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Mary L joins the commuting rat race

"Commuting in general just isn’t pleasant. It can be slow-going, stressful and time-consuming.But to the surprise of those who regularly commute by water across Sinclair Inlet between Port Orchard and Bremerton, they are getting their cake and eating it, too.So to speak, anyway.When Horluck Transportation started running the MV Mary L. Oct. 11, replacing the older MV Retsil and MV Thurow, commuter responses varied between resignation and hearty acceptance. Though many say they’ll miss the fleet’s more historical vessels (the Retsil had been around since 1953, the Thurow since ‘47), the consensus is that Mary L. is dependable and beats battling traffic out on the highway. “What is so great about this commute is that it’s so much more relaxing, coming and going,” said Richard Taylor, a Port Orchard resident and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard employee. “If there is an accident of any kind on State Route 3, traffic can be backed up for an hour. This is just much more dependable.”Taylor’s commuting time to and from work rarely, if ever, exceeds one hour. Usually, it’s much less. Taylor daily parks his vehicle in a rented stall near the Port Orchard Marina, takes the 12-minute ferry ride and then hoofs it to the shipyard.Kathleen Littfin, a newcomer to Port Orchard, said taking the Mary L. is just a sensible way to commute.“I just moved up from San Diego to get away from all the traffic down there,” said Littfin, who also works at the Naval Shipyard. “I tried driving to work but that just didn’t work. This is much more relaxing and, during commuter hours, it’s free. Parking in Port Orchard is only $1.50 for the day, too.”Though Taylor is also content with his commuting regimen, he’s also wary of potential safety and handling problems.“I am concerned about safety onboard because we’re so closed in,” he said. “Plus I wonder about the handling of this boat during the winter months. It doesn’t seem overly sturdy. It’s more like a tour boat.” The Mary L. is a 64-foot, 98-passenger aluminum vessel enclosed by insulated windows. Both sides are filled with long, cushioned seats that are separated by a narrow aisleway. There are two exits--one located at the bow, the other at the stern. Only one person can fit through at a time.Taylor speculated that problems could arise during an emergency when so many travelers try to abandon ship at once.“With all vessels there are always safety issues with getting people to designated areas quickly,” said Ed Morgan, the port captain manager. “We don’t see a problem getting passengers to properly exit.”As far as the Mary L.’s durabilty is concerned, Morgan isn’t worried. “She is made out of aluminum rather than wood, so deterioration is different,” Morgan said. “This is a sturdier boat in that regard. And it’s going to be a lot warmer boat than the others. The Thurow tended to lose a lot of heat.”Despite these pluses, the ride is long and claustrophobic to Bob and Earlene Rowland. The married couple travels everyday on the Mary L. from Port Orchard to their jobs at the shipyard and back again. “It feels closed-in and slow,” Bob Rowland said, while Earlene nodded agreement.According to Morgan, the Mary L. will speed up soon.“We’re going to put in a new transmission to increase her speed and also touch her up cosmetically,” Morgan said.The Mary L usually travels up to 8.5 knots and crosses the inlet in 10 to 12 minutes. Morgan said the new transmission will allow speeds up to 12 and 13 knots, or 18 miles per hour. If the Mary L. and Kitsap Transit agree to coordinate routes and times, going faster will be necessary, Morgan said.“If a bus is three minutes late and she has to wait at port because of that, then she can make up the lost time by going that much faster,” Morgan explained.“It beats swimming,” concluded Leo Stone, an Illahee resident who works in Port Orchard. When not riding the ferry, Stone rides his bike to get to where he needs to go. While on the Mary L., he parks his bike in a designated area in the back.“But this boat just doesn’t beat the ambience of the older ones,” Stone said."

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