With bands and a tribal ceremony, the state on Sunday celebrated the newest ferry in its fleet of boats that ply Puget Sound, the Chetzemoka. The boat makes its first official run Monday between Coupeville, Whidbey Island, and Port Townsend.
With bands and a tribal ceremony, the state on Sunday celebrated the newest ferry in its fleet of boats that ply Puget Sound, the Chetzemoka.
The state’s first new ferry in a decade made its inaugural voyage between Coupeville, Whidbey Island, and Port Townsend, three years after the steel electric boats that operated on the route were retired as unsafe, in part because of leaks. The boat makes its first official run Monday.
Legislative leaders, local mayors and Gov. Chris Gregoire gathered for a christening Sunday morning, where the governor smashed a bottle of Champagne on the ferry and declared, “God bless this boat.”
“She is stout, she is sound, she will sail the toughest route in the ferry system,” Gregoire said. “This is a historic day for us.”
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State Transportation Director Paula Hammond recalled having to pull the electric boats off the route three years ago.
“We’re back in business,” she said. “This is such a momentous occasion. We haven’t built a ferry in 10 years.”
The 64-car ferry will replace the Steilacoom II, a ferry the state had borrowed from Pierce County to replace the old steel electrics.
Initially the state planned to build a smaller ferry modeled after the 50-car Steilacoom II, but bids for the boat came in $9 million over the estimate in 2008. The state instead decided to build a larger ferry that could accommodate more cars. The boat is modeled after the Island Home boats, which serve Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle was the only bidder on the Chetzemoka; the company also is building two other Island Home boats.
The final cost of the 273-foot Chetzemoka, pronounced Chet-za-mocha, was $79.4 million, 3.2 percent higher than the initial cost. Part of that extra cost was blamed on errors in drawings the state provided and Coast Guard-required changes.
The 750-passenger ferry was to have been delivered in June but was about three months late. Todd Pacific was penalized $300,000 for the late delivery. The initial voyage had been set for August, but then the state discovered vibration problems that had to be fixed.
The route serves about 10,000 passengers a week, according to David Moseley, director of the ferry system.
It’s also the only route that takes passenger reservations.
The ferry was named after a chief of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe on the Olympic Peninsula, Chetzemoka, who was known as a peacemaker and friend to the early settlers in the 1850s. Photos of him hang inside the sleek, green-and-white boat with green-tiled floors.
Among the 500 passengers aboard Sunday’s inaugural voyage were the chief’s great-great-grandson, Les Prince, and great-great-great grandson Vincent Prince.
“On behalf of the Prince family, we have great honor and pride,” Les Prince said.
The new ferry is significant to area residents, too.
“Economically, this means a lot to us,” said Lynda Eccles, executive director of the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce. “We’re very excited about it. It holds more cars and more people, and that’s a big plus for us. We’re welcoming it with open arms.”
Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval said the new ferry will mean reliable transportation and more capacity on the route.
“We’re eternally grateful to Pierce County for allowing us to use their ferry,” she said. In appreciation, the city commissioned a painting of a small ferry by Port Townsend artist Max Grover and gave it to Pierce County during Sunday’s ceremony. The Steilacoom II will resume operation in Pierce County in January.
The bigger ferry, Sandoval added, will allow more trucks, which was limited with the smaller Steilacoom II.
Todd is building a second ferry, which was to provide backup on the Port Townsend route, but because of proposed budget cuts the ferry system said the new boat may instead be assigned to the San Juan inter-island route.
The shipyard is building a third similar ferry, part of the state’s new Kwa-di Tabil Class ferries.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org