Alternative Travel: A Bus Holiday to Penn Cove Water Festival

bus to coupeville
Waiting for the north bound bus

In twenty or so years on Whidbey, I’d never taken the bus north. Typical American, I’m tied to my car. But this trip I was headed for Coupeville and the Penn Cove Water Festival, a celebration of native culture, maritime history and care of resources.

Driving my blue beast of a truck, with its oil leak and habit of guzzling gas, seemed contradictory. Plus, Tom was joining me for dinner. Taking two vehicles was silly.

Rather than heading straight up the highway as I would when driving, just north of Freeland the bus swerved off west, toward Smuggler’s Cove Road and a run past a high percentage of the great places of Whidbey.

We passed the towering old-growth firs at South Whidbey State Park, funky Greenbank Store, and Greenbank Farm. Just south of Coupeville we traveled along sunny Keystone Spit, past the Port Townsend ferry landing, Camp Casey and the Victorian homes and historic farms of Ebey’s Prairie.

Like any prairie, Ebey’s offers expansive views. Port Townsend was visible across the water to the west; a stand of brilliant yellow mustard splashed the hills to the south; and ahead, to the north, were the steeples of Coupeville’s churches. Eagles hunted mice in the freshly plowed fields.

In town, between quaint waterfront buildings on stilts, and the quaint buildings across from them, Water Street was lined with native arts and crafts, and educational displays about marine science

I wound through the crowd, headed to the pier and scanned the horizon for my main reason for coming – the schooner Adventuress. She hadn’t arrived in Penn Cove yet, so I wandered the town looking at wares, bought an interesting novel at Kingfisher Bookstore, then headed out to the end of the pier for lunch at Kim’s Café.

A creative combination of noodle house and euro bistro, Kim’s offers curries, pho, caprese and panini. I had the daily special soup, Crab and Asparagus, which surprised me by being not a creamy blend, but a rich broth, full of crab chunks and perfectly cooked asparagus cut in artful Asian style.

Image of the schooner Adventuress approaching the dock.

Just as I began eating, I looked out the old fashioned, double-hung window and saw Adventuress’ canvas in the distance. Impeccable timing. I enjoyed lunch while watching the schooner sail up Penn Cove.

When she rounded up into the wind and dropped her sails – which I’d learned on a voyage aboard Adventuress, is a bit of a production – I wished for a good camera and enough skill to capture the anachronistic scene: an old sailing ship, on sparkling water, framed in an old wooden window, beyond stylish diners in a modern restaurant.

Adventuress was in town to take part in Penn Cove Water Festival, and to help People for Puget Sound celebrate two important events – the 20th anniversary of the organization’s founding, and the hand-off from founding director Kathy Fletcher, to new director Tom Bancroft. The stop was one of many on People for Puget Sound’s anniversary circuit of the Sound to kick off the next twenty years of service.

With the ship at dock, I wandered back to land and enjoyed native comedienne Elaine Miles’ slow, homey humor, then headed up the hill to my last two destinations – the brand new library building, and Bayleaf gourmet shop, where I sampled goat cheese from Whidbey’s Little Brown Farm. It was excellent, but I stuck to plan and bought my customary chunk of blue – this time Valdeon.

A costumed Tsimshian dancer

Cheese in (reusable) shopping bag, I met Tom and we headed back down to the waterfront where I introduced him to Adventuress and we watched the native dancers perform. Then we drove out to Keystone Café for fish and chips.

We hunted for places to eat and watch the sunset. It’s harder than you might imagine. Sure enough, the threatened rain moved in just after we sat down. But we did get our first look at Chetzemoka, the new ferry built for the Port Townsend run.

Chetzemoka arriving at Keystone

The café was still on winter hours, so we were the last customers, and shut the place down talking with a couple who were waiting for the ferry and the owner, a commercial fisherman who also takes pictures.

The big screen TV, rather than broadcasting baseball, played a slideshow of his Alaska photos. He’d captured whales breaching, swells covered in seabirds, fishing boats in all weather, in heavy seas and even coated in so much ice we wondered how they stayed upright. The secret, he said, was in the 45 foot beam of the vessel. Even under tons of frozen spray she’s stable.

Finishing our wine, we said good night and headed home, bundled in a nice glow from an afternoon filled with boats, locals, travelers and food, capped by a narrated exhibition of beautiful photographs of the thing that makes the tidal life so good – the sea.

Tsimshian Dancer photo by Natalie Hahn

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