By Vanessa Chin, Maritime Washington Storytelling Intern
“I’m really happy to see those customers out there. They’re having a good time traveling, [or] sometimes they’re having a bad day. It’s nice to talk to them and just listen. [Even when] you have people complaining because they’re not really happy, I just listen to them. Because they need to be heard.”Elena Zachry, Anacortes Ferry Terminal Supervisor
For more than 20 years, Elena Zachry has worked to ensure an enjoyable experience for passengers traveling on the Washington State Ferry System. Starting out in the galley, she worked her way up to terminal supervisor through careful planning, determination, and the support of her superiors.
In 1998, Elena moved to Seattle from the Philippines, where she was a registered midwife. After living in the busy downtown area for a year, she decided to relocate north to Anacortes and started working for a food service company on one of the ferry boats. When the state decided not to renew its contract with the company in 2004, a union member recommended her for a position with the ferry system. While raising two sons, Elena worked hard to get through the probationary period quickly, taking on-call shifts at ferry terminals around Puget Sound for several days in a row. After securing her position, Elena decided to wait until her sons graduated from high school before attempting to climb the career ladder.
Unfortunately, Elena was unsuccessful the first time she applied to become a terminal supervisor. Her self-confidence wavered, but her supervisor encouraged her to apply again. “The second time I said, ‘I think I’m not going to apply anymore,’ but one of my former supervisors in Anacortes told me, ‘Try it one more time,’” Elena remembers. “[At the] last minute, I turned in my application [for] the second time.”
Elena has now been a terminal supervisor at the Anacortes terminal for four years, where she continues to be motivated by her urge to help people traveling on Washington’s water highways. Growing up working in her family’s import and export business in the Philippines, Elena learned the importance of helping her parents throughout the natural highs and lows of business. “That’s part of my blood. I always like [to] help people and make sure the business is [doing well]. That’s me. That’s [my] passion,” declares Elena. Along with three other supervisors, she manages three important areas for the Anacortes terminal: operations, customers, and staff. This includes daily tasks like balancing the safe, monitoring sailing stats, assisting customers, and completing employee payroll.
One of the hardest parts about being a terminal supervisor, Elena says, is dealing with service disruptions. Sometimes a boat will break down or run severely late, usually on a busy weekend. However, Elena isn’t afraid of a challenge. In fact, she prefers working weekends so she can be part of the solution when a problem arises. Typically, this will include collaborating with the ferry boat captains to change the schedule and communicating those changes to staff and customers to keep service running smoothly.
Communication has been an important aspect of Elena’s work, especially when it comes to working with her team. Elena enjoys being there for her staff by encouraging them to pursue their goals or being someone they can talk to about their problems. She also prides herself on the work she’s done to improve the culture of communication between the boat crews and terminal crew. Elena explains, “If I have an issue in here between our side and their side, I always compromise because we are part of a team. I always talk to the master or leader like, ‘Hey, how we can do this better?’”
This dedication to her crew and operational excellence is why Elena won the Washington State Ferries Assistant Secretary’s Award in April 2023. After receiving the award, she was able to read the nominations her crew and superiors wrote for her. “It’s really touching, and I’m really proud [of] it. That’s a really good achievement when you get recognized. It is really good to hear all this stuff because [I have been] waiting for this moment and working hard,” Elena says, fighting back tears.
Interested in pursuing a hands-on career in maritime? Consider joining Elena and the many other women who work with Washington State Ferries by exploring their current openings.
If you’re looking for more stories about the inspiring women of Washington State Ferries, don’t miss our video from last week about relief captain Genevieve Fritschen.