Mystic Sea wins ferry job from Keystone to Port Townsend

A Whidbey Island favorite has been awarded the contract to carry foot passengers between Keystone and Port Townsend beginning Monday, Jan. 5.

Mystic Sea Charters has been chosen by Washington State Ferries to provide passenger-only service for about four weeks, while the regular auto ferry, the Steilacoom II, undergoes routine maintenance.

Automobiles will have to use the Edmonds/Kingstone route during the Steilacoom II's absence.

The 100-foot Mystic Sea, based in Anacortes, is well known on Whidbey Island. Every March it's based in Coupeville for the spring visits by gray whales, and in the summer it provides tours of Deception Pass.

The contract was formally awarded last week but Monte Hughes, who owns Mystic Sea Charters with is wife Cindy, said he wasn't aware until Monday afternoon that their bid was the winner.

Others competing for the contract were P.S. Express of Port Townsend and the Victoria Express out of Anacortes.

Hadley Greene, Washington State Ferries spokeswoman, said the Mystic Sea was awarded the bid due to a combination of factors that made it the "most advantageous" for ferry users. Considerations included vessel size, capabilities and price.

"It wasn't a low-bid situation," Greene said.

The Mystic Sea carries up to 77 passengers and loads passengers from the side. It's powered by a pair of 500-horsepower Detroit 1671 diesel engines.

Admiralty Inlet is known for the roughest winter water in the entire ferry system, but Hughes said his boat will do well in rough seas. "It's been across the Gulf of Alaska eight times," he said. "It's a good sea boat." But he added that if the water's too rough, he won't hesitate to delay departure. Ferry users are used to that as the Steilacoom II frequently waits out rough weather.

Mystic Sea Charters will be paid a flat daily rate of $5,290 to provide the service, which covers the boat, crew, fuel and other expenses.

To make passenger loading and unloading easier, the ferry system will place barges at the existing docks at Keystone and Port Townsend. People will be able to walk right off the boat onto the barge.

Hayes said the boat will be manned by two to three people working two shifts a day. Regular Steilacoom II crew members will stay employed by selling tickets, helping passengers on and off the boat, or by assisting with the car ferry's maintenance.

Hughes was happy to land the ferry contract although he admitted he and Cindy will have to change some plans. "I won't be taking that vacation I was planning," he quipped.

He noted that the Mystic Sea's presence will be a boost to business on Whidbey Island and in Port Townsend, helping provide customers for restaurants, hotels and shops.

The ferry system's Greene said the Mystic Sea's schedule will be slightly different to better complement transit service on both side of Admiralty Inlet. Here's the schedule, beginning Jan. 5:

LEAVE KEYSTONE: 7:10 a.m., 9:10 a.m., 11:10 a.m., 1:10 p.m., 3:10 p.m., 4:35 p.m.

LEAVE PORT TOWNSEND: 6:20 a.m., 8:15 a.m., 10:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m., 3:50 p.m.

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