A Ferry Tale…

Once upon a time, in a land far away, dreaming of snow capped mountains and oceans and awesome sights and cities in North America was just that – a dream. But, along came a fairy godmother who said, “why don’t you buy a motorhome and see the wondrous sights we have all around us.”  And, our dream came true…  

In the almost three years since we have been travelling, the coach has been on eight ferries – seven of them in British Columbia and one in Nova Scotia. The shortest was on Highway 6 to Vernon, BC (enroute to Kelowna).  The ride was 5 minutes and the cost – free!

We are about to embark on our longest trip on 3 ferries, over 3 days and 2 nights, travelling 390 nautical miles or 721 km’s.  There’s something exciting, romantic and relaxing about travelling this way.   This is our ferry tale adventure story.

April 26th, 2017
Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, B.C.
22.59 nautical miles (42 km’s)

Passengers: $74
Pick-up Truck: $61.25
Coach: $176.75
TOTAL: $312.00 (USD)

The Coho is a passenger and vehicle ferry owned and operated by the Black Ball Line and  carries 1000 passengers and 110 assorted vehicles.  In the summer season Coho makes four round trips from Port Angeles to Victoria daily.

Yup! We’re big!

The 90 minute trip is a scenic journey through the Strait of Juan de Fuca (unfortunately, no pics).   The Victoria harbour and its quaint water taxis never disappoints.

Clearing customs in Victoria was effortless and uneventful (whew)!  We spent the next 2 nights visiting family, stocking up at Costco, getting Gracie groomed, all in preparation for the next leg of our travels.

On Friday, April 28th, we drove from Victoria to Port Hardy.  Travelling the length of Vancouver Island, we drove through beachside resort towns like Ladysmith, Parksville and Qualicum Beach towards Campbell River, which is considered by some to be the salmon fishing capital of Canada.  Signs to watch for deer, elk and bear are posted all along the way, but we didn’t see any.  Driving deeper into the great northern forests takes us to the end of the highway – to Port Hardy.  Our final destination – the ferry dock for the famed Inside Passage cruise.

April 29th & 30th, 2017
Port Hardy, B.C. to Prince Rupert, B.C.
274 nautical miles (507 km’s)

Passengers: $296.50
Berth: $100.00
Pick-Up Truck: $333.10
Coach: $1,039.45
TOTAL: $1,769.05

We were taking the 22-hour ferry through the Inside Passage which is a coastal route for oceangoing vessels along a network of passages which weave through the islands on the Pacific coast of North America.   Ships using the route can avoid some of the bad weather in the open ocean. There are many isolated communities along the route that are only serviced by these ships.

Inside Passage Route starts in Port Hardy with stops in Bella Bella, Klemtu and finally, Prince Rupert.

The Northern Adventure carries 87 vehicles and 640 passenger and crew. The on-board amenities include the Coastal Cafe, Raven Lounge, Passages Gift Shop, staterooms, Kids Zone, elevator and accessible washrooms. The BAD news! No pets are allowed on board. With the exception of 15-minute pee/poo breaks every 3 – 4 hours, they must remain on the locked vehicle decks down below at all times.

Our departure time was 6:00 p.m. but loading the vehicles takes awhile so we needed to be at the dock 3 hours prior to departure. The coach was one of the first vehicles to load at 3:30 p.m. and Chuck had to back it in.

Backing in…slowly. Can you see Gracie?
Dead centre! Good job Chuck!

Next up – the small cars. It was fascinating watching them check out all the vehicles, measure the heights of some and the lengths of others. While they had instructed the cars to queue in specific lanes, pick-up trucks in their lanes and tractor trailers in other lanes there was some mixing up in the lanes. At one point I had to back up, turn around and back up again to get into another lane. I was finally waved on at 5:00 p.m and it looked like a puzzle on board!  The small cars were tucked under and around the upper decks, tractor trailers and large RV’s (us…) were parked in the middle and everyone else was parked all around.   Emergency brakes are on, wheels are chocked and you can barely walk through the place!  We were told later that the ship was oversold by 14 vehicles!  No fights ensued…

We check in and get our berth keys. Hmmm – nothing fancy but beats sleeping on the floor or in the lounge.   Many passengers carried on blow-up mattresses, pillows and blankets and claimed their bit of floor ‘real estate’ settling in for the night.

We’re about 30 minutes late in departing and finally head out. We had packed some sandwiches and food, bought a couple of beers and sat in the cafe which was buzzing with activity.   (We didn’t know there would be a full-service cafe – albeit expensive.)  Kids are running around, others are playing cards and board games, the tv’s are on and there’s even a movie.  These people have done this before!

At 9:00 p.m. an announcement is made that the car deck is open for 15 minutes and you can go to your vehicles.   They are serious about the 15 minutes – security rushed us out a couple of times!  When we booked the sailing we were told that there was a grassy pet area on board where you could walk your dogs.  Not true!  The walking area was actually around all the vehicles and the dogs would just do their business on the concrete floor (of course, pick-up required).  Gracie was not impressed and held it in…  Back at the coach she jumped into the passenger seat and didn’t move all night. We don’t think she ate anything either.

We settled into our room around 10:30 p.m.  There would be a stop in Bella Bella at 1:30 a.m. and another at 3:00 a.m. in Klemtu.   A number of walk-on passengers and vehicles would leave at these places.  Sometime around 2:30 a.m. we woke up to the ship rocking and rolling AND heaving and hurling!  Eye glasses were sliding off the night table, bags went crashing onto the floor and toiletries slid off the bathroom counter. What the heck! I looked out the window and the waves were huge! Announcements were made over the loudspeakers – “PLEASE SIT DOWN.  FIND A SEAT AND SIT DOWN! DO NOT MOVE!”

Holy moly, the bunk bed was no longer too small for the both of us!  I hope the vehicles down below are o.k…..

We couldn’t get a straight answer the next morning about the size of the waves.  The story started with four metres and morphed to twenty four metres… We heard, the bow of the ship was under water twice!   The engines sputtered and nearly stalled!

Walking into the coach in the morning – “yup, we were definitely rocking and rolling!” The dining chairs had tipped over, the pantry door had swung open and the sliding shelves were all out, the candy bowl with peppermints had tipped over and there were mints all over the place – in the dog food bowl, in the water bowl, under the slides… If only the pets could talk!  We never did take any pictures of the mess.  We only had 15 minutes!

The rest of the day was quiet. It rained on and off; fog and clouds rolled in and out  interspersed with smidgens of blue sky.  There were mountains, waterfalls, trees and water. And, more mountains, waterfalls, trees and water.

We arrived in Prince Rupert on-time at 4:00 p.m.  Ironically, we were taking the same ferry to Skidegate but we all had to disembark and all vehicles had to leave the vessel.

We drove off, turned the corner and drove back in to queue up for our final ferry ride (until we return at the end of June).

April 30th – May 1st, 2017
Prince Rupert, B.C. to Skidegate, B.C. (on Haida Gwaii, formerly The Queen Charlottes)
93 nautical miles (172 km’s)

Passengers: $77.50
Berth: $90.00
Pick-up Truck: $135.10
Coach: $511.80
TOTAL: $814.40

Starts in Prince Rupert to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii Island. Our final destination the Village of Masset.

This ferry was scheduled to leave Prince Rupert at 10:00 p.m. and arrive in Skidegate at 6:00 a.m. and we had reserved another berth for the night. There weren’t as many vehicles travelling as from Port Hardy, but, again it takes time to load the vehicles. Knowing what we know now this really is like a puzzle with all the different sized and shaped pieces that have to fit within the frame.  This time the coach was one of the LAST vehicles to load and again Chuck had to back it in – this time in the dark. He’s an amazing ‘backer upper’ and there were a number of impressed spectators and crew watching him and giving him the thumbs up!  The photographer could have done a better job focusing…

Let’s try backing up again. Just for fun – let’s do it in the dark…

The trip was uneventful (weather wise) and after a quick sleep we got up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for the docking and disembarking.  We’re almost there!

We now have a 90 minute drive to the Island community of Masset, population 790.  You might be wondering what brings us to this magical, mystical, remote island that is so close to Alaska you can see it on a clear day.  Well, it’s that wonderful draw of family. Family who have lived here for nearly 10 years. Chuck was here for one week almost 3 years ago and this is the first time we’ve been here together.  It is definitely about time that we visited our son Barrett, daughter-in-law Ainsley and grandchildren 2 1/2 year old Isla and 4 month old Griffin!

Driving the route to Prince Rupert would have been an entirely different experience. If we hadn’t taken the ferries, we would have driven 1,000 miles through the interior of B.C. and stayed 3 – 5 nights in RV parks.  There would have been fuel costs, food and camping costs, and general vehicle wear and tear.  We would have had the one ferry to get us to Haida Gwaii Island but taking three makes for a most amazing ferry tale – doesn’t it?

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