An aerial of British Columbia's Gulf Islands.
I have missed the ferry to Saltspring Island. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I am running out of time to make the trip worth while, but ridden with guilt, I am determined to still get there. If I wait until the next ferry the day will be almost over.
I call Saltspring Air, a seaplane company that flies between Ganges Harbour on Saltspring Island and Coal Harbour in downtown Vancouver (as well as Vancouver International Airport in Richmond). They have a flight at 11:20 from the Coal Harbour location. It is 10:55 and I have to cross downtown Vancouver. The friendly voice on the other end asks me what time I think I could be there. “Well…,” I ponder. “Probably about 11:19.”
She laughs and tells me they can hold the plane for five extra minutes if I need it. I give her my credit card information, hang up the phone and scramble to get there in time.
By the time I arrive at the harbour, my watch says 11:18. I run, as directed, around the back of the Westin Bayshore Hotel to docks. The seaplane ramp should be around here, but I can’t see it anywhere. Hauling my laptop bag and small backpack, I run over to a nearby restaurant valet and tell him I am looking for a plane.
He points towards a ramp. “Down there.”
Thanking him, I run down to find an empty slip. Just then a seaplane taxis around the corner of the charter boat next to me and bumps up against the dock.
The pilot jumps out. “Jennifer?”
Grinning, he grabs my bags and chucks them, albeit gently, into the luggage compartment. In my haste, I completely forget to grab my camera.
“We were just taxiing in the harbour when we got the call. It’s a bit slow right now, so we thought we’d come back and get you,” he jokes. The lone commuter in the six-passenger plane smiles at me politely.
The pilot helps me into “the Beaver” plane, otherwise known as a deHavilland Beaver or DHC-2. There is an empty seat next to his, but I opt for a seat on the bench right behind him. I am not a big fan of flying and I have already worked up a sweat at this last-minute decision.
He gives me a quick safety speech, pointing out the ear protectors for maximum comfort, and then we are off, taxiing towards the new Vancouver convention centre and its slanted, grass-covered roof.
I have picked the perfect day to miss the ferry. There is barely a breeze over the water and the skies are a vibrant blue. The pilot guns the 450 horsepower single-engine aircraft and we roar across the harbour and into the air with such ease, I have to peer out the window to make sure we have actually left the water. It doesn’t take long for the plane to climb high enough to pass over the Lions Gate Bridge separating Stanley Park and North Vancouver.
I suddenly remember the camera function on my cell phone. Flipping it open I begin filling up memory with fuzzy aerial photos.
From the air I can see sailboats off to my left, racing in English Bay and to the right another cluster of boats racing past Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver. Below me the water changes from the sand-coloured harbour to the glittering blue of the open straight.
The pilot guides the plane out around the prime real estate that is the University of British Columbia and past the Vancouver airport, heading south-east as the land fades into the distance. There are no whales to be spotted today, but there are enough sites to keep my face pressed against the bubble windows the entire way across - powerboats, schooners and of course, BC Ferries all cruising across Georgia Straight with the Coastal Mountains as a backdrop behind us and the Gulf Islands to the front.
As we near the islands I can see Active Pass to my left, separating Mayne and Galiano. We fly across the middle of Galiano, the longest of the Gulf Islands, crossing dense forests and giant electrical transformers and cruise over Montague Harbour, a popular summer boating destination with white sandy beaches and famous pub shuttle that journeys back and forth between the provincial campground and the local inland watering hole, the Hummingbird Pub.
The plane drops down as it comes out over Trincomali Channel on the inside of Galiano Island. A ferry is visible exiting the west side of Active Pass on route to Swartz Bay, Victoria. We fly over the smaller Prevost and Wallace Islands, banking to the right as we turn into Ganges Harbour, where we slowly descend until the plane softly touches the water. A wake of frothy sea rushes out behind the floats.
Within moments it is all over and I am standing on the dock in Ganges Harbour, a mere thirty-five minutes after take-off.
At $97 for a one-way ticket, this is not something I could afford to do every time I miss the ferry, but it sure does beat the two to three hour boat trip from Tsawwassen. I will be looking for a good excuse to do it again in the future…lucky dad, it looks like Father’s Day is next.