Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Time for an Epic Adventure to a Foreign Country, Mayne Island , Part I

Time for an Epic Adventure to a Foreign Country. 

Mayne Island, Part I

View Car trip to Mayne Island in a larger map

And before you go on an Epic Adventure to a Foreign country, you have to prepare.
A good way to prepare is to make a list:

  1. Passport
  2. Chargers for iPhone
  3. Will iPhone work in Canada?
    1. Buy some minutes
  4. Extra Blanket
  5. Charger for MacBook
    1. How to charge in camp?
    2. Order 12V charger.
  6. Test Camp stove
    1. doesn't work
    2. Test other camp stove
  7. Set up Tent
    1. Because if the stove doesn't work, why would the tent?
    2. Fix holes in tent
  8. Buy food for trip.
    1. But don't get produce.
    2. Hell, might as well buy in Canada.
  9. Passport
  10. Extra Batteries for flashlight
  11. Flashlight
  12. Spare Flashlight
  13. Tarp
  14. Ropes for Tarp
  15. Medicines
  16. Dry Suits
  17. Booties
  18. Paddles
  19. Maps
  20. Printed Reservations and Maps
    1. Cause you won't have Data.
    2. From the Internets.
  21. Passport
    1. ok, little paranoid about this.
  22. Bow and stern tie downs for boats.
  23. Boats.
    1. Probably won't forget a big fraking boat, for god's sake.
  24. Cameras.
  25. Ice Chest

Enough already. Hope I don't forget my passport.
So everything goes into plastic chests or duffle bags and sits in the garage and tries to figure out how in the hell it is ever going to fit into my Subaru Forestor. Oh yeah.

  1. Get Subaru Forester Axel fixed.

There is a lot of stuff. Luckily we have that new Rocket Box that we got over the summer. This is one of those long skinny roof rack boxes that fits on the rails on top of my car and has space for the paddles and all of the kayak stuff. Saves a lot of room in the car.

We finally get everything stuffed into the car and get the boats up on top. In the state of Washington, you are required to have your boat secured with bow and stern lines that tie down to your car and are an added protection to keep your boats from flying off into the night. I have gotten used to not using these things when I drive around Oregon, but since we need them for the transit of Washington (because Canada turns out to be North of here) I go ahead and tie them up and secure them with good Eagle Scout taut line hitches. Cause you don't want loose ropes flapping in the wind, no no no.

Loaded up and ready.

10:00 in the AM on a Thursday and all is prepared, so off we go. Oh, gotta stop at the grocery store for snacks. And off we go.

We planned this pretty good. We will exit the Portland metro area at slack traffic and get all of the way North through Seattle before rush hour starts. A good thing. Seattle is a pain during rush hour (which starts at like 3:00).

We are humming right along (speed limit is 70 in Washington. Probably why they make you tie your boats down) when we hear this funny clump sound. The car jumped a little bit and it felt like we had run over a empty but inflated paper bag. Strange. I didn't see anything in the road out of the rear view mirror. We looked around and didn't see anything going on. So we continued on. We played some music. We sang some songs. We had to go Pee.

There is a rest area. I pulled off of the road and then, just as I turned into the parking space at the rest area, BOOOOOOM, the boat pulled right off of the car on the passenger side. Holy shit! It broke the J craddle right off the roof. What the Hell? Man, are we lucky that didn't happen 10 minutes ago when we were going 70 down the highway. We got out to look at it. The J rack was trash. Shit. The boat was dented in and bent over. We loosened the straps and got the boat down. That was when this guy walked up to us.

My partner thought of how to re-rack the boats

“I saw you guys were dragging a line when you passed me back there. You must of been dragging it down the highway. When you turned into the stall, you ran over the line and that pulled everything down”

Shit. I took a look and that is just what happened. Good thing he told us or we probably wouldn't have figured it out. Far as I can tell, what must have happened is that my Eagle Scout knot came untied and the loose end went under the wheels (on the freeway). It tugged and that was what we felt when we “ran over the paper bag”. Somehow that made the hook on the car come loose and that pulled all of the way up through the rachet to the boat. Now we had a really long line dragging under the car, but it didn't get caught on the wheels again as long as we were going fast and essentially straight. But when we turned hard into the parking slot....... BAM !!

Now. How am I going to fix this? I was thinking about exotic ways to use parachute chord to wrap and frap the J back onto the wrack when my partner pointed out that we could just slide the rocket box over and mount the boat on the other side of the other set of J's. She is so smart.

So we did that. And we tied the bow and stern lines up VERY carefully (actually, she did it as she was no longer trusting me) and off we go. We still got through Seattle before the rush hour started.
The Bluest Skies I've ever seen, are in Seattle

We wanted a place to stop for some gas and a little walk before we hit the Canadian/US border and since I was driving, we decided to stop in Fairhaven. Fairhaven is a little town right next to Bellingham and also happens to be the home port of the tall ship Zodiak. I took a trip on it once and wrote a cool but mainly unread blog.

Here is a fun fact about Fairhaven. For a few years it was thought that Fairhaven might be the terminus of the Transcontinental Railway. So there was a lot of building and immigration and speculation and such. When that fell through it started one of the towns many declines. At another time, Fairhaven had the largest Salmon Cannery in the world. They had good access to local coal and timber, which for some reason was important to Salmon Canning. Perhaps for running the machinery or the engines on the fishing vessels?

This entire wall is a mural. Even the Artist

Today, Fairhaven is a quaint little tourist trap with nice historic buildings and a wonderful public park and very friendly citizens. There is also a B&B I want to spend the night in sometime once I convince my partner to ride the train up to go on an adventure on Zodiak. Wow. Like that will happen.

Fairhaven/Bellingham is just a stones throw from the border, and we got there right around 5:30. Rush hour. But I guess we already had our one major snafu for this trip as the border wait was just 3 cars. (5 minutes) and the border guard wanted nothing more from us than to make sure that we didn't have any guns “for self defense” and that I had human eyes underneath my dark sunglasses. And do NOT say the following, “No Officer, all of my guns are for strictly offensive capability”.

You are Canadian, Not you are?

The big timing trick on this trip was to catch the BC Ferry over to Mayne Island (the South Channel Islands). There is a ferry in the morning and a ferry in the evening. If you catch the Evening ferry, you get to camp after dark and have to deal with the setting up of tents and carrying of stuff in the dark. If you leave in the morning, you sort of need a place to sleep. I had originally pushed to stay at that B&B in Fairhaven..... but, if you want to catch a 10:20 Ferry. And you need to be there an hour early. And you are 1 hour from the ferry, and the Wait at the border can be an hour or more. And you need to buy Groceries IN CANADA (so as not to be stopped and searched at the border). It means you need to get up at like 6:00 and hoof it. That doesn't sound good. So we found a cheap place in Tsawwassen (pronounced Tsawwassen) right next to the Tsawwassen Ferry landing. What a deal. We stayed at the Coast Tsawwassen Inn.

The Coast Tsawwassen Inn. I want to put in a plug for them. They had perfectly reasonable nice rooms (with a seperate sitting room that would be great to put the kids) and a pool and hot tub. They had a pretty good continental breakfast (with Home made Egg McMuffins) and there was a very nice little public house (called a “social house”) attached which had some good food and big TVs. We stayed there. This is also where we realized.
  1. Pillows
  2. Dammit !!! I forgot Pillows !!

And we didn't realize until the morning and it was time to GO GO GO. But I was thinking, hey, they must have a lot of old pillows here at the hotel. Maybe they will give me a good deal on a couple. So I went to the desk to ask. The nice lady there talked to house keeping. But, sadly, they had a pillow shortage and could not afford to sell us any. However, if we were coming by in a few days they would be happy to loan us a couple. Wow. What a nice thing for hotel to do. What a GREAT SERVICE ORIENTED place. Go to Canada. Stay at the Coast Tsawwassen Inn. Tell them Recycled Hiker sent you.

But I get ahead of myself. When my son and I traveled in Japan a couple of years ago, one of the things we noticed was the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) little differences in a grocery store that seemed to tell you a lot about a culture. We decided that grocery store visiting in foreign cultures was an important part of any visit to a far and strange land.

And so it is in Canada.

My partner and I went to this strange land (you know, my kayak partner and I are getting married next week and she still won't let me use her name in the blog. What do you think about that?) and we investigate the local grocery store for our weekend supplies. We discovered some important things about the Northern Culture:
  1. All Canadians are young, blonde, and skinny. Especially the men.
  2. You can't buy beer in a grocery store.
    1. Though I hear you can do that in Texas.
    2. Are you from the states?
  3. You can't buy a “healthy” sausage. Like chicken and apple.
    1. No, never heard of it.
    2. That is funnier than trying to buy beer.
  4. You can select from a HUGE selection of cheese stuffed sausages. 4 major brands with cheese cheese and more cheese.
    1. How come the Canadians are so skinny?
  5. You also can't buy pool noodles in a grocery store.
    1. Perhaps in the Dollar store across the street.
    2. Note: they don't call it a Canadian Dollar store.
    3. Presumably the pool noodles are 10% shorter.

      It tastes better in French

We later found a liquor store to get me some beer for the weekend. It was a bit pricey (even in Canadian Dollars) but I did find a Powell's IPA. So, there you have it.

As detailed earlier, we had a wonderful dinner and night's rest. We even slept in a little, since we were only 10 minutes away from the Tsawwassen Ferry.

The road that our hotel was on was 56th street through Tsawwassen. That rode runs a few more blocks South and then changes it's name. You know why it changes it's name? Because it suddenly becomes an American Road. You run into a unique little piece of national boundary topology called a pene-enclave. And enclave that is on a peninsula. This is Point Roberts. This is a little piece of the USA that is only reachable from other parts of the US by boat, air, or driving through Canada. I wish I had known about it while we were there, I would have visited. I gather that the economy of the place is based on driving back and forth across the border at different times when the different state's liquor stores are open.

And so..... off to the Ferry.

Wow. This is an experience that I was not expecting. I thought there would be a driveway and some boat would come up and we would drive on. Perhaps with 30 or so other people. Ha!!! The BC Ferry is a big deal. Start with a man made peninsula that's sole job is to take cars out to deep water and then give them a LOT of parking room so they can queue up and wait for the many ferries that are running all of the time out to Vancouver Island, Salt Springs Island, or the other myriad of small South Channel islands.

I didn't expect to be swept up in the technology of the ferry event, but I was. Oh, I was. Let's start with the “pulling up to the booth”. You come in and pull up to the booth and you tell them where you are going and give them your reservation. We were a over 7' car with 2 adults (7 foot? Pretty sure they said 7 foot. Not 2.1 meters). We were going to Mayne Island. The skinny blonde Canadian man verified our reservation, made sure there were only 2 people in the car (though we could have hidden a few in the kayaks and under the camping stuff) and told us to go to lane 17. There were like 30 lanes. Some of the lanes are going to different islands, some have different classes of vehicles (big trucks, smaller cars). Our lane consisted of one other car that had kayaks on the top and just happened to be two other people going on our trip. What a surprise!!

Because my partner's partner is such a stress head when it comes to schedules, we were in our assigned waiting place like an hour before we could possibly get onto the Ferry. Just a little later than the people in line in front of us. So we grabbed our raincoats and we headed over to the (required by the laws of physics) shopping strip. What fun!! It was out of the rain, warm, and filled with interesting gadgets, clothes, and Chinese. It was the first time that I have had the chance to see the phenomena of rich Chinese tourists out touring and shopping. They were on their way to the islands (natch) and it was raining, so they were looking at high quality Columbia Rain Coats. The darling old Chinese ladies were holding up the rain coats and trying them on and talking a mile a minute. And the Canadian clothing outlet was, of course, staffed with Chinese Canadian sales persons that spoke Chinese and were doing a good job of explaining the superior Columbia Rain Coat technology to the very interested customers. You could tell that this must happen all of the time. And the funny part? Everything they were looking at was (once again, of course) manufactured in China. So why do rich middle-class Chinese tourists come to America (Oh, Dammit, Canada) to buy Chinese merchandise? Surely it must be much cheaper to buy it at the Columbia Store in Shanghai. I asked this of a Chinese co-worker once. She said that she wouldn't trust the merchandise she could buy in China because so much of it is cheap counterfeit and there wasn't any dependable checks and balances on what was sold. Come to Canada. They have Dependable Checks and Balances. And Hockey. (oh, and Starbucks).

Back out to the car at the appropriate loading time only to sit and wait. We were running late. Evidently an unusual occurrence. A big Ferry came in. Another Ferry loaded and left. Now the cars around us start to move. Doesn't matter too much when you get there, you are getting on the Ferry if you have a reservation, and the time you get there doesn't necessarily impact your boarding time. Especially if you are in a oversize (or height) vehicle as these have to board close to last. We watched a long line of compact cars roll down the road, single file, before we finally got moving. We followed the guys in front of us down the tarmak and around the corner and around another corner and then a sharp right, and there was the Ferry loading ramp. The huge front doors of the Ferry were swung open and the ramp is lowered. The door was large enough to drive a large truck through (and then some).

And now the second piece of logistics. There are a few kinds of ferries. The smaller ones (and the REALLY BIG ones) are double ended. They are pretty much symmetric with control bridges and loading ramps on both ends (bow and stern? Bow and other bow?). But the middle sized vessels only have a ramp and control bridge on the Bow. I guess this makes sense, must be a lot cheaper to create a vessel with just the one set of things. But.... how do you efficiently get the cars on and off if they are all facing in the wrong direction? The answer is...... math !!

We are parked starboard, picture taken from amidships

Picture from our Car. Note the second level of parking

We entered on the port side of the vessel (which is the right side if you are facing aft) and circle counter clockwise (which is anti-clockwise if you are facing Canada) around the stern. There are 4 rows of cars on each side of the boat. The 2 rows on the port side were already loaded, the cars facing the bow. We drove past them and then cross over the stern to the starboard side where we are now facing front ourselves and parked in the outer row starboard. See how it works? They would first load the inner rows by having the cars circle around the back. Port circle to starboard, starboard circle to port. Then they would load the outer rows on the starboard side. The final cars that come in on the port will be facing aft. They can't fix that, but those cars will be the ones that unload last and they can circle around after the rest of the ferry is empty. That is so cool. I will make a diagram. Just to make it a little more like a 3D tetris puzzle, the two inner most rows on both sides have girder parking built over them and little cars are directly up ramps to park above. Sort of like a double layer parking for compacts.

My Ferry Diagram. Bow is the bottom. We drove on there.

The really hard part? This ferry makes 3 or 4 stops before its terminus. At each stop some cars are going to get off and other cars are going to get on. How do you make sure that the cars that need to get off were loaded in such a way that you can easily get them off a the right place? Remember that you can't move the cars that are getting off at another place because their drivers and keys will be up in the passenger compartments that I haven't told you about yet having scrambled eggs for breakfast. (I did not see a bar). I am sure that the answer is a fascinating set of loading equations that used to take 2 years to learn to become a “master loader” (perhaps purser) but are now reduced to an Apple iphone ap “Load Master” that costs $2.99 (American). (as an aside, I am offering a special prize to anyone that can determine where in the above writing I went off and got my second cup of coffee for the morning).

Anyway. We park our car and exit across the myriad of other parked card (100?) and head up the stairs to the passenger level. Travel by boat is a lot more comfortable than travel by plane or train. More room. Less hurry. No luggage (as it is all in the car). We wandered around a bit because my partner understood that I needed to see everything. The Technology!

This is similar to the Ferry we were on. This one has had a another deck added.

Let's go find out what kind of ferries they have at BC Ferries. I counted 4 types during the trip. What can I find on the internets?

The Ferry we were on was the MV Queen of Nanaimo. She was originally a V class vessel, but when her sisters were ripped in two and made higher, they changed her class to Burnaby. They did an awful log of changes to these things. Originally the V (Victoria) class ships were the backbone of the fleet and they came into service in the 60s. They were all cut down the middle (amidships) to lengthen them to hold more cars. Later some of them were cut down the other center (left to right) and raised for even more cars. Interesting to think that making that kind of alteration is cheaper than building a new boat. The current QON can carry around 1163 passengers (and crew) and 192 cars. Wow. The really large (double ended) Ferries are the the S (spirit) class. They carry 2000 people and 450 cars. But the pictures I see are not double ended. More research. Oooh. The Coastal class is the double ended ones. They carry 1600 passengers and 370 vehicles. They are more modern and go a little faster than the Spirit class (though all of these things do around 20 knots). I will remember to add pretty pictures, no doubt.


Passenger spaces are large and open. Big rows of seats, for the most part. Some near the big windows were in high demand. This was mainly because it was raining. There was plenty of nicer seating out on the deck (but wet today). Amidships there was also a room with game tables and movable chairs. These spaces were filled with seasoned travels that knew what to expect. They brought games and picnic baskets. A large number of these tables were filled with the aforementioned Chinese tourists. Curious that they would know to bring their picnic baskets and inscrutable board games. (something evidently called “Cribbage”, played with wooden pegs and square things that looked remarkably like American playing cards). There was also a gift shop and a very nice cafe. We had a sandwich and continued to wander around the vessel for the 40 minute ride over to the islands.

Our first stop was Guliano island (Sturdies bay). This is an island that is larger than Mayne, and has a lot more tourist trade, but since it's deep water port is ackwardly placed for servicing the other channel islands (you have to go through Active Pass to access it) they haven't built a large “transfer” terminal there. So on the way out we just stopped for a quick load and unload. I watched this process from the passenger decks outside, which means I saw nothing because all of the loading and unloading was going on from the bow.

Sturdies Bay. Galiano Island Ferry Landing.

But we backed out soon enough and then began the fascinating transit of Active Pass. Active Pass is the break of water between the islands of Mayne and Galiano. But more importantly, it is one of the few places that the ocean tides can flow between the straight of Georgia and the waters surrounding the south channel islands. So when the tide is running, all of the force of the tidal flow, has to move between these few little openings. So Active pass becomes a very tumultuos (and, for kayakers, Dangerous) stretch of water for most of the day. For a big fast moving ferry, it becomes a short narrow shipping lane with currents that are pushing you around and 2 very tight corners to negotiate. Two very tight corners that the Captain negotiated with aplomb. We came up to cruising speed (20 knots) right as we left the Ferry port. My partner and I were out on the deck to watch. The Captain (a woman) came on the loud speaker system and said something that I didn't quite make out but sounded like “Attention passengers, we are about to blow the something something, could cause something damage”. Now what was “BLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA”. “AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH” that hurt. Why didn't you fracking warn me you were going to blow that fracking horn? Oh. You did. God Damnit that was loud. Ahh. OK. She only caught me unawares that way like 3 times. That horn, by the way, is to warn kayakers and other small boat craft that a big fracking vessel is coming down that small channel. Cause you can't see from end to end of Active Pass because of the turns.

a little inter-island ferry

Look at that Bow Wave !!

So down the channel we went and we made the first turn and......... the whole Ferry leaned right over. Have you been thinking about the recent Ferry sinking incidents and wondering how they got into this situation where a tight turn and hitting currents made the things lean over and then flip over and then sink? Well this is probably how. When you make a tight turn, just like in a car, there is that centripetal force, and the entire boat leans over. It is very noticeable. Very easy to imagine that under the wrong conditions and just a little more lean the cars below could shift some and slide across the deck and then you have too much weight on one side and you lean MORE. And if the sides are open (which they are not on this class of ferry) in comes the sea, which adds more weight and more lean, and that is that. But not today. Today we just leaned a bit, made our turn and then turned the other way and leaned that way and shazam!! we were through the pass. Later, when I watched this exercise by (perhaps a different) ferry from the surface of the pass on my kayak I could see that the boats were not just turning and leaning, they were actually sliding their sterns across the water. I am thinking that the Ferrys are pretty flat bottomed and that was causing the sliding. But they do have side thrusters, so perhaps they were using those and doing the sliding on purpose to make the tight turn. Either way..... pretty cool.

We are going....

The trip from Galiano to Mayne is maybe 30 minutes, and then you are there. You get in your car and you drive off of the Ferry and you take the little 2 lane main road out to your camp ground. OK. Now it is, at last, time to start your Real Adventure.

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