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Two ferries and an airplane

Started: 2022-09-17 16:13:11

Submitted: 2022-09-17 23:23:19

Visibility: World-readable

Returning home after visiting Victoria, featuring two ferry crossings and an epic construction delay

After celebrating our anniversary in Victoria, it was time to head back home. Our plan was to take the ferry Coho back across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles, then drive to Seattle, where I'd fly home and Kiesa would continue driving to Walla Walla to pick up our kids, then spend the next two days driving home herself.

The first stop on the trip was the international ferry terminal in Victoria. We waited for US immigration to come by the car before boarding, which explained why they wanted us to arrive at the dock 90 minutes before the ferry was scheduled to depart. We had been advised to expect immigration before boarding the ferry in Victoria, and customs on the dock in Port Angeles, but it wasn't obvious to me what the distinction was in practice. (The only weird part was when the customs officer in Port Angeles asked us how long we were planning on staying and I answered, somewhat confused, "We live here." We traveled using our NEXUS cards, which do mention in small type that we're US citizens, but maybe customs in Port Angeles sees more Canadians than Americans with NEXUS cards.)

The Coho arrived on schedule and presently we drove onto the vehicle deck to park in one of the middle lanes. We climbed the stairs to the passenger deck and headed up to the open-air bow for one last look at Victoria and to watch the last vehicles board. (At least one vehicle arrived especially late and was being hurried through US immigration while I watched from the ship.)

Departing Victoria Harbour via ferry
Departing Victoria Harbour via ferry

The ship closed its main vehicle bay door and cast off, sounding its horn as it maneuvered through the narrow harbour. I heard the horn every day I was in Victoria, as the Coho arrived and departed in the harbour. One evening while walking around Victoria I heard the ship's horn echoing through the buildings lining the street and someone else on the sidewalk exclaimed "Coho!", as it were an unexpected visit from an old friend, neatly matching my own expression on hearing the horn.

Departing Victoria Harbour on the MV Coho
Departing Victoria Harbour on the MV Coho

We cruised through the harbour, past the cruise ship terminal and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As we cruised across the strait (past a group of cargo ships apparently waiting in the strait, bound for Seattle and Vancouver according to Marine Traffic) we went inside the passenger cabin and I picked up coffee from the snack bar to fortify me for the rest of the passage.

MV Coho cruises towards Port Angeles
MV Coho cruises towards Port Angeles

We arrived in Port Angeles on schedule at noon and exited the ferry via US customs. (I couldn't help but note that this was the port of entry where the Millennium bombing terrorist was arrested after acting "hinky".) We ate lunch at a little veg-friendly cafe in Port Angeles, then headed east along US-101 in the general direction of Seattle.

All seemed well on US-101 at first, but variable message signs advised us to "expect delays" because of unspecified construction. Google Maps advised us to take a shortcut, and we were immediately suspicious because Google Maps' "shortcuts" are usually nothing of the sort. Kiesa was driving, so I investigated the proposed alternate route and concluded that it rejoined US-101 at a dubious left-hand turn across traffic, and didn't seem like a good idea. Then, just after we passed Blyn (somewhere after Sequim), traffic stopped dead.

Stopped for construction on US 101
Stopped for construction on US 101

Google Maps indicated that there would be some traffic but it did not suggest that traffic would be stopped dead. There was nothing to do but wait, so we waited. At length I saw the point at which the cars that had taken Google Maps' bad advice were trying to merge back onto the highway, and they were clearly having a bad time — and they also appeared to be actually disrupting the overall flow of traffic, because they were trying to turn left across oncoming traffic, and some of the oncoming traffic was yielding to them, but we needed oncoming traffic to clear quickly to get around the one-way road sections. (In a better-functioning universe the side road would have been temporarily marked as right-turn only, and the turn-off miles before would have clearly indicated this, and everyone would have stayed on the main road rather than try to take the "shortcut" that wasn't.)

Some of the message signs indicated that the construction would only last until 15:00, and as time wore on it seemed most likely that we would finally get through the construction only because the time ran out, not because they were letting reasonable amounts of traffic through, but because they closed up for the day and let everyone through.

At long last we started picking up speed, and by the time we got to the construction it looked as if they had been running one-way traffic while resurfacing the road, and they had clearly finished for the day. I don't have clear timestamps at the beginning and end of the construction-related delays (it felt like forever) but I think we were delayed by at least an hour, maybe an hour-and-a-half.

When I made my travel arrangements for my flight I considered a late afternoon flight out of Seattle, on the basis that I ought to be able to get from Port Angeles to Seatac in two-and-a-half hours; but I ended up choosing an evening flight just so I had plenty of time to make it through Tacoma and Seattle traffic. Then I had extra time in Seattle and made arrangements to meet up with one of my Google colleagues who lives in Ravenna, on the north-east side of the city.

Once we finally started moving through the construction on US-101, I resumed being anxious about getting to Seattle in time for my appointment. (When I suggested the time I thought I would arrive with enough time that I would be be bored waiting in Seattle, but that was before I spent several hours stuck in construction traffic on a two-lane highway.) Google Maps kept trying to suggest that we take the Washington State Ferry from Kingston to Edmonds, and it claimed that that route would be the fastest way to get to the north part of Seattle. I tapped for details in the route it suggested on my phone and it broke down the steps involving the ferry but it wasn't clear that it understood that the ferry operated on a fixed schedule and that we needed to arrive early enough before the ferry's posted departure in order to actually board the ferry in time, or that some ferry routes basically required reservations, or that the ferry was intermittently operating on a reduced schedule in the summer of 2022 because of pandemic-related staffing shortages. (The staffing shortages caused the Washington State Ferries to shut down the international route sailing between Anacortes and Sidney, which probably would have been an easier route to get between Seattle and Victoria via car ferry.)

Because Kiesa was not driving, and we had enough time before we needed to make the decision whether to head for the ferry or head for the Tacoma Narrows, this gave me enough time to look up the ferry schedule (it turns out Google Maps was actually including the published schedule) and confirm that the Kingston/Edmonds route did not take reservations and that (for a middle-of-the-afternoon sailing on a Tuesday) the ferry did not look as if it would be full, so we ought to be able to show up and ride the ferry. All of this was to confirm that Google Maps was not in fact lying to me, which I found slightly surprising because I kind of assumed that it was at least stretching the truth based on a lack of knowledge of the details of the ferry system. I still would have liked to see more information on the route detail screen acknowledging the details of the ferry ride so I didn't have to hunt them down myself.

We drove through Kingston, past signs advising us how to queue for the ferry if there had been enough traffic to justify queuing for the ferry, and drove right up through the toll gate and into the parking lot. We arrived about 30 minutes before the 16:00 sailing.

Waiting for the ferry in Kingston
Waiting for the ferry in Kingston

As we were waiting for the ferry I spotted a 777-9 overhead, flying across the sound on its way to Paine Field after a day of in-flight testing over eastern Washington.

777-9 on approach to Paine Field
777-9 on approach to Paine Field

Our ferry, the M/V Puyallup, arrived on time and began disembarking vehicles. Once we boarded, I had a chance to compare and contrast the two different ferries we rode on today. The Washington State ferry boarded two lanes of traffic at once through the main boarding ramp on either end of the vessel; the ferry is built so that it can operate forwards or backwards, shuttling back and forth between its docks all day. (By contrast, Coho has a distinct bow and stern, and uses the front starboard boarding door in Victoria, but that may be due to the physical constraints of Victoria Harbour.) Puyallup has two vehicle decks for vehicles with lower clearance, leaving the main deck available for trucks requiring higher vertical clearance.

Vehicle deck on M/V Puyallup approaching Edmonds
Vehicle deck on M/V Puyallup approaching Edmonds

Once we boarded the ferry, we grabbed a snack from the snack bar and headed out to the top-level open-air passenger deck. It was a bright sunny day and we had a clear view south across the sound of Seattle (its tallest buildings, including the Space Needle, poking above the ridge that forms Ballard's Sunset Hill, with the hazy image of Mount Rainier in the distance. The shot was nearly perfect, but the ferry system lined up an even better shot for me as the ferry running in the opposite direction.

M/V Spokane cruises in front of Mount Rainier
M/V Spokane cruises in front of Mount Rainier

The whole ferry ride was about half an hour dock-to-dock. Before long we approached Edmonds and the ferry slowed to line up with the dock. (In the picture below we can see that the ferry has no doors protecting its vehicle deck, only a temporary gate to mark the extent where passengers on foot shouldn't cross while the vessel is underway.)

M/V Puyallup approaches Edmonds
M/V Puyallup approaches Edmonds

I ended up arriving a few minutes late for the 17:00 rendezvous, but that turned out to be ok because my colleague was even later; he had an end-of-the-day meeting scheduled before he could bike down to the place we were meeting. We had a good chat to catch up before I needed to leave for the airport.

I caught a Lyft to the airport and noted landmarks I recognized as they passed. It was a bright evening in Seattle, closer to the summer solstice than the equinox, and the sun glinted off Lake Union as I drove past on I-5. Four years ago one of my colleagues told me that the summer in Seattle was "glorious", and today that was true.

Lake Union and Queen Anne from I-5
Lake Union and Queen Anne from I-5

I grabbed supper at Qdoba inside the airport and ate it on the plane. I ended up using my Delta frequent-flier miles for the flight, and given that I don't think I'll have much use for Delta frequent-flier miles now that I no longer live in a city with a Delta hub, I used extra miles to get a first-class seat, so I had a seat by myself on the left side of the E175 regional jet. (It also turned out that, despite my not having flown Delta for about two years, Delta has been rolling over my silver-tier elite status for two years during the pandemic, and has even rolled over my qualifying miles so it would be easier to qualify for status next year, though the qualifying miles and status are not especially useful for me.)

Thunderhead under a wing
Thunderhead under a wing

The flight back home to San Jose went smoothly. I watched the Cascades out my window in the evening light, and spotted Longview from the air. When we landed in San Jose I drove across the mountain to Santa Cruz, returning home after almost a week away.

this is a neat, if unintelligable, hack
- Jaeger's comment in BMAS::Service::Domain, 11 October 2002