Riding the Roof of the Breeze

Photo of SeaBus Bridge by Rebecca Bollwitt.

1977 was a stellar year for culture. The Ramones, The Clash and Bob Marley with classic albums, Elvis for a half-year, plus Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever and the launch of the SeaBus. Since that banner year, the intrepid lil catamarans have toiled across Burrard Inlet, unheralded and undaunted. Now the two vessels - the Beaver and Otter - are three as the Pacific Breeze set off from Waterfront station Wednesday Dec. 23rd with politicians on-board and me on the roof.

Transit's Crown Jewel

I'm the guy who did a 4th grade science fair project about transit, rode the long way on buses downtown to punk rock shows and celebrated when the ALRT began (even when it ended in New West). But living in Whalley, the SeaBus was an exotic morsel in the transit offering - i have scant memories outings to the Quay or the free suspension bridge but mostly i remember skipping out of school and riding it just to ride it.

These days, the Seab is my daily ride and my nightly schedule revolves around the run down the gangway into the surreal confines of a hazy crossing in a humming shuttle. Unlike the sway of the bus, the Seab is pod of relaxation and creativity and (the best part) you always get a seat. Indeed, I extol the virtues of the perfect day out in Vancouver on my podcast which includes "the 3 dollar harbour cruise" complete with a falafel and a rainforest stroll - all on one transfer.

Punching my Ticket

This year, I wrote a mixed media article for the Buzzer blog called "Rolling to the End of the Line" to get on their good side after all the slagging i do - and hurrah, my cajoling came through. After a rescheduling and a bit of strategic day-job tardiness, I rode the aging Beaver across with invitation in pocket and Twitter updates en route. I even rocked a tie just in case they needed someone to cut a ribbon, bust a bottle or something.

I walked in on Translink's Drew Snyder under siege from local cameras about a SkyTrain delay that morning - no big whoop, he's fine, let's celebrate. CBC, CTV, Metro and a Mandarin news service were in attendance but not significant diversity in the media turnout which would be remedied by actually inviting local media outlets.

A line up of politicians took turns talking about how, "they won't talk too long" and then went on to thank one another but we all laughed when one mayor mis-spoke of the SeaBus launching in 1980-something. Crazy times.

Mighty Green

Instead of the glad-handing, I hung in the back with the crew and engineers and asked, "So is anyone gonna talk about the SeaBus?" Chris kindly told me several key improvements, ergo:

4 stroke marine motors - old motors were 2 stroke industrial engines like lawnmowers which are stinky emitters
Hull design is improved - wake reduced 50% meaning less shoreline impact and friendly to other vessels
Tighter handling - the hull design and boat controls make this boat mobile and nimble for charting course
Less pollution, more efficient - the new motors and other modern engineering make this one way greener

Plus it's way more spacious, quiet, comfy and well, … groovy and new. Enjoy it while it lasts! And keep your boots off the seat eh.

King of the World-ish

After triple SeaBus service through the Olympics, the two other units will take turns into refurbishment or retirement, and/or perhaps we'll see more new, improved boats joining the fleet - At $25 million each, is there a bulk discount? If there is a new boat, they better choose my name suggestion "Sockeye" - not that i am bitter that my entry wasn't chosen in the contest but the guy who entered "Pacific Breeze" received a certificate, photo op and seat in the captain's chair. No matter, I did one better.

Along with my co-conspirator Rebecca AKA Miss604, we rode out the inaugural voyage outside in the breeze, on the upper deck. Nope, you can't go there. We were invited to the bridge, interviewed the first officer (b. 1979) and checked out the spacey-looking bridge controls before stepping outside for the journey. We leaned on the rails and I waved to passing boats like an old sea commodore, i just needed a pipe to complete the perfect Vancouver morning.

Yup, I enjoyed knowing i was participating in a unique splinter of trivial history. My brother knows i'll be using this in drunken anecdotes for decades … "did i ever tell you about the first sailing of the Breeze …?"

From above, we watched The Beaver pull into the berth, drop off passengers, and rotate into maintenance dock allowing the new counterpart unit to pull in, upload the politicians, load up the rate-paying public and ring the bell – the Breeze is now in regular service.

Bonus Round

Miss 604 photos from inaugural crossing

Miss 604 coverage
JMV's sneak preview photos

This reporter on deck


Rolling to the End of the Line – Choogle on #77
I Love Transit Week essay: Dave Olson

Transit science fair project circa 1980

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