by Captain Maniac

Mr. Big on the Nanaimo ferry, probably around 1981.

Stringbean (with serious “hat hair”) at Nanaimo ferry terminal, 1975.

Art & Colin on Nanaimo ferry, 1975.

Art on Nanaimo ferry, 1975. The morning after the night before!

One of the first times we played at the Tally-Ho in Nanaimo, 1975. After several years and several return visits, we pretty much owned the town!

Although Vancouver Island had plenty of homegrown talent and an abundance of rock groups (see the Royal City Music Project website), most of the touring music groups were in fact based in Vancouver, and like Sparkling Apple, had no choice but to ride the ferry to get to their destination. Standard practice in the 70s was for bands to play a week-long stint in bars and nightclubs in British Columbia, including Vancouver Island, and of course our band was only one of a multitude of rockers enduring exactly the same routine.

After a week’s gig Far From Home, it was only natural that most bands (including Sparkling Apple) would pack up their gear on Saturday night and afterwards head for the nearest ferry terminal (Swartz Bay or Departure Bay) to catch Sunday’s first ferry home. After finishing the last set at 2am, a leisurely teardown would be completed by 4 am, leaving only two hours to kill until Sunday’s first ferry departure at 6am. It was on the Sunday early-morning ferry that we would encounter all the other rock bands who had played on Vancouver Island that week and had exactly the same intention as we did! Bands like Kickaxe, Trooper, Jerry Doucette, Bowser Moon, etc. would all be aboard for the same reason we were. Because of this coincidental occurrence, we would for ever after refer to Sunday’s first ferry as The Rock n Roll Boat, a name which now lives in infamy.

Ding and Art with Italian wine on car deck of ferry. Despite the lack of a corkscrew to open the bottle,
Art improvises with a screwdriver! 1977.

Previous mention has been made of our ferry adventures on these pages (see Flying Saucers Rock n Roll) as well as on The Official Sparkling Apple Blog. Things became almost automatic and rote after a while: after our band truck boarded the ferry at either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen (yes, that is a First Nations name), we would pile out and head straight for the cafeteria, where the unintelligible Asian cook would holler “You want Beal Cullet or Beep Dip?” (this was loosely translated as, “Good afternoon, my good man. Would you kindly honour us with your presence and partake of the Veal Cutlet or the Beef Dip as a lunchtime selection?”) There was no bar aboard, otherwise that WOULD have been our first stop, but after lunch, a visit to the video games area was in order, where 70s favourites included Space Invaders, Asteroids or Pong and not much else (video games were at that time in their infancy). For a brief time in the early 70s, there was live entertainment in the forward lounge, and suitably subdued (and kid-friendly) bands would perform for us, in a world where digital distractions such as iPods and cell phones had not yet been invented. As the journey took about an hour and a half,  the name of the game was to amuse oneself to the best of one’s ability, or until boredom took over, whichever came first. It was therefore not uncommon for a stray band member to sneak down to the car deck and have a nap in the band truck, although the pungent stench of the ferry’s diesel fuel made this an unpleasant choice. Once approaching the terminal, we would pile back in the truck, and drive off the ferry (once it had docked) to head to The Gig. The whole process repeated itself in reverse on the return voyage!

6:30 AM: Art plays Asteroids on the Queen of Mushroom while Woody watches. 1980. We thought the game was called ASS-teroids, due to the fact that “Hemorrhoids” had such a negative connotation.

All BC Ferries were named the Queen of Somewhere, i.e. Queen of Nanaimo, Queen of Victoria, Queen of Burnaby, Queen of Coquitlam, etc. It was our custom, then, to name whatever ferry we were sailing on as The Queen of Mushroom.

Today, the Island Highway serves towns like Campbell River and Port Hardy with ease. However, back in the olden days, long before there WAS an Island Highway beyond Parksville, it was a major undertaking to get to north Island communities. In 1974, the band was booked for a dance in Alert Bay, which entailed an all-day journey on THREE ferries: after sailing to Nanaimo, we would then have to drive up-Island to Kelsey Bay, and then sail on the once-per-day ferry to Port McNeill (that ferry alone took four hours). From Port McNeill, yet another ferry ride was necessary to get to Sointula and Alert Bay. After completing the Alert Bay dance for the First Nations community (where a large aboriginal woman named “Too Much” would toss around long tables and benches to the delight of viewers), we would be required to wait until the 4pm ferry the next day to get back to Port McNeill and Kelsey Bay. By the time we were sailing down the Johnstone Strait, it was dark, and we felt like we were on the Ship of Tools! The water was particularly choppy and stormy that night, my friends, and after the ship bobbed around like a cork, a terrified voice came over the PA system, advising, “Attention passengers, do not worry or panic. There is nothing to be concerned about. We won’t sink.” Howls of derisive laughter! By the way, bands playing in Powell River should be advised that to get there, a journey of TWO ferries is required: Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, and Earls Cove to Saltery Bay. Hey, this is BC!

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