By Mike De Felice
Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Imagine a high-speed, fully electric passenger ferry hydrofoil traveling the Bremerton-Seattle fast ferry route on a single battery charge, saving the environment from another discharge of diesel exhaust.
It’s not just a pipe dream for Kitsap County commuters.
Local transportation experts are developing a blueprint for such a vessel. When the design is completed, a consortium of agencies that includes Kitsap Transit — the ultimate operator of the vessel — will seek funding to build the state-of-the-art vessel.
Once completed, those developing the vessel could be a model for passenger-only ferries around the world.
A hydrofoil ferry — featuring a hull that rides just above the waves — can offer a safe, reliable and cost-effective transit option, according to John Clausen, Kitsap Transit executive director. This innovative fast ferry, equipped with a lightweight carbon fiber hull, would also reduce the environmental impact on air and water quality, and marine life, planners noted.
The Bremerton to Seattle fast ferry route was recently selected by the vessel’s developers as the route to debut the hydrofoil ferry once federal monies are obtained to build it.
The benefits of an electric ferry are many, Clausen said.
“From an environmental standpoint, using all-electric motors versus burning diesel, is better for the environment,” Clausen said. “The new boat will also allow us to carry more passengers.”
The fast ferry currently running the Bremerton-to-Seattle sailing is an electric boat with a diesel generator that carries 118 passengers. The hydrofoil version will be able to transport 150 people.
“By going up on hydrofoils, the new boat has virtually no wake,” Clausen said.
The Bremerton-Seattle route travels through Rich Passage, a narrow waterway between South Kitsap and Bainbridge Island. Concern has been voiced by environmentalists that the wake created by the existing 140-foot ferry damages the shoreline along the route. An all-electric boat has a minimal wake and would allow an unlimited number of sailings through Rich Passage, Clausen noted.
The cutting-edge vessel would minimally impact sea life, the transit official said.
“It’s much quieter from a marine life aspect. When you are running electric motors versus diesel engines, it’s going to be better for the whale population and other sea life that [otherwise] is impacted by the noise generated by the vessels on Puget Sound,” he said.
The soonest Kitsap County commuters would be able to board the futuristic ferry would be 2025, according to Clausen.
The hydrofoil was first envisioned in 2020 when the U.S. Department of Transportation provided seed funding for the project.
A grant of nearly $373,000 to examine the feasibility of the ferry design was awarded by the Federal Transit Administration to a group of local organizations, led by Washington Maritime Blue, a nonprofit strategic alliance working with several local maritime experts. The alliance brings together these groups to promote clean maritime innovation and a healthy environment, said Jennifer States, Washington Maritime Blue’s vice president of projects and strategy.
Other members in the public-private partnership include Kitsap Transit; Glosten, a Seattle-based marine engineering firm that developed Kitsap Transit’s MV Waterman, the first hydroelectric passenger ferry to operate on the Puget Sound; Bieker Boats of Anacortes, which has designed high-performance carbon fiber hydrofoils for the America Cup’s Team Oracle; and DNV, a global maritime advisor.
The Pacific Northwest is an ideal area to develop a new zero-emission, high-speed hydrofoil craft, States said.
“We have shipbuilders here,” she said. “We have carbon fiber manufacturing expertise. We have the battery and ship design expertise, all here in Washington.
“Bringing this team together to do this project is a great economic development opportunity for a lot of our manufacturers and port communities.”
Developing an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly high-speed passenger hydrofoil ferry has the potential to offer far-reaching implications.
“The design concept of this hydrofoil ferry could really be a game-changer for how ferries are built, not just in the Puget Sound but beyond. The new design could be of interest to ferry operators across the world,” States said.
The next step in the design process is to obtain funding so that design work can be completed and construction started on the vessel. Currently, Washington Maritime Blue is seeking $100 million for up to eight projects, one of which may be the final design and potential construction of the high-speed hydrofoil, States said.
“We are fairly confident we can find this other funding,” States said, adding the recently enacted infrastructure bill contains monies for ferries.