After a Canada Day weekend charitably described as “uneven,” BC Ferries passengers who braved holiday travel to and from Salt Spring Island are left wondering if they’ve seen a preview of ferry service through the remaining summer months.
With the announcement Wednesday, June 28 that the Coastal Celebration’s refit would extend through the summer’s first long weekend — leading to the cancellation of eight round-trips between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen — islanders and visitors steeled themselves for days of difficult travel. BC Ferries said more than 6,600 bookings on that vessel were transferred to the scheduled sailings on the remaining boats, with anyone without a confirmed booking being “strongly encouraged” to leave their vehicles behind and walk on if they needed to get to or from the mainland.
And while the more obvious follow-on effects included the rapid selling-out of reservations on the Salish-class Tsawwassen to Salt Spring sailings via Long Harbour — including, on many sailings, all walk-on reservations — problems emerged beyond travel headed to the mainland.
First, to give credit where due, the much-heralded 10-trip schedule between Fulford Harbour and Swartz Bay kicked off Wednesday, June 28, running fully on time (even arriving early on several trips) and with only a few passengers seemingly caught off-guard by the shift in sailing times.
The second day was not without its challenges, however.
The scheduled 6 p.m. sailing back to Salt Spring Thursday experienced a dramatic loading at Swartz Bay, with several jarring lurches to one side as cars came on the ramp. The ferry eventually departed 30 minutes late, and BC Ferries attributed the delay to a “mechanical issue” with the Skeena Queen’s right-angle drive, which — despite reports of a rougher-than-usual docking at Fulford — was said to have been resolved.
On Saturday, July 1, it was the busy Vesuvius-Crofton route that struggled. Just before noon, BC Ferries announced a potential risk of cancellations due to crew shortages — threatening the loss of every departure from the island from 1:45 p.m. to the last sailing at 10 p.m. The cancellations became “official” 15 minutes later, and many left Canada Day events early in a scramble to get to Fulford before those sailings could fill.
Salt Spring Cruisers car club president Abe Hohn said the group’s 23rd annual “Show & Shine” event was abruptly cut short — needlessly, as it turned out — as word of the west-side island route’s likely closure spread among the more than 100 car show participants.
“A lot of our guests [showing vehicles] are definitely from that side, going north,” said Hohn, who said club organizers were on the phone with BC Ferries trying to gauge the possibility of the sailings being reinstated before sounding the alarm.
“A lot of good questions were asked,” said Hohn, “and we came up with the decision to give out the trophies early.”
Hohn added people at the event were understanding, if disappointed; he estimates a little less than half of the cars left early.
Then, just a little later that afternoon, BC Ferries announced more crew had been sourced, and regular service resumed beginning with the 3 p.m. departure from Vesuvius.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” said Hohn. “We try to organize events like this and are told ‘no ferries’ and then “oh, ferries are back on.’”
On Monday the misadventures continued with several morning sailings from Vesuvius to Crofton cancelled — briefly — due to insufficient crew. At first, BC Ferries announced six round-trips were to be lost, eliminating all morning sailings; shortly after delivering the news, however, two were reinstated, starting with the 10:10 a.m. departure from the Crofton side.