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.