The ferry captain bids farewell


PORT TOWNSEND – Captain Paul Bellesen Jr., who recently traveled the tumultuous ferry route between Port Townsend and Coupeville on Whidbey Island, has retired after nearly 30 years in the state ferry system.

“It can get really nasty up there,” Bellesen said of the drive through Admiralty Inlet. “There were a few times I got scared, to say the least, but you just kept going.”

The weather conditions on the road to Port Townsend posed great challenges. Tuesday was a good example.

High winds and rough seas resulted in the cancellation of most of the morning crossings.

On many days, the afternoon crossings were also canceled on the route.

“You don’t want people to know you’re scared,” Bellesen said, “but there are a few times we’ve said,“ We ​​really shouldn’t be here. “The seas were always there. You had to work with what was given to you.

“It can be calm, or it can be difficult as it all goes away, and you will have to face it. You would never know what the waters would bring you.

Bellesen, 63, retired on September 30. He started with Washington State Ferries in 1992 as a third class seaman. He obtained his Masters Degree in 1999 and worked his way up the ranks until he was promoted to Master Seaman and then Captain in 2006.

While spending most of his time on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route, the Poulsbo resident also worked on the Bainbridge Island-Seattle and Edmonds-Kingston ferries, he said.

Bellesen began learning seamanship when she was 8 or 9 years old as part of a youth program her father started called North by Northwest Adventures that taught underprivileged children to seamanship.

“My dad just said anyone can sign up, and we’ve had all the races,” Bellesen said. “I was brought up on the seas for a considerable time.

“So when it comes to boating, I’ve been doing it for a long time. ”

The program ended in 1973. The state wanted to acquire the program and Bellesen’s father did not want to operate under it, he said.

Bellesen was born in Nampa, Idaho. His family moved first to Fall City, then to Seattle when he was 6. He has since lived in the Puget Sound area.

The first Bellesen ferry ordered was the Steilacoom II, when it operated on the Port Townsend route. He became captain of the Chetzemoka, the Salish then the Kennewick, and eventually retired on the Salish, he said.

Bellesen could not say that some of her ferry work appealed to her.

“I just liked it,” he said. “I liked coming to work.

“I just loved the whole look of it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic played a role in Bellesen’s decision to retire; he said he was worried about contracting the virus. But his main reason is to spend more time with his wife, other family members and friends.

” It’s time ; I’ve spent enough time on the water, ”he said. “I love the water, but there are other things I would like to do.

“I just want to retire and do something different before it’s too late. I just wanna go out and enjoy life.

On average, Bellesen spent some time cleaning in the morning. By noon he was on his way to Port Townsend. His watch started at 2 p.m.

Bellesen’s life for the past almost 30 years has been divided into two: life at home with his wife, and then her time on ships.

“You have one life at home and then you go to work and you have another life that you have to take care of,” Bellesen said. “It’s a very good team. At home – with my wife – everything is fine, and then I had to change, take care of the crew, and everything went well.

“It’s been a great career, and I love it, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Now is the last goodbye and I am going to enjoy life.


Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]

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