Back in the late 1980s, when the Hysterical Society still billed itself as “Comedy Night” and performed at the Valcourt Centre’s Off Centre Stage in what is now the Lady Minto Thrift Store, we presented a sketch where the BC Ferry Corporation’s head office was laid out as the captain’s quarters on a pirate ship.
I played Capt. Hook, the ferry corp.’s CEO pirate, replete with eyepatch, peg leg and a silver hook for claw-backs, and on my shoulder sat Polly, a stuffed pirate-hat-wearing parrot (whose voice was supplied by Mike Hayes standing offstage behind the curtains) who was the “brains” of the operation. Between Polly and me, we were trying to come up with solutions that would get the public off BC Ferries’ back and curtail some of the complaining. After having a couple of dubious suggestions rejected by Captain Hook (notably the “frequent floater point” concept and the “deckhand for a day” promotion), Polly hit one out of the park with her alternative to the build-a-bridge brainstorm:
“Okay, instead of spending all that capital that we don’t have on a bridge, aaaarrrrrr (here you the reader can supply your own pirate parrot sound), we take all the ferries in the fleet, line them up end to end, stern to bow, and weld them together. Voila! You’ve got a floating bridge. Drive on at one end and drive off the other. Aaaarrrrrr!”
Why am I raising the subject of ferries yet again? After all the irate emails and online comments, the late night phone calls from agitated spouses of ferry employees who have been offended by my critical parodies, and the dagger-like stares from those who take my jabs all too seriously, you would think I would know better than to poke the hibernating bear. Obviously, I don’t.
As everybody on the island knows, the decommissioning of the Vesuvius/Crofton ferry, the Howe Sound Queen, and its replacement with the smaller Quinitsa, has caused a maelstrom of discontent among Salt Spring residents and ferry users. The complaints range from public inconvenience over ferry schedules that have been topsy-turvied from their regular times, to utter outrage over massive lineups and ridiculous overloads. Plus the dangerous cargo sailings that take up a number of the potential passenger crossings.
People have resorted to posting photos on Facebook showing just how far back the ferry lineup at Vesuvius is stretching. (“It’s as far back as Sunset Drive and the ferry isn’t even in yet” or “we’re backed up all the way to the foot of Ganges Hill and we’re having to vie for parking spots with vendors who are waiting to set up stalls for the Saturday Market.”)
Of course, all this negative dissonance has brought on frayed nerves and a potentially volatile situation. There are reports of drivers attempting to sneak their way in to the waiting queues while others have tried to administer an ad hoc form of frontier vigilante justice to the perpetrators of such sleazy behaviour.
So what’s the solution? Some are calling for bigger ferries coupled with more frequent sailings. Others are demanding that a second ferry be docked at the ready for overloads at peak traffic times. I can’t say I believe that either of these tactics would work in the long run.
From my own experiences, having lived on Gabriola Island from the early ‘70s to the mid-80s, I watched that ferry get updated every couple of years from the tiny Rolf Brun and the 18-vehicle capacity Westwood, through the larger Kulleet, Klatawa, and Kahloke, and maxing out with the Quinitsa (yes, the very same tub now plying the Vesuvius/Crofton route) and then the Quinsam.
Even though the ferries kept getting bigger, so did the number of people wanting to use them. It was only a matter of a short period of time before the cycle of lineups and overloads repeated itself. No matter how much passengers griped, the problem was not solved with bigger vessels that ultimately made the island more accessible and therefore more desirable as a home.
Then there are those who scream “Build a “#*#*%*#’n” bridge!” Doing that (whether it be a floating bridge or a fixed structure) and eliminating ferries completely would mean we would be able leave and get back to the island whenever we damned well felt like it. There is a problem, however. First of all, bridges create their own messes when it comes to peak travel periods and traffic bottlenecks. Even more importantly, as witnessed by bridging of the Florida Keys archipelago, the quickest way to “de-island” an island is to build a bridge to it. What would be gained in ease of travel would be lost in the cultural identity of living on Salt Spring. You might just as well live in Saanich.
Let me be honest here. I’m not trying to pull a “holier than thou” manoeuver on this question. Being a “south-ender,” I don’t find myself travelling the Vesuvius/Crofton route very often. But if I did, I can assure you that I would be just as p.o.’d about missing a ferry or having to get to the terminal super early so that I could just sit (or sleep) in a ferry parking lot. I, too, out of total exasperation, would be banging my head against my steering wheel and cussing a blue streak while watching the fully loaded ferry sail without me all the way to Crofton.
Nobody asked me, but as I said before, there may be no viable solution to ferry problems involving sailing delays and overloads. There is, however, a logical way to handle all the disgruntled islanders who are so angry and fed up with the delays and lack of action by ferry management that they are ready to explode. Schedule special sailings several times a week where only individuals in this category are permitted to board the ferry. Call it the “Dangerous Passengers” crossing. Aaaarrrrrr.