Zippity trip across the Sound

Passenger ferry fills in during Mukilteo repairs


Herald Writer

MUKILTEO — For acceleration, handling and speed, you can’t beat the 1999, diesel-powered St. Nicholas.

Haven’t seen it in the showroom?

Look for it along Mukilteo’s shoreline, said state ferry Capt. Alex Johnson, who dubbed the 78-foot passenger-only ferry the Porsche of Puget Sound.

The St. Nicholas, which the state ferry system is leasing from the Mosquito Fleet, a charter boat company, made its debut Monday, transporting its first walk-on passengers between Mukilteo and Clinton.

"Oh mom, it goes so fast," said a preschooler, disembarking from the dock at Mukilteo on Monday afternoon.

The St. Nicholas will carry people and bicycles between the two towns Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., until Feb. 15, while the Mukilteo ferry terminal undergoes $1.4 million in upgrades.

It walks on water; it zips along at 29 knots, or 33 miles per hour, Johnson said. Car ferries, which can weigh 3,800 tons, chug along at 15 knots, or 17 mph. The St. Nick uses 100 gallons of diesel a day compared with car ferries that can burn 100 gallons every five minutes.

But most important, the 89-ton $2.5 million ferry made commuters happy.

"You can walk it sideways," said Johnson, referring to its maneuverability. "You can get it into tight places.

"There’s no propeller; there’s no rudder. It’s all in the jets. Driving this is a real pleasure for me," he said.

Passengers Craig and Erin Forde of Clinton said they liked that the St. Nick’s on-board beer is cheaper than on car ferries, and it makes the trip in less than half the time as a car-ferry, which completes the crossing in about 20 minutes.

The St. Nicholas skims across the Sound in about eight minutes.

"It’s great. It’s a little speeder," said Boeing worker Jeff Parker, who paid $2.50 for a round trip.

Chuck Burton of Clinton added, "It’s a nice comfortable ride."

The ferry can carry as many as 150 people per trip.

Ferry officials expected about a dozen people per trip. But Johnson and the vessel’s crew of five was surprised when each crossing averaged about 25 people.

Johnson said the St. Nicholas won’t provide service if the weather is bad. But bad means nasty, he said, as in a howling gale storm and rough sea.

At night, the St. Nicholas ties up in Everett, just west of Anthony’s Homeport Restaurant.

Everett is home to Mosquito Fleet, a whale-watching and charter boat company.

The St. Nicholas was built by Allen Marine of Sitka, Alaska. It takes its name from the Russian saint — Father Christmas, St. Nick, Pere Noel.

"The Allen brothers are Russian-orthodox, which is why they named it after a saint," Johnson said.

Commuters who wanted to travel to Clinton with a car were rerouted to the Edmonds ferry dock from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There were no reports of any major back-ups Monday in Edmonds.

"We heard it went smoothly," said engineer Andy Lambert.

Johnson, an on-call captain, has skippered just about every ferry in the state’s fleet.

But the St. Nicholas is a thoroughbred, a pistol, a captain’s dream. And more fun to skipper than a car ferry, Johnson added.

"On a car ferry you always have the people with the dead battery, or the gas line leaking, or people who forget to get back in their car," he said.

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