Business

Venture Tours sets sail for Blake Island

Kitsap County residents looking to give visiting friends and relatives a special treat now have the option to take a spin out to Blake Island, the Washington state park within sight of many viewpoints but not within reach.

“I think we’ll get a lot of tourists to take advantage of this,” said Jean Boyle of the Kitsap Peninsula Visitors and Convention Bureau. “A lot of people coming to Bremerton for a convention might decide to take a boat out. It’s a really good deal.”

By one yardstick, the $79-per-person price-tag may seem high. But Boyle points out the value provided: There is a boat ride through scenic waters. A healthy, tasty salmon dinner is included, along with a show that demonstrates some authentic Native American dances.

Taken together, it is a tourist experience more enlightening than a climb up the Space Needle and less strenuous than a climb up Mount Rainier.

Up to now, the only tourist path to Blake Island has originated from the Seattle waterfront, on a four-hour tour from the Argosy Tour dock.

The new development comes from Port Orchard-based Venture Charters, which has scheduled two trips a week from Bremerton to Blake.

While the Seattle tourist trip has a strict schedule, the Kitsap access is a little more flexible.

Venture Charters owner Randy Jones said he can tailor arrival and departure times to customer whim.

The Argosy trip leaves Seattle daily at 4:30 p.m. and gives visitors just three hours on the island (although they can stay over and camp for a few days, if they want).

“If someone wants to go earlier or stay later we can accommodate them,” Jones said. “We can even come pick them up the next day, for not all that much more money.”

The cost of the boat ride, which hovers around $40 per person, will rise or fall depending on the schedules and how many people are in the group. Jones runs two boats, for six and 20 passengers respectively, and can even shuttle larger groups from Manchester Dock, if they so desire.

“All our prices depend on the time of day, how many people you have and how long you want to stay,” Jones said. “We are flexible.”

This flexibility, Jones said, is the key to his business.

Most boat charter companies specialize with diving, fishing, cruising around or special events. Jones does all of the above, and charges accordingly (although he points out that he can charge less than larger companies with a corresponding larger overhead).

Predictably, fuel cost is also an issue.

Jones, 49, has run Venture Charters for 10 years. The business runs from his home on Bay Street, but he has moorage in Bremerton, Sequim and other local harbors.

“I love the diversity,” Jones said. “This is a necessity for us, since Kitsap County is not loaded with one type of customer. But it gives us more chances to work with a variety of people. It makes it exciting for me to do different things.”

The Visitor and Convention Bureau is looking to stimulate interest in Blake Island as a destination, either through Bremerton or Seattle (sales taxes from all the concessions go into Kitsap coffers, although as a state park no property taxes are assessed).

With this in mind, Boyle led a group of 18 Kitsap County residents on a Blake Island excursion, taking the dinner tour and a short after-show walk.

“I think this is spectacular,” said Kitsap Sports Council Director Don Atkinson, who was part of the excursion. “It will take a little time to get the word out, but I think people in Kitsap will take advantage of this as a weekend trip, and to bring over their visiting friends.

“This is a marvelous activity, and they have done a beautiful job telling the tale of how the environment blends with Native American culture,” he said.

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