The mouth-watering smell of fresh-baked blueberry buckle filled the main cabin of the Saratoga on Thursday morning as a crew of local dignitaries and well-wishers climbed aboard to help the Hanke family launch the 2019 whale watching season in style.
“This will be our fifth season operating out of Edmonds,” said Sherri Hanke, known to family and crew as “boss woman.”
While relative newcomers to Edmonds, three generations of the Hanke family have been operating water-based tours on Puget Sound for more than 30 years, mostly out of Port Townsend. A family-run operation from the start, Puget Sound Express treats all customers like guests in their home, offering up hot coffee and fresh-baked blueberry buckle — Grandma’s secret recipe — to all. And it’s fine to ask for seconds.
“It was a big decision for us to come over to Edmonds and begin offering whale watching excursions here,” said Sherri Hanke. “We started with the Chilkat, our 60-passenger boat, and welcomed more than 6,000 Edmonds customers that first season.”
And the customers kept coming, drawn by the friendly atmosphere, the Hanke’s uncanny ability to find whales on almost every trip and, of course, Grandma’s blueberry buckle.
“Things were going so well that we began to think about a larger boat,” Hanke explained. “But it would mean a huge investment, and a big commitment to Edmonds. We discussed it as a family and all sat down at the dinner table one night to put it to a vote, yes or no, on slips of paper. The decision was unanimous!”
That decision resulted in the Saratoga.
Brand new in 2018, the luxurious Saratoga brings whale watching to a whole new level. She rides on a twin catamaran semi-planing hull. When underway, an articulated hydrofoil takes over, allowing the boat to fly over the water at 35 knots (40 mph). State-of-the-art soundproofing reduces noise both topside and underwater, and the wrap-around viewing deck, restrooms and galley make for a comfortable whale-watching experience.
Adding the Saratoga to the fleet meant more tours, and the public just kept coming. The 2018 season drew a record 20,000 customers to Edmonds.
“It sure feels like we’re on a roll,” said Sherri. “We love it here in Edmonds, and are so happy to bring first-class whale watching to the community.”
You can learn more about whale watching with the Hanke family and make your reservations for the 2019 season at the Puget Sound Express website.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel