On Saturday evening August 18, 2018, after the San Juan Island County Fair ended, several “tall” vehicles destined for Orcas Island were left at the Friday Harbor ferry terminal. These vehicles were mostly transporting livestock, which led to frustration from passengers who were not able to get home with their animals. Washington State Ferries investigated what happened and this is what they found.
File photo of Samish arriving in Friday Harbor.
The last sailing from Friday Harbor is at 10 pm, stopping at Orcas Island, Shaw Island, Lopez Island, and then Anacortes. Because it’s a multi-destination sailing, vehicles must be loaded so they can disembark at their designated terminals. This means loading Anacortes vehicles, then Lopez Island, then Shaw Island, then, Orcas Island, so they can get off in reverse order.
Due to the fair, there were an unusual number of tall vehicles, with eight being taken for Anacortes, 26 for Lopez, and then those for Orcas Island. When the vessel was full, there were about 18 Orcas Island and three Anacortes talls left behind.
Several of the complaints WSF received have stressed the policy that livestock are given priority loading. This is absolutely true, but that does not equate to being guaranteed space on the vessel, only that they are prioritized when there is space. And on Saturday, nearly all the talls were priority, meaning some couldn’t be accommodated.
During the evening, there were two requests from terminal staff for the Samish (the Kaleetan is the last, 10 pm sailing) to add service.
The first was for the vessel to take passengers and vehicles to Anacortes from its last stop in Orcas Island(usually the trip is a ‘deadhead,’ without passengers).
The second was for the Samish to make additional stops at Friday Harbor and Orcas Island, picking up passengers and vehicles in Friday Harbor and taking them to Orcas Island and then on to Anacortes.
The request to take the Orcas Island traffic was approved by the Watch Supervisor, but the additional stops in Friday Harbor or Orcas was not.
WSF understands the impact this situation had on those trying to get home on Saturday night. While not the fault of terminal staff or vessel crews, who did everything correctly, sending the Samish to Friday Harbor, before its added stop at Orcas Island, would have allowed everyone to get home that night.
WSF will investigate why the Friday Harbor stop, which could have cleared all the extra talls bound for Orcas and Anacortes wasn’t approved. Also, for next year, WSF will discuss if the fair has gotten so large an extra sailing should be routinely added going forward.
tina whitman Wednesday, 22 August 2018 09:35 Comment Link
As the driver of an overheight Orcas vehicle (van with space case) that was parked by the curb closest to the loading ramp during loading I had a 'front row' seat to the ferry issues Saturday night. I also communicated directly with ferry loading staff multiple times during the load, as I was getting phone calls and texts from distraught parents whose teens were loaded in cars and thus bound for Orcas, while their horses and the people they were supposed to be spending the night with on Orcas were being left behind.Report
When I explained the situation of multiple families and animals being separated towards the beginning of the load, I was assured that "overheight with animals were being given priority" and that people shouldn't worry.
After watching numerous overheight vehicles with NO animals being loaded for Anacortes, I again spoke directly with the loading crews about why animals were not being given priority, as they had just assured me. They then stated that there was "plenty of room and everyone was going to get on" and not to worry. After another 30 minutes of loading Anacortes vehicles, with the boat nearly full, they started to load overheight for interisland travelers-the group that included the vehicles with animals.
By this point is was ABUNDANTLY CLEAR that there was not going to be enough overheight space, yet the crews continued to load overheight vehicles with NO animals, including multiple large trucks and travel trailers from Lopez. And then we were told that oops, we weren't all going to get on after all, and no animals from Orcas would make the boat.
What followed then was a hectic dash as people with horses being left behind raced off the ferry and parents who had been in trailers but had small children on the boat raced onto the boat. After our prodding, the announcement that no Orcas animals would be loaded onto the ferry was made on the ferry, yet it was now impossible for anyone who loaded with a car to make the decision to get off. Back to fair we went, to unload animals, re set up food and water, get kids to sleep in the trucks or in tents still at the fair, wherever they could find room, etc.
The next morning, when I provided a 'heads up' to the am loading crew that a group of over overtired families and animals would be arriving for the interisland I was told that priority was given to reservations over livestock, and that we shouldn't have expected the animals to get on. I reminded her that the interisland families travelling from the fair have NO OPPORTUNITY to get a reservation on this boat, that the fair and this snafu happens every year and that ferries had been given the heads up about how many trailers with livestock were coming. Another ferry worker provided the explanation that the crews on the boat kept thinking they would make everyone fit until it was too late to switch and prioritize loading animals. NEITHER of those responses are what is accounted for in this 'official account' and neither of those accounts prioritize livestock loading, as required.
All staff on state ferries need to know exactly what 'priority loading' means. In this case, it turns out it meant if there is still space after everyone else gets on then you get on. That is clearly not the intent of 'priority'.
HUGE RAVE and thank you to all the 4H kids and families and friends of families who kept calm and got all the animals back to fair safety and unloaded, fed, watered, provided tent or trailer space for those needing to spend the night and for those on Orcas who after being called at 11 pm at night met ferries and kids, fed island animals, and made sure all were safe and well cared for.
HUGE RANT: There was plenty of room for ALL overheight vehicles WITH ANIMALS to be on that ferry. There was NO priority loading given at any time during the loading to overheight with animals. I'd suggest ferries reword its above letter to read: "we screwed up. we apologize. it wont happen again" instead of the overly administrative response they choose to provide our community.
Marguerite Bennett Wednesday, 22 August 2018 07:46 Comment Link
In the ancient past, when there were smaller ferries such as the Klickitat and the Illahee, there was always an extra run at the closing of the Fair in order to get the families, kids and animals home. This was logical and beneficial, particularly for the animals. It's not as if the Fair suddenly happens out of the blue! WSF seems to unconnected with reality and service orientation. Keep the dialogue (and complaints) going--Report
Erica lyons Tuesday, 21 August 2018 09:45 Comment Link
“Because it’s a multi-destination sailing, vehicles must be loaded so they can disembark at their designated terminals. This means loading Anacortes vehicles, then Lopez Island, then Shaw Island, then, Orcas Island, so they can get off in reverse order.”Report
Who is the WSF corporate office monkey who came up with THAT statement??
WRONG. On this 10pm sailing, Lopez, Shaw, and Orcas are almost always loaded first, loading in such a way to be pointed in the proper directions for unloading at their destinations, THEN Anacortes traffic is loaded.
Joan Baker Monday, 20 August 2018 23:44 Comment Link
The last two paragraphs of this winded word dance are the only two that matter. WSF admitted there was an error and it would be investigated.Report
This certainly isn’t the end of the dance
The WSF will apologize to these families and they will make necessary restitution where necessary.