On Island Time

by Aug 29, 2019

When you are in ferry country, you learn that your schedule stops being your own. If you have to cross a body of water, you need to schedule around the ferry. The author Hilary Stewart wrote a book about this many years ago (now sadly out of print) allied On Island Time, about her experience moving onto an island where access was either by ferry or by boat.

I have long loved the ferry as a thing. I’ve taken trips where I’ve gone out of the way to include a ferry in a segment of the trip. When I come up here into the Northwest, if I can sneak in a ferry run I will, just because.

I have no idea where this love/fascination of ferries came from, it just is. In the family photo archive there are photos of me on a trip we all took to the 1968 Seattle Worlds Fair, when mom and dad piled us into the back of the station wagon and hauled us north. I remember absolutely nothing about the trip,and yet…

There is a picture of me on a ferry. Not just any ferry, but the Kalakala, a classic Art Deco design boat straight off of a 1940’s SF Pulp novel cover. It ran the waters around Seattle for many years before being sold off, where it ended up a fish processing boat, and finally, after many attempts to find funding to rebuild it, was scrapped. But at one point in my young formative life, I was on that ferry (among others) during this Seattle trip.

In the years we started visiting the family cabin in Port Ludlow, and from there using ferries into Seattle or the Coho up to Victoria, the ferry became that point where I was truly able to disconnect and relax. Up until I got on the boat, work could call and tell me I had to get back because of whatever crisis had just happened — but once I hit the ferry, I could honestly say I couldn’t come back until I got back off the island on the ferry.

In retrospect, of course, there’s a level of bullshit to that argument, but at the same time, it never actually got to that point, although there was one trip where (pre cell phone!) I arrived at a hotel in Vancouver to a huge stack of increasingly freaked out messages because of a failure in a system I was in charge of nobody could figure out how to fix.

I spent that night on a modem dialed in eating a bad Panago pizza (I don’t believe there’s any other kind) while I sorted it out and got the system back online.

But it’s one reason I think I fell in love with Victoria and Vancouver Island: once I get off that ferry, I’m on Island time, and it doesn’t matter what I think, the ferry schedules won’t bend to my will, I must bend to theirs. And I love that. It means I can disconnect, because it’s no longer completely under my control. And I love that.

I know there are people who hate dealing with ferries and their schedules, and I get it. I see the ones that get onto the boat, haul out the laptop and go back to work. Me? I find sitting waiting for the ferry to be a chance to relax, unwind, maybe read a book. Maybe take a nap. Island time is telling us it’s okay to unplug and slow down, and I feel sorry for people who don’t listen to what island time is trying to say.

For me, island time is time of pulling the plug on the day to day, a way to enjoy a bit of civilization that is at the same time cut off from civilization. Because no matter how urgent it is, if it’s on the other side of the ferry trip, it’ll have to wait for the ferry to bring me back. And that’s not under my control. Island time puts me in that little bubble where I find I can put away the worries of the larger world, and just enjoy my time here on the island, and leave all of that for some other time, some other reality, once the ferry drops me off, and my Island time has ended once again.

Until next trip…