WSF’s quest for new ferries is a real-life drama | Ferry Fare | December

Ferries staff explained the reasons for considering a reservations system and how it might work at a Nov. 10 meeting.

The thoughtful Kingstonian comments will be factored into a report that goes to legislators on Nov. 15. In 2010 the Legislature will decide whether or not to give the reservation system a go-ahead.

We’ll go over the proposal in next month’s column and at the Jan. 6 Kingston Citizens’ Advisory Council meeting.

At the Nov. 10 meeting, David Moseley also described the progress and challenges in building new ferries.

Here are episodes in the real-life saga of …

“As the Ferry Churns: Will WSF find the right boat?”

Out with the old

In 2001 state ferries came up with a plan to replace its 1920’s era “steel-electric” and the 1947 Rhododendron ferries serving Port Townsend and Point Defiance.

With the nickel and 9.5-cent gas taxes providing some funds, a 144-car version of Clinton-Mukilteo’s fuel-efficient Issaquah ferries would be built for use throughout the fleet cutting maintenance costs and allowing crews to work on any route without retraining.

Plans aground

In 2006, with engines and reduction gears already purchased, local shipbuilders Martinec and Todd, put sticks in the spokes of progress for a year with zany protests and lawsuits.

Meanwhile locals realized that replacing their museum-quality 60-car boats with boats a lot bigger would cause traffic congestion in Port Townsend and unwanted changes to Keystone’s harbor.

They lobbied hard for a small design and, through happenstance — and senior, senatorial sinew — they got it.

And aground again

The 144-car boat money was again appropriated in 2007, only to have fate strike when routine drydockings found “steel-electric” hull corrosion on the increase.

Although the Coast Guard agreed to let operations continue with an inspection program, Olympia was nervous. Long ago cement had been poured into the “steel-electric” bilges making it impossible to check interior corrosion. Quinault had the concrete chipped out to look. The outcome was a Thanksgiving eve decision to tie the “steel electrics” up and later to scrap them. Some said “Hurray” and others… “baloney”.


Walk-on service was restored by the nimble Snohomish, a passenger ferry that noses into car ramps. Vehicle service came with the loan of Pierce County’s 50-car Stillacom II which soon became renown for wallowing in the rough winter waters. WSF looked for a more robust replacement but because of the Jones Act, which limits WSF to US-built boats, the used ferry search came up empty.

A pricey Washingtonian

To build a small ferry pronto WSF copied the modern 60-car Island Home which had just gone into service on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket islands.

It was an ideal fit for Port Townsend-Keystone and, as a bonus, Island Home used diesels already bought for the 144s. WSF eliminated Island Home’s thruster, enclosed bow, extra heating/AC and drop-down car decks while adding our “pickle fork” bow and 12 feet. to the length.

The engines-not-included price tag for this Washington-built, ineligible for stimulus money ferry was eye popping… twice Island Home’s cost.

Back on course?

One 64-car boat is under construction and two more are funded to be built by the politically savvy consortium of: Todd (Seattle), Nichols (Whitby), Everett Shipyard, and Jessee Engineering (Tacoma). After that there’s money for either: a fourth 64 (preferred by Senate leadership) or to start on a 144 (preferred by the House).

While three 64s make Port Townsend and Point Defiance happy, the fourth is a dud. It’s too small for the other routes even though it costs as much to run as a 144. As we learned this summer, WSF desperately needs a back-up boat that can work on all routes. And that’s a 144.

Future 144s?

The shipyards, who will also build the 144s, have astutely slashed prices on the next two 64s while lowering their bid on the 144s. Although 144’s are now more affordable, will our cash-strapped legislature find the extra money needed to build them? Then there’s always piracy.

Need more info?

See WSF’s Web site, or better still, Wikipedia.