Haida Gwaii is off the northern coast of BC, just south of Alaska.

Haida Gwaii is off the northern coast of BC, just south of Alaska.

Prince Rupert. The ferry to Haida Gwaii sails at 10 PM, but cars have to be in line at 8. I watch the goings-on through the wet windshield. Foot passengers are dropped off at the front of the terminal. Some unload boxes of supplies; others have groceries or sports bags or backpacks or nothing but a purse and a hoody slung over their shoulders. Many carry a pillow or sleeping bag for an overnight in the passenger lounge. Vehicles are full of passengers or cargo or both. The minivan ahead of me is loaded to the ceiling with groceries. The pickup truck beside me carries a cheerful cargo of bedding flowers, garden supplies, lumber, beer, and bottled water.

Vehicles begin to move and I am waved aboard. There is a long careful process for loading the cars, and tonight’s sailing is sold out. Ferry workers tuck vehicles into every possible corner of the car deck. Once I’m inside the belly of the ship, deckhands direct me to the left, then up a steep ramp to another level, then into a corner beside the pickup truck with the bedding plants, next to the stairwell. It takes some careful directions from the crew to get my car where they want it. They guide other cars to fill the space around me. When this whole top section is full, they direct another pickup, down on the lower level, to turn around and back up the ramp. When it’s in place on the ramp, they block its wheels and beckon another one up, also backwards. I watch, greatly relieved that I’m not one of those backing-up-the-ramp drivers. Around me, people are milling about getting what they need from the cars (there is no access to the car deck during the voyage), and catching up on news. “I was just picking up my car from the shop. New transmission!” “Eye doctor.” “How’s your mother doing, anyway?”

Loading the ferry: backing up to park on the ramp.

Loading the ferry: backing up to park on the ramp.

I take my bedroll upstairs to the lounge and stake out what I hope will be a quiet spot to spend the night, then walk out on deck and stand in the rain to watch more of the loading choreography. I overhear a deckhand telling a passenger that it will be a rough sailing. I can’t help it: I feel a flutter of excitement.

We depart on schedule, and after walking around the boat and exploring all the areas I’m allowed to access, I roll out my bedding on the floor, and settle in for the night. I wake several times grinning in the dark as we rock and roll our way across Hecate Strait.