Terica and Brett Ginther with children Brooklyn Taylor and Austin Taylor all are part of the Deception Pass Tours team. They stand on the beach at Deception Pass State Park in front of their boat in 2015. Photo courtesy Terica Ginther.

Former pipefitter gives family, public a boatload of adventures

He couldn’t shake the image.

Brett Ginther would go to sleep at night and have the same dream about an unusual boat.

The dream became so frequent, it started to bother him. The woman who would become his wife urged him to draw a picture of the vessel to get it on paper and out of his head. He listened, filed the sketch away, and the dreams stopped.

Brett and Terica Ginther didn’t know back then that Brett’s recurring dreams in 2004 were more of a premonition.

Although fuzzy at the time, the vision would lead the Oak Harbor couple on a life-altering course that would be both exhilarating and terrifying — and yet, ultimately, rewarding.

Eleven years ago, the Ginthers took a chance and founded Deception Pass Tours, a scenic and whale watching tour business anchored on North Whidbey.

They gave up steady jobs to chase a dream and navigated through difficult times to stay afloat.

“We were newly married at the time and we had two small children,” Terica said. “We were just flying by the seat of our pants trying to get it all figured out.”

Brett Ginther’s passion for boats and a desire to be his own boss provided the initial fuel.

Before embarking on his new pursuit, he worked 18 years as a pipefitter for Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland and started tinkering with ideas to design his own boat.

Having grown up on South Whidbey, spending time as a commercial fisherman in Puget Sound, the thought of being out on the water and sharing the rugged beauty of Whidbey Island with others was appealing.

So he earned his captain’s license.

After all, he wasn’t getting any younger.

“A friend of his at work, a mentor, told him, ‘Whatever you’re doing when you’re 40 is what you’re going to do the rest of your life,’” Terica said. “Brett kind of thought, ‘Do I really want to be building boats the rest of my life?’”

Still, Brett Ginther wasn’t ready to make any bold career changes until 2005 when he saw a boat in a parking lot in Anacortes that nearly caused him to drive off the road, Terica said.

The boat was the one he saw in his dreams — a high-speed, catamaran-style jet boat — or at least, it was eerily similar.

The boat was located in the parking lot of Island Adventures, another whale watching tours business.

“He went in there and he told them he had a captain’s license and they hired him on the spot,” Terica said.

After one season at the Anacortes-based company, Ginther bought the boat, known as the Island Whaler, and he and Terica embarked on their own bold venture.

They worked out a public-private agreement with Washington State Parks to operate out of Cornet Bay — just a short ride in their fast boat to the iconic bridge.

“We saw thousands of people hanging out on the bridge,” Terica said. “We thought we’d be millionaires the first year.

“We thought in our hearts and in our dreams, ‘This is a no-fail plan.’”

April was particularly gloomy and wet that first year, and the low number of customers led the Ginthers to believe they’d made the worst mistake of their lives.

“It was pretty unnerving, I guess you could say,” Brett said. “There were a lot of unknowns.”

Then something magical happened, Terica said: The sun came out and it started getting warmer and warmer.

By the end of the first year, Deception Pass Tours had about 12,000 customers.

Now, the range is between 20,000 to 30,000 annually depending on the weather.

The business has grown from five employees the first year, including the Ginthers, to 15 currently.

From Cornet Bay, the company offers one-hour scenic tours starting in April and more extended summer whale watching tours from May through September.

In 2012, the company started adding gray whale watching tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays out of Oak Harbor Marina during the months of March and April. The tour mostly covers Saratoga Passage but is known to hang around awhile near North Whidbey.

Last weekend, grays were spotted in Crescent Harbor while a humpback was seen in Penn Cove.

“A lot of people who live in Oak Harbor don’t realize the whales are out there,” Terica said. “If they see our boat driving slowly, they should look for whales around us.”

Life as tour boat operators has been a rewarding experience for the Ginthers, as well as a family affair.

Their children — Austin Taylor, 19, and Brooklyn Taylor, 17 — have grown up working in the family business.

Austin Taylor, a college student, began thriving once he moved to the reservation desk and is now manager, his mother said.

Brooklyn Taylor started out as an ice cream scooper at the retail store on State Highway 20 and was promoted to tour guide on the boat.

“She’s building up sea time, too,” Brett Ginther said. “We’re hoping she might get her captain’s license.”

No family is better acquainted with the Deception Pass Bridge and the surrounding environment.

The Island Whaler is involved in about five rescues a summer, Terica said, ranging from kayakers or ill-advised rafters or people who slipped and are stranded along the shoreline.

It also has lent a hand by towing the carcasses of deceased gray whales.

Watching nature’s show is one of Brett Ginther’s favorite parts about the unique view he enjoys.

Aside from the whales, there are the upclose encounters with bald eagles, California sea lions, seals, river otters and porpoises.

He’s watched a seal surface with a salmon in its mouth only to see a bald eagle swoop down and snatch it away.

Recently, a curious sea lion came close to the boat near Holmes Harbor and hung around for awhile.

Several years ago, nearly a dozen pelicans hung around at Deception Pass.

Humpback whale sightings have been more frequent in recent years.

“We’re out here every day in the summer and we see changes,” Ginther said.

Ginther estimates he’s traveled back and forth under the Deception Pass Bridge at least 8,000 times — and even considered trying to enter that statistic in the Guiness Book of World Records.

“I don’t know if they have a category for that,” he said.

The career change has been fun and rewarding. The family is grateful for the mentoring offered by Shane Aggergaard, owner of Island Adventures.

Eleven years into his gig as a boat captain, Brett Ginther still enjoys it.

“Even the everyday things are still exciting to see,” he said.

 

Terica Ginther, owner of Deception Pass Tours, aboard her boat during a cruise in 2016. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times