When the Ships Are Down

Fall is in the air. It’s a time to slow down, recharge and reset our batteries. The same is true for Herron Island’s M/V Charlie Wells. The private ferry requires a dry-dock respite every couple of years and will soon head north to Tacoma or Seattle to be pulled from the water for three weeks of maintenance before returning to duty on Case Inlet.

As summer comes to a close, visitors and vacationers pack up and head back to their mainland homes to resume their regular lives. Islanders revel in the return of solace and tranquility. Many full-time residents also experience these same feelings during dry-dock. To some, it’s a hardship, but to others it’s the staycation of comforting seclusion they’ve been waiting for.

Herron Island meant so much to me in my youth that, as an adult, I chose to uproot my husband from Texas and raise our family in this unique setting.

One of my most memorable dry-docks was the fall of 1994. Instead of the regular three weeks without our ferry, it was three months while the docks were rebuilt on both the island and mainland. These were also the last three months of my pregnancy with twins. Instead of being on bed rest for a high-risk pregnancy, I was commuting by foot ferry to attend doctor appointments and haul provisions home.

During these three months, spanning fall into winter, weather wasn’t always cooperative. Islanders who chose to commute were often pelted with rain on the open-decked pontoon boat we used as a foot ferry. The boat was called the Mo-Time because it took so much more time to cross the channel, especially when waves threw it into the air. Kind mainland neighbors greeted morning commuters with thermoses of coffee or hot cocoa.

Near the end of this dry-dock in 1994, a windstorm broke the Mo-Time’s mooring line and waves battered the boat against shoreline pilings, putting an end to its career.

It was also the day I was to give birth.

My husband and I arrived at the beach, joining a group of anxious and upset islanders who had just learned about losing the Mo-Time. They were concerned about being late to work or appointments. My husband graciously stepped up and shuttled everyone across the channel in our own skiff. Thankfully, I wasn’t in labor but had a C-section scheduled for later that day. I wobbled down to the water’s edge and into the boat, and we headed to our rendezvous at Tacoma General to meet our new female duo.

The girls enjoyed a similar journey back to their new island home.

Sue Kingsbury-Surratt is the health technician at Evergreen Elementary School in Lakebay. She lives on Herron Island.

Insights of an Islander
Insights of an Islander