Video: Heavy Waves Wash Aboard Car Ferry in Strait of Juan De Fuca

Video still courtesy Washington State Ferries

Published Jan 10, 2024 10:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

[Brief] Washington State Ferries' roll-on / roll-off car ferries usually operate on sheltered routes, but occasionally they have to make a transit across open water for repositioning. This is a routine matter, so long as the weather is forgiving, but on one recent voyage it was a bit rougher than expected.

On Tuesday, the ferry Issaquah was repositioning to Anacortes from her previously-assigned crossing at Mukilteo. Anacortes is the gateway to the San Juan Islands, and to get there, Issaquah had to cross the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Strait is an open runway to the North Pacific, and it is known for periods of foul winter weather.  

On Tuesday morning, Issaquah passed Port Townsend and headed north along the coast of Whidbey Island, making 17 knots. She quickly encountered higher waves than the crew had expected from the forecast, according to WSF. AIS data shows that as she rounded Fort Ebey, she slowed to seven knots and began changing course, zig-zagging northwards along the coast. 

There were no passengers on board during this transit, but the crew (and their personal vehicles) were there to witness the effects. One crewmember captured a video of the car deck awash with saltwater, with the rolling sea visible past the open-ended bow. (Advisory: strong language.)

After the ordeal, Issaquah exited the strait and made it to sheltered waters. She arrived safely at her destination at about 1245 hours, about two hours after she entered the strait. 

According to Washington State Ferries, the damage caused by the encounter was minimal and will have no effect on service. 

"We sometimes have waves crashing over the bow, but for this to happen, it is very, very rare. Keep in mind this occurred outside one of our normal routes as we were moving the boat," WSF clarified in a social media post. "This was an extremely rare occurrence for water to get to this level."