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Ferried away: a photo journey

March 8th, 2005 · 4 Comments


I don’t ride the ferry often and after living here for five years, I don’t think twice about it. Familiarity may breed contempt or at least a casual attitude. However David Weinberger’s kind comments regarding this blog and its ferry coverage helped me realize what I take for granted. I thought that perhaps I should describe what it is like to live on Bainbridge and take the boat to Seattle. I hesitated to write this post, knowing that others who read this blog are more familiar with the ferry than I am, riding daily, but here is my perspective as a mom and occasional commuter…

At first I had planned to use photos from one trip on the boat but later I decided to create a collage, adding pictures from various sailings we’ve enjoyed as a family.


“Time to get up and get on the boat,” I tell my daughters as I wake them in the morning. Riding the ferry to Seattle is unusual for us and it requires changes to our routines.

“Time to get up and get on the boat,” my girls parrot me as they change from pajamas into the clothes we selected the previous day, left in piles on the carpet overnight. I flip my wrist to see my watch as I help my children brush teeth and dress.

Riding the boat to Seattle for a doctor appointment requires careful calculations. Although Washington State Ferries recommends arriving 20 to 30 minutes before sailing, I often try to be at the dock earlier, 45 minutes to an hour in advance, depending on the time of day, to ensure that our car gets on the boat.

I learned this lesson the hard way. When we moved to the island, I was pregnant with Michaela. To go to my ultrasound appointment, scheduled early on a Monday morning, we arrived at the dock and squeezed into the last lane of the parking lot. Ferry workers told us we might not make it onto the boat. Since I needed to appear at my appointment I prepared myself to get out and run onto the boat if we didn’t make it. We did fit, one of the last cars. I can still see the scene and feel the adrenaline as we pulled onto the boat. A crew member told us that Monday mornings are the most difficult morning for ferry traffic. Also in retrospect, I realized that it was also the first Monday after Easter Sunday and spring vacation…now I try to avoid Mondays and consider holidays when planning to ride the boat.


Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island

Wednesday we needed to be in Seattle for a doctor appointment at 11 am. So the boat we needed to catch was the 9:40 am. Therefore we needed to be ready to go to the appointment and Seattle at 9 am.

Often I will schedule breakfast on the boat, especially if the appointment is early enough. Eating requires extra time and often isn’t worth waking the girls up for it, when they can easily munch on the ferry.

However, since the ferries no longer offer food services, anything we want to eat needs to be prepared and packed. I put scones in ziploc bags and grab granola bars. Before the girls woke up, I sliced apples and took juice and water from my stash in the fridge. This time we eat breakfast at home, a treat of toast spread with nutella, to make the meal fast and delectable.

the island ferry dock

Around 9 am we pulled out of the driveway. Ted came with us this time, since he had appointments in Seattle that day.

Commuting on foot is easier than taking the van. Unlike drivers, pedestrians only pay one way so it is more affordable. It also saves gas and is less headache when I don’t have to park the van in Seattle. Once in a while the girls and I have taken the bus to the boat, although this requires traveling during the early commute hours when the buses are running.

Sometimes we pay $10 to park at the ferry dock instead of driving onto the boat, especially if we are planning to visit somewhere on the waterfront or if we can take the Seattle bus. Pedestrians enter the ferry through an elevated walkway that takes a few turns before ending on the boat.

glass mural made by island schoolchildren

Say “ferry” to Elisabeth and she says “Run! Run!” and starts jogging. I credit this reaction to the last time we went to Seattle with our friends. Overambitious, I tried to run an errand before arriving at the terminal. As the girls and I began on the walkway, I heard we had three minutes to make it to the boat. Three minutes with three young children can be tight. So we started running…we made it onto the boat, hyperventiliating and a bit embarrassed…”Run! run!” Elisabeth remembers…

The Washington State Ferry website provides a camera showing the parking lot and also estimated waiting times.

the empty Eagle Harbor parking lot – my picture

Another aspect of riding the ferry is the fare. Cars are charged $10 each way in the off-season. Prices are raised on Mother’s Day and stay increased through October, during the tourist season. A yearly hike in the ferry rates also occurs each spring.

Children under 5 ride free, whether in a van or on foot. By the end of 2005 we will be paying for both Abigail and Michaela when we commute to Seattle. The cost of traveling to Seattle is becoming considerable for our family.

If we ride often enough, for example during my pregnancies, we buy a ticket book which saves some money, purchasing 20 rides at a slightly lower price per ticket. However, the book only benefits us if we are going to use all the tickets within the three month time period of validity. Otherwise money is wasted.

The time it takes to pay the fare can be the time it takes to miss the boat. So Ted and I like to keep exact change, in case we need to speed through the booth and into the parking lot. Missing the boat can be painful.

seeing a rainbow in the rain as we wait for the boat

On Wednesday we arrived in the parking lot with plenty of room to spare. While we waited, the Washington State Patrol K-9 crew walked up and down the aisle inspecting the cars, one of the few visible reminders of the increased security.

We usually watch the boat pull into the dock and unload. Then it is our turn to get on the boat, a few minutes before the scheduled sailing time.

Ferry crew, in flourscent orange and yellow safety vests, direct the traffic. Depending on emergency vehicles (ambulances and ladies in labor go on the boat first – it happened to us once!) and vanpools, the ferry is usually loaded in the front first and then the side wings are filled. Bicycles and motorcyles board before cars.

after the motocycles (picture taken from the Seattle dock)

My favorite place to park is on the upper level wings. From there the kids and I have (one flight) fewer stairs to climb to get to the cabin. I always wait until the cars around me have been parked before trying to unload the girls.

parking on the boat

As the ferry ride begins, safety announcements are made, simliar to those made during an airplane ride. Riders are told what to do in the event of an emergency (seat cushions). We are also warned not to leave any personal belongings unattended. It is serious: once I was questioned after leaving coats on a bench during a visit to the restroom.

saying goodbye to Bainbridge: Wing Point

The 7:05 ferry is the largest commute west of the Mississippi [fact read from the Seattle Times years ago]. This large number of passengers was why Al Gore decided to campaign on the boat in 2000 (Ted has stories and pictures!). It is also one of the reasons why the ferries have been subject to intensified security measures.

watching out the window

During the sailing, we often go upstairs although lately the girls have enjoyed staying in the van. Sitting in the car means less work and more reading time for me although it can be tricky to keep them entertained in a small space. If we want a table and bench we need to head upstairs soon after boarding, especially on a sailing during commuting hours.

Walking around the boat can be good exercise. Decks at either end are fun to explore although often windy in winter. “Too cold!” the girls told me on Wednesday.

waves of the wake

On summer days the sun deck can make the commute too good to be true. Strolling around the cars on the base of the boat provides glimpses of the water. A chain stretched across the end prevents people and cars from taking a dip.

looking towards Bainbridge from the base of the boat

It’s always fun to see who I know on the boat. It’s a small enough island that sometimes I do see friends on the ferry. Plus the ferry is the great equalizer. It creates community. Everyone has to take the boat home.

If commuting to Seattle is a necessity, it’s difficult to find a route that offers more beauty than the boat on a sunny day. Both mountain ranges, including Mt. Rainier are often visible. The beauty, community and convenience of ferry commuting remind us why we live on Bainbridge.

Mount Rainier and the Port of Seattle

as well as freighters, tug boats and sailboats, triangles of white on blue.


When I can start to see the Port of Seattle and the skyscrapers I like to get the girls back into their seats. Ted likes to stay longer than I do upstairs but traveling alone has meant I’ve needed more time to help the three girls back into the car and into the seat belts. If I wait longer I can listen for the sound of the engine slowing and often the sight of the other boat in the dock. Two boats on the Bainbridge run and other boats on the Bremerton run all share the same port.


seeing the city


The boat docks. I’m often ferrying kids out of the bathroom or tidying the car at this time. However the other day I was able to watch part of the docking process. Amazing. A friend pointed out to me the water pipes that are connected as the ramp is settled, the chain removed.


We disembark in the order we got on, subject to direction of the crew. If we are trying to be strategic, we usually try to choose which side of the ferry is closer to the road we want to take. Once off the boat, we are in downtown.

Bikes and motorcyles get off first – another incentive to travel with a smaller vehicle. Then the car in front of us. As the red lights disappear and the vehicle moves ahead, I shift gears and pull the brake. With a light tap on the gas we turn the curve and over the dock. I hear the rattle of the ramp and see the skyscrapers. We have arrived.



Tags: island

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jenny // Mar 8, 2005 at 10:19 pm

    Great post Julie. I felt it was accurately detailed and your experience is very similar to mine with my kiddos:) Great pictures too!

  • 2 Katherine // Mar 8, 2005 at 11:27 pm

    What a fun description. Thanks! I’m happy to have experienced it too 🙂

  • 3 Lucy // Mar 9, 2005 at 5:25 am

    The part I liked best when my family rode the ferry when we visited Seattle was the seals around the buoys. Although everyone else was mesmerized by the birds flying right next to the window. It was definitely our favorite part of Seattle.

  • 4 Julie // Mar 10, 2005 at 11:55 pm

    Jenny, thanks! I imagine this post looked too familiar to you. 🙂

    Katherine, thanks for coming along for the ride.

    Lucy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen seals. I’ve heard them on the south side of the island. And I forgot to mention seeing orcas once, when we were bringing our daughter home from the hospital. Please come again and come for a visit!

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