UPDATE | Long wait ends for stranded ferry travelers

Travelers waiting for the ferry watch as two tugboats bring the disabled ferry MV Tacoma toward the Bainbridge ferry terminal. - Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review
Travelers waiting for the ferry watch as two tugboats bring the disabled ferry MV Tacoma toward the Bainbridge ferry terminal.
— image credit: Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review

A cheer rose through the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal. Their ship had finally come in.

Travelers weary of their wait for a boat to Seattle gave out a collective hoot of approval when an announcement came over the terminal intercom just before 3 p.m. that the ferry MV Tacoma was minutes away from docking.

Mechanical problems aboard the ferry — a crew member said the ship lost propulsion power as it approached Eagle Harbor — left the vessel dead in the water off Bainbridge just before 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The vessel was finally brought in after the ferry MV Sealth was diverted from the Bremerton route to pull the Tacoma away from the Bainbridge shore, and two tugboats then guided the disabled vessel to the terminal.

James Melillo of Seattle stood at the edge of the upper end of the parking lot at the Bainbridge terminal, where a small gaggle of delayed passengers peeked through a clearing of trees to watch the two tugs push and pull the troubled Tacoma into the harbor. Two news helicopters from Seattle television stations hovered in the air above.

Melillo was on Bainbridge to visit a friend for a business lunch, and had been hoping to catch the 2:55 p.m. sailing back to Seattle.

"It's confirmed why I live in Seattle and visit friends over here, versus the opposite. As I told my friend Scott Karren when he moved over here, I'm the only one of your friends that will be honest. I'm not going to visit you. All your friends will lie and say they will take the ferry," Melillo said.

Once Karren got oysters, Melillo said he had changed his mind about visits to Bainbridge.

Then came Tuesday's long wait for a ferry.

"I'll never get him to visit again," Karren said.

"We met for a business lunch, and now we're trying to figure out what to do," Karren recalled.

He quickly ran through the options of getting Melillo home.

"Maybe I'll run him down to Bremerton. But that's not simple," Karren added, noting the time it would take to drive to Bremerton, plus the hour-long sailing.

"Take him to Kingston and put him on a ferry, but then he's stranded up north. I don't have a car that goes in the water, so it's hard to get back over to Seattle," Karren said.

Melillo noted that they are both seasoned travelers.

"The reality is, we fly 150,000 miles a year, each. How could you run a business from Hooterville?" Melillo asked.

Maggie Rees, on a visit to Seattle from London in the United Kingdom, decided to hop aboard the ferry for a one-hour visit to Bainbridge.

She laughed when she recalled coming over earlier on the Tacoma.

"We wanted to take a trip around the bay," Rees said.

The long wait to get back to Seattle would mean less time for sightseeing there, but Rees didn't want to pass judgement on the ferry system because of Tuesday's delays.

"It could be an isolated case for all I know," she said.

Travelers waiting for a boat to Seattle sprawled out in the walk-on passenger walkway to the ferry, or stretched out on benches outside the ferry to soak up the sun. Others read books, jammed the nearby coffee stand or walked their children around the ferry terminal. And others simply gave up and left.

Abraham Neuwelt of Bainbridge Island and his fellow musicians Squid Samson and Shion Yamakawa had planned to board the 2:05 p.m. ferry so Samson could submit an application for a busker permit at the Pike Place Market.

When the boat never came, they pulled out their instruments and started playing to their fellow stranded passengers in the passenger walkway. Neuwelt and Samson, of Suquamish, played their handpan drums, while Yamakawa, a Bellevue resident, joined in on violin.

"We decided to sit here and entertain people instead," Neuwelt said.

With the Tacoma pulling in just before 3 p.m., Neuwelt said they were giving up on going to Seattle.

"We're going to miss the deadline to get his permit for the market, so we're just going back on Bainbridge and play," he said.

Unfortunately for those who applauded the Tacoma's arrival, their ship really hadn't come in. Not yet, at least.

After passengers and vehicles were offloaded from the Tacoma, it was left empty as service to Seattle continued on the ferry MV Walla Walla.

With the Tacoma out of service for repairs, the Bainbridge route remained with one-boat service, and Washington State Ferries has advised travelers to use the Kingston-Edmonds route as an alternative.


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