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Near-record low tides creating problems for ferries

Record low tides -- reportedly the lowest since 1916 -- are creating opportunities galore for islanders who like to visit tidepools.

The tides are also creating problems for Washington State Ferries.

Puget Sound will be experiencing extreme low tides through July 5. Low tides will make it difficult for some vehicles to board ferries, according to WSF.

Load restrictions will be in effect on certain sailings for vehicles with ground clearance of less than 14 inches and vehicles that have extended rear bumpers or trailers, including RVs, commercial trucks and some small sports cars.

When tides are -1.5 or below, ferries are unable to load low clearance or extended vehicles at many of terminals because the loading ramp becomes too steep and these vehicles have difficulty clearing the hinge point as they cross from the dock to the ferry, spokeswoman Susan Harris-Huether reported.

"Because of the configuration of the dock, this is particularly an issue at the Vashon Island terminals."

Restrictions will be in place for a window on either side of the extreme low tides. From June 17 to July 5, extreme low tides will occur during the morning and mid-day periods.

"Customers with low-clearance vehicles are encouraged to travel in the early morning or late in the day," Harris-Huether reported. "Low-clearance vehicles that arrive at the terminals during the low tide windows will be held until a later sailing."

Steve Rodgers, the ferry system's director of operations, added, “Every year we have this period in early summer where the low tides are such that we need to limit low-clearance vehicles. We will do everything we can to accommodate all travelers with a minimum of inconvenience.”

The Port Townsend/Keystone route will be especially affected by the extreme low tides. Sailing cancellations are scheduled for the morning hours during the first weeks of June and July.

Specific restrictions, Port Townsend/Keystone cancellations and low-tide information for all ferry terminals will be posted daily on www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/.

National Ocean Services said low tides last week were the result of an unusual alignment of the Earth, sun and moon, the Associated Press reported. Stephen Gill, a scientist with the agency in Silver Springs, Md., told the AP the minus 4.3-foot tide last week approached the record of minus 5 feet recorded in 1916 in Seattle.

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