New ferry’s fast, smooth but . . .
By PETER DUFFY
Editor’s note: Columnist Peter Duffy
joined several hundred Nova Scotians
recently to ride the Whaling City Express,
an American fast ferry visiting Halifax as
part of the municipality’s study into
providing a similar service here.
IN LESS than a minute, the Bedford
waterfront is far behind us.
Effortlessly, this sleek, double-hulled
American ferry is up to almost 55 kilometres
per hour. Behind us, we’re leaving not so
much a wake as an aquatic vapour trail
across the calm waters of Bedford Basin.
It’s exhilarating, standing here in the
cramped stern area, watching familiar
landmarks go whizzing by. And talk about
smooth. Even though this aluminum vessel’s
two 1,400-horsepower diesels are propelling
us along four times faster than the regular
Halifax ferries, there’s no lurching or
This is one s-i-l-k-y ride.
A few feet away, beneath the fluttering
Stars and Stripes, Yvonne Reader of Bedford
is gazing astern. Like a lot of people
aboard today, she’s wondering if the surging
wake will damage the shoreline.
As we reach the huge arch of the MacKay
Bridge, she starts to smile. “I think it’s
going to be negligible,” she murmurs. (She’s
right. The captain tells me later that
initial tests suggest this
Australian-designed ferry would produce no
more wash than any other harbour traffic.)
Two of Yvonne’s neighbours, Nancy Mackay
and Heidi Eggli, appear on deck.
“It’s wonderful,” Nancy announces. “I’d
go into town more often.”
“I definitely hope it’ll pass,” says
Yvonne pats the railing. “We’ve decided,
if the government doesn’t buy it, we’re
going to take up a collection.”
Leaving the three friends to enjoy the
breeze, I wander into the busy passenger
cabin and study a large U.S. Coast Guard
chart of Massachusetts. It shows somewhere
called Buzzard’s Bay. Staring more closely,
I recognize New Bedford and Martha’s
Vineyard, this ferry’s normal run.
I ask crewman Greg Huba about the
vessel’s name. “Whaling City, where’s that?”
It’s the nickname for New Bedford, he
says. “Remember Herman Melville and Moby
Light begins to dawn. “Oh, you mean, as
in hunting for whales?” He nods.
The decor inside this big cabin is
impressive, especially compared to the
stark, unyielding features aboard our
regular harbour ferries.
For one thing, all seats are padded and
come with arm rests. They’re covered in rich
blue upholstery that matches the carpets.
The seats are arranged in twos and
threes, like those on an airplane. A number
of them are facing each other across large
tables. I look around, idly wondering which
one actor Bill Murray sat in. A crew member
was telling me that the movie star once
sailed on this very ferry. There’s even a
decent-sized snack bar at one end, although
it’s not open this morning. With its banks
of tall, smoked-glass windows, this feels
more like being aboard a mini cruise ship
than a work-a-day ferry.
Soon, we’ve reached the apex of our ride.
Just 20 minutes after leaving Bedford, we’re
turning slowly abreast of Georges Island to
start the return trip.
Mayor Peter Kelly is with us today,
asking what people think of the ride. He’s
getting smiles and nods.
He emerges from the crowd. “Some very
positive feedback,” he says happily.
“Everyone’s asking when and how much.”
He asks for my impression of this
morning’s ride. I tell him I think it’s
great. “But . . .”
The mayor’s smile fades. “But?”
“But I’m not sure I’d use it, even though
I live in Bedford.”
I admit to being one of those people
hopelessly addicted to their cars. I try to
explain how comforting I find it, not to
mention downright handy, to have my vehicle
with me at all times.
“Forget fast ferries,” I suggest. “How
about widening the Bedford Highway instead?”
The mayor points me towards the water
speeding by outside. “Look out there,” he
commands. “We don’t have to pave it; we
don’t have to salt it; we don’t have to plow
it. It’s there, and it always will be!”
I nod. “Yes, I know. But I also know,
when I leave home on dark mornings, all nice
and snug in my car, it’s going to take an
awful lot to make me swing left towards a
ferry terminal instead of my usual
right-hand turn towards downtown. Especially
if it’s cold, or wet, or snowing, or . . .”
Frowning, the mayor walks quietly away.
I feel like running after him and telling
him not to worry, that I’m probably the odd
Or am I?
Peter Duffy appears Tuesdays, Thursdays,
Saturdays and Sundays.