By Laura Rogers
A ride on the Plover is one of those rare gems of an activity that is inexpensive, educational, suitable for all-ages and an exciting adventure. Who doesn’t love a ferry ride? The boat is small, holding about 20 passengers, but this makes for a rich interactive experience. The captain is readily available for conversation and information regarding the vessel and the area.
Cruising along its original route, foot passengers (and even well-behaved dogs, families with strollers, and cyclists — when there’s space) can experience the exact ride cannery workers took in the 1940s. The Plover travels back and forth from Blaine to the former Alaska Packers Association (APA) Salmon Cannery on Semiahmoo Spit. The ride is indisputably gorgeous, including views of Mount Baker and The Twin Sisters, the Canadian Coastal range, White Rock, B.C., the glistening blue waters of Drayton Harbor and Semiahmoo Bay, sea birds (including eagles, herons, and cormorants), sunning seals, and likely, a child’s ear-to-ear grin.
Quite possibly the best part of the voyage is when the smallest passengers aboard get a chance to earn their Honorary Captain’s certificate. After the captain has steered the boat out of the harbor into open waters, any kiddo can take a crack at steering the large old-fashioned ship wheel. Captain Dale, who pilots the boat every weekend, gives steering directions to each child, and lets them in on the secret of “how easy it really is to be a captain. But let’s keep that between you and me,” he says with a wink. He points out birds, seals, and landmarks, while the wee driver wears his over-sized captain’s hat. Dale Johnson has been piloting The Plover for about two years, and it’s easy to see how much he likes it. Dale shares how “being a Grandpa has made me a lot better at this job. It’s so fun to see the kids light up.” And they certainly do.
The sweet harbor vessel was lovingly restored, and it shows. The 32-foot boat’s cedar and fir construction has been brought back to its glory days through the hard work of volunteers. Distinguished as the oldest foot-passenger ferry in Washington State, riding The Plover is truly a step back in time. It’s even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though small in comparison to modern day ferries, it’s sturdy and tough, weighing in at over eleven tons.
Upon arrival at the Semiahmoo dock, you’ll find a wide variety of leisure activities. A fantastic, soft sandy beach is the first thing to greet you. My kids were content here for hours with their buckets and shovels. The Resort offers a restaurant and lounge. There is also a store across the street — Semiahmoo Marina Mart — where you can grab a cup of Ivar’s chowder, sandwiches, coffee or ice cream novelties. The APA Museum, which will take you further into the life and times of cannery workers and local maritime history, is also located on Semiahmoo Spit and is open from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the summer.
If you’re feeling like a stroll, the Coast Millennium Trail is an easy, paved, 0.8-mile trail that picks runs the length of the spit through Semiahmoo Park. The sea and mountain scenery is spectacular and is all overlooked by a stately, old water tower. Located adjacent to the sandy beach on the old oil dock, you can also find kayak and bike rentals at Paddle and Pedal Adventures.
In 1944, The Plover was originally built to ferry workers between the city of Blaine and the cannery, but in the 1960s the boat was partially dismantled and repurposed to be a harbor tugboat. As time marched on, the little boat’s fate was uncertain and in the ‘80s it was all but discarded. It was found in Birch Bay and eventually ended up in the hands of Drayton Harbor Maritime, which — through many volunteer hours — brought the ferry full circle, rebuilding parts of it and returning the boat to its original purpose and beauty. After a seven year effort to restore the Plover, in 1995 it was certified to carry passengers for hire by the US Coast Guard. The Plover is an exquisite piece of local maritime history.
The Director of Drayton Harbor Maritime, Captain Richard C. Sturgill and his volunteer board, have invested countless hours and energy bringing The Plover back to its original glory. “The venerable Historic Plover has been my life’s work now for 27 year,” Sturgill says the Founding Director. “I am proud to have been instrumental in bringing her back into service, while keeping the tradition alive for many to also enjoy her magic as she plies her traditional route.”
The Plover has been running for 20 years, charging a by-donation only fee to passengers (suggested $5 donation). While passenger fares, charter revenue and the Semiahmoo Yacht Club’s annual cash donation help financially support the Plover, revenue is generated through the City of Blaine’s lodging tax, which Semiahmoo Resort contributes 90 percent to. The Plover is owned by the City of Blaine and operated by Drayton Harbor but perhaps most indispensable hands involved are those of the volunteers who keep the Plover operating year to year.
The ferry runs reliably during summer weekends. You can catch a ride on the Plover every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, beginning on Memorial Day and wrapping up on Labor Day. The Plover docks at the Blaine Visitor’s Dock and Semiahmoo Resort on the hour and half hour, respectively. channel crossing takes just 25 minutes, making it a perfect outing for the whole family. Checkout this video preview of The Plover’s historic route.
Friday and Saturday from 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.