State's new ferry provides a sub view

Like its sister ship, the new Salish is a bit of a fashion disaster. But it improves service on a run where you might spot a whale, or a whale of a Navy vessel.

Outside of a few Mother Nature incidents, including fog delays and low tide cancellations, Washington State Ferries’ newest vessel has been successfully plying the waters of Admiralty Inlet since its debut on July 1. The 64-car ferry Salish restored two-boat service on the Port Townsend/Coupeville (Keystone) route for the first time since 2007. The Salish joins her sister ship, the Chetzemoka, which went into service in November 2010. The two Kwa-di Tabil class ferries will serve the route until Oct. 10, when the run will be reduced to one-boat service for the off-peak season.

I attended the community celebration of the Chetzemoka and the inaugural sailing between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend back in November. There was all the expected organized hoopla: a patriotic band, speeches by Washington State Department of Transportation officials and politicians, and Gov. Chris Gregoire whacking a bottle of bubbly against a ferry deck railing. Then we all sailed away to Port Townsend. But as it goes with many a sibling, boat number two didn’t garner quite the same amount of attention as boat number one. Even I didn’t rise to the occasion. Not only did I miss the June 30 party in Port Townsend, the governor was MIA too. Among the dignitaries in attendance were Washington State Department of Transportation’s ferry chief David Moseley and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen.

I took the Salish for a round-trip spin on July 3, two days after her debut. My plan this time was to drive to the ferry terminal at Keystone, now officially known as the Coupeville terminal, and walk on the Salish. I parked my car on the road near the terminal and purchased my ticket ($2.75 one-way) in the terminal waiting room and awaited the arrival of the 12:45 ferry.

As the Salish eventually came into view under partly cloudy skies, she looked remarkably like the Chetzy. In talking with one of the ferry workers, he said she was identical, except for the art work and photographs on the walls. And yes, she has that familiar trademark list, plus being top heavy and a bit boxy like her big sister. Or as I described the Chetzy in a previous Crosscut blog, “She’s somewhat of a fashion disaster on the water.”

I boarded the boat with a couple dozen others, day trippers who were off to Port Townsend (PT). Things were a little on the wavy side to begin with, but soon settled into a smooth, 35-minute ride. Shortly after departing the island, I took a photo of Whidbey’s Keystone Spit and Ebey’s Prairie, and posted it on Facebook. Within 10 minutes, a comment popped up: “Wave to us, Sue! We’re on the Chetz!” And there she was, the Chetzemoka, passing us by just like my FB friend reported. I waved, but I don’t think she saw me. Then a familiar red, white, and blue boat came into view, the Victoria Clipper IV. It was en route from Victoria, B.C., to Seattle, and appeared to be racing a small, red sailboat. But soon the Clipper pulled away and took the lead, leaving the sailor all alone with the wind.

The Salish has all the amenities of her big sister: bike racks with a view; newspaper boxes (yet to be filled); and the Ferry Boat Cafe, featuring hot food, wraps, sandwiches, snacks, and beverages. Being a veteran ferry rider, I shy away from ferry food, and would grab a bite in Port Townsend instead. After spending a few hours in PT (where I caught a matinee at The Rose Theatre and inhaled popcorn for lunch), I boarded the 3:45 ferry back to the island. This time I was on the "old" Chetzemoka.

By now, the summer grey skies had switched to full-on blue, and everything was awash in Technicolor. It was too nice to stay indoors, so I roamed the Chetzy, soaking up our summer’s elusive Vitamin D and watching the pods of generations stroll by: old ones, young ones, not quite ready to be born ones. I overheard English, Spanish, German, and even detected some Canadian accents, eh? But soon the view shifted from the people to the water, as passengers beelined to the side of the boat. There, cruising up the middle of Admiralty Inlet, was a submarine. Not yellow, but black. It was accompanied by a couple of large escort ships, with a smaller U.S. Coast Guard vessel tailing the military flotilla. The fellow standing next to me said it was most likely a Trident nuclear sub headed back to Naval Base Kitsap at Bangor. Another remarked that he was hoping to see whales, but a submarine was OK, too.

Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. You can reach her at sue@suefrause.com.


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