The MV Coho: A low-budget response to winter tropics cravings

The Coho sails between Port Angeles and Victoria, BC any time of year. Plus, it's easy on your wallet.
The MV Coho in Victoria.

The MV Coho in Victoria. Gord McKenna

With the winter solstice looming on Dec. 21, people in the Pacific Northwest often begin lusting for warmer climes, flip flops and blue skies. Maybe Hawaii, Mexico, or even a Caribbean cruise — anything to break up the drizzly, grey gloom that envelops us in its chilly grasp. But as much as I long for a winter retreat, I’ve also come to enjoy being in my own backyard this time of year. Not only do we have it mostly to ourselves, local getaways are easier on the debit card and don’t wipe out those precious vacation days.

Earlier this autumn, I took the Black Ball Ferry Line’s MV Coho from Port Angeles to Victoria, B.C., for an overnight stay. It was the middle of September, during our long stretch of hot weather, and my trip began on a morning ferry from my home on Whidbey Island to Port Townsend. From there, it was a 47-mile drive to the Black Ball Ferry Line terminal on East Railroad Avenue in downtown Port Angeles.

I had made a car reservation on the 12:30 p.m. sailing ($58.50 one-way for vehicle and driver, $16 for passengers), and arrived the suggested 60 minutes in advance. The dock was filled with an abundance of RVs and retirees, passengers milling about in the late morning sun. Off the port side of the dock was the Polar Resolution, an 894-foot crude oil tanker, and at noon the MV Coho arrived from Victoria. On the dock, drivers, passengers and four-legged creatures returned to their vehicles for the 90-minute sailing to Vancouver Island (pets are allowed on board certain areas of the ship).

The Coho was built in Seattle for $3 million in 1959, at the time the most expensive and largest privately funded passenger and vehicle ferry built in North America. The 341-foot vessel, designed by Seattle naval architect Philip F. Spaulding & Associates, was built at the Puget Sound Bridge & Dry Dock (the former Todd Pacific Shipyards, purchased by Vigor Shipyards in 2011).

The Coho made its inaugural run from Seattle to Port Angeles on Dec. 27, 1959 with a stop in Port Townsend. From there, on to Port Angeles for ship touring by the locals, and the next day a special voyage across the Strait of Juan de Fuca with state and provincial dignitaries on board. Its first commercial sailing to Victoria was on Dec. 29, carrying 225 passengers and 60 vehicles. Until 1973, the M.V. Coho not only sailed between Port Angeles and Victoria with vehicles and passengers, it also carried freight trucks between Seattle, Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Victoria.

The waters churned as we pulled away from the dock in Port Angeles, with the Olympic Mountains rising in the background and the city’s buildings growing smaller and smaller. Off the port side, we passed the U.S. Coast Guard’s Station Port Angeles, established in 2003 at the end of Ediz Hook to “meet the challenges of a dynamic international border with Canada, and the growing Homeland Security mission in and along the Straits of Juan de Fuca” (U.S. Coast Guard/U.S. Department of Homeland Security).

I’d been aboard the MV Coho one other time, back in the ‘70s, so it was fun getting reacquainted with her. She’s a beauty, especially compared to the Washington State Ferries’ fleet. I headed for the Solarium Deck, which features both covered and open seating. One level down on the Main Deck are the Forward Lounge, Mid Ship Lounge and Cafeteria. There’s also a Gift Shop and Coho Duty Free, where shoppers can save on liquor, tobacco and perfume.

The Pursers Office has maps of both Victoria and Olympic National Park, and a seasonal tour desk for information on area attractions. Although there is supposedly free WiFi on board, I never found it, which was fine by me. About an hour into the 22-mile sailing, the captain announced three orcas off the port side, and I headed to the bow of the boat for a better look.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Nov 23, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

It's a real eye-opening experience to go from a WSF vessel to the Coho. The last time I rode the Coho, as we docked in Port Angeles, a cleaning crew came on board and wiped down all the tables and seats. I've never seen that on a WSF vessel. This gives a glimpse of how our ferry system might be operating today if the state hadn't forced the Black Ball Line into bankruptcy and nationalized its domestic fleet in the 1950s. The Black Ball Line wasn't a panacea, but compared to the sclerotic, moribund state ferry system, it's great to dream about what a modern, efficient, self-supporting ferry service we might be enjoying today.

dbreneman

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 5:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course the Coho is nicer. It cost $32 each way for my Vespa and me (as Ms. Frause points out, that would've been almost $60 if I'd taken my car). B.C. Ferries got privatized a while back, and the ride from Tsawwassen to Sidney is $38 ($21 for me, 17 for the scooter); I'm told ridership on B.C. Ferries is way down. No kidding.

WSF's problems can be laid at the feet of the citizens of the State of Washington, who not only want state government to do everything for them but don't want to pay for it, they refuse to even consider an intelligent discussion of tax reform, and therefore adequate funding of state services...

orino

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 4:12 p.m. Inappropriate

The ship is a nice ship. It is not that expensive if you walk on. One may take public transit to Port Angeles from Seattle (it is a journey, but fun, and cheap), there is also a Greyline bus. I can get to Victoria on public transit, and the Coho, for about 17 dollars total.

jhande

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Also, It is not wise to take a short vacation to a warm place in the middle of a Seattle winter. You come back and immediately go into a depression for the rest of the winter. Seriously, if you go to Hawaii in December/January for a week, or two, you will hate life when your return flight lets you off in dark, wet, Seattle winter. It is better to go and stay in Hawaii until the newspaper shows Seattle to consistantly be in the 60's. Live on the beach if you have to, anything, do not torture yourself.

jhande

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 2:03 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree, jhande, a mere week in Hawaii is really depressing when one returns home to the grey and damp of the Pacific NW. Although about every other year I go that route, and am only sorry when I'm on the return flight home and see my healthy color slowly fading to pale. I tend to like to embrace the season, so if it's winter, I head for the hills of snow or go storm watching on the ocean. And in summer, I prefer staying home on Whidbey Island, except for a June like we had this year when it never stopped raining. But I don't think I'll ever be a full time snowbird and fly away for an entire winter ... I sort of enjoy donning my cold and foul-weather gear.

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