Times Colonist

Every day, passengers aboard the Victoria Clipper have the chance to watch orcas (killer whales) on the journey between Seattle and Victoria.

This Saturday, the Clipper gained an extra passenger as a not-so-dumb harbour seal jumped aboard to avoid becoming lunch to of a pod of killer whales. The seal perched perilously on one of the Clipper's jets for more than 20 minutes while the pod continued to circle the boat.

Once the whales had moved on, the seal nervously returned to the ocean - and lived to tell the tale.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Happy 60th birthday!

That alltime hippy favourite, the VW camper van, is sixty years old this year.

Originally designed by Volkswagen as a wagon to carry panels round their car plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, it was spotted by a dutch importer who worked with VW during the 1940s to develop the concept of a "combi" camper van.

Despite a reputation for being underpowered, having dreadful brakes and suffering frequent electrical faults, VW campers gained popularity throughout the world and remain a cult symbol that is dearly cherised by countless thousands.

Numbered among their fans are celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Formula 1's Jenson Button, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry from The Who - and actor Martin Clunes. They have become collector's items (especially the  'splitties' - early models built with a split two-part windscreen) among many who crave the freedom of the 1960's hippy era or the modern surfing scene.

Anyone know how many have found their way to Gabriola?

Friday, 28 May 2010

Friday, 21 May 2010

Poor old Quinsam

Just days after her return to service from a $16m refit, the Quinsam is clearly not coming up to scratch - so much so that BC Ferries is being forced to adopt a revised schedule from May 27th to overcome the service delays that are currently being experienced.

The reason? Quinsam's new propulsion units are not delivering normal speed. Must be the weight of all those steel seats in the passenger lounges. Bring back the Bowen Queen!

Read the whole sorry tale here


Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Radiance of the Seas visits Nanaimo

Nanaimo's waterfront was buzzing today as more than 2,000 passengers took time ashore from Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas, moored out in the channel off Gabriola.

Looking very low in the water, the intrepid cruisers were transferred by tender to the visitor pier in Nanaimo Harbour - dodging the Quinsam's wake as she arrived (late again) from Gabriola. 

All of which set me thinking - arrival by tender from almost a mile offshore helps make a great visitor experience.  Just a shame that they'll all have to walk through the freight yards when the new cruise ship terminal is built.  Or maybe they'll bus everyone out with the blinds drawn?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Harbour Air and West Coast Air consolidation begins

If you're planning on flying between Nanaimo Harbour and Vancouver or YVR anytime soon, you need to know that the first phase of the consolidation of West Coast Air with its new parent, Harbour Air, starts tomorrow.

Harbour Air Group has announced that, with effect from 19 May, both Harbour Air and West Coast Air will now use the Harbour Air terminals at both Vancouver Harbour and Inglis Drive, Richmond (YVR).

At YVR, the West Coast Air shuttle service to/from the main terminals will now be available to Harbour Air passengers as well. In Vancouver Harbour, the refurbished Harbour Air terminal will (from 21 May) offer complimentary speciality coffees, newspapers and internet access to passengers waiting to depart on either service.

A copy of the full announcement can be found here

Monday, 10 May 2010

Goosing around

"Better do as your mother says, son, there's a man with a camera watching us"

Monday, 26 April 2010

Health & Safety

In Britain, almost every inch of the rail network is protected by security fencing, and the few level crossings that do remain are equipped either with gates or automatic barriers and warning bells - which is probably just as well, with train speeds of anything between 40mph and 75mph even on rural lines.

Compare this with the railway on Vancouver Island. Here, the trains (well, the train anyway) venture out onto the streets without a thought. Most, but not all, road crossings have warning lights - like at this road junction close to Nanaimo city centre.

Audible warning of the train's arrival takes the form of ear-piercing air horns on the roof of the train - and as the train passes through towns like Nanaimo, with road crossings every few hundred metres, the air horns are pretty much in constant use. Loud? Well, they can often be heard four miles away on Gabriola Island!

Now, in Britain, the driver has the extra benefit of audible warnings in the cab at the approach to every signal and crossing. A bell rings if it's clear to proceed; a buzzer sounds if the signal's at caution - and if it's at red, most trains will automatically stop.

I have to assume that there's no equivalent system on Vancouver Island. Why? Because health and safety clearly dictates that the driver (sorry, engineer) wears ear defenders to protect himself from the power of the air horns!

Crop security

I'm always being told that growing special crops on Gabriola requires special security measures. So these are the security measures. 

You can't see what I'm growing, can you?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Well dressing

You know how it is. Sometimes you just can't be bothered to wash the dishes, the clothes - or yourself - reckoning, quite naturally, that you'll do it all in the morning. You tell yourself you'll feel much more energised tomorrow. That's fine, so long as you don't wake up to find that there's no water in the morning. 

This happens fairly regularly on Gabriola - every time the power is out in fact. No power = no pump = no water from the well. Most of us are prepared for that - and in any event, what's the point of having water if there's no power to run the washing machine or dishwasher? But somehow yesterday was different. The bedroom clock told me it was 7.30 - which, in itself, was a sign that everything, power wise, was hunky dory. Except that there was no water in the bathroom. That's not good, when your water supply depends on a pump to lift the stuff from a 40 ft well. 

Since buying our island home, we always new there was a pump somewhere in the shed - but there had never been the need to find it, or indeed to check that it was working. After all, if there is water in the tap, the pump is working, ok? Visit the shed. Unwrap the winter insulation from the pump. It looks like a pump - what did you expect?  Previous owner was fastidious in keeping instruction books - and receipts - for everything he bought, so within minutes I was able to go through the checklist of possible faults in the 1997 instruction manual. 

Carry out all of the problem solving tests. Nothing. The pump was, sadly, deceased. I suppose 13 years is a reasonable life for a pump that cost $279 in 1997. But what's it going to cost to replace it?  13 years of inflation? I brace myself and go off in search of a new one.  I take the 1997 instruction manual with me, to make sure that it`s compatible. 

Now, in a country where a high proportion of homes do not have mains water, it`s not too difficult to find a new pump for your well. Home Depot (or B&Q to those of you in the the UK) sells them; even Canadian Tire (a sort of overgrown Halfords superstore) sells them. The problem is, they don`t employ people who are sufficiently clued up to intelligently answer questions about them. But Rona does - and Rona has a pump in stock that looks suspiciously like the old one. An intelligent life form offers to open the box and let me check the installation instructions. I take the 1997 manual out of my back pocket. Not only are the diagrams identical, the words are too - this is the same pump that Peter bought from Sears in 1997 for $279!  Today`s price? A snip at $269!! That`s $10 less than it was 13 years ago!!!

With an identical pump, replacement is relatively simple. Not totally, of course - that would be too much to expect. The rubber(ish) hoses are still intact - and, with a quick dip in hot water, they slide readily off the galvanised steel connectors. The problem is, the connectors have been eaten away by 13 years of immerson in groundwater and, inevitably, they look as though they will disintegrate under the pressure of a new pump.  I replace the two that have visible signs of corrosion and fit the new pump. Bingo! I prime the pump and it`s soon delivering the goods at the recommended 25 psi. Then the third connector gives up the ghost and delivers a mighty shower that removes the cobwebs from inside the shed roof.

I`ve dried out now; the washing machine has completed its cycle; the dishwasher is merrily buzzing away, and all is well with the world. I have my well pump back - for less than it cost 13 years ago. The only difference - it`s made in Mexico now, not Ontario.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Quinsam sea trials underway

A sight not often seen off Gabriola - MV Quinsam passing the Bowen Queen off Descanso Bay today, to the sound of ship's horns from both vessels as the Quinsam prepares to return to service after her $16m refit. 

At first sight, it's difficult to see much change in Quinsam's appearance, other than a fresh coat of paint.   On closer examination, though, there are at least two noticable changes.

Midships on (presumably) both sides there is now a new folding gangway fitted where previously there was an open railing..... usually covered with a tarp for weather protection. Is this simply a new emergency escape route for passengers, or has it been redesigned for use by walk-on passengers with a segregated ramp? There's no sign of any new ramps at the terminals, but maybe we should wait and see....

Up above the car decks there are now four shiny new engine exhaust mufflers - one over each engine - which will hopefully reduce noise levels substantially in the passenger lounges. 

Previously, the engine exhaust was routed through ducting alongside the passenger accommodation, making the seating areas noisy and, at times, very hot.

We must wait and see what delights await the passenger once aboard!

Quinsam's return to service is due next week; in the meantime the sea trials will no doubt continue - and on Sunday, she will be taking part in a multi-agency search and rescue exercise in Nanaimo Harbour, where a mock emergency will be played out aboard MV Quinsam with various federal, provincial and local agencies testing their collective response. The training exercise will take place off the Assembly Wharf on Sunday morning and public viewing will be available from Maffeo Sutton Park.

Meanwhile, for those of us who paid by credit card for our ferry tickets last weekend are urged to be patient while BC Ferries rectify the computer `glitch` that meant everyone was charged twice. I checked my credit card account today and, yes, I was charged double to top up my Experience Card, even though the receipt only showed one payment. Check your credit card bills now folks!!!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Who's at the helm?

Readers of today's edition of Island Tides will now know that the Coastal Inspiration has not, as previously suggested, been taken out of service because of an engine fault. That may be what BC Ferries would have us believe, but as Island Tides' reporter April Primus reveals on page 7, the truth is actually rather more sinister.  Read the full article here.....

BC Ferries developing first ROF 
BC Ferries, following its policy of leading the world in innovation, is quietly equipping Coastal Inspiration to be the first Remotely Operated Ferry (ROF) in service anywhere. The work is being carried out at the Esquimalt Graving Dock, under heavy security. The facility is often used for work on Royal Canadian Navy ships, and British Columbia's Ferry Service officials feel that it is an ideal site for this ground-breaking technical project.
The need for an ROF arose after extensive study of the sinking of the Queen of the North; it was eventually concluded that the cause of the grounding was ‘the personnel on the bridge’. A search of records for all previous ferry incidents, going back fifty years, showed that in each case, there had been personnel on the bridge at the time, confirming management’s conclusion.
Thus the radical idea was born that ultimate safety on the ferries could be achieved by running the vessels with no crew whatsoever. It was reasoned that if the absence of humans on the bridge could improve navigational safety, then eliminating the deck crew could eliminate accidents when loading and unloading the vessel, completely automating the cafeteria would cut out any problems with food services, and eliminating the engineering staff would halt any problems with the engines and other systems.
BC Ferries’ financial staff could also see significant potential cost savings, thus avoiding serious financial problems. They felt that the ship conversion would be preferable to an alternative ROF, a Remotely Operated Finance department. The technology for an ROF has only been developed in the last few years. Drawing on the GPS and internet innovations that have made possible BC Ferries’ vessel tracking webpage, combined with control systems developed for the operation of pilotless drones in the Afghan war, and interfacing them with heavily digitized automatic pilot, proximity warning systems, stealth technology, and radar equipment drawn from aircraft applications, the sophisticated systems on the Coastal Inspiration will make it all possible. Announcements on board will be made by a computerized voice messaging system, as used by telephone companies throughout the world.
The vessel will be controlled from a small, windowless room on the top floor of BC Ferries’ headquarters. Since the Coastal Inspiration is a double-ended ferry, two operating consoles will be required, with two operators, one to come and one to go. They will be cross-trained so that either operator can operate the ferry in reverse if required, a further safety precaution.
At the Esquimalt graving dock, the design and installation teams have priority access to the military technology involved, while being assured of absolute protection from industrial or maritime espionage. A covering rumour involving engine trouble is being circulated.
Visiting experts from other countries can be landed by submarine without attracting attention. The work will be completed on schedule and on budget, neither of which has been published. It is possible that the conversion to remote operation may be completed by April 1st of this year, or if not, by April 1st, 2011. A new slogan for BC Ferries is being considered to succeed ‘Bringing you home for 50 years’. It is ‘BC Ferries— completely crewless’.
As of April 1, out of respect for BC Ferries’ security concerns, Island Tides have made no effort to confirm any of the above; it is pure speculation. The union has also not been consulted.

The full edition of Island Tides can be viewed at