The Ferryman's blog Occasional musings

A lot of catching up
Summer is fast approaching, and in fact seems to have arrived as we are now in a May heat wave. Summer is a good time to get out and visit ferries and all places interesting, but a tough time to get onto the computer and edit photos and write ferryman articles. So the last few weeks I've done a lot of catching up.
In particular I noticed that I still had only one ferry documented for Scotland, and several listed in my "to document soon" section. Of all the places I've been, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland have the highest density of ferries and some of the most interesting. So I've gone back through all my many trips to Scotland and written up every ferry I have photos of. And because of that and the associated research, I decided that I really would like to plan an island-hopping trip, going from the Scottish mainland out through the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Hopefully within the next couple of years, but watch this space to see if I actually manage it - life can throw up lots of roadblocks.
I also realised that for some ferries I had a couple of photos, but not a lot of material to present. So rather than putting them off until I could immerse myself in researching them in order to write a full article, it was better to just publish them as-is, with no other description. By doing that I was able to complete the "British Isles" section - every ferry for which I have photos now has an article, even if it is minimal.
Skip a year
I see no blogs for 2021. Skipping that year seems to be a common sentiment, as we were all Covid-weary, starting the year with hope as many of us got our vaccinations and ending it I'm not quite sure where, as Omicron swept through. It wasn't a year lacking in things done, it's just that for me the key to ferryman.ca is the aspect of travelling around and using and photographing new ferries, and the mood of 2021 was distinctly non-travel.
But we did manage to travel a bit. We made a 12 day trip to enjoy Nova Scotia (Halifax and Cape Breton mainly) in September when conditions seemed safe. And that netted a few new and interesting ferry experiences. The other things we kept running across in Nova Scotia were ex-ferries; places, road names, etc. that indicated where ferries used to run but have now been abandoned due to improved roads and new bridges. So Halifax Harbour, Little Narrows, Englishtown and LaHave ferries have all just been added.
Staying close to home more meant more time to photograph family and Flora, Fauna and Fungi. And to support publishing those photos I spent a lot of time tinkering with JavaScript and PHP to add more features to make the websites more usable. I also discovered Leaflet.js which got me into a heavy process of programming online maps the way I like to use them. All this brings me to where I am now. I have just written up the four new Nova Scotia ferries in my intray, and now will move on to give ferryman.ca a bit of a technical update as I bring in the relevant features and my better understanding of what I programmed in the last year.
No shortage of things to do inside on the computer and the spring will come and draw me outside all too soon and before I've done everything I want to. Hopefully this time the spring will bring a situation where Covid is no longer the monster it was and we can relax a little more.
Pandemic days - Sinking ships and coding PHP
2020-05-18 - Victoria Day
During these days of lockdown we have been lucky. Our circumstances have been much less difficult to deal with than those of many others; I have been able to fill much of my time with constructive outdoor projects, and just walking around with a camera enjoying nature. But I miss the travel and even the ability to just move around freely, without restrictions or fear.
This is no time for discovering new ferries, but it should have been a good opportunity to catch up on my to-do list for the site. But somehow the general worries of these strange times, and spending so much of my computer time following news and statistics of COVID-19 has kept me from doing as much as I had expected.
I did however finally get around to reading the book Farewell to a QueenThe Mysterious Sinking of the Pride of BC Ferries, which I have had for a couple of years; I considered reading this prerequisite to writing up my trip on that same Inside Passage ferry, which I have now done 39 years after taking it!
I also got around to bringing my Contact page up to modern standards by adding a Contact-me form. This involved learning a bit about PHP programming which was fun. After retiring from a life of programming (mainly C++) I was determined to keep my web pages to simple HTML/CSS, with nothing that I would call programming. But bit by bit simple JavaScript became essential to ferryman.ca, and now I've added PHP and am looking for other fun and useful ways to use its power. I guess something in my brain missed coding.
Snowy owls: 0, Ferries: 3
A few days ago I headed out, camera and longest lens in hand, to try to find some snowy owls to photograph. I've had some great sightings on Wolfe Island in winter before and Amherst Island is also known as a good place to watch. I wasn't set up for hiding in the bush with my tripod all dayI just aimed to drive around the very empty roads, checking fence posts and trees that looked out over empty fields. Plenty of white tailed deer and turkeys there were. But no snowy owls this time.
However I did score three ferries! I crossed over to Amherst and back and then raced to catch the Wolfe Islander III from Kingston. On Wolfe Island I detoured to check out the ferry to Simcoe Island, which has been in my sights for some time, but I never seem to get around to visiting it. This time I just watched it crossI aim to take my bike over and do a bit of casual flat cycling when the weather gets warmer. Although it's not been the coldest of winters, all three of the ferries were crunching through ice as they crossed, through channels kept open by air-bubble systems.
What was notable was that both ends of the Amherset Island ferry (Millhaven and Stella) were in the middle of major reconstruction. The ferry was using temporary loading ramps and there were nice modern buildings and concrete loading ramps nearing completion right beside. There is a new, fully electric ferry being built in Romania and when that enters service later this year using the new facilities it will be a pretty spiffy crossing. Now I need to update a couple of ferry pages and write the page for Simcoe Island ferry.
The poor walrusa hopelessly idealistic proposal
Recently I was watching an episode of Netflix’s Our Planet that showed thousands of walruses crowded on a Russian arctic island. Historically they were able to haul themselves out onto sea-ice to rest, but with global warming the ice was no longer there and they had to swim great distances to find an island. Because the island was isolated and small the walruses were crammed together, so close there was no free land for some to rest on. Many climbed the cliffs to find a free spot and then fell to a ghastly death. It was a heart-rending sight, nature at its cruellest, made worse by the global warming brought on by human civilisation.
A few days later I was shopping in my local dollar store for Christmas nick-knacks and saw a chocolate walrus on sale for $1.25. Cute, but it brought to mind those poor walruses dying on the Russian island.
Now if that had been a chocolate Mickey Mouse, then Disney would be demanding royalties from the manufacturer. But no-one expects to pay royalties to use images of animals, plants or anything else from nature.
But maybe they should. What if every business that used a walrus image was required to chip in a royalty payment to benefit walruses? They need our help far more than Disney. Conservation of nature could become a self-financing enterprise. And the principal could extent to landscapes, and historic buildings, and other things.
There are a countless problems with implementing this, and many pros and cons. But as none of this relates to ferries I’d better stop here!
Flooding yet again
A once in a hundred years flood in 2017. And then another in 2019. Ignoring the simplistic view that this seems impossible, and ignoring all discussion of the role of climate change, this has still been a tough time for many people, especially those living or working close to the Ottawa river.
A couple of weeks ago the waters were at near-record highs again. We were heading from Montreal to Ottawa (City). They had just closed the Galipeault Bridge, cutting the Hwy 20 route off the west end of the island. We headed out on Hwy 40 and then had to queue for an hour to get over the Île aux Tourtes Bridge. It was the only road access still open off the west end of Montreal Island and had been cut from 3 lanes to one as road crews shored up the edges where the Lac des Deux-Montagnes had expanded and threatened to close to the road.
For the people whose homes had been flooded this was a hellish, soul-destroying time. Our worries were minor by comparison, but as we queued I started wondering if we could bypass the traffic woes by taking a ferry. But the fact is that even where the ferries exist, floods of this magnitude tend to shut down the ferries before they affect the bridges.
All ferries have ramp structures on the banks. A major rise in water level tends to cover the ramps and leave the ferry moored to posts well out in the river. The news reports this year, as in 2017, have been full of stories of the Ottawa river ferries being closed, and images of the infrastructures being submerged. And even when the facilities remain functional, the currents of the river in flood often become too strong to operate in.
In the two weeks since we got stuck heading to Ottawa the waters along the river crested and started receding. But in the last few days heavy rain and continued melting of the winter’s snow pack have led to levels rising again towards new records. People living in houses prone to flooding will have ever more incentive and pressure applied to move to safer locations. Ferry operations are inextricably tied to the banks of the water they cross. They can’t move, all they can do is invest in more complex infrastructure and equipment.
Update, 2019-05-14. We need to head north at rush hour, and taking the Hudson-Oka ferry is a great alternative for us to queuing on various autoroutes and bridges. But when I checked online all the Ottawa river ferries were closed due to the flooding, with one exception; Quyon was closed but had, reopened yesterday.
So much I want to do, so little time
It’s a recurring theme, in my mind, if not in this blog, that I don’t get around to doing enough Ferryman. The ideas are there, the list of ferries to check out is growing, but it never seems I have enough time to get around to all these things. But if I sit back I realise that this is a good thing, that I have so much that I enjoy going on in my life that I don’t get around to doing all of it fully. Well, maybe not everything is a fun project - there are plenty of chores in life. But all in all I have a full but fun time.
What provoked this was that my middle son and I have just come back from spending a couple of weeks visiting my elderly mother in England. It was great to be with her, and we spent some time, though not nearly enough, exploring the South Downs and Sussex coast. But the ferryman.ca “work” for which I took my laptop along got hardly touched at all, and that was a bit frustrating. There are no river ferries, to my knowledge, within a couple of hours drive of where she lives, but there are a lot of ferries linking the mainland to the Isle of Wight around the Solent, and a lot more still linking Britain with the Continent across the Channel. Lots of scope there for some interesting trips and photography. Though perhaps the end of January with “severe weather warnings” isn’t the best time to go looking. But I did see the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry towering over the harbour wall at Newhaven. There’s always the next time.
Back in Canada I finally got the last of my 2018 Norway and Sweden ferry pages written up, so I feel “caught up” now, even though there are many old ferry encounters still on my to-do list to write up. So, on with enjoying everything in life. Ferryman is just one spoke in the wheel. But I do look forward getting out to visit some new ferries soon – it’s been too long.
Christmas progress, but where's the audience?
I’ve managed quite a bit of work on the site over the Christmas period, maybe because the weather has been designed to keep me in the house – too much freezing rain makes walking treacherous. So I have managed to add in two pages covering our visit to Stockholm this summer, and also catch up on the Grand Manan ferry which we took in 2011. The pressing job is to “cover Norway”. We saw dozen of ferries it seems during the 2½ weeks we spent there this summer, and that means lots of photos and a tough job taming the whole thing. I know it will be fun when I get into it, but at the moment it is hanging over me. I need to get this fully behind me before I can think about heading off anywhere interesting and getting more photos!
I did a fair amount of work improving things for search engine visibility (SEO as they say in the trade.) I’ve not had any feedback outside my family yet (and not a lot from them either!). I expected that, but I am getting a little antsy now. I will soon need to see some audience develop, otherwise it becomes just a bit too pointless, however much I enjoy working on it. Having just done a major update to the site I guess it’s time to take a look at the site logs on my hosting service and the Google Search console and see if I can see if I’ve had any visitors. And then put a bit more effort into improving this aspect. I guess I should create a Facebook page for The Ferryman to point to the site. It’s just I’ve never been a great fan of Facebook and it gathers a lot of bad press these days which makes me ever more reluctant.
So, next steps... First, check for traffic and how to improve it. Second, I need to improve the look of my “multi-line” links, which I use a lot and they look a bit clunky. And then I need to do a blitz on Norway and write that all up.
I've finally launched her - ferryman.ca is live!
Deadlines are the most hated of things, but often they are just what you need need. Having set today as a "launch date" because it was the second anniversary of starting work on the project, I was determined to meet the deadline. And I did.
To get here I had to clean up a lot of odds and ends, but also I had to be tough and say about a lot of things "that's good enough for now". Even so, when you come to release a product there are always a whole load of little things that seem to suddenly be wrong. I hadn't checked on so many browsers for a while until I put it live on the web. All the modern ones were OK, but good old Internet Explorer looked garbage. The main reason was I'd used CSS variables var() to make my CSS file cleaner and better, but these are not supported by IE (and some other, lesser browsers). That left about 10% of Canadian users unable to really use ferryman.ca. So I hurriedly coded fallbacks for all the var() usage, and fixed a couple of other quirks and now IE works "well enough". Hopefully I'll improve it some more before long - just in time for everyone to stop using it IE!.
So, today I only told my family about its being live. I enabled the search engine crawler-bots yesterday, but that means it may take a few days before it starts showing up in searches. Better to start slow so the most embarrassing problems can be found by a friendly audience.
Of course I want people out there to notice the site and spend some time, but there's no way I expect a lot of traffic. Bit by bit I will push it - I guess I'll have to have a ferryman.ca Facebook account one day?
Anyway, it's a relief it's now out there and I can now go back to adding bits as and when and where I want. And then getting out to use and photograph a few more ferries.
Finally back to work
I was so close to being able to make the site public back in May this year but there were just too many things going on. I had reached the stage where I needed to finalise the look and feel and tighten up the front end pages. But those jobs need more than a few minutes squeezed between life's other chores, so in the end it has taken me 6 months to get back to work on the site
Not that the summer was a complete write off for Ferryman. I spent a month in Norway, Sweden and England, and although I didn't set out to gather material for the site, I saw an awful lot of ferries and rode on a few.
So, working on it again and very much aiming to take it public by the second anniversary of starting work, which is just 10 days away.
Norwegian and Swedish ferries
Back in Canada now after over a month in Norway, Sweden and England. I've just downloaded the 3,600 photos I took on the trip and had a very quick look through them.
The trip included a few days each in Oslo, Bergen and Stockholm and a 15 day voyage up the coast of Norway ending in Svalbard. I didn't go looking for ferries, but they were everywhere, and I couldn't help but have lots of photos of them, which will of course take quite a time to process and get into this site.
It set me thinking how insignificant my Ottawa and Saint Lawrence project was compared with the network of ferries in Scandinavia. So many parts of coastal Norway and Sweden rely on dozens of different ferries just to link their communities. In these areas ferries are everyday tools of transport, and in many cases are as similar to each other as the cars and trucks they transport, whereas our Canadian ferries are much more varied in their services.
Norway, despite its population being one sixth that of Canada, has a population density of nearly 4 times that of Canada. And we were surprised to notice how populated the Norwegian Atlantic coast was, even in the Arctic. The Gulfstream keeps those waters much more open in winter than most of Canada's coast, so historically the population has grown and thrived on the bounty from the seas. We were barely ever out of sight of humanity as we cruised up the coast. But that coast is so deeply cut by the fjords that ferries are vital.
All the Ottawa, all in one day
OK - not all the Ottawa River because that is darn long, but all the ferries on the Ottawa. I've been fancying doing this for some time - in fact well before I had the idea of setting up ferryman.ca.
We started doing regular trips in 2014 between Pointe-Claire and South Frontenac (near Kingston) when we started building our new house. The direct route down the 401 is 3½ hours, or we can go via Ottawa in 4. Variety is good, and the idea occurred, and stuck with me, of zigzagging all the way along the Ottawa, crossing over using every ferry on the way.
Today we finally got around to it. We got a good, earlyish start in miserable rainy weather and endured the infamous orange cones of Qué construction through a lot of Pointe-Claire before we got to our first ferry on Île-Bizard. Once we'd done our first crossing everything seemed more positive and worthwhile, and bit by bit the rain gave way to more pleasant weather.
Many of the ferries I've been on before at some point, but some of those visits were buried in distant memory.
My firm target today was to get as far as the City of Ottawa before cutting down to South Frontenac, as I didn't know how long the trip would take with all the stopping and waiting. But once we'd crossed the Cumberland ferry we realised we would be going through the outskirts of Ottawa at rush hour. So we crossed back over and carried on to Quyon and crossed there.
We did it! All seven existing ferries on the Ottawa river in one day. Our normal 3½ hours took 11¼ and now we are exhausted. But happy.
Crossed on Howe Island ferries - the first dedicated ferry trip
Getting serious. We took a trip to Howe Island today. Just a 40 minute drive away, but there was never any reason to go there, and until I started researching I didn't even know there was a ferry there.
In fact the maps showed a ferry at both ends of the island, but the information on the east-end ferry was pretty spares. And the island hardly seemed to warrant two ferries, at least not to me as a non-resident. But once on the ground we found both ferries, and had a very pleasant late autumn day out checking out a bit of the Ontario countryside I'd never been to before.
So already the idea of the website is bearing fruit. I had some fun researching, photographing and exploring that I would not have had without this project.
A good start, but lots of work ahead, and I hope lots of fun too.
ferryman.ca domain name registered
Having kicked around the idea of a "Ferries of the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence" website for a couple of months I've now put digital pen to paper and started work.
The next thing was to think of a name. Naming always sounds the fun part... until you actually have to do it! Fortunately it didn't take too long to check the CIRA WHOIS and find ferryman.ca is available. That's a lucky break - I was expecting all the basic good names to be taken.
It has a nice little play on the name, is simple and to the point. And I'm starting to feel that eventually my ferry collection will extend beyond the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence. So I've just paid my bucks and ferryman.ca should soon be mine for as long as I pay the annual renewal.
We're in business!