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Victoria Clipper

Started: 2019-08-06 21:44:57

Submitted: 2019-08-07 00:02:13

Visibility: World-readable

25 July 2019: In which the intrepid narrator takes the fast ferry across Puget Sound to Victoria

My mother invited my children to stay with her in Walla Walla for two weeks in the middle of July, coordinated with a two-week swim lesson session at a local pool. We had planned to drive to Yakima -- half-way between Seattle and Walla Walla -- to hand off the kids, but my mother caught a stomach flu and wasn't up to driving five hours; so I ended up flying to Pasco with the kids on Sunday morning, 14 July; and flying back to Seattle (from Walla Walla).

This left Kiesa and I with two weeks without the kids at home. Kiesa took the second week off work and looked around for something relaxing to do. She eventually settled on a Holland America cruise departing Seattle, heading up to Alaska, and back via the Inside Passage (and a brief stop in Victoria just to comply with the protectionist Jones Act, allowing the ship to be foreign-flagged since it was traveling internationally).

I had never seriously considered going on a cruise, so I didn't have an answer ready when Kiesa asked if I wanted to go. (She might as well have asked if I wanted to golf; which I'm sure is a fine thing to do, but not something I have much interest in.) I floundered and eventually managed that it was not sufficiently high on my list of things I wanted to do; but she was welcome to go by herself. So she departed Seattle on the afternoon of 21 July, leaving me in an otherwise-empty house. (Our au pair Alejandra took the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles and (if I recall) Phoenix.)

I went to work for the first three days of the week, then I took Thursday and Friday off and caught the fast passenger-only ferry from Seattle to Victoria on Thursday afternoon. I started the day by driving to Issaquah to demo and buy a kayak from Kayak Academy (an adventure that will require further discussion later); and as I was wrapping up I nervously watched the time tick down past various red lines of increasing severity before I finally completed the purchase of a shiny new Valley Etain sea kayak, a neoprene spray skirt fitted for the cockpit, and a Thule roof rack so I could actually take the kayak on my car.

I hurried back to Seattle, wondering exactly how close I could cut my arrival on the ferry; I was scheduled to depart at 15:15 and the ticket was clear that I was definitely supposed to be on board by 15:00 (and maybe I might be as good as to show up to check in an hour before departure, and boarding started at 14:30).

I arrived at my house a little before 14:30. I double-checked the clearance behind my car and decided I had better take the kayak off, so I pulled it off the roof of my car and shoved it in the garage, then changed and called a Lyft to take me to the ferry terminal and grabbed my bag and a couple of energy bars for snacks (it was the middle of the afternoon and I hadn't yet eaten lunch) and recovered my earbuds from the car and jumped in the Lyft, watching the minutes count down before the ferry left, wondering what my contingency plan was, and hoping I'd be ok because I would arrive with about ten minutes to spare. (I didn't even remember that I was traveling across the Fremont Bridge, which could open at any moment to admit any boat taller than 30 feet; but I was lucky to not experience any such catastrophic delays.)

I arrived at the ferry terminal at 14:51 and discovered, to my great relief (and a bit of exasperation) that the ferry had not yet begun boarding (it appeared that passengers were still disembarking from the sailing from Victoria). I found the line to stand in and waited until my boarding group was called, an exercise that seemed especially anti-climatic after my rush across town to reach the dock on time. (Had I actually arrived on my original schedule I would have waited, bored, for an hour before even boarding the ship.)

Passengers board the Victoria Clipper V in Seattle
Passengers board the Victoria Clipper V in Seattle

At length we boarded the ferry, and I found a window seat on the upper deck (where I paid $10 more for a slightly better seat.

Jaeger on board the Victoria Clipper V
Jaeger on board the Victoria Clipper V

I investigated the galley for lunch and found its vegetarian selection lacking; but I did at least get a humus-based snack platter to augment the snacks I brought. Despite the delay boarding, the ferry pulled out of the pier right on time at 15:15, moving so smoothly that I didn't notice the motion at first while I was waiting for my snack at the galley.

Passengers watch the Victoria Clipper V leave Seattle
Passengers watch the Victoria Clipper V leave Seattle

I went aft to the open-air deck over the stern to join the small crowd watching the Seattle skyline slip away behind us. (The deck was protected from the full force of the wind by the body of the main cabin; we cruised at about 32 knots, which was enough that, when I leaned over the railing and felt the full force of the wind in my face, I struggled to catch my breath and quickly retreated to the lee of the cabin.)

Seattle behind the Victoria Clipper V
Seattle behind the Victoria Clipper V

On the stern of the ship were two rescue boats suspended from cranes, and when I looked closely at the cranes I realized they were intended to be operated by the ship's main power, but there was a sign explaining how to use the crane by pumping the hydraulic motor by hand in the event of a loss of main power -- and the hand lever was normally used to keep the crane from rotating on its base. (I could imagine that needing to use the rescue boat might not be entirely uncorrelated with the loss of main power, and the manual backup seemed prudent.)

Rescue boat and crane on the stern of the Victoria Clipper V
Rescue boat and crane on the stern of the Victoria Clipper V

As we cruised north, along the main shipping channel running the length of the Puget Sound, I checked the local shipping on Marine Traffic, and noted when we crossed the path of the Washington State Ferry line running between Port Townsend and Coupeville -- where the ferry Kennewick was running the route across the mouth of the sound.

Washington State Ferry Kennewick cruises towards Port Townsend
Washington State Ferry Kennewick cruises towards Port Townsend

We cruised into the open waters of the Straight of Juan de Fuca. I spotted the Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Calgary patrolling the international boundary, cruising lazily in a broad oval in the middle of the straight.

HMCS Calgary patrols the Straight of Juan de Fuca
HMCS Calgary patrols the Straight of Juan de Fuca

Soon we approached Victoria and I could begin to make out features on land.

Victoria Clipper V approaches Victoria
Victoria Clipper V approaches Victoria

We slowed to enter the harbour, past a trio of cruise ships docked at the cruise ship terminal just inside the breakwater, and continued into the protected water of Victoria's inner harbour.

Celebrity Solstice, Regatta, and Ovation of the Seas docked at Victoria's cruise ship terminal
Celebrity Solstice, Regatta, and Ovation of the Seas docked at Victoria's cruise ship terminal

We cruised past sea planes landing and taking off from the water, and water taxis doing synchronized drills in the water, before docking at the international ferry terminal, next to the dock where the vehicle ferry MV Coho docked on its regular route across the straight to Port Angeles (where I visited Victoria on the one and only other time I've been here, on my honeymoon in 2002).

Water taxis in Victoria Inner Harbour
Water taxis in Victoria Inner Harbour

I disembarked and joined the queue for customs, then presented my NEXUS card (though I had my passport in my shoulder bag just in case I needed it), answered a few screening questions, and entered Canada without further ceremony -- for the second time in as many months. (Unless one counts walking across the physical border at the Peace Arch but returning to the US side without officially entering the country.)

I checked into my hotel, across the street from the ferry terminal, and headed out to supper at Rebar, a mostly-vegetarian restaurant with an interesting almond burger. I returned to my hotel to retire ahead of the next day in Victoria.

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