Ferry ride isn’t a pleasure cruise in COVID-19 summer of 2020

Fewer boats mean longer waits on weekends. No more frolicking on the boat.

By Andrea Brown

Everett Herald

After stuck in line for three hot hours, loudspeakers urge you to stay in your car during the scenic sail across the sea.

The snack bar is closed, the jigsaw puzzles gone from the tables. If you decide to throw caution to the wind and go on the sundeck, you still have to wear a mask.

“This is not a normal year and people shouldn’t expect normal service,” said Ian Sterling, a Washington State Ferries spokesman.

“Traffic is down 50% overall. On weekends, we see these spikes.”

COVID-19 has led to staffing challenges with an older, at-risk workforce. There aren’t enough workers to crew the boats. Some have tested positive for the virus. An infected ticket-taker in Seattle died.

Weekend service on the state’s two busiest vehicle routes, Mukilteo-Clinton and Edmonds-Kingston, went from two boats to one in July. It’s staying that way until further notice.

On weekends, that means one boat per hour instead of two on the 20-minute Mukilteo-Clinton crossing. In Edmonds, it’s a boat every 90 minutes or so for the 30-minute crossing.

Bring water, treats, books, cards, games, toys and headphones and other road trip survival items.

Consider traveling during non-peak times or limiting non-essential junkets. Sure, you need to get away, but those escapes to the islands are not essential, unless you work or live there.

Whidbey Island travelers can skip the ferry and drive around through the breathtaking (though congested on weekends) Deception Pass.

Think we have it rough in Snohomish County?

“There are routes that are suffering even more,” Sterling said.

He said Bainbridge and Bremerton routes were reduced in the spring to one-boat service, seven days a week.

The Mukilteo and Edmonds routes will continue to have two boats on weekdays, Sterling said. There are fewer travelers, but more commuters who rely on the ferry for work.

The pandemic has delayed the opening of the new Mukilteo terminal with improved passenger and car loading. It won’t be ready until the end of the year at the earliest.

This summer has brought more adventures and misadventures at sea.

In early July, a ferry en route to Mukilteo struck a young whale that suddenly surfaced in its path. The humpback, identified by marine researchers as Chip, has not been seen since and is presumed dead.

In July there were six water rescues by ferry workers, who are trained in lifesaving.

“That’s up a lot,” Sterling said. “A lot of people are getting out on the water. A lot of inexperienced boaters.”

Two rescues were on the Edmonds-Kingston route.

Crew members received the agency’s Life Ring Award, given to individuals or an entire crew when the action saved a person’s life.

“These are real badges of honor,” Sterling said.

The ferries take these rescues seriously in other ways.

“The senior class of Bainbridge High School had a competition one year to see who could jump off as the ferry approached the dock. We fixed that by putting a $500 fine on it,” Sterling said.

“We had a guy named Jerry the Jumper for a while we had to ban because he would just show up and jump overboard every single sailing.”

“He had to be rescued a number of times.”

Riders can check a real-time schedule online or on the WSDOT app.

•Andrea Brown can be reached at abrown@heraldnet.com or 425-339-3443.