BC Ferry's Fast Ferry, Bocce, and Rathtrevor Beach

Life’s a beach.

At least, it should be.

Last weekend was the second busy weekend for Allison and I, the second weekend of the month we weren’t home. We won’t be home for a weekend probably until mid-August at the pace things are currently going. Every weekend has something new for us to explore. Frankly, this is a good thing … provided the weather holds out.

We left on Friday night, meeting at Horseshoe Bay. Knowing that traffic would be a nightmare, Allison left from the apartment early. I left downtown on the 5:07 express to Horseshoe Bay, arriving a mere five minutes before Allison.

We dropped the car off at the Park and Ride, which the local Lion’s Club. Normally, the lot is free, you just have to walk the kilometre or so to the ferry terminal. When the Lion’s are about, you have to pay a paltry $5/day (a bargain compared to the other lots), and you get a free ride to the terminal.

We were somewhat excited to find that we would be taking one of the mythical Fast Ferries, the first of which went into service on 1 July. It was supposed to leave at 18:00. We boarded it at 18:07. Needless to say, the Fast Ferry hasn’t been running exactly up to snuff just yet…

The Fast Ferry is a catamaran with twin water jet propulsion systems. They run at a supposed 45 knots, making the trip in just under an hour. Supposedly. In actuality, it runs at about 37 knots, and in the long run, might save you about five minutes, all told. Why?

Because we let the government design it, that’s why.

All fairness aside, they did try. But as Yoda once said: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” The design would work well for longer-haul trips. However, the design is not exactly well-suited to the short jaunts across the Strait. You see — the ship points in only one direction.

Why is that significant? All the other ships point in two directions, allowing them to be driven from either end. No turning, no slowing down to back in; just straight-forward (no pun intended) driving. The Fast Ferry is a uni-directional ship. It has to be turned around before it can go anywhere. It needs a dollar to turn on a dime.

This means that for one leg of the trip, the ship has to turn around at both ends — otherwise, the cars can’t get off without backing up themselves. As it stands, it takes too long to empty the ship without people having to drive off in reverse.

And the wake. Homeowners around Bowen Island (which the ferries all pass) have been shocked at the near-tsunami conditions that the ferry generates. It threatens to rip up docks and smash boats against the shore. BC Ferries contends that the wake is minimal.

Minimal, my heiny…

On the way back, we were on a good ol’ regular ferry. When the Fast Ferry rocketed past us, it sent our ship rocking — the only time in dozens of crossing that Allison and I have been on where I could actually feel the ship rock due to waves.

Don’t get me started on the interior “features” either. I’ll just leave my opinion at this: The government would have been far better off spending the money on upgrading our existing ferries and making sure that the less-travelled (but still necessary) routes don’t suffer due to lack of funds. Heck, you could have built two regular ferries for the price it cost to build one Fast Ferry.

And there are two more coming off the assembly line.

Anyway, we arrived in Nanaimo about one hour and 20 minutes after we left West Vancouver and proceeded to the Collins Family Estate, in the prestigious Divers Lake area. There we were subdued by the plethora of relatives who had descended on the household for the weekend.

It was Allison’s grandfather’s 80th birthday party. The second one. As you may recall, we had already attended a birthday party at The Grotto in Nanaimo. However, it wasn’t exactly suitable for a large get-together of friends, so the official party was postponed until the weekend past.

The following morning, we rose and dressed for the occasion. Although not a formal event, we were obviously not going to show up in loud pink shirts and spandex shorts, so we dressed in beige pants and blue shirts.

I’m not kidding. We really did.

This, of course, was an accident. Neither Allison or I had heard each other the night we packed to leave — we had inadvertently packed virtually the same outfit. This is not just a fashion faux pas — it looks really weird. So avoid confusion and embarrassment, I raided Randy’s closet for a different shirt. It turned out that I grabbed a shirt that Randy had never worn — it has just been given to him from Mr. Collins. Luckily, though, it fit.

Overall, it was a good party, although Allison and I didn’t move around too much, we spent most of our time talking to old friends of family (that I didn’t know), cousins, and Grandma Collins. We didn’t really know many others. Late in the afternoon, Grandma Vailmont (the one basically running the whole show) abducted me to play bocci.

Bocci is a bit of a religion there. You can’t escape it. If you go to a Vailmont family get-together, you’ll probably end up playing bocci. Doesn’t matter if you don’t know how — you’ll learn. Doesn’t matter if you don’t like it — you will. Doesn’t matter if you have no arms — someone will throw for you. Resistance is futile.

I ended up on a team with Janet, Mrs. Collins’ cousin, and two of Allison’s cousins, Kersten (9) and Mitchell (4). Both are young. Like most siblings, they fight a fair bit.

I will wholeheartedly admit that I forgot was sibling rivalry was like — it had been a very long time since my sister and I had a good screaming match. (We now sit around the kitchen table, drink beer, and discuss finances. My how the times change.)

It was exceptionally difficult to play a close game. If one side got too far ahead, one of the two siblings would be upset. Janet and I got very good at placing balls close to the marker ball, and far away from the marker ball. We adjusted our strategies depending on the accuracy of the younger two’s throws. In the end, Mitchell (the younger of the two) won by a mere point. Kersten, despite losing, was not upset.

When the party finally ended, it took those of us remaining only a short period of time to clean everything up. As we retreated to the Collins Family Estate, Vicki (one of Mrs. Collins’ sisters) announced a barbeque at Rathtrevor Beach the following day.

Rathtrevor Beach is the Bay of Fundy of the west coast … only horizontal. Whereas the Bay of Fundy has very high tides, Rathtrevor Beach has very long tides. If you arrive at the beach at low tide, you’ll find yourself walking well over a kilometre to find water … even further to find water deep enough to come up to your neck (assuming you stand 5′ 11 7/8″).

At any rate, the beach is huge. Gigantic. Enormous. And despite the number of people who show up, virtually empty. This leads to things such as sandcastles, kite-flying, and lots of people walking aimlessly. In short, typical beach-going behaviour.

Upon arriving at the beach, we had to take Kersten and Mitchell out onto the beach — they couldn’t wait. Mind you, neither could I. The last time I was on an ocean beach (or a saltwater beach, depending on how you look at it) for the purposes of sitting in the sun and doing beach-related things was in 1991. (Yes, I know I went to the beach in Monterey last year, but it was way too cold to even consider swimming.) It had been a long time since I had walked across a good beach.

And boy, do you every have a long walk. Because the beach is so expansive, it also has a lot of interesting features, most notably tidal pools. Although devoid of fish, the pools have lots of shellfish, crabs, and snails. You can imagine the kids’ reaction to those. Most revolved around “cool” and “ewwww!”. Allison, Robin (another of Mrs. Collins’ sisters), and Wilma (yet another of Mrs. Collins’ sisters, who lives in Germany) gave out marine biology lessons to those of us not quite up-to-snuff with the proper information. While I’m at, I’ll mention Mrs. Collins’ last unmentioned sibling, Laura — Kersten and Mitchell are her children.

What do you associate sand dollars with? Tropical waters, right? Take a wild guess what thrives all over Rathtrevor Beach? Yep … thousands of ’em. They’re everywhere. You can’t take any of them with you — that’s a no-no. But you can pick them up and see what they look like while they’re still alive. Black ones are living … the whitish ones have since deceased.

Finally reaching the ocean, we waded in a little ways and splashed around a bit. Baby flatfish (halibut or flounders, probably) skitted about our feet, trying to get away from the two-footed giants traipsing through the middle of their sanctuary.

A few minutes later, we realised that the water was about to soak all the things we’d left on shore to stay dry. The tide was turning, and beginning to reclaim the shore. It was time to go back for lunch.

After partaking in much the same food as we’d had the day before, several of us ventured back out onto the beach to build a sandcastle. Initially just Brenna, Kersten, and Mitchell, I soon followed, with several others not far behind. The construction was hasty, mostly because the tide was coming in fairly quickly.

As Brenna build the castle with Kersten and Mitchell, I quickly built an outer wall, designed to keep the water away for a short period of time. The wall wouldn’t hold the water out indefinitely, but it would at least make for a more interesting destruction of the castle.

Sure enough, the water soon arrived, so Kersten and Mitchell took refuge in their sandy kingdom … for a few precious minutes. Eventually, the tide ate away at the walls, no thanks to the surrounding adults who were surreptitiously splashing the walls, hastening their demise. The flood inside the walls soon took down the castle’s structure, ending the brief reign of King Mitchell and Queen Kersten.

Following a short swim in the now-flooded beach, we packed up and headed home. Although we could have made the 19:00 ferry to Vancouver, Allison and I waited until the 21:00. In retrospect, this was a good idea … we would have travelled on a Fast Ferry, and we all know what I think of them.