Les Leyne: Take the Circle Tour of Embarrassment

Les Leyne It was when Transportation Minister Todd Stone started touting the new amenities in store for the MV Nimpkish that the audacity of the scheme he’s trying to float started to sink in.

He’s cancelling the 115-vehicle full-service ferry that runs from Port Hardy to Bella Coola during the summer because it costs millions and is underused. But it’s an integral part of a circle route — Vancouver Island, up the coast by ferry to Bella Coola, through the Cariboo-Chilcotin and back to the Lower Mainland.

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So as a sop to the tourism industry, he’s maintaining ferry service — after a fashion. The new Discovery Coast Circle Route will see tourists take a regular-sized ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Bella, a six-hour trip up the coast. Then they’ll disembark, wait 90 minutes, and take the MV Nimpkish on a nine-hour run from Bella Bella to Bella Coola.

This is not to attack the Nimpkish. It’s a plucky little survivor, the smallest and one of the oldest ferries in the fleet. It deserves some credit for lasting 41 years. God bless the Nimpkish and all who sail on her.

But the idea of sticking tourists on a 16-vehicle ferry that consists of little more than a car deck — for nine hours — while talking about a “world-class tourism experience” takes the concept of blowing smoke to a new level.

It’s even smaller than the Mill Bay-Brentwood Bay ferry on Saanich Inlet. Picture sailing that 18 times in a row and you get an idea of what’s in store for visitors this summer.

Stone summoned reporters to his office to outline this “affirmation” of the tourism industry.

“Some have suggested it’s not much more than a barge,” he said indignantly, pointing to a picture behind him in which the Nimpkish looked like not much more than a barge.

But they’re going to put that notion to rest in short order.

How?

He has talked to B.C. Ferries and extracted a promise that they’re going to raise the Nimpkish’s game. It’s going to be refitted.

“Comfortable seats, a comfortable, heated interior, potable water, food ... This vessel truly is going to do us proud with these tourists.”

As a measure of the government’s confidence, they’ve even boosted the marketing budget by a hundred grand to make the point the circle tour is alive and well.

I can’t wait to see the European campaign rollout. “Potable water!” “Food!”

“Come for the Wilderness! Stay for the Comfortable Interior Heating!”

When they’re finished this refit, they should rename it the Spirit of Lowered Expectations. Or rebrand the whole effort as some kind of anniversary recreation of the Normandy invasion — as seen from a landing craft.

During the news conference, Stone’s gaze returned fondly to the picture of the Nimpkish.

“It’s a small ferry,” he conceded. “But it’s a ferry nonetheless.”

And the idea going around that it can’t carry RVs is another outrageous slur. “That is not true.”

(It can carry about four of them. So there.)

There is a slender upside to this new arrangement. The Nimpkish will sail a few days a week, where the previous vessel only made a weekly trip. But there aren’t many people with high hopes for this makeup effort. Other than the Liberal government.

We live in a world where a cruise-ship passenger whined online recently about the sea being “too loud.” (Someone demanded a refund from Celebrity Cruises last year because there wasn’t a single celebrity on board.)

As one Chilcotin lodge owner told colleague Lindsay Kines: “TripAdvisor is going to have a field day with this.”

One of the factors that drove the major rewrite of B.C. liquor laws was the theme in many submissions to the government that all the old restrictions and rules were embarrassing to explain to tourists. Many of the changes made in response were pitched as efforts to improve tourism, which the Liberals insist they support.

So anyone worried about being embarrassed in front of tourists better steer clear when the Nimpkish pulls into the dock after its nine-hour voyage. And the visitors get their Internet connection back.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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