Weather, steering, knock out Keystone ferry

Central Whidbey was without a ferry Friday evening and almost all day Saturday due to mechanical and weather problems.

A dozen round-trip sailings of the Steilacoom II, the only ferry serving the Keystone to Port Townsend route, were scrubbed.

On Friday evening the last three round trips of the ferry were cancelled beginning with the 5:15 p.m. trip from Port Townsend. Ferries spokeswoman Laura Johnson said in an email that the ferry encountered a steering problem and the remaining sailings had to be scratched. The work crew obtained parts and made repairs overnight.

After completing the first round trip Saturday morning, heavy seas and high winds moved in and were sustained throughout the day. This prompted the cancellation of the remaining trips Saturday.

The Steilacoom II was finally back in service Sunday morning.

With the Keystone ferry out of commission, motorists heading to and from the Olympic Peninsula have to use the Edmonds to Kingston ferry route. Businesses in Coupeville and Port Townsend always suffer when the Central Whidbey ferry is not running.

Linda Eccles, executive director of the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce, said the cancellations hurt the Penn Cove Mussel Festival, which took place over the weekend. The chamber received messages from folks living on the Olympic Peninsula asking about ways to travel to Whidbey Island. However, the Edmonds/Kingston ferry entails a four-hour trip from the peninsula to Whidbey Island.

The weekend cancellations comes at a time when the state ferry budget is being fought over in Olympia. Washington State Ferries plans for only one ferry on the Keystone to Port Townsend route for years to come, while Whidbey Island and Port Townsend interests are working to regain a second ferry during the busy spring and summer tourism months.

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