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"Passenger ferry draws curious, practical riders"

"Brenda Hartman reads a newspaper during a 9-minute Clinton-to-Mukilteo crossing aboard the passenger ferry St. Nicholas.Matt Johnson/staff photoThere was barely a moment to open a newspaper or complete a cell phone call Tuesday morning aboard the passenger ferry St. Nicholas.The 196-passenger catamaran, carrying 25 people from Clinton to Mukilteo, was making crossings in record time on its second day of operation. Plowing smoothly through small waves at an elevation that might seem frighteningly low for ferry riders used to three-story-high car ferries, the St. Nicholas made it from dock to dock on its 9 and 9:30 a.m. runs in just nine minutes, hardly leaving passengers time enough for a cup of coffee.On the job for the next three-and-a-half months while Washington State Ferries does repair work on the Mukilteo dock, the St. Nicholas is now the only midday link between Clinton and Mukilteo. Those who insist on taking a car ferry between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. will be dropped off in Edmonds.So far, most people are still choosing to drive onto a big ferry. But about 25 commuters per run are hopping aboard the St. Nicholas. Clinton dock supervisor Dan Fergusson said Monday that the little ferry's passenger load maxed out at 33 on its first day. The smallest crowd was just 15 people. Fergusson said he hopes ridership grows during the coming weeks.On Tuesday, at least some of the people riding the ferry were there simply for the experience. Langley's Brenda Hartman was a St. Nicholas novice at 9 a.m. Tuesday. She said she arrived early because she wanted to know how the passenger ferry system worked. An occasional walk-on aboard the car ferries, Hartman said she could have taken either the St. Nicholas or one of the big ferries to get to Mukilteo. She chose to have a new adventure.I wanted to do this, she said.Karri Parker also took her first ride aboard the St. Nicholas Tuesday, but had a bit of a time actually getting to the boat. A daily commuter to her job in Mukilteo, Parker had been looking forward to her initial cruise on the ferry. When she arrived at the ferry dock for the 9 a.m. boat, the gate to the ferry was closed and it looked like the gangway might be off limits. But a ferry dock worker soon opened the gate. To get to the boat, Parker and other passengers had to walk the wood gangway to the small, enclosed passenger terminal, then through a series of four 180-degree turns down a section of sloped gangway. Did she find the twists and turns confusing?A little bit, yeah, she said.As they walked to the St. Nicholas, many of the 9 a.m. passengers felt lucky to have avoided the long backup of cars trying to drive aboard the Edmonds-bound car ferry. Rev. Nigel Taber-Hamilton, the new pastor at Freeland's St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, walked aboard with a briefcase in hand bound for a diocese meeting in Seattle. Taber-Hamilton said he chose to have a colleague pick him up at the Mukilteo dock and drive him to the meeting rather than attempt to drive aboard the big boat.I thought I would be out of my mind, he said, referring to the traffic backup.The St. Nicholas makes runs twice hourly from the Clinton and Mukilteo docks. It goes into service each day at 9 a.m. from the Clinton dock and takes its last run at 2:30 p.m. from Mukilteo. The price of a ticket -- $2.50 -- is the same as a walk-on for a car ferry. "

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