Updated: Jun 6
It was a typical cold and rainy January night in the Pacific Northwest. More specifically, on the southernmost island in the Salish Sea,... Anderson Island, WA. Home to a skosh more than a thousand folk, this little piece of paradise is a time capsule of sorts. Life moves a little slower, and there is a sense of community that you just won't find in many places in todays "disconnected" societies.
Part of what helps maintain that "slow(er)" way of living is the fact that Anderson Island is water craft accessible only. No bridge and no airstrip means you either ride the ferry or your own personal boat. With a majority of the island's population being without a personal watercraft, the ferry really is the lifeline to what I like to call, "America". That chunk of land across the moat from our paradise,... "America"! There are many reasons to go to "America". Many folks go to "America" for work, some to shop for essentials, while others just go to party and cut loose. No matter their reasons for going to "America", the common reality is that all of these people need to get back to the rock at some point.
The title of this post is "We Have The (S/V) Solution". With every solution, comes a problem. Am I right?! Well, here's the problem to our (S/V) Solution. Unreliable ferry service. Either due to over-use, improper maintenance, understaffing, unforeseen break downs(refer to improper maintenance), or natural disaster,... the ferry will be unavailable to us at times. Inevitable it is that folks are going to end up stranded either on the island needing to get off, or off island needing to get home. Or, maybe those partyers just partied a little longer than planned and missed that last boat. Been there myself. No shame. However, that is precisely where our (S/V) Solution comes into play.
You see, the name of our sailing vessel (S/V) is Solution. She's a classic 1979 sloop rigged Newport 30 MkII. When not under sail, She is pushed by a (1995) 3 cylinder Kubota D850 tractor engine (18hp). Solution is extremely comfortable under way, above and below deck.
S/V Solution's main mission over the past 3 years has been dutifully sharing the beauties of South Puget Sound with her passengers for South Sound Sailing Tours.
On the evening of January 17th, 2023 her mission would expand. The ferry that services Anderson Island had broken down and left many Islanders stranded on the island and in America, with no backup plan. S/V Solution became that backup plan.
With my wife & teenage daughter stuck in "America" also, I was well aware of the ferry "issue", and continued to monitor the (lack of) progress throughout the evening of the 17th, and into the early morning hours of January 18th. I could sense a growing frustration with the situation, as well as the ever-growing number of folks that NEEDED to get off the island in the morning, for whatever reasons. I'm always looking for a reason to get out on the water, so my trusted First Mate John "The Secret Weapon" Bezusko and I went down to Oro Bay Marina that night and prepared Solution for her rescue mission(s) the next day. First call for a ride actually came on the evening of the 17th. Our good friend Garrett "BMB" Reinagel had an urgent appointment with one of his patients. I let BMB know to meet me at Oro Bay by 0745 for a 0800 departure. Once I posted on my personal Facebook page, and then the "Meanwhile, on Anderson Island" Facebook group, and gave folks some hope of reaching "America" in the morning, my phone didn't stop ringing. I finally fell asleep around 0300.
The next day, I caringly delivered 17 grateful Islanders one way or the other across Nisqually Reach so that they could go about their lives without a hitch. Here are a couple of pictures shared by just a few of the wonderful folks I had the pleasure of spending the day with...
And,... out of all of this was born...
This is where you might expect the story to end, and for a couple of weeks, the ferry service worked well. Then came the afternoon of February 24th. As I was up near Brown's Point, in Tacoma, dropping our daughter Zana off at her friends house for the evening, she says to me, as she exits the car, "Looks like the ferry is broke." This is at approximately 1600. My first thoughts were, "How am I going to help anyone if I'm over here?!" and "Who do I know with a boat at the ready to get me and deliver me to Solution?" I called The Secret Weapon, and wouldn't you know it, he's on the mainland too. Next, I call 'Able Body' Jacob Anderson and ask him if he has a boat that he could get me in. He tells me that he does not. Then, he offers up a suggestion that would end up being the catalyst for an adventure like none I have ever been a part of. Jacob says, "Do you think if I go down to the boat, that you could talk me through what to do to get her started, underway, and to you?"
Yeah, this OCD, Do Everything Myself Captain is probably not going to jump on that train immediately. Let's see what else we can come up with. Turns out that we couldn't come up with anything else, and before I could even say let's do it, AB Anderson and his amazing partner Dana were out the door and at the dock awaiting instruction. Without re-enacting every detail of the scene, I am going to let you know that they remarkably accomplished all pre-departure tasks and successfully had Solution underway.
Once Solution reached the public dock at Steilacoom, AB Anderson landed her in a way that had me thinking this wasn't actually his first time, even if it was. We quickly escorted 15 eager souls down the ramp and welcomed them aboard Solution. Within minutes, we were off of the dock and steaming back towards Anderson Island. It felt good to be at the helm, and it felt great to be able to help my fellow Islanders.
That evening we made 8 trips in total, and transported 122 people one way or another. Not only were folks stuck on the mainland, but there were many contractors, tradespersons, and family members that went out to the island that day with full intent of leaving that day also. For them, I'm happy I could help too. We ran until we had no more calls for a ride, which was at approximately midnight.
Throughout the evening, I had been taking countless calls and texts from people on both sides asking if I would be running again the next day. I could only answer with a resounding "YES". If my neighbors need me, I'm going to be there, and my neighbors needed me. Here is how I set our schedule for Saturday, and subsequently all day Sunday as well,...
DEPARTING ANDERSON ISLAND DEPARTING STEILACOOM
By the time I woke up on Saturday morning, at 0500, I had napped a total of 2.5 hrs. After the previous evening's events, there was still much preparing to do to be ready to get up and go, and be off of the dock at Oro Bay Marina and to the Riviera Marina dock for a 0630 departure. Not to mention, the intent was going to be to run all day or until the PC ferry was back on line.
The Secret Weapon had joined me the previous evening once the sun went down, just to be safe. On this day, and on Sunday, he would be aboard for most of it.
Although the temperature was only in the high 20s to low 30s for this entire evolution, rarely did I ever feel cold. Dressing in several thin warm layers makes all of the difference. Having an amazing wife to bring warm food helps too! Admiral Reth even made several trips to the Riviera Marina to gather our wet gloves and hand us the dry warm ones she just pulled from the dryer. She brought them to us in an insulated lunchbox. [insert extreme laughing emoji] This scene repeated itself every few trips for 2 days straight.
This is what day 2 looked like on the charts. 14 trips across, one way or the other, and over 50nm traveled. To put that in perspective, we could have left Steilacoom and traveled all the way to Port Ludlow. That is a beautiful trip by the way :) Push play below and see for yourself.
On Sunday, I picked The Secret Weapon up from his lair at zero dark thirty, and we were ship shape and on time at the Riviera Marina for our first departure at 0630, even with the horrid conditions we were finding ourselves in. Our ship would not waver on this day though. We saw it all, from sunshine to rain and then pelting hail. What's an adventure without these things?
On Sunday, we completed another 14 trips through it all. We added another 57nm to our total distance. Here are the official totals for the two and a half days:
514 passengers,... of which some I knew, but many I did not.
63 dogs (0 accidents!)
4 guinea pigs (probably hundreds of accidents, but well contained)
37hrs underway in a 50hr timeframe with 5hrs of sleep
To give you an idea of how far 136nm is, push play on this 9 second video
As I write about this from the only perspective I have, one of pure elation throughout this endeavor, as I was 110% in my element, doing what I love, I don't want to lose sight of the real story. The only reason that this opportunity presented itself is because of the lackluster job that the managing entities for our Pierce County Ferries have been doing, for years. Their lack of preventative maintenance, along with poor planning has their vessels constantly in danger of being pulled from service.
The Christine Anderson has just recently returned from a more than 4 month period in dry dock, so one would think that she should be ready to go. She returned a month ago, and has yet to see a day of service. Apparently, the pump for the fire suppression system failed upon Coast Guard inspection. Turns out that this pump hasn't been made in a more than a decade. The manufacturer has determined that they can still make us this pump, along with some extras for the future. The process will take several more weeks though. While we wait for this vital part to be made, we have one boat at our service, OR NOT. The Steilacoom II is scheduled for dry dock herself, and seems to be limping her way along until the time arrives. Two of the cylinders on the generator that runs the ships systems and safety gear failed and thus the ferry could not operate.
Sounds like the perfect storm, yeah?! That's exactly what it is. Although, it is 100% preventable with proper planning. How could a boat be in dry dock as long as the Christine Anderson was and NOT be ready to go upon return? How could they NOT identify that this failed pump was failing? That's an easy one. They never ran tests on the pump. Seems like this safety system was completely ignored,... for who knows how long.
As for the Steilacoom II, seems to me that having a backup generator at the ready at all times may be a good idea moving forward. There are a lot of things that probably need to change moving forward, and I can't pretend to know what all of those are. So, for the time being, I'm just going to make myself available to my neighbors, should they need a ride one way or another. As I write this, a new alert came in from the ferry stating that several runs will be cancelled this coming Saturday, so that they may get the generator repaired. Looks like I'm going to have another busy day doing what I love.
While we move here knowing and expecting occasional hiccups, the continuing poor track record of this management team needs to be addressed, because the breakdowns are becoming all too common.
Thankfully, the issue with our ferry system caused enough of a stir to get the local news outlets interested, even if one of them couldn't spell my name correct. It's something to just be going about your business and then you turn around and there is a big camera in your face. After the initial surprise of it wore off, I enjoyed speaking with them all. I was interviewed by KIRO 7, Brisa Mendez at Q13 FOX, and by Shea Johnson of the Tacoma News Tribune, with Ruralite Magazine yet to come. As "cool" as it is to say I'm on the news and all, I really only hope to help shine an even brighter light on the ferry service, and the impact that it has on people's every day lives.
Here are the local news broadcasts:
I'm not able to find the video of the Q13 interview, but here is the link to the story.
Throughout this entire adventure, it was a great honor to serve our neighbors alongside the women and men of Anderson Island Fire & Rescue. These folks are all volunteers, and our island could not be the magical place that it is without there selfless service. Thank You to all of you!