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Friday, July 26, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Showing Off: Welcome aboard as we float a few facts on the state's ferries

Seattle Times staff reporter

Imagine a kingdom of beautiful islands and scenic waterways, where people glide from place to place by driving onto huge, double-ended boats. No doubt your summer visitors will be curious about the Washington State Ferries, so be ready with these fast, fun ferry facts.

Quite a haul. Washington ferries carried 26.1 million people last year, roughly equivalent to 4.3- rides by every man, woman and child in the state. If you're a daily ferry commuter, about 500 of those passengers might have been you.

Line 'em up. Officials say 11.3 million vehicles rode the ferries in 2001. Figuring 20 feet per vehicle (many rigs are much longer), that's a line of cars, trucks and RVs more than 42,000 miles long. Odd — it seems we were stuck in that line coming back from Kingston on a Sunday afternoon.

Push me, pull you. With a propeller on each end, a ferry can simultaneously push from the back and pull from the front. On most of the boats, 90 percent of the power is sent to the rear propeller while the boat is under way. As the boat approaches the dock, most of the power is shifted to the front screw, which acts as a brake, producing the boiling and frothing you see just before docking.

Quick hits. The 10 ferry routes range from 1.7 miles (Point Defiance to Tahlequah on Vashon Island) to 39.9 miles (Anacortes to Sidney, B.C.). The busiest run is Seattle-Bainbridge, carrying 6.9 million riders last year. The 29-vessel fleet, including five passenger-only boats, averages 500 departures and 2,500 miles a day.

Java jolt. Ever try downing 25,888 cups of Starbucks coffee in a week? That's how much state ferry passengers collectively averaged in 2000.

They rock. Ferries have a remarkable safety rate, but mechanical problems and human error do occur. In one of the most noted incidents, the Elwha stuck a submerged rock off Orcas Island in 1983 after the captain made a detour to give a passenger a view of her house. Six years later, a state board named the hidden obstruction "Elwha Rock."

For more ferry facts, including schedules, routes and Web cams showing the current waiting lines at the docks, see www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries. For previous Showing Off features, see www.seattletimes.com/showingoff.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com.

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