How much luggage can an islander strut around the passenger deck of a ferry without feeling the need to check it in? Forty pounds? Sixty? More? That young family over there has practically enough carry-on luggage to fill a U-Haul trailer. Both parents are smart enough to use the smaller pieces as foot-rests, while the two kids have made a shaky fort out of the larger ones. Good for them it is a very smooth sailing today.
Taking laps around super C-Class ships is a great past-time. Ninety-five minutes is a perfect time to get some exercise walking around both the two lounges and sun deck. It’s a good way to do some people-watching. It’s difficult to run into somebody you know, though it does happen. Around 300,000 people live in the area of Vancouver Island directly served by this route. About 500 hundred of them are on this vessel now.
The Coastal Celebration is a new boat. For many, catching it is still a novelty. It’s fun to watch people get lost inside her. Despite a good 50-50 chance seemingly every man and woman looks for their respective washroom on the wrong side of the boat. That middle-aged lady and her husband over there instead have been hopelessly looking for the access to the sun deck for the last five minutes. And every second passenger keeps scoffing at the new, snobbish $10 limited access “quiet lounge,” as they walk by it. Sleek new posters hang off the walls: hotel chains, cheesy one-liner tourist ads, and other spiritless corporate fanfare. While some people like these new boats, most have been telling me how much they resent them. Built abroad with no respect for domestic labor, their names have no association with anything local, and their lounges feel more like shopping malls or airport lounges than ships.
The smorgasbord looks impressive, but at nearly $20 it’s too pricey for most, especially larger families, who chose instead the almost equally expensive cafeteria food on the other side of the boat. The pricey gift shop looks busy from the outside, but most of the potential patrons are there just to browse un-purchased magazines. A couple of tourists with an American accent remark on a sweater they fancy, as my notebook scribbles record a few unreadable descriptors of the gift shop’s ambient music. I swiftly scoot out, seduced by the sounds of the arcade. Six teenage boys are there, sipping Gatorade and sharing smelly Doritos chips. Their black and yellow shirts tell the story of a rugby match and a missed school day. It’s dark in here. Not the place to be on a warm, sunny day like this, at least for me.
As I exit the arcade I run once again into a middle-aged fellow who has been hunting recycle bins for a used newspaper to read. He is halted by a suit, who asks him if he’s been thinking about life insurance lately. I wonder if a pesky insurance sales agent can have better luck than me at jumpstarting a meaningful conversation on this boat. For the most part people here are either travelling with dear ones, or have planned in advance for something else to do other than chatting with strangers. There are families and couples who have strategically occupied rows of seats facing one another: impassable bunkers whose boundaries are only penetrable by the occasional ring tone and the constant yapping of the distant TV screen. And of course there are the solos; buried within the pages of a book, the cryptic patterns of Sudoku, or a collection of brochures collected from the racks, or busy fighting off the glare blinding their portable DVD player.
Politely uninterested with insurance, the newspaper hunter resumes his quest. He pauses to peek into the vending machine, as two children immediately lineup behind him with a two-dollar coin in hand. As I sit down on one of the cushioned aisle chairs, the window chairs are always occupied, it seems, to write some notes I overhear fragments of a stressful conversation on how much time is left before somebody’s plane takes off. In the meanwhile a group of friendly Japanese tourists have taken a liking toward two cute toddlers playing on the carpeted floor with their Littlest Pet Shop animal toys. The tourists ask the toddlers’ parents whether they can take pictures of the little girls. “So cute babies,” they say. The parents smile and consent. The conversation is soon over after two photos are snapped.
I get up again, aiming for the door to the outside deck. As I walk up the stairs I’m greeted by a potent whiff of fried food emanating from one of the kitchen vents. I gasp, as I fantasize about halibut and chips. I keep walking, as the food aroma begins to blend with that of locally grown herbs. Two young lads are successful at lighting up, after fighting the winds with their capricious flame. They smile at me; I say “how’s it going?” But we can barely hear each other: the roar of the engines, the constant blowing of the wind, and the nearby boom-box imported into the sundeck by a group of college kids overpower conversation. Besides, gazing at the hippie looking kids learning how to juggle hacky sacks is more fun than small talk.
“Excuse me?” I hear.
“Yes?” I answer.
“Is that piece of land over there part of Victoria Island or is it the mainland?” a couple of tourists ask me.
“Hum, Vancouver Island, you mean,” I correct them, “but, no, actually that’s Galiano Island” I answer.
“Oh, is it on this map?” they wonder.
“No, this is the Greater Victoria map,” I explain.
I then go through the usual tidbits of local geography: “yes, people do live there,” “no, there are no bridges,” and “seals are bigger than otters.” I’ve had this conversation dozens of times before but I don’t mind. The tourists you meet on ferries are innocuous: only armed with cameras, curiosity, fascination with local landscapes, and lots of misinformation. It’s kind of fun to explain to foreign and domestic tourists alike that this is the ocean, not a lake, and that there is no set time for the “whale show” to start. And as for altitude, well, we are about 20 feet above sea level.
Besides, the sun hasn’t been out long enough to heat up the metal of the lifejacket containers, by far the best spot to lay on and nap on the sundeck, and I’ve been looking forward to a good chat for a over an hour. But it’s too late.
“BING, BIING, BIIING! We are now nearing the Tsawwassen ferry terminal,” the loudspeaker interrupts.