Where the school bus is a boatMar 27, 2009 12:00 AM
|On a gray November dawn, Scholarship makes its way among the Gulf Islands of British Columbia to pick up students headed for their high school on Saltspring Island. The 42-foot boat can carry up to 40 passengers and cruises at about 14 knots.|
Active Pass separates the bluffs on the south end of Galiano Island and the gentler slopes at the north end of Mayne Island, two of Canada’s Gulf Islands that lie between the Gulf of Georgia and Vancouver Island. The islands and others in the Gulf Island group, lying just north of the U.S. San Juan Islands, are linked to Victoria on Vancouver Island and to Vancouver on the mainland by scheduled car ferry runs. But, for quick movement of passengers, water taxis and other small vessels have earned an indispensable role.
Many of the luxurious summer homes on the islands are accessible only by water, so small boats carry everything from building supplies to groceries. All the larger islands have roads along which parents can drive their children to meet the school boat. The Gulf Islands Water Taxi company was founded by Jack Hughes in 1978. According to one story, he asked the owner of a small taxi operation how he could get a piece of the action, and the man virtually gave him the struggling business. Over the years he has built the firm’s fleet to include one 12-passenger and three 40-passenger vessels. Two of the 40-passenger vessels handle the transportation of students to the high school on Saltspring Island from Galiano, Mayne, North Pender and Saturna islands.
|Students boarding Scholarship at Sturdies Bay on Galiano Island. In addition to Galiano, the boat makes stops at Mayne, North Pender and Saturna islands.|
For the morning school run, the two skippers and their deck hands meet at the dock on Ganges shortly after 0600 four days per week to ready the boats. Two or three teachers who live on Saltspring, but teach on other islands, arrive a short time later for their commute. In spite of the early hour — and the chill of winter and darkness — there are island-friendly greetings as the two boats move out of the harbor promptly at 0630. Scholarship begins the morning with a 14-mile run to its first stop.
Arnott ran southeast down Ganges Harbour before turning east around the rocky point at the top of Prevost Island. The beginnings of a brilliant red sunrise appeared to the southeast over Mayne Island as the west end of Active Pass came in sight. A small boat with a big set of lights raced out of the pass. Arnott explained that it is the daily mail boat making its rounds at close to 30 knots. The lights help the operator spot drift logs in time to avoid running over them. As Scholarship entered the pass, a large tree complete with branches floated on the beginning of the ebb.
|High school students boarding at Miners Bay on Mayne Island.|
Driftwood on the heavily forested British Columbia coast has long been a major navigational hazard especially for high-speed boats. In addition to its roof-top spotlight, Scholarship has a “log light” mounted on the bow that helps spot the low riding logs before they are run over and damage the propeller, or worse. The increased use of log-barges and bundle booms has reduced the incidence of logs escaping from booms. But there is still plenty of wood to worry mariners in these tidal waters.
The ebb was just starting to push out of Active Pass and the school boat ran along the towering bluffs of Galiano Island before rounding the point into the more open waters on the edge of the Gulf of Georgia. There was a bit of a sea running from the southeast. Arnott explained that a flood tide against a strong wind from the east can build a steep swell here that has, at times, nearly launched the boat from its peak. He swung the boat north into Sturdies Bay where a breakwater and the car ferry dock protected the landing. Two teachers from Ganges got off and a couple of adult commuters boarded with about 20 high school students.
|Capt. Dave Arnott and deck hand Mark Coulter in the wheelhouse of Scholarship while one of the BC Ferries passes by.|
These young people have grown up around boats and move with ease around them. As the boat cleared this dock shortly after 0750 and began to retrace its earlier route, two of the larger BC Ferries car ferries entered the pass. But these are all scheduled runs and Arnott is accustomed to seeing them each day. He also keeps Vancouver Vessel Traffic posted on all Scholarship’s movements, as do the other boats in the area.
The students settled into the comfortable seats. As the light began to strengthen, some finished up homework while others visited. This routine would have them in Ganges along with the students from other islands that arrive aboard Graduate in plenty of time to get up to the high school for the 0855 start. Their school day would run an extra hour-and-a-quarter to 1615. This allows them to put in the number of schooling hours required each week in only four days. This gives them all a three-day weekend, while saving the school board a little on the high cost of operating boats for school buses.
Real estate on British Columbia’s Gulf Islands remains in high demand as more and more families find ways to escape the pressures of urban living for the beauty of these islands. The demand for the Gulf Islands Water Taxi services will grow and many more scholars will benefit from the unique ride to their school and graduation. Edit Module