Richelle is all smiles and blue eyes when she greets me at the train station, whips of bold red hair blowing in the Seattle sea breeze. We’ve known each other for ten years now, through our years at Whitman together in the philosophy department. Now, with three years of law school under her belt and me halfway through graduate school, there is a lot to catch up on – as we’ve both hardly had the time since our last visit.
We do the obvious – lunch out, coffee to die for, and a walk along the water. But it’s Father’s Day and a little more is in store for us. Her father has worked as a captain on Seattle ferries for more than twenty years, and today he as at the helm on the Elliot Bay to Bainbridge Island commuter.
We’ll call the ship The Orchard, though its real name will be kept quiet for the sole reason that our attendance in the captains quarters was not, let’s say, state sanctioned. But alas we found our way on deck, Richelle called her dad and he said “I’m Oceanside,” then tapped on the glass two tiers above us and waved us in the direction of a locked gate. Slyly letting us in while passengers oohed-and-ahhed at the far end of the ferry, we slipped upstairs to the main office and operations room. I felt like the cool kid in school who got away with things that weren’t in the master plan!
The interviewer in my couldn’t hold back, though I had to pace myself out of respect for the holiday and acknowledgement of the fact that he’d already done us a huge favor by letting on the upper deck. But still, Richelle’s dad was willing and once he sensed my interest in his work, conversation grew easy.
“When it comes to right of way, we go by gross tonnage,” her dad says, then points to a sail boat heading foolishly close to the ferry. “They go by gross income,” he said. “In this situation, no matter how you look at it, we have the right of way. We’re approaching on their right and we’re bigger.” He points to the dot radar map on a giant computer screen, then clicks on the image of the offending sailboat.
“The Jude Jerome, right?” says the other captain before the data appears on the radar screen.
“That’s right,” Richelle’s dad says. The screen announces the name of the boat and its apparent course. No real threat is posed at this moment but still, the sail boat seems undecided in its direction and so Richelle’s dad sends out five blasts from the ship’s whistle. Later, I learn that this is boat code for “I am unsure of what your intentions are.” The sail boat steers abruptly out of the way, it’s passengers clinging and swaying against the rising waters and winds, but safe rather than sorry.
I learn also that the ferry displaces 3,700 tons of water to move, that it hangs 19 feet below the surface of the water, which means that in certain places on the sound that leaves only five feet of wiggle room between rock bottom and the bottom of the ferry. One man in the captain’s quarters is in training, and he’s been tested regularly by being asked to draw maps of the sound from memory – the physical landmasses above water AND the topographical nuances of the sea floor.
It was a fine day and concluded with two cold beers shared over long-time catch up with a dear friend from the craft school who has since moved to Seattle. A cold, fresh beer, just blocks from her house; after almost five years living in a dry county (surrounded by two dry counties) I still marvel at this luxury.
Today’s Pics: Ferry adventures on the Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington!