Send-off serenade for passenger-only ferry

Saying goodbye to the Snohomish and the Chinook was hard for many people who rode the passenger-only state ferries between Bremerton and Seattle.

Lee Douglass and her "gang of working mothers," as she called herself and three other commuters, gathered yesterday aboard the Snohomish to throw a little party on their last morning ride.

Douglass, who lives in East Bremerton and works in downtown Seattle, said the people and the boats have become too familiar to not have a proper send-off.

"I thought it deserved a goodbye," Douglass said.

As part of a 5 percent cut in its budget, the state ferry agency eliminated passenger-only boats between Bremerton and Seattle.

Emergency funding from the Legislature will keep West Seattle-Vashon Island-Southworth passenger-only service operating for another two years.

Fares from the passenger-only boats have paid less than 30 percent of the costs, compared with the car-ferry routes that often recover nearly all their expenses, ferry officials said.

"It's simply a financial drain that we can no longer carry," said Patricia Patterson, a ferry-system spokeswoman.

The last passenger-only Bremerton-Seattle ferry docked last night. Now commuters on the route have only the auto ferries, where scheduling differences appear to trouble passengers.

Starla Ackerman of Port Orchard, who commutes to Seattle from Bremerton, said the car-ferry schedules don't suit her office hours.

"The (car-ferry) at 6:20 (a.m.) is too early, and the one at 7:10 is too late, so I had to change my hours," she said on her way to Seattle yesterday morning.

Workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton say they will be particularly inconvenienced.

The last passenger-only boat left Bremerton at 12:20 a.m., so those who worked until midnight could ride back to Seattle. Now the last ferry leaves Bremerton at 11:40 p.m.

"It's going to be a killer," said Drew Kefe, a nuclear engineer at the shipyard.

Kefe, who lives in Seattle, has to be at work by 7 a.m. With the new schedule, the earliest sailing from Seattle is 6 a.m., and the auto ferry takes an hour to cross the Sound. That means he'll get to work late.

"If they'd offer an earlier schedule and a later schedule, then it wouldn't be so bad," Kefe said.

The Chinook and Snohomish, speedy catamarans that each carried up to 350 people across the Sound in about 40 minutes, were built in late 1998 and 1999.

The ferry system says the boats will be sold, although no arrangements have been made.

However, there may be hope for the return of Seattle-Bremerton passenger-only service, if not aboard the Chinook and Snohomish.

A Kitsap County ballot measure in November would raise the county sales tax and license-tab fees to let Kitsap Transit take over the passenger-only ferry route between Bremerton and Seattle and also launch service from Kingston and Southworth to Seattle.

Kitsap Transit has not expressed interest in the Chinook and Snohomish, however.

In the meantime, naval-shipyard workers can take a van pool to Seattle. Workers in Bremerton who get off after midnight can go to Bainbridge Island to catch a late boat there.

Staff reporter Susan Gilmore contributed to this report. Regine Labossiere: or 206-464-2216

Passenger-only ferry meetings

A series of public meetings are being held about Kitsap Transit's proposed passenger-only-ferry investment plan, which will be on the local ballot in November.

The next dates are:

• Tuesday, Silverdale Community Center, 4-6:30 p.m.

• Thursday, Harper Evangelical Church, 4-7 p.m.

• Sept. 30, Poulsbo Library, 4-7 p.m.

• Oct. 2, Bainbridge Ferry Terminal, 4-7 p.m.