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Washington state axes Anacortes-Sidney route for this spring and summer

Ferry operator cites lack of crew; priority is Washington state routes
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Washington State Ferries says it doesn't have enough crew to run the Chelan ferry between Sidney and Anacortes this season. TIMES COLONIST

Washington State Ferries will not operate its Anacortes-to-Sidney ferry this spring or summer because of lack of crew.

John Vezina, the ­organization’s government ­relations director, said in a ­statement that it was forced to make a decision on its lone ­international route this week since it was about to publish its reservations schedule for April through June.

He said Washington State Ferries is working on a service restoration plan, which isn’t yet complete.

“While we continue recruiting, hiring, and training, it’s highly unlikely we’ll have crewing available for the Sidney route in this reservation horizon or for the summer release as well.”

In the statement, Vezina said restoring normal capacity on seven of its other routes is the organization’s priority. Full service has been restored on the Anacortes-San Juan Islands route, and the ­Seattle-Bainbridge route is about to start its trial restoration.

He said the Port Townsend-Coupeville route and then Anacortes-Sidney will probably be restored after the Seattle-Bremerton route, which has been on one-boat service since Labor Day. “While we’ve worked to add a second boat on the other routes on a daily, or partial-daily, basis, they are often on one-boat service as well.”

Vezina said it’s still difficult to keep one boat operating on some routes due to staffing shortages.

“So, unfortunately, while understanding the economic importance of the Anacortes-Sidney route, we simply don’t have the crewing available to resume it for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The route, which travels between Anacortes and Sidney through the San Juan Islands, has not run since the pandemic shut down non-essential travel between the U.S. and Canada.

Like B.C. Ferries, Washington State Ferries is facing challenges finding enough staff for its vessels.

The Sidney route is further complicated by the fact that Washington State Ferries only has one vessel, the Chelan, that can make the international crossing due to international regulations that require specialized equipment.

The ferry organization ­usually resumes its two-hour service in late March after a three-month winter break.

Numbers on the route have fluctuated over the years, but the Chelan, which can carry 1,100 passengers and 124 vehicles, carried more than 135,000 people in 2019.

Washington State Ferries is also hoping for new vessels and conversion of some of its larger vessels to electric or hybrid power as part of a fleet-renewal process.

aduffy@timescolonist.com