I have a thing for ferries. Since 1994, I’ve relied on them for transportation to and from my home. First, it was The Lady of the Lake, the passenger-only ferry that took me the 55-mile length of Lake Chelan when I lived at its head in Stehekin, WA. You can read about many of those sailings and life on the lake in my memoir, Hiking Naked.
After two years in Stehekin, my family and I moved to Lopez Island, WA. This summer we’ll celebrate twenty-two years of sailing on the Salish Sea to and from the mainland with the Washington State Ferries. A division of the Washington State Department of Transportation in operation since the early 1950s,WSF is the largest ferry system in the U.S. Its 21 vessels transport 24 million passengers every year through some of the most picturesque scenery in the world. Unlike The Lady of the Lake, ferries that serve Lopez carry 100 or more vehicles in addition to passengers (including livestock and delivery trucks of all sizes).
This mode of transportation is one of the most relaxing, inspiring, and tranquil I’ve ever experienced. Most days, the gentle rocking of the vessel slows my heart rate (except at those times winds are roaring, tossing the 380-foot vessel side-to-side). Announcements of whale sightings send passengers dashing to starboard or port to catch a glimpse. And for a writer, the ferry is one of the best people-watching and eavesdropping places around.
It’s no surprise, then, that I didn’t hesitate when I had a chance to take a ferry across Lake Windermere in Great Britain while traveling among Friends. The fifteen-minute crossing travels the narrowest part of the lake in Cumbria every day except Christmas and Boxing Day, just as it’s done for more than 500 years. Although the current vessel, Mallard, can carry 18 vehicles and 100 passengers, there were only a dozen cars on the gray, blustery, weekday when I travelled.
Still, I was charmed.
I’m taking my fascination with ferries a new direction this summer. On August 1, I’ll become the first Writer-in-Residence on the WSF Interisland Ferry. The Tillikum (Chinook jargon for “friends,” “relatives”) is the vessel that usually makes this run, sailing only between Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan islands. Details are still in the works, with an official announcement coming in July, but I’ve already done some trial runs. The Tillikum (or its substitute if it’s in the shop for repairs) will become my floating office. My assignment: to observe, study, and write about, well, ferries, as well as the Salish Sea and threats to its well being.
I’ll keep you posted about my new project. And if you see me on the Interisland, don’t expect me to disembark until I’ve made one or more complete loops. Welcome aboard!