Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Did water-taxi christening carry message in a bottle?

A new water taxi service is plying the protected waters of Victoria's harbour. The launch brought together political rivals in an age-old ceremony.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
May 30, 2011

VICTORIA

A taxi in familiar yellow and black-and-white checkered livery glides to a stop.

This is one cab you don’t want to hail by stepping off the curb.

A new taxi service has begun in the capital’s harbour waters. Passengers can telephone for service to and from 17 waterfront stops stretching from West Bay Marina in Esquimalt as far up the Gorge as Tillicum Landing.

Most of the stops are along the Inner Harbour connecting downtown to Vic West, a zone where fares are $5. The longest haul costs $20.

A pair of H2O Taxis are operated by Victoria Harbour Ferry Co., which has had a hop-on, hop-off service along the same waters for two decades. The company has a fleet of 14 ferries, each capable of carrying a dozen passengers.

Among the 44 skippers employed by the company are a practicing physician and a retired Swiss Air pilot, who has traded the controls of a passenger jet for the wheel of a putt-putt boat.

Those accustomed to racing along city streets in four-wheeled cabs driven by kamikaze daredevils will be relieved to learn the water taxis putter at a top speed of seven knots (about 13 kilometres per hour).

The company expects the taxis will be used by tourists and commuters.

“We’re confident it will be used by those who don’t want to fight traffic downtown,” said Barry Hobbis, the company’s vice-president of operations and one of four partners in the venture.

The taxis launched the other day with a traditional seafaring ceremony. The event inadvertently brought together political rivals. It did not go as planned.

“We’re all superstitious,” Mr. Hobbis said. “We wanted to make sure the service was off to a mariners’ safe start.”

That meant the two boats needed to be christened in the age-old fashion of having a woman smash a bottle of champagne across the bow.

It should be noted that the failure of a bottle to break is regarded as a bad omen.

Among the invited dignitaries was the mayor of Victoria. In his place came acting mayor Marianne Alto.

Ms. Alto, the labour candidate, defeated Mr. Hobbis, the business candidate, in a hotly-contested council byelection just six months ago.

For the ceremony, Mr. Hobbis purchased two christening bottles. These are filled with carbonated water in a breakable container, wrapped in a fine mesh bag to prevent fragments from falling into the water.

The company has incorporated H2O in the name of both boats.

The deputy mayor got down on her right knee.

“I christen this boat the H2Otter,” she pronounced. “God bless this ship and all who sail in her.”

She delivered a glancing, one-handed blow with the bottle.

Clunk.

“Whoops,” she said.

The next blow was delivered quickly with two hands.

Clunk.

A third blow was preceded by a big backswing, like Geena Davis wielding a baseball bat in A League of Their Own.

Clunk.

A fourth, glancing blow was also unsuccessful.

A fifth attempt failed.

She told laughing spectators that the bottle was sturdy.

She gave three little warm-up taps with the bottle, like a carpenter tired of missing the nail.

“OK, ready,” she said, delivering a solid blow to the bow.

Clunk.

The sixth attempt was unsuccessful. As was the seventh.

It was finally suggested the cork be popped and liquid poured onto H2Otter and H2Orca.

No one would have blamed her had she taken a swig instead of christening the vessel with the fizzy water

GOLLY, GEE: Raise your hockey stick in the air to celebrate the investiture of Howard William Meeker into the Order of Canada. The Parksville resident was honoured in a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa for his contributions to hockey as a coach and broadcaster. His gee-willackers enthusiasm for positional play on Hockey Night in Canada stands in contrast to Don Cherry’s buffoonery in support of goonery.

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