He worked on every job, every ferry

Commodore Greg Sugden started his career with Washington State Ferries by swabbing the head, but over 44 years he worked his way up through every position on every vessel in the fleet.

He was the longest-serving ferry captain in the fleet when he stopped working this month. During his tenure, he worked on every route in the system.

Sugden may have been destined to work afloat. His family moved from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, where he still lives with his wife and two daughters, when he was in high school.

And, from an early age he was exposed to working on boats, including his father’s steam-powered veteran of the Mosquito Fleet, Virginia V. So, upon graduating from high school, he found a job on a ferry. Not as a ferry system employee, but in the galley as a contractor.

In 1979 he transitioned to the ferry system. Soon after, while working on the decks on a cold winter day, he saw the ship’s captain reclining in the warm, dry pilot house. It was then that he charted his long-term career goal: Ferry captain. It would take another six years to advance through the qualifications necessary to reach the pilot house.

As to what he’s enjoyed the most, he said the system allows crews to be somewhat stable, at least for large portions of the year, and that getting to know and work with people had been very rewarding.

On the other hand, he found the schedule grueling and his least favorite aspect of the job. He spent many very early hours, and an equal number of very late hours, afloat and getting the job done. He admitted at one point he thought of becoming a Puget Sound Pilot, but was happy with his decision to remain with WSF.

Sugden decided to retire to take a more active role in his daughters’ daily lives, tackle larger projects around his homestead, and have a chance to work on his much-neglected golf game. He’s transitioning into his new lifestyle well, wearing Hawaiian shirts every day since his retirement.

To summarize his career, Sugden said he ”wanted people to know that we don’t just show up, clock in, do our job, clock out, and go home.” And that “every employee and crew really does want to do whatever they need to do in order to get passengers on, off, and to their destinations safely and comfortably.”