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