Kirk Lunsford Retires After 34 years

Even though his retirement begins July 1, Kirk's last day on the deck was June 1 because of accumulated sick leave and vacation time.

Rain or shine he is directing cars from 9-5, handing out dog treats, waving, smiling and occasionally stopping to chat. He has been doing his job for 34 years and soon will get a well deserved retirement. 

Kirk Lunsford is a local boy who graduated from Anacortes High School in 1971 and attended Western Washington University in Bellingham.

The Pacific Ocean called to him early on. Some time was spent fishing herring and King Crab along the West Coast. There was also his commercial gillnett  boat in Bristol Bay, Alaska where he fished salmon until a back injury and subsequent surgeries forced him to sell his permit. 

Fortunately for many, he found his way to the Guemes ferry where he pursed for 30 years before his recent mid-watch stint. He punched tickets, made change and made friends. Quick to smile, wave, and answer questions he enjoyed the interaction with locals and tourists alike. Kirk also met his wife, Jennifer Young, working the deck. They have been married six years. Kirk also has a 25 year old son.

Local canines excitedly wagged their tails upon seeing him approach. He always had a treat. He gets his canine fix at the dock. He does not have a dog. 

A 1995 injury, his leg got caught as the ramp was being lowered and broke his leg. Surgery and inserted rod kept him off the Ferry deck for six months.

One memory he recalls is Leo Osborne losing the gear shift on an old truck, The transmission stuck in reverse. In order to get it to town for repair,  Leo needed to back on/off the ferry. Disconcerting to direct parking.

Another recollection is a 911 call answered by the ferry crew, because of their close proximity. Crew member Ian Shipley jumped into the cold water to retrieve Dick Iverson, other crew onboard prepared to  help Ian and an unconscious Dick onto the ferry deck and administer CPR until other medics arrived. Kirk (as purser) kept in constant communication with the ferry, made sure certain medics had quick access to ferry, fielded questions as the trauma unfolded.

Kirk plans to spend his retirement doing what he loves, hiking. When the snow melts and roads are open he will head to the Cascades. He also takes advantage of the many local hiking trails.

New crew hires will have big shoes to fill.  

A former crew member recalls:

Kirk and I were friends before we were hired as deckhands. We knew each other through the commercial fishing industry, which was a much larger source of income for Anacortes residents than it is now.  

We were two of four new hires in the summer of 1988. The U.S. Coast Guard had determined that the Guemes was understaffed and needed 2 deckhands and one operator to safely handle loads of up to 99 people.

At that time, the crew doubled as mechanics, as well as handling mostly cash sales which involved wearing a heavy metal change holder and carrying wads of cash. There was not a third crew member who stayed on the dock and pre-sold loads. One of the two deckhands sold tickets and ran to the boat at departure time, while the other loaded the boat. On return trips, the purser ran up the dock, grabbed the cash (we didn't take credit cards) and tried to sell the next load before the scheduled departure.

At the end of each shift the purser tried to balance his or her sales. Kirk was so methodical and careful as a puser that he provided the accuracy standard to which the rest of us aspired.

Kirk loved dogs. It was during that time that the tradition of giving out treats to our dog friends began. I don't think he ever missed a dog and was first to memorize their names.

Kirk was kind to all animals. During the haying season, it was not unusual to have field mice drop out of vehicles and run around the deck. Some deckhands chased them off the boat and watched them try to swim to safety. Kirk was quick enough to guide them into a 5 gallon bucket with a broom and transport them up to Kiwanis Park for release.

We alternated day shifts with week-end night shifts. During haul-outs, we looked forward to hanging out with the Arrow Launch crew, and night shifts (ending at midnight) with Kirk meant cut-throat cribbage games and profane jokes with the Arrrow guys. Kirk and John Richards would get a riff going that kept us laughing, and awake, during those hours between the 10:00, 11:00 and midnight runs.

Kirk's humor extended to his locker decor. The wrinkled, yellowing picture of Bill Clinton, in sunglasses, playing a saxophone was the landmark that identified it as Kirk's.

Kirk was the loadmaster. After the big storm of '90-'91 we spent months hauling log trucks off of Guemes. There is a skill in assessing the length and weight of those loads in order to keep the boat trim. I knew when we worked together loads would be safe and deck space utilized efficiently. 

Kirk was the guy you wanted there in a crisis. We were working night shift when the island came under siege by an islander who was using fires and guns to handle a dispute with another islander. Our shift started at 3 in the afternoon, and we worked until 3 the next morning, hauling an armored tank, police dogs, and personnel from every local law enforcement agency to Guemes.

In a situation like that you try to find a way to do what needs doing and keep your head while doing it. I was fortunate to have had Kirk as a shipmate that night. When we were sent home at 3:00 am, we agreed it was a night we never wanted to duplicate. 

Shifts with Kirk meant you could relax. No drama, no mistakes, good loads, lots of laughs. It was a pleasure and privilege to spend 25 years with him.