In land-locked Arizona, as in land-locked Wyoming, we don’t think in terms of ferries. Yes, the Grand Canyon State has the active Lake Havasu Ferry, plus Lee’s Ferry, a historic site on the Colorado River. Wyoming ferry sites along the Snake and other rivers are strictly historical.

Up in northwest Washington state, they are lousy with ‘em. Washington State Ferries is the largest such system in the United States, serving eight Washington counties, plus connections to British Columbia. The state’s department of transportation offers 10 routes with 20 terminals served by 24 vessels. Four private companies offer ferry service between Washington and Canada.

One fine July morning a private ferry was our mode of travel from Port Angeles to Victoria, British Columbia, via the Black Ball Line out of Seattle. Our summer vacation had taken us camping across Idaho, Montana and Washington en route to visit my sis and her hubby, Mary and Kip Tulin, in the blue-sky community of Sequim, Washington. This fair city sits along the bluffs between Port Angeles and Port Townsend, where mighty Mount Olympus finally slopes to the sea.

Our day trip to Vancouver, B.C., began at 8:15 sharp aboard the MV Coho, a 5,400-ton passenger and vehicle vessel that makes four such round trips each day during the summer. We left our camper behind (regular readers may recall the ‘93 Dodge Ram pickup reviewed here recently) and enjoyed watching the precision-loading methods of the Coho crew as they quickly brought the 60-year-old, 371-foot vessel about halfway to its 100-vehicle capacity.

During the 80-minute, 22-mile crossing, we enjoyed delicious cool breezes and cloud-free vistas southeast along the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward Puget Sound, and northwest toward the Pacific Ocean. Whale spouts in the distance drew some folks away from their phones. Free Wi-Fi; no password required. What whale can compete with that?

Requisite selfies fore and aft led us, along the way, to observe our tight ship nicely making way. Bow and stern lines were coiled aside snugly so that passengers could peer over any rail. Ship’s purser announcements over the public address system were made in plain English — right side, left side — to avoid the inevitable confusion with the more nautical starboard and port.

Speaking of ports, since 2009 passports have been required to be presented at both ends of the journey. The officials in Port Angeles and Victoria were uniformly pleasant and efficient in their task of vetting a few hundred souls back and forth across the border. The Coho’s combined 5,100-hp diesel twins strained not under the weight of our sparsely populated crossing (its capacity is a thousand), and she has the most magnificent-sounding horn to announce her arrival in port.

While we didn’t need the camper on our day tripper across the Strait, of course we had to have it for our journey home. The heartache of saying goodbye to Mary and Kip and the beautiful Olympic Peninsula was soothed somewhat by the fun of ferrying with camper across Puget Sound. “Fun” likely would not be the descriptor chosen by the veteran commuters who surrounded us aboard the MV Puyallup, a 2,500-passenger beast that will carry twice as many cars as the Coho.

Most snoozed in their vehicles while those on deck discussed work via their phones, which was fine. No whales this trip. The Puyallup is a 20-year-old, 460-foot state-run vessel that cranks 16,000 hp from four diesel-electric engines. When she goes over to fill in on the Seattle-to-Bainbridge run while its ships are being serviced, it takes two vessels to replace her and, if what we read is true, not without a whole lot of grumbling from her regulars.

Round-trip passage aboard the MV Coho set us back about forty bucks each, which includes $30 each for the privilege of making a reservation in advance. The Puyallup would not have charged us had we been on foot, as Kingston-to-Edmunds is the free direction for kids, adults, seniors and bicycles. Having the 26-foot camper cost us a cool twenty bills.

Moral of this column is to get to Washington to experience ferry life. If you can’t do it now as a means of beating the Arizona heat, do it this winter and use the memory as your happy, cool place should summer ever return.


Clifford Fewel’s AutoFewel column appears each week in the Tri-Valley Dispatch, as well as online at