Insights of an Islander


Sue Surratt

Farewell Captain Farris

Seventeen years ago, Herron Island needed a dedicated captain for our ferry, the M/V Charlie Wells. We got that, thankfully, plus a resilient and effective commander and crew leader.

Already seasoned by experience, John Farris arrived in his green Mazda with his wife, Terrill, and dog, Willie, just in time to meet the new millennium in November 1999. His previous 25 years were spent in marine construction and dredging and transportation of varied equipment as a captain of all sorts of vessels. His travels stretched from Southern California to north of the Arctic Circle.

My husband, deckhand Donnie Surratt and Captain John Farris became the first-string team loading, transporting and unloading weekday commuters. They enjoyed or insulted each other with their infamous sarcasm and smirks.

One of their unforgettable shared memories was a water rescue of a fellow islander. They were plugging along at several knots and came across a comical sight. Their friend, Ed, was in the water clinging to the back of his skiff while a fish he had caught was literally swimming inside the boat. On their second pass, they pulled up alongside him, extended a ladder and retrieved him, all while on a scheduled run. Turns out Ed decided to fish from his lawn chair in his skiff, which inevitably lost balance and flung him overboard once he had a fish on.

Captain John Farris on his last ferry run, pointing to orcas in the distance. Photo: Ted Olinger, KP News

Throughout his 17 years as senior captain, John was always loyal and steadfast on behalf of his crew. His contributions brought cost-effective ferry maintenance and management decisions that saved Herron Management Co. members hundreds of thousands of dollars. He fought for better benefits for his crew and was willing to swim against the political tide to do so. One such triumph was obtaining beeper pay for the ferry crew on call. He sacrificed for the island as a whole, as did his wife, Terrill, as the top tier contacts around the clock for emergencies or other random nuances that came up. As a deckhand’s wife, I am thankful for all his efforts.

Some pleasures Captain John enjoyed were watching the children come and go, year after year.

“It is amazing how much they grow throughout the winter,” he said. My girls were 4 and 7 when Captain John became their personal captain shuttling them to and from school by water every day. Captain John also enjoyed the year-round, serene beauty of the Olympic Mountains, whether from his living room or the pilothouse. He began photographing and blogging about the amazing sunrises and sunsets. He managed to capture some great photos and videos of eagles, ospreys and porpoises, to name a few.

Now the time has come for Captain John to sail away into his sunset of choice for retirement on the mainland. Neighbors come and go, but here is a man who left his mark making some 40,000 trips toward retirement as he crossed Case Inlet as skipper of the Charlie Wells. With Captain John gone, some of Herron Island’s allure has diminished. Time has a way of dissipating like a thick fog and it has done just that here, revealing change and an unpredictable horizon.

After his final run April 29, Captain John walked up the ferry ramp for the last time and nailed his captain’s hat to the passenger shed on Herron Island, formally ending his career.

He will be missed.