Rich Passage I shows its stuff in rainy, windy weather

BREMERTON — Here is the message of the day, courtesy of Kitsap Transit: A passenger-only ferry never got stuck in traffic.

On a dreary, rainy, windy day (meaning perfect weather for a demonstration run aboard the prototype Kitsap Transit passenger ferry Rich Passage 1), the boat that has generated worldwide, cutting-edge technology on how best to reduce the impact of ferries on the surrounding countryside was unveiled Jan. 18 to elected officials, VIPs and a few media representatives.

The general verdict was that the ride was smooth and comfortable, even in heavy cross-wind and rolling waters that might have rendered a trip in a traditional single-hull vessel a bit difficult.

“It took us 10 years to develop a passenger ferry that people are really comfortable with,” said Patty Lent, mayor of Bremerton and one of two Kitsap County mayors who attended the demonstration run (the other was Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu). “I think this will prove really popular.”

The project went forward on Nov. 8 when Kitsap County voters finally approved a proposal for such a system. The funding mechanism, as always, was the sticking point, with many people (including Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson) objecting to the funding source and uncomfortable with the idea that the passenger ferry would serve a privileged stripe of the peninsula’s population at the expense of every Kitsap resident. A comprehensive majority of Kitsap voters finally gave it the nod in November.

The holdup for the last decade had more to do with technology than with a .03 percent sales tax increase, which is the funding mechanism for the project. Earlier boats had caused, according to residents living along Rich Passage, erosion that threatened the size (and therefore the value) of their waterfront property.

But the mandated slowing of vessels through Rich Passage rendered the foot-ferries uncompetitive, and eventually the passenger ferries uncompetitive. The drive to solve this problem, however, generated scientific insights that continue to be quoted.

The locally-generated scientific study, in fact, uncovered a peculiar point: with the cutting-edge catamaran-style boat, slowing down through narrow passages like Rich Passage and Sinclair Inlet, actually created more wake problems — hence, the speed of the Rich Passage on the training run.

In sea trials, the Rich Passage I has gone as fast across Puget Sound as 42 knots — enough to pull the ship up onto step to completely avert the drag-inducing slog of a single v-hull through the water.

On the demonstration run, the boat topped out at “only” 36 knots, having made its point.

The sensation of speed was in dramatic contrast to the huge car and passenger ferries, which must cruise through inlets narrow enough to generate significant wave action.

“You can really feel the speed when it gets going,” said Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent.

Besides providing considerably greater opportunities for commuting across Puget Sound to Seattle, Kitsap Transit staff project the passenger ferry as freeing up $1.5 million, which can then be applied to expanded bus service across the peninsula for things like Sunday service.