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« To Aid? Or Not to Aid? | Main | Dogwatching »

June 13, 2007

Island Travel

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm writing this on a southbound voyage of the Victoria Clipper, a passenger catamaran that runs between Seattle and Victoria, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. We were in Victoria for two nights with some of Nancy's relatives.

The trip takes 15 minutes less than three hours and offers the convenience of having origin / destination downtown at both ends of the trip. The captain announced that our speed was 32.5 knots -- that's about as fast as the speedy inter-war fleet carriers Lexington and Saratoga were supposed to attain.

When I was growing up, the Seattle-Victoria passage was via a Canadian Pacific "Princess" liner, and took perhaps four hours (I forget). I think faster is better, but you have to pay the price -- around $130 a head for a round trip. Off-season fares are a little less, so we might do more Victoria trips then.

There are other travel options. One can drive from Seattle to Port Angeles (on the southern shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, due south of Victoria) via Tacoma and a cross-Puget Sound bridge. Or get to Port Angeles driving part-way and taking a cross-Sound ferry en route to cut the mileage (but risk possible long delays during busy summer weekends). Once at Port Angeles, a passenger-only or a car-passenger ferry can get you across the strait to Victoria. Doing a walk-on for the final leg keeps the overall cost significantly less than the Clipper.

Another alternative is to take a Washington government-run ferry from the mainland through the San Juan Islands to Vancouver Island, but the dock is more than 15 miles from downtown Victoria. Or you could drive north up Interstate 5 into Canada and then catch a British Columbia ferry that docks even farther from town. With these options, it's probably better to take a car all the way.

Passenger jet service is available, but Victoria's airport is near where the Washington ferry arrives. More convenient air service is by float plane. Small one and two motor turboprop passenger planes arrive in Victoria's Inner Harbour with astonishing frequency. But you have to be willing to fly in such small craft. I'm a little lerry about them in the first place. Then there's the fact that landing on water is generally considered trickier than landing on airfields. Even if there is no debris in the water.

[Pause while I dash out on deck to watch a Trident missile submarine make its way north out of Puget Sound.]

Victoria is a very pleasant place to visit. It's probably a fine place to live. But, being on an Island (albeit a large one), it takes time, money and effort to get to the mainland. The travel options mentioned above are the main ones. Others are private boat and plane.

Many people are quite happy with the semi-isolation of Vancouver Island. Me, I'd prefer the mainland ... though Victoria is certainly tempting. Would you be happy in smallish, yet cosmopolitan city that's inconvenient to get to? Do you prefer serious isolation? Or are New York / Chicago / Los Angeles / Seattle bright lights most to your liking?



posted by Donald at June 13, 2007


Because of the rain shadow from the Olympic Mts., Victoria gets approx. 10 inches less rain than Vancouver giving it arguably Canada's best climate. Being on an island is probably a good thing or Victoria would be a sprawling suburb of Vancouver already. With the island's population approaching 3/4 of a million people, I imagine the talk of a bridge or rail tunnel will increase. Luckily (or unluckily) for Victoria, geography favors a bridge a few hundred miles up the island.

Posted by: AP on June 13, 2007 12:25 PM

Sounds lovely. I don't know about your islands question. (I live on Manhattan island, but does that really qualify?) I've loved the time I've spent on islands, but did I love it in a "it's great to get away" or in a "I could seriously live here" way? Not sure. Sometimes I think, these days, with Netflix and Amazon and the web, why not live someplace a little harder to get to? You'd still have access to an awful lot. And being at a bit of a physical remove can be so lovely.

I love Port Angeles, btw. Have you been there? A working-class logging town with a bit of tourism, nothing more. But solid, and in an amazing location (and with, as AP says about Victoria, some amazing weather). And not so far from Seattle, Victoria, and/or Vancouver. Shh. Don't let it get around!

Another trip I loved in the general area was via car and ferry up through B.C.'s Sunshine Coast. Molto gorgioso! I think I did it in early September, so the weather was spectacular and the crowds were small -- highly recommended.

But how about some visuals? Photos! Photos!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 13, 2007 1:52 PM

It's not hard to get to if you're already here. Victoria is indeed a fine place to live. We moved here from Toronto shortly before having kids, and the near-in neighbourhoods we've lived in here are certainly more kid-friendly than their Toronto equivalents. I miss big-city life, but as parents, who has time anyway?

On the negative side, housing is too expensive for a lot of young families, and there is very grubby welfare/drug scene in some parts of town.

Posted by: intellectual pariah on June 13, 2007 1:54 PM

Oh, the latest word on a bridge to the mainland is that it won't be viable for several decades at least. The Strait of Georgia is supposed to be too deep and too stormy.

A round-trip ferry to Vancouver for a family of four can set you back $175 plus tax, btw.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on June 13, 2007 2:03 PM


The secret is already out about the northern Olympic Peninsula. Sequim, Port Angeles' drier neighbor to the west is a popular retirement location. With a little less than 15 inches of rain a year, it is the driest location west of the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest. I recently saw its lavender festival featured on a Travel Channel show, so it is being discovered nationally as well.

Posted by: AP on June 13, 2007 2:26 PM

$130 for a ferry ride? What do they offer, gold plated toilet seats?

Posted by: ricpic on June 13, 2007 7:34 PM

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