Ferry service to California military base to be shut down


Gliding over San Diego Bay, Manny Goulart and other passengers aboard the ferry Cabrillo enjoyed the skyline view that helps draw millions of tourists a year.

The water was smooth, the sun was just peeping over the mountains, and the lights were still aglow on the aircraft carrier-museum Midway. There was none of the congestion or frustration of a freeway commute.

“It’s like a little vacation on the way to work,” said Goulart, 48, a mechanical engineer in the aircraft repair facility at North Island Naval Air Station on Coronado.


For a decade, civilians and sailors assigned to North Island have enjoyed the free ferry service from San Diego directly to the base.

The state government subsidizes the ferry service as a way to take a few cars off the often-clogged roads leading to the sprawling installation, where 35,000 sailors and civilian employees work.

But after Friday, the route is no more.

As part of a nationwide security clampdown ordered after the Nov. 5 fatal shooting of 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas, Navy officials decided the ferry route to North Island is a potential risk. The Navy declines to say whether any other security-tightening measures are being taken at the base.

Ending the ferry route to North Island also will save the cost of a tugboat pushing aside safety barriers each morning and evening, and of military guards checking identification cards.

About 130 daily riders (40 to 50 more when the base’s two carriers are home) will have to make other plans. A bus goes directly to the gate; there are van pools; and there is always the option of joining the other drivers on the pale-blue San Diego-Coronado Bridge.

Still, there is no alternative as convenient or beautiful as the five-minute ferry ride to the landing near the carriers.

Chief Petty Officer William Karstens, 37, a career counselor at the base, is disappointed that the route is being discontinued, but he understands the security concern.

“These guys we’re fighting are clever and creative,” he said. “I guess there are ways they could have exploited this.”

Like many of the riders, Karstens rides his bicycle to the ferry dock in San Diego and then loads his bike aboard the Cabrillo. Once at the base, it’s back on the bike for the final leg of his commute.

Starting Monday, Karstens will take the Cabrillo from San Diego to the civilian ferry landing in Coronado and then pedal the final mile to the base.

But not all the ferry riders are bikers and there is no bus route or shuttle from the civilian ferry landing to the base. Also, there are new times for the San Diego-Coronado ferry route that do not seem to mesh with the Coaster train schedule from northern San Diego County.

“I guess I’ll have to go back to driving,” said Tony Alvarez, 53, a crane rigger, who rides the Coaster from Oceanside to San Diego and then walks from Santa Fe Depot to the ferry dock at the foot of Broadway for the 6:45 a.m. departure.

Mark Ochenduszko, city manager of Coronado, which manages the ferry commuter program, said the city is working with the Navy, the ferry operator and the local bus district to find a way to help North Island passengers get from the civilian landing to the base.

“We want to keep as many of our Navy commuters as possible,” said Ochenduszko, who rates the view from the ferry, of both his city and San Diego, as nothing less than gorgeous.

The city receives about $152,000 a year from the state so that the commute can be kept free of charge for everyone, military or civilian, tourist or resident, regardless of destination. The ferry service provides four round trips in the morning, five in the afternoon.

As the Cabrillo backed out of its berth in San Diego, the talk among the passengers was of the imminent change to their daily pattern: of the dolphins that sometimes race beside the ferry, of the joy of laughing at the drivers stuck in bridge traffic.

“It was fabulous as long as it lasted,” Goulart said.