Without a rudder, a ferry tale

A ferry outage is a bit like holding your breath. It tends to keep you in the moment, breaks up involuntary routine, is fun for as long as you can handle it.

The Whatcom Chief went out of service Tuesday evening due to an unforeseen mechanical problem with the rudder. 

After an initial hope for repair that night, Whatcom County tweeted the fix would happen Wednesday morning. Nope, maybe 3:00 pm. That's when Chris Immer, pastor of Island Chapel, brought his little boat around. This was just a couple days after Christmas, and families had planes to catch. 

 Chris Immer volunteers to take passengers during the ferry outage

Chris Immer volunteers to take passengers during the ferry outage

Public Works shaved off a little hope Wednesday about 2:30 pm"no estimated return to service time is available." Specialists from Seattle were brought in. The rudder control box failed, and the spare box was not working. Now a special replacement cable had to be found and installed. 

There is no standby vehicle ferry.  If repairs continue to delay service, a pedestrian-only whale watcher is brought in. This happens every year during dry dock when the Chief takes a three-week vacation. During the rest of the year a ferry outage is a bit like holding your breath. It tends to keep you in the moment, breaks up involuntary routine, is fun for as long as you can handle it.

It's also deadly serious. Medical emergencies mean a helicopter will be landing in a nearby clearing.

About 15 cars circulated in line in the ferry queue. Drivers were self-selecting on hope or lack thereof. Ferry staff worked the line chatting briefly with each driver, repeating old news and shepherding the cars to close the gaps. Curious for news, passing traffic created a neighborly obstacle course.

 Traffic was conversational

Traffic was conversational

Finally rumors congealed into fact. Just a couple hours to go. The parts had been found. The ferry would take a quick spin to make sure. Commuters had gone home to hooky long ago. Twelve cars stayed in line. In these cold cocoons ghostly blue faces haunted their phones. 

It was suddenly dark in this season of short days. Chris' boat was still out there in the passage, making a last invisible return for any lost souls. Just a blinking light for faith.

At 7:00 pm the ferry started loading on Gooseberry Point. Public Works tweeted the news but everyone that cared already knew. The ferry was back in service.