A new take on Mosquito Fleet: Yes on Prop. 1

Back in the day, if you wanted to catch a ferry to the mainland, you didn’t have to go much farther than your neighborhood dock. Pick any year in the pre-Roosevelt half-century – let’s say, 1934 – and Puget Sound was awash in “Mosquito Fleet” ferry routes.

  • Wednesday, January 17, 2007 7:00am
  • Opinion

Back in the day, if you wanted to catch a ferry to the mainland, you didn’t have to go much farther than your neighborhood dock.

Pick any year in the pre-Roosevelt half-century – let’s say, 1934 – and Puget Sound was awash in “Mosquito Fleet” ferry routes.

A Depression-era ferry schedule for the Kitsap County Transportation Co. shows the breadth of service offered by steamers of all sizes, for walk-ons and drivers alike. Bainbridge Islanders could reach Brownsville in Central Kitsap from Fletcher Bay on one of seven daily departures; those eastbound could hop aboard at Port Blakely and get to downtown Seattle almost around the clock. Both Suquamish and Port Ludlow enjoyed direct ferry links to Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Fauntleroy dock in south Seattle was linked to Vashon Island and Harper landing in South Kitsap.

The Seattle-Bremerton run was well-established, and took on new, wartime importance within just a few years. And these routes don’t count the dozens more docks dotting Bainbridge and other shorelines that saw service from the Puget Sound Navigation Company (the “Black Ball Line”) and other players at one time or another.

A “Yes” vote for Proposition 1 on Feb. 6 – for which ballots go into the mail today – won’t bring back the glory days of the Mosquito Fleet. But it will better disperse cross-sound traffic and transportation amongst Kitsap County communities, a good thing for Bainbridge Island.

Sponsored by Kitsap Transit, the measure would raise the Kitsap County sales tax by three-tenths of a cent, or 30 cents on a $100 purchase. The funding would establish direct foot-ferry service between Kingston and downtown Seattle, shore up the Bremerton run (currently struggling under a private operator), and link Port Orchard and Southworth with downtown Seattle as well. The system would be a public-private hybrid, with Kitsap Transit owning the fleet and contracting for service with private operators. New high-tech, low-wake vessels are planned.

Make no mistake: Washington State Ferries will not bring back foot ferry service if Kitsap Transit fails, nor can private operators make a real go of it without a public subsidy. That’s where WSF came from in the first place; beleaguered by high capital costs and post-war labor strife, the private Black Ball ferry line was subsumed by the state in 1950. Since that time, service has been consolidated to a handful of routes with ever-bigger ferries. The net effect has been the concentration of automobiles along corridors serving those terminals – among them, Winslow. Islanders feel the resulting pressure on highway traffic, downtown parking and commute times every workday, and it’s getting uncomfortable.

By contrast, regular and swift foot-ferry service for Central Kitsap (via Bremerton) and North Kitsap (through Kingston) to downtown Seattle will mean fewer off-island commuters crossing Bainbridge to take the Winlsow ferry. That’s smart planning as our community and those around us grow.

We’re not really sure who coined “Mosquito Fleet.” The 1890 edition Webster’s Dictionary defined the term as “an aggregation of comparatively small vessels associated in some way, as the smaller coasting vessel of a port.” In 1947, a writer opined that “the canoe, the small sailing vessel, the Sound steamer, and later the gasoline and diesel-power packets were the Mosquito Fleet, the key to progress on the western shore of Washington State.”

Kitsap Transit’s foot ferry plan lives up to our heritage of efficient cross-sound transportation, and the Review urges a “Yes” vote on Proposition 1.

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