There are worse texts to have to send your boss: One morning last year, Elissa Torgeson was riding the Bremerton Fast Ferry to Seattle when a pod of orcas swam between her and a punctual arrival at work. Sorry, busy whale traffic, going to be delayed a bit, the UX/UI designer recalls messaging her supervisor. Her thumbs weren’t exactly shaking. “It’s more like a bragging thing,” says Torgeson.
An orca crossing is the kind of traffic jam that Seattleites can crow about. While I-5 drivers and bus passengers stare down bumpers and guardrails just like commuters in any other major U.S. metro, ferry commuters regularly witness forms of natural beauty unique to Puget Sound’s salty waters.
Washington State Ferries have traditionally carried passengers and cars on Bainbridge and Bremerton routes. But in recent years Kitsap Transit has debuted smaller, vehicle-less vessels that leave from multiple county locales. The Bremerton shuttle takes half the time of the state ferry and, along with the city’s eminently affordable homes, has helped attract workers from the other side of the Sound.
First-time home buyer Chrissy Keeble moved to Bremerton last September from Shoreline. The nurse at Harborview Medical Center considered uprooting to cities north of Seattle and south of Tacoma, but the Kitsap County seat offered a commuting convenience other places couldn’t. “I don’t like traffic,” Keeble says. Now, as a ferry rider, she can read, meditate, or just take in sunrises and sunsets between shifts.
It’s not always so soothing. Her colleague Gazelle Campos, a patient care coordinator at Harborview, laments the windy days that rock the boat. And though Kitsap Transit has prioritized the many hospital workers who’ve used the ferry during the coronavirus pandemic, long lines and a clunky reservation system have meant rising early to secure a spot. Campos gets up at 4am to make sure she can get on the 5:25.
The high demand leads some to board the state ferry instead. But Ted Ryan found another workaround. “When I was a kid, I always said, ‘I’m going to drive to work in a boat someday,’” says Ryan. On a couple of occasions this summer, he launched his 16-foot Smoker Craft from the Port of Manchester and docked it at Bell Harbor Marina off Alaskan Way. After he wrapped up his structural engineering work, he tossed a line in on the trip back across the Sound, catching salmon each time. “My dad joked about it being a very Northwest thing to do,” he says, “and it certainly is.”