Mystic Sea begins Keystone stops

The Mystic Sea arrives at Keystone Harbor from Port Townsend Monday. The passenger-only vessel will serve the route for approximately four weeks. - Nathan Whalen / Whidbey News Times
The Mystic Sea arrives at Keystone Harbor from Port Townsend Monday. The passenger-only vessel will serve the route for approximately four weeks.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen / Whidbey News Times

Once the Mystic Sea started operating, it turned out to be a pleasant trip.

The Anacortes-based charter began passenger-only ferry service on the Keystone-to-Port Townsend ferry route Monday and will continue for the next four weeks while the car ferry Steilacoom II finishes its stint in drydock for maintenance.

During this period, people with cars and trucks will have to use the Edmonds-to-Kingston ferry route to reach the Olympic Peninsula.

It took several hours for Mystic Sea to commence operations Monday because 50 mph winds and heavy seas delayed installation of a barge Sunday night. The barge allows riders to safely board and disembark the ferry from the Keystone terminal.

The cancelled sailings forced several people to change travel plans Sunday night and Monday morning.

Guemes Island residents Gary Hopkins and Kelly Maloney tried to get home from Port Townsend Sunday. But they couldn’t make it across

Admiralty Inlet because severe weather stopped ferry service.

“We tried to get over last night,” Hopkins said as he finally walked off the Mystic Sea in Keystone early Monday afternoon.

People waiting for the ferry Monday morning were monitoring their emails, anticipating a ferry system alert notifying them of when passenger-only service would begin.

Jeff Willis was trying to return to Whidbey Island after visiting friends in Neah Bay. He had to spend Sunday evening with other friends in Port Townsend. One thing he did note, however, is the

Mystic Sea provides a more comfortable ride for passengers than the Steilacoom II.

“To tell you the truth, I like this little one better than the big one,” Willis said. He found the Mystic Sea seating more comfortable than what the Steilacoom II offers.

During the relatively tranquil 25-minute cruise to Port Townsend, complimentary coffee was available for passengers and the ship’s captain, Monte Hughes, announced over the intercom the sea lions that were swimming near the vessel.

Washington State Ferries last month awarded Mystic Sea Charters the contract to provide passenger only service for the next four weeks.

The ferry system is paying the charter $5,290 a day to provide service. That fee covers the boat, crew, fuel and other expenses. The

Mystic Sea can carry 77 passengers.

The Mystic Sea’s selection pleased some Coupeville residents who were heading to Port Townsend to watch a movie at the Rose Theatre.

“We’re real happy Monte Hughes got this contract,” Judy Lynn said.

The Mystic Sea is a familiar sight in Coupeville where it offers tours to see gray whales in the spring. It has been used as a classroom by the Coupeville Art Center.

Jon Franklin, second shift captain on the Mystic Sea, said the state did a great job getting the barge ready and he doesn’t foresee many problems with the Mystic Sea crossing choppy Admiralty Inlet.

“I don’t expect, boat-wise, having any issues at all,” Franklin said while complimenting the boat’s ability to handle the rough water across the inlet.

“I’ve been 30 years in Alaska and some of the worst weather I’ve had is right here,” Franklin said while brewing coffee for passengers.

While the boat can handle the weather, Franklin said there are still concerns with loading passengers at the Port Townsend terminal because it is more exposed to wind and high seas.

Captain Hughes said that if the winds get as high as 25 or 30 knots, he might cancel trips because it would be difficult for passengers to board at Port Townsend.

“The main thing is the safety of the passengers,” Franklin said.

Ferry officials don’t anticipate any cancellations of the ferry due to low tides at Keystone Harbor as frequently occurs with larger ferries. However, Franklin said they won’t know that for sure until the Mystic Sea comes into Keystone Harbor at a very low tide. The 100-foot vessel has a shallow draft but will still need room to spin around.

The Steilacoom II, which is owned by Pierce County and leased by Washington State Ferries, was required by the U.S. Coast Guard to be pulled from service and undergo maintenance and inspections. The vehicle ferry has served the Port Townsend to Keystone route since February 2008. It is the only vehicle ferry officials have found to serve the route.

Construction on a permanent replacement vessel, currently known as the Island Home, will start soon. The $65 million boat is scheduled to be ready in the spring of 2010.

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