|Our sailing to Tsawwassen was in glorious weather, which continued as we returned the hire car, and set off to Bellingham on the fabulously veteran Quick Coach Lines bus. Admittedly anxious following the grilling in Port Angeles the previous day, relief was felt all round when we sailed through the land border, and arrived earlier than scheduled at our destination.
With an afternoon to spare, we ambled around the pleasant suburb of Fairhaven, enjoying an al-fresco lunch at an organic café on the main square before taking great amusement at a series of comedy plaques set into the sidewalk, one of which lamented that it was at this spot where “Matthew” was cut in two by a tramcar. Photos of one particular member of our group lying lifelessly on the ground ensued…
Comedy over, we returned to the terminal where a long queue already snaked around the upper level awaiting boarding. Although promised at 4pm, we were not unduly concerned when nothing happened – although we would have been, had we only known the reason! The reason for the Columbia’s early arrival the previous day had been due to a generator fire, which had caused her previous North-bound trip to be curtailed at Ketchikan. She had then limped down to Bellingham for repairs. As we had been leisurely wandering around Fairhaven in blissful ignorance, her crew had been working all out to remove the damaged generator and gain Coastguard authorisation to sail. Had we been aware of this situation, no doubt there would have been severely frayed nerves! However, with great fortune, approval to sail was issued at just before 5pm, and boarding commenced immediately.
Eventually, we reached the front of the queue, prompting the plump stewardess to nod towards a group of female backpackers who had just boarded before us, and announce loudly that this was the love ship. This was symptomatic of the crew onboard – cheerful and friendly – obviously enjoying their work and interaction with passengers – a delightful contrast to many operations in Europe. Once onboard, we headed to reception to pick up our cabin key. As we queued, a loud gasp was heard from the crowd behind us – and an admonishing call directed at ‘Ridley’. We turned to see a large, fresh “deposit” right in the centre of the reception hall, and a young family turn red as their black Labrador puppy looked proud – Ridley, it turned out, was the dog, not the child, and from them on was strictly confined to the vehicle deck. Pets, it seems, are very common passengers onboard, but must stay in their owners’ cars. To ensure their needs are met, during the crossing 15-minute ‘car-deck calls’ were regularly announced, when the garages would become one large park with owners hurriedly exercising their bored animals – quite a sight to those used to car decks being strictly out-of-bounds. Inevitably, the vehicle deck also became one large doggie lavatory, so it is hoped they are frequently washed down! [text continued on next page]