I was struck by just how different local ferries are to the ones I was used to on Canada’s east coast when I first arrived in Vancouver in 1996.
My girlfriend at the time and I had just completed a month-and-a-half long hitchhiking adventure across the country when we boarded a ferry at Horseshoe Bay heading to Vancouver Island for the final leg of our more than 7,000-kilometre odyssey.
The first thing that struck me was the fact that people were parking their vehicles on the parking decks and just walking away from them.
I don’t know what the current rules are, but more than two decades ago on the ferries working the routes between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, it was required that all vehicles be chained to the deck so that they wouldn’t move in the rough seas of the North Atlantic.
It was the responsibility of each vehicle’s driver to use the chains provided by the ferry service to chain each of their tires to the deck.
It was a job that took a bit of effort and ferry workers were around if anyone needed assistance, but the chaos that could result if all the vehicles were not secure made the work necessary.
Wind and wave conditions on that part of the planet can get pretty extreme, and you can be guaranteed that any vehicle not properly tied down when the weather goes south will spend the trip causing significant damage to itself and anything else it comes into contact with.
Another difference I noticed at the time was that I couldn’t buy a beer on the ferry to whet my whistle and clear the road dust from my mouth after many hours that morning hitchhiking on the side of the highway trying to get to Horseshoe Bay.
I thought the woman in the cafeteria was kidding me when she said no alcohol was served on the ferries.
Beers and drinks were popular on the east coast ferries, and each ferry had a large bar to handle the thirsty passengers.
During the summer months, the bars would typically also have bands playing traditional and lively east coast music.
The bar was the most popular part of the ferry ride, and passengers would quickly make their way there to relax and have some fun after a long day of travelling.
Mind you, these ferry rides are significantly longer than the ones servicing the routes between the mainland and Vancouver Island.
The shortest run was almost nine hours, and the longest was about 18 hours.
So any booze you drank early in the sailing would have time to leave a body’s system by the time the ferry docked, if you drank in moderation.
With most local ferry sailings taking just about two hours, I’m surprised by the concerns raised after BC Ferries’ announcement that some local ferries will serve beer and wine on certain sailings as part of a pilot project beginning this June.
A lot of people think it will increase impaired driving, but as part of the pilot program, beer and wine can only be purchased with a meal, with a maximum of two drinks per passenger.
How this will be monitored is another question, but I think it’s just good business and good tourism to have a cold beer available to weary travellers.
I certainly would have had one that day 23 years ago.