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CANADA & ALASKA, SUMMER 2006
Part Three continued: Queen of Saanich & Columbia
Swartz Bay - Tsawwassen & Bellingham - Ketchikan
Main text written by Richard Seville
Pictures ©
matt@hhvferry.com except where stated
Top: The forward lounge on the Queen of Saanich, with comfortable armchairs gathered round as they might be in the TV room of an old peoples' home.
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Our return to the mainland the following day was deliberately scheduled onto one of the older vessels, the Queen of Saanich. Delivered in 1963 as part of the five-strong V-class, the ship was lengthened in 1972 to add two additional saloons and extra vehicle space, and then lifted in 1982 to add an additional car deck, when further internal modifications were made. Her accommodation is spread over two decks, and commences forward with a spacious observation lounge. Passageways lead aft into the additional saloon added in 1972, which although originally simply a seating lounge, now contains both the Midships Coffee Bar and Passages gift shop. Further seating is available in an aft saloon, where the stewards office is also found, whilst right aft is her cafeteria. The upper deck contains crew accommodation forward, followed by the additional seating lounge added in 1972; a narrow side lounge now fitted with business workstations, and right aft, an additional café, converted from a solarium in the 1982 conversion. The vessel has clearly seen significant refurbishment work to upgrade her interior, in particular the addition of Passages and the Midship Coffee Bar, but overall her accommodation is of a mixed standard. The Queen of Saanich, along with her sisters Queen of Vancouver and Queen of Esquimalt, are due to be replaced by the new trio currently building in Germany.
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Above: Another view of the Queen of Saanich's forward observation lounge.
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!
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Above and below: The Columbia in Bellingham.
Above: Amidships lounge on the Queen of Saanich.
Above: The additional cafeteria on the upper deck, which only appears to see use on busy sailings.
Above: Rules are clearly there to be broken.
Above: Passing the Queen of Cumberland.
Click for larger image
Click above for a Columbia deckplan
Above: The Columbia's main lobby, where Ridley added his own decoration.
Above and below: The vehicle deck with (below) a scene during a car deck call.
Above: The Queen of Saanich. Picture courtesy Richard Seville
Below: On the first evening, the Columbia passed near to Tsawwassen, encountering several of the local BC Ferries fleet, including, as pictured, the Queen of Vancouver. Picture courtesy Richard Seville