A look at the issues regarding newest ferries | Ferry Fare

Kingston’s public ferry meeting has been pushed back to June 10, 6:30 p.m. in the Kingston Community Center; same great cookies and conversation.

Kingston’s public ferry meeting has been pushed back to June 10, 6:30 p.m. in the Kingston Community Center; same great cookies and conversation. 64-car ferries … here’s looking at you, kid!

In the two years since our 64-car Kwa-di Tabil (kwah DEE tah-bale) ferries set sail, professionals and politicians in Pugetopolis have been perturbed over the performance. Do the problems of three little ferries amount to any more than a hill of beans in this crazy world? Recently, legislators got Washington State Ferries management and crews together to find out.

Background: Our lovable old Steel Electric ferries were merrily puttering about Port Townsend and the San Juans when, on Thanksgiving weekend 2007, Secretary Hammond was shocked — shocked! — to find Klickitat’s hull cracked and corroded. The Steel Electrics were rounded up and sold. Port Townsend objected to the size of the new proposed ferries and Keystone opposed dredging. So, instead, WSF built a modified design based on the M/V Island Home, which was designed to serve the rich and famous on Martha’s Vineyard.

I-leaning: While the M/V Island Home sits level, however, our boats lean 2 degrees because of added tanks and modifications. This complicates loading and confuses the elevators. To fix the list problem (and end “Eileen” jokes), WSF will add 65 to 80 tons of steel BBs.

Overpowering: 64-car ferries use the same 3,000-hp diesels as the 144-car ferries. Whoa! These are, however, the same diesels they use on the Island Home to push her at 16 knots. By contrast, the Steel Electrics had half that power and went 12 knots.

Weather wimp: While designed for rough water, our 64s have had more weather cancellations than their geriatric predecessors. The ferry has a flat bottom with no keel, to give it exceptional maneuverability with thrusters. But we don’t have thrusters, so, our boxy shaped boats get blown sideways, making docking in high winds difficult.

Gas guzzler: With twice the power of their predecessors, the 64s are thirsty boats. Two of the three can “feather” their propellers. By lining up the front propeller blades with the water flow, fuel use drops by a third. However, it takes two minutes for a propeller to go from being feathered to taking a bite on the water. That’s bad news in an emergency stop, so the boats don’t run feathered. Modifications will reduce the de-feathering time to 30 seconds.

Vibrations: The vibrations come from two sources — the shallow propellers and engines/shafting resonances. The heavy propeller vibrations were remedied by a lighter touch on the accelerator. M/V Island Home fixed the resonant vibrations with carbon fiber shafts. WSF, however, used stainless steel shafts instead and that vibration source remains under investigation.

Narrow car lanes: Narrow car lanes and a lack of curbing make it difficult to leave your car when your neighbor is a truck. This is a safety problem for the less agile and also a problem in the San Juans for vehicles that need to turn around on board. (See the cartoon on page 4.)

Extra crew: To direct passengers in an emergency, the Coast Guard requires two extra crew members when 384 passengers are on board. That’s a rarity and by counting passengers WSF won’t need the extra crew. They’re also putting in extra direction lights and signs for us lemmings.

No catwalks: The slab-sided 64s don’t have a catwalk for crews to clean the windows. Down on the car deck, without an outside catwalk, the crew has to teeter on the rub-rail to handle lines when tying up.

So, will this “vessel improvement team” please the pundits? We’ll see … As Time Goes By.

— FerryFare is written by Walt Elliott, chairman of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee and a member of the Kingston Port Commission. Contact him at elliottmoore@comcast.net.