BREMERTON -- Pre-dawn ferry rides across Puget Sound can be almost completely silent sailings.
Commuters catch a quick nap, do some reading or get a head start on the work day. But on Wednesday, those willing to strike up a conversation got an ice breaker in the form of a mini-pumpkin.
Such pumpkins filled the galley of the MV Chimacum on its 6:20 a.m. sailing from Bremerton to Seattle. Surprised commuters sat down to find markers nearby and were encouraged to transform the gourds into their own little piece of art.
"People could decorate them, and take them to work to brighten up their work space," said commuter Chris Dimmitt, who provided the pumpkins.
It's the first thrust of a project Dimmitt, a Bremerton resident and civil engineer in Seattle, hopes will "create a sense of connected-ness," among his fellow passengers.
He's calling it "Rock the Boat," is promoting it on social media and hopes to make it a monthly event. His goal: Get people talking with their fellow neighboring commuters.
"I'm just trying to meet new people and have other people meet new people," said Dimmitt, who has been commuting on the boat since March. "And have fun while we're doing it."
In a galley abuzz with conversations Wednesday morning, it appears his first effort was successful.
"I can honestly say I don't think the food court has been this lively," said Keenan Worley, a Port Orchard resident who goes to school in Seattle for 3D modeling. "It's definitely gotten people to start talking."
Galley seats are coveted on the early morning crossing, and commuters often coral a seat or two for friends. But on Wednesday, some of those disparate groups -- many of whom knew each other by sight but not by name -- began mingling over pumpkin painting.
Dimmit introduced himself to a group that informally calls itself "Ferry Friends Forever," and includes commuters who've taken the boat for decades. The group has grown over the years, now includes multiple generations and on each work day, assigns its members to bring coffee and breakfast to share.
"This is unity he's creating," said 20-year commuter and group member Josie Analupa of Dimmitt's new project.
Another group of commuters, which has bonded over tricky crossword puzzles as much as anything else, immediately took to the painting project. They even brought some glitter and stickers to add to their casual artistry.
"It gets us to know one another better," said Jim Johnson, a commuter of four years.
Dimmitt was motivated to create a monthly activity on the boat after finding out, from some conversations he'd had on board, "how incredible people are" who make the trek. He was taken aback by people's personal stories. He believes they should be shared on the 55-minute crossing.
"The ferry boat seems like a great opportunity for that," said Dimmitt, who is planning a Thanksgiving-inspired event for next month.