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Friday, December 1, 2023

Shucking Oysters: Still Life with the BSCon

Shucking Oysters: Still Life with the BSCon

Alex Allen

If you want to really liven up a conversation on Hornby, just mention the Baynes Sound Connector. It used to be a cardinal rule at the table to not talk about, Islands Trust, relatives with dementia, and tourism. Now, it’s the F word, Ferries (BC Ferries); stay clear and be very afraid.


When you Google BSCon you get directed to sites on how to cook bacon. Not sure if that is fraught with social commentary or not. For the nerds in the room, the BSCon is fitted with an EYE designed bull wheel system that is driven by Hagglunds CA100 hydraulic motors. The $15-million cable ferry is capable of carrying 50 vehicles and 150 passengers, and with a crossing of about 1,900 metres, it is believed to be the longest cable ferry in the world. That still baffles me. It doesn’t seem that long; in duration but not in length.

From the beginning, there were cable change-outs because of accelerated corrosion; terminal maintenance reps on site daily managing the primer pump; and countless issues with the fire monitor systems, HVAC, lube system, hydraulics and vibration. BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall, noted at the time, that it is not uncommon for new vessels to experience “teething problems” during the first two years of operation. I think the teething problems have turned into an abscessed tooth, causing irritation and inflammation. They may be able to save the BSCon with a “route” connector procedure, perhaps. Or maybe we need to have it pulled, as it could lead to serious, even life-threatening, complications.

The whole design of the BSCon is, well, so mean-spirited. Passengers can’t even go up to another level and enjoy the view of the oyster and scallop leases. Crew only, even though the crew are all in that containment centre for the duration of the trip. Foot passengers have to sit in a lounge that does not have any sea view; a vista of rows of vehicles on both sides. And why is the bathroom door facing the lounge? Every time, after I do my business, I feel like I should be bowing as I open the door to the adoring crowd. It’s awkward. And the gated pet area on the main deck? Are you kidding me? No roof shelter. A cold hard surface, surrounded by restless passengers. Why not put the dog in a bosun chair and hoist it up somewhere — it would probably be more enjoyable and certainly a better view. Even the pet owner has to sit on an hemorrhoid-inducing metal box for the entire trip. I would be more forgiving if the Connector was built in the 60s, but it wasn’t. 

Recently, a pleasure craft was merrily cruising along across the Connector route, ignoring those tiny red transit lights while the frantic BSCon honked its horn in protest. Forgive me, but the horn seems no louder than a bicycle horn. The captain should have had us all honking our vehicle horns and maybe the errant boater might of noticed. Maybe not. Or if Scott Wagner was on board, he could have started up his chainsaws. That would have got their attention. It’s all about safety, folks. Except for that red hatchet. 

OK, here we go into the nether, lower, epidermal region, if you will. On Hornby, we get a special coveted “assured boarding”card when we are one of the first 15 vehicles on the 7:30 am ferry. People park overnight so they can get the coveted card. It’s like the sacrament, the passing of the wafer from a crew member. We are blessed and all is well with the universe. And then on Denman, at the other side, the coveted 15 arrive at the terminal with flashers on, like a parade of dignitaries. Make way. We’re here. We’re special. I find it awkward, but no more.  

Here’s a secret Hornby (Denman already knows), when you are one of the first 15, you are not blessed at all. You are damned. It is better to be number 19 or 24. Why? Because if you are 1 to 15 you will never, ever get off first. Ever! They know it, now you know it. And once on board, as you gingerly ease your vehicle behind the other, turn off the engine, settle in knowing that all is well, a ferry crew guy appears. Not close enough apparently. Ever. I’m not even sure whether I should smile; it might be misconstrued. He’ll remember next time and who knows what he might do. And speaking of coveted, have you noticed that spot at the end of the lane on the starboard water side that they leave open until the last moment? They always save it for someone from Denman. One time, maybe it was a new guy, I’m not quite sure, I was directed to the G spot. It was like eating dinner at the Captain’s table. Special, very special, which I don’t often feel on the BSCon. 

Even returning from town is another building-up-character moment. Vehicles going to Hornby are put in Lane 1, Denman Lane 2, and a free for all in the remaining lanes. Except, now they are unloading Lane 4 and Lane 5 before Lane 1. I was number six in Lane 1 and number 27 disembarking. (I’ll show you some diss and barking.) So then we get to follow the leisurely, blissful Denmanites across the island, not knowing whether we will get on the ferry on the other side or not. I know there’s that sign reminding us that there is no rhyme or reason to the unloading order. So, if that is the case, then may I make a suggestion? Just direct every vehicle that arrives at Buckley Bay, no matter which island they are going to, to Lane 1 and then Lane 2 and so on in order of appearance. (And no, I’m not talking about the guy with the Tibetan ear flap hat getting to go before the fellow in the Tilley Endurable hat.) Maybe, just maybe, after a few months of adjustment, Hornby Islanders will stop speeding across Denman and Denman Islanders will drive the speed limit.  

Author: TIG

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