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Blog Island Home Car Ferries A Good Choice for Washington

Susan Gilmore’s article in today’s Seattle Times on the Island Home ferry planned for the Port Townsend-Keystone route was spot on in describing how nice the ferry is for riders. Over the Memorial Day weekend, my family had a chance to ride on the new Island Home ferry (as well as the older ferry that also serves the route) in Massachusetts, from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard. We came away impressed.
As the Times’ piece indicates, there is a special deck-top area for free wireless Internet connection. Other amenities include comfortable seats (with cupholders!), quiet areas on the first passenger deck, and a well-stocked snack area that handled the packed crowds quickly with dual stations. Unlike Washington State Ferries policy, leashed dogs were surprisingly allowed throughout most of the passenger areas. And while there were many canines, there were no problems.
Unlike the older boat which has to back out of the dock, the Island Home has twin helms like WSF’s, which allows for quicker turnarounds. The 60-car boat carries 1,200 passengers (which seems a lot for the Port Townsend-Keystone run) and some of the crew I interviewed said the skippers complain about the height of the vessel catching more wind, making it more difficult to maneuver in tight quarters. The wind was blowing a steady 20 knots when we rode it but the skipper did not seem to have a problem. The vessel is noted for its sturdiness and smooth sailing in rough weather. This will be a strength when crossing often-turbulent Admiralty Inlet. The route provides an important connection for business and tourism. A major road and another car ferry connect mainland Western Washington to scenic Whidbey Island. The car ferry from Keystone, on Whidbey’s southwest side, connects at Port Townsend with a destination Victorian town which also serves as eastern gateway to the Olympic Peninsula.
The Island Home is designed by Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle. New boats had to be selected after WSF’s aging Steel Electric-class ferries were taken out of service last fall for safety reasons. The state decided on the Island Home boats last month, and hopes to have two of the ferries in service on the Port Townsend-Keystone route by 2010. This is instead of initial plans for a new car ferry modeled after a more weather-sensitive boat now being leased from Pierce County. Riding the Island Home is a great experience. All in all, the Island Home ferries should be a welcome addition to Puget Sound.

Bruce Agnew

Director, Cascadia Center
Since 1993, Bruce Agnew has been leading the Northwest Cascadia initiative serving as director of the Cascadia Center in Seattle. The Center is a private, non-profit, public policy center engaged in regional and international transportation and technology. Bruce also co-chairs of the Transportation Group for the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) – a public private partnership of ten Northwest states and Western Canadian provinces/territories. Since 2017, he has served as director of the ACES NW Network dedicated to the acceleration of ACES (Autonomous-Connected-Electric-Shared) technology in transportation.