Capt. Paul Bellesen Jr. stands Tuesday near the Washington State Ferries dock in Port Townsend. He spent nearly 30 years in the agency, most recently as the captain of the Salish, which sails between Port Townsend and Coupeville on Whidbey Island. (Zach Jablonski /Peninsula Daily News)

Capt. Paul Bellesen Jr. stands Tuesday near the Washington State Ferries dock in Port Townsend. He spent nearly 30 years in the agency, most recently as the captain of the Salish, which sails between Port Townsend and Coupeville on Whidbey Island. (Zach Jablonski /Peninsula Daily News)

Ferry captain makes his farewells

After a ‘great career,’ he’s ready to do something different

PORT TOWNSEND — Capt. Paul Bellesen Jr., who most recently plied the tumultuous ferry route between Port Townsend and Coupeville on Whidbey Island, has retired after almost 30 years in the state ferries system.

“It can get down right nasty up there,” Bellesen said of the route across Admiralty Inlet. “There’s a couple times I was scared sh-tless, to say the least, but you just kept going.”

The weather on the Port Townsend route posed big challenges. Tuesday was a good example.

High winds and rough seas led to the cancellation of most of the morning sailings.

Many days, afternoon sailings also were canceled on the route.

“You don’t want to let people know that you’re scared,” Bellesen said, “but there are a couple times where we said, ‘We really shouldn’t be out here.’ The seas were always there. You had to work with what was given you.

“It might be flat calm, or it can be rough as all get out, and you’d have to deal with it. You’d never know what the waters would bring you.”

Bellesen, 63, retired on Sept. 30. He started with Washington State Ferries in 1992 as an Ordinary Seaman. He earned his Master’s license in 1999 and worked his way through the ranks until he was promoted to Master Seaman and then to Captain in 2006.

While spending most of his time on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route, the Poulsbo resident also worked watches on the Bainbridge Island-Seattle and Edmonds-Kingston ferries, he said.

Bellesen began learning seamanship when he was about 8 or 9 years old through a youth program his father started, called North by Northwest Adventures, which taught underprivileged kids seamanship.

“My dad just said anybody could join, and we had all races,” Bellesen said. “I’ve been raised on seas for a considerable time.

“So, as far as boating, I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

The program ended in 1973. The state wanted to acquire the program, and Bellesen’s father didn’t want to operate under it, he said.

Bellesen was born in Nampa, Idaho. His family moved first to Fall City and then to Seattle when he was 6. He’s lived in the Puget Sound area ever since.

The first ferry Bellesen captained was the Steilacoom II, when it operated on the Port Townsend run. He went to captain the Chetzemoka, the Salish and then the Kennewick, and finally retired back on the Salish, he said.

Bellesen couldn’t point to just one part of working on ferries that he enjoyed.

“I just liked it,” he said. “I really did like coming to work.

“I just loved the whole aspect of it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic played a factor in Bellesen’s decision to retire; he said he was concerned about contracting the virus. But his primary reason is to spend more time with his wife and his other family members and friends.

“It’s getting time; I’ve spent enough time on the water,” he said. “I like the water, but there are some other things I would like to do.

“I just want to retire and do something different before it’s too late. I just want to get out and enjoy life.”

On an average day, Bellesen would spend a little bit of time doing housework in the morning. By noon, he was on his way to Port Townsend. His watch started at 2 p.m.

Bellesen’s life over the last almost 30 years was split in two: life at home with his wife and then his time aboard the vessels.

“You get a life at home, and then you get to work and you have another life you have to take care of,” Bellesen said. “It’s been a really good crew. At home — along with my wife — everything is good, and then I would have to change over, deal with the crew, and it’s all been good.

“It’s been a great career, and I love it, and I wouldn’t change anything. Now is the final goodbye and I’ll go enjoy life.”

________

Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]

More in News

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Pro-choice supporter Brian Hogan of Port Angeles, left, stands near pro-life supporter Jim Hanley oif 'Sequim across from Planned Parenthood in Port Angeles last week.
Signs outside Planned Parenthood display convictions

Protesters gather in Port Angeles as U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on Mississippi abortion law

Cherish Cronmiller
Contributions aid change in the way things are

By Cherish Cronmiller OlyCAP executive director “The Way It Is” is a… Continue reading

More time given for vaccine mandate challenge

Injunction hearing now Dec. 13

Bentrinck range operations scheduled

The Royal Canadian Navy has announced that the land-based… Continue reading

For the 36th time the Port Angeles Firefighters and volunteers along with Santa will be having their Operation Candy Cane. They missed last year because of COVID restrictions so this year they are back with the same desire to help those less fortunate. And this year they have added two days to their campaign. The first six days they will follow their usual path throughout Port Angeles with their siren and music going handing out candy canes in exchange for cans of food or money for the local foot banks. The last two days they will be outside of PA for two nights sitting at Roosevelt school and Dry Creek school for two hours each. 
	ID: Mark Karjalainen checks out the controls of the freshly decorated 1956 Seagrave Fire Engine ready for the return of Operation Candy Cane in 2021.
Operation Candy Cane modified for Port Angeles

The Port Angeles Fire Department will conduct a modified… Continue reading

COVID-19 death reported in Jefferson County

Rise noted in cases from Thanksgiving gatherings

Allyson Brekke
Port Angeles’ community and economic director resigns

Allyson Brekke, community and economic development director for the… Continue reading

No weekly flight operations scheduled

There will be no field carrier landing practice operations for… Continue reading

teaser logo
Donations to Peninsula Home Fund fuel help for those in need

Campaign provides money that OlyCAP distributes

Most Read