Sleeping captain blamed for Wednesday ferry delays

MUKILTEO, Wash. -- Yet another staffing mistake caused delays Wednesday morning on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry to Whidbey Island.

Ferry staffing has caused a {A href=""}host of problems of late. Dozens of runs have been canceled this year due to sick calls from crew members, compared to only a handful last year.

Wednesday's troubles began on the 4 a.m. Clinton-Mukilteo run. Both vessels serving the run park overnight in Clinton. One of the ship's captains arrived Tuesday night and slept aboard the ship, which is routine.

The trouble was, he fell asleep on the wrong vessel, so another captain set sail with him still on board.

He eventually woke up and his colleague took him back to the correct ferry, which was waiting at the dock.

The mistake was caught early enough that no runs were canceled, but it did catch some passengers off guard.

"The captain made an announcement that there was a crew issue and that they were going back to the dock. So he actually just backed us in," said Dorthea Varney.

Ironically, members of the ferry workers union met with state officials Wednesday morning in Tacoma to try to improve the system of assigning replacement workers when others call in sick.

"We have a very antiquated system," said Washington Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond. "(It's) very labor intensive calling employees. And we're going to make sure that when assignments are made, employees know what their assignments are. When they get their service and their system assignments months in advance, that they know that they're on schedule for a certain watch on a certain day at a certain boat."

Hammond said a task force will have some answers before the end of the year.