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Ferry fails, tempers rise on hottest day of the year

Sunday proved a long wait for would-be ferry riders at the Friday Harbor ferry terminal, as Saturday
Sunday proved a long wait for would-be ferry riders at the Friday Harbor ferry terminal, as Saturday's breakdown of the inter-islander boat, the Evergreen State, caused widespread delays for weekend travelers in the San Juans.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

By Steve Wehrly/Journal reporter

Hot sunny weather, end-of-weekend urgency (especially with tired youngsters) and less-than-timely information increased the impatience and frustration for many weekend travelers trying to depart San Juan Island.

Backups began on Saturday when the Evergreen State, being used as the inter-island boat, went dead in the water about 11 a.m. off Friday Harbor. The generator for one of two diesel-electric engines reportedly malfunctioned, setting off an automatic kill switch to both engines.

The Klahowya didn't replace the Evergreen State until, Sunday, after 3 p.m., then apparently went to Lopez and Orcas, maybe back to Anacortes, and finally made it to Friday Harbor at 8 p.m. to take the Lopez and Orcas cars to their destinations. The Yakima arrived in Friday Harbor about 8 p.m. to take a full load of cars to Anacortes, leaving at about 8:30 p.m.

Late ferries are not uncommon leaving Friday Harbor for Anacortes on summer Sundays. But Mike Barnes of Anchor Management Services, which operates the Friday Harbor ferry landing, said after loading two ferries bound for Anacortes late Sunday afternoon, "these were the worst delays I've seen since I started with the ferry system in 1991."

Barnes may have been referring specifically to ferry patrons waiting to depart Friday Harbor for Lopez or Orcas islands. James Stratford and Tim and Miriam Rash had been waiting to return home to Lopez since 10:30 a.m., Sunday; they didn't get on a ferry until 8 p.m.

Stratford, a licensed Merchant Marine ship master, was not happy but philosophical when two ferries in a row took cars for Anacortes, but left him and his wife in line for Lopez.

"I understand the crew of that last boat had been working for 12 hours and needed to be relieved according to Coast Guard rules," he said. "Safety is paramount, but there are exceptions for unexpected circumstances. I just don't know if this circumstance qualifies."

Alex Martinez, her husband and their three kids were in the middle of vacation from Long Island, New York. Alex, a child-care writer, was still smiling when she recounted, "We were eight hours late getting to Seattle from New York. On our way here, we thought were leaving crowds, traffic and trouble behind, coming to the idyllic San Juan Island to take it easy and relax. Now we've been waiting for five hours to move on to Orcas. It's part of the trip, I realize, but it's not fun."

Steve Parmalee of Bellevue has a place on San Juan and comes up many weekends, so he's no stranger to ferry delays.

"After a great weekend like this one, I'm prepared to wait for a while, but I came to the dock at 1 p.m. and was told to to come back at four, which I did.  Now I'm not sure I'll even get off the island at 7:30."

He didn't.

Weekender Craig Matheson, also from Seattle, had a similar story.

"I kind of expected a problem, like happened on the 4th of July, but nobody's telling us anything unless we ask. I'm most frustrated about the lack of accurate information.  At noon, I'm told to expect to get on a ferry to Anacortes at 3:30. Now at 5:30, I'm told I'll be waiting until seven or later."

The international run to Sydney was not affected and was on time both directions. But Brendan Jensen, a Renton hospital worker, was incensed when the Chelan discharged cars from Sydney but didn't load Friday Harbor traffic for Anacortes.

Zack Akin, crew chief loading ferries in Friday Harbor, said, "People were great until about four or five o'clock. Sure people are upset, especially people going to Orcas and Lopez who have been waiting around since 10 or 11 a.m. Most people expect delays in summer, but they want correct information and they get frustrated when the information keeps changing."

 

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