In case of raging boat brawl, deploy ax.

Image: Sam Island

It's October 3, 1987. A punk show is just getting out on Arsenal Way in Bremerton, about 15 miles west of Seattle as the seagull flies. An English band called GBH (that is, Grievous Bodily Harm) has played a set of head-spinning guitar strains after Seattle's owned the Accüsed cacophonously thrashed on stage before them. As the concertgoers dissipate, sometime after midnight, about 150-odd punks set off to catch a ferry home. And that's when things get, well, rowdy.

The Kitsap leaves Bremerton at 1:50am, the night's final sailing bound for Seattle. A few showgoers exchange words with another passenger, a quarrel that, somehow, compels that person to "disrobe as part of an impromptu striptease atop a table," one local paper will later report. Here's where things get fuzzy, as stories like these are wont to do when they're passed down from punk to punk and from captain to ferry worker. But Chris Looney, a Seattle artist, has since gathered recollections for his animated short film, Infamous Kitsap Ferry Riot.

A kid starts urinating—on that much everyone agrees—into a potted plant or perhaps onto a bench. One news report says it was on a wall. Someone—a ferry seaman or an off-duty officer—detains the peeing punk inside an office. Another punk pleads through the door's vent for his friend's release; he gets pepper-sprayed. At this point, says Looney, everybody goes "totally crazy." Someone smashes into a glass emergency case, purportedly with a skateboard, to free an ax. More rioting ensues and the boat's trashed—ceiling and floor tiles chopped up, chairs and tables destroyed. The biggest concern, said a newspaper at the time, "was exposure to asbestos dislodged by the ax-wielding passenger."

By the time the boat neared Colman Dock—45 minutes and around $40,000 in damage later—things had mostly calmed down, but Seattle police were waiting at the terminal. They took five people into custody and, says Looney, searched cars with a flashlight—though he's heard that people hid in trunks to evade the cops.

As for that punk kid who used the ferry as a terribly public bathroom, he went on to work for Washington State Ferries.


In Case of (Non-Riot-Related) Emergency

1. Ah, $#%&! I locked my keys in my car. Now what?

Inform a crewmember asap. They’ll hatch a plan to divert traffic around your car and use an onboard automotive lockout kit, though there is a possibility that the car (and its driver) may end up staying on the vessel for another round trip if it can’t be unlocked or rolled off.

2. What happens if there’s a medical emergency?

Every crewmember aboard is certified in basic first aid; find someone to help. Captains, mates, chief engineers, and assistant engineers are also certified in advanced first aid. Depending on the situation, the crew may enlist the help of any medical professionals on board.

3. Uh, did someone just jump or fall overboard?

Yeah, it happens more often than people realize. How to help: Don’t lose sight of the person; ask another passenger to inform a crew member or do it yourself if another rider can keep eyes on the individual in the water; throw out a life ring if one’s nearby. Once the captain is informed, the crew will take over.

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