For those planning a visit to the Southern Gulf Islands, welcome to a world that revolves around the Queen of Cumberland, the Salish Eagle, the Mayne Queen and the rest of the BC Ferries flotilla. Not only are the ferries vital links to the outside world, but travelers spend a goodly fraction of their waking hours with the ferry system.
On Pender, waiting in the Otter Bay ferry line allows ample time for exploring. I often wander up and down the long line of cars and trucks petting some of the many dogs and chatting with their owners, picking blackberries when they’re in season and watching for the flap of feathers. Cormorants commonly sit regally on the terminal pilings like preachers. A pair of noble eagles lives nearby and frequently visit, perhaps seeking leftover food scraps. Smaller birds like nuthatches, juncos and even hummingbirds twitter among the shrubbery and trees. Sea gulls swoop and shriek overhead.
The Stand, a food truck that has been permanently moored at the bottom of the Otter Bay terminal, is the place to stop for food and coffee before riding the ferry. I love to bite into the Brekkie Bun loaded with cheese, ham and a fried egg over easy.
Riding on a ferry is a delight. You’re not clenched to the car’s wheel. Instead, you’ve got time to relax and gaze at some of the world’s most picturesque scenery. The Gulf Islands are soft and gentle with log-lined bays, rocky ridges and attractive forests of towering Douglas firs, rust-coloured arbutuses and, occasionally, Garry oaks. If fortune smiles, you’ll see the fins of killer whales (orcas) elegantly rising and falling through the waves.
If you’re tired from having arisen earlier than usual, you can even snooze. On most morning trips I see the odd passenger emitting quiet snores, with their eyes closed, and sometimes drooling on their neighbour’s shoulder.
OK, there are some who claim the ferry system is a thief of valuable time. They say it’s inconvenient and one has to structure one’s life around their schedules. Although Victoria and Vancouver are relatively close, it takes a full day to visit them, with much of that time spent parked in a long line-up of cars. You must plan meticulously to ensure getting aboard, arriving at the terminal at least 30 minutes early (during winter’s slow period) to one to three hours (during summer’s peak season, especially on long weekends). No question, travelling by ferry takes a lot of time, but this is a gift to those who need a break from the bustle of life.
Occasionally, ferries run late, thanks to the increased traffic due to the growing popularity of the islands. Often ramps need to be used to handle the overload, a time-consuming operation. This is when I invite you to relax, accept this serendipitous turn of events and say, like true islanders, “Not to worry, we’re on island time.”
One of the biggest pluses of living on an island is catching up on reading. Before coming to live on Pender, my pile of unread brochures, magazines, books and letters rose to Olympian heights. I struggled to make even a small dent in this “reading pile.” Now, thanks to ferry time, that problem has evaporated.
An important benefit of ferry travel is the ample time it allows to chitchat with friends. That’s one good reason why we islanders are so close-knit and supportive of each other. At the same time, we have the opportunity to be philosophical and ponder the meaning of life and the world’s many problems facing. Having the time for this kind introspection combined with numerous close friendships makes for a satisfying island life.