By Ken Hegan for MSN

I had a weird and amazing ferry experience this month.

First, a little background. Billed as “one of the world’s largest integrated marine enterprises,” BC Ferries runs 35 passenger & vehicle vessels that cruise 25 routes to 47 terminals. If you live on Vancouver Island, one of the Gulf Islands, along the Sunshine Coast, or on the Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands, the BC Ferries are your lifeline to Vancouver and the mainland [they’re also pretty much a monopoly unless you own your own yacht, helicopter, or heli-cruise ship, something I just invented but will just assume exists somewhere].

Okay so here’s how BC Ferries blew my mind this summer.

I’d ferried my Mini over to the Sunshine Coast and brought a cinematographer, ‘Bill’, to shoot video footage. Our mission: film me jumping off the Davis Bay wharf into the Pacific Ocean. Then Bill had a great idea. He wanted to take his waterproof camera into the water and film me crashing into the water. Cool!


BC Ferries knows how to miss islands & throw lifesavers             Photo: BC Ferries

So Bill stripped to his shorts, clambered down the ladder, plunged in, started treading water, and gave me the thumbs up. I nudged kids aside and jumped into the water beside him. Bill captured some great shots of me breaking the surface and bobbing up to smile and shout up at the kids.

Unfortunately, when we climbed back up onto the pier, Bill realized he’d gone for a 10-minute swim with my Mini car key IN HIS SHORTS.

Now, a Mini car key sounds like it’s designed for tiny wee gnome and fairy hands. But it’s actually a big, round, remote control disk that’s fully electronic and contains a rechargeable battery. To unlock your car, you aim the key and press the remote control button. Alas, there’s no button to make it impermeable to liquids.

Car keyTRAVEL TIP: Never go swimming with your electronic car key — and especially not in saltwater brine.

The key was dripping and looked utterly spent. We hurried back to my car, leaving steamy footprints on the boiling pavement. If the key truly was dead, we were screwed.

“Whatever you do, don’t press the remote control button,” Bill said. “It’ll short out the circuit.”

Naturally, when I got near the car, I instinctively pressed the remote control button. Stupid move. Nothing happened. I’d fried the circuit and the doors remained grudgingly locked. So now we were standing wet beside a highway with my panting dog and no drinking water.

All our valuables, camera gear, and identification were inside the locked car. I hadn’t brought the backup key and had no idea what to do next. The long weekend had just started and already I’d become a wet hobo in an itchy swimsuit beside a highway. My dog frowned at us like we were idiots.

Bill felt terrible about his “boneheaded” move. So after my girlfriend’s mother came to rescue us, Bill fled the coast. He boarded the next ferry back to Vancouver, then raced his truck to my apartment, grabbed my spare key, and popped it into an envelope. Then he drove back to the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay. He was about to park his truck and board the ferry over as a walk-on passenger, when an idea occurred to him. He asked a ferry worker if it was possible to just, you know, deliver the envelope to me like it was an Olympic torch.

“Sure, we’re going that way anyway,” he said.

The guy cheerfully took the envelope, then transported my key on a 40-minute ferry ride over to the Sunshine Coast. After the ferry arrived at Langdale Terminal, I simply went to the office and told them my name. They handed me the envelope with a smile. Didn’t ask for my I.D. and didn’t charge me a cent. It was totally free…and far as I know, there was no security check at either terminal.

Can you imagine an airline offering to deliver a package between cities? Hell, even Greyhound inspects your bags now. I was gob-smacked.

Bottom line: this was incredible service.

Look, I enjoy reading a cynical travel story as much as anyone. I’m suspicious of travel scams, bad customer service, flight attendants making bomb threats, and sneaky, scheming airline CEOs. I love to learn from other people’s horrendous travel disasters and flights, trains, and bus tours gone horribly awry.

But if I witness a gracious act by a calm, capable ferry worker, I’ll gladly point out the kindness. Transporting my car key was a lifesaver. I’m grateful for the courtesy.

Keep up the good work, BC Ferries. Long may ye cruise.

— Ken Hegan


Read all Ken’s travel stories here

Twitter: @KenHegan

For further info on ferry routes and schedules, visit