The 144-car Chimacum, being fabricated on Harbor Island, is expected to sail the Bremerton-Seattle route in 2017.

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Never has a Washington state ferry been turned upside down, except while it’s being fabricated on Harbor Island in Seattle.

The 144-car, $123 million Chimacum is 38 percent built. When it begins sailing the Bremerton-Seattle route in 2017, the Chimacum will make the ferry fleet more reliable and allow an older vessel, more than 55 years old, to retire or go on standby.

Before the 47 steel-hull segments are welded together, many are reinforced and equipped while inverted. Interior beams, insulation, even utility pipes are easier to install that way, compared with standing on scaffolds to fasten components overhead, later down the production line.

The ship’s lower half from car deck to keel is built at Vigor in Seattle, where 153 blue-collar workers earn $15 to $35 an hour. In April, the upper half will be taken by barge from Nichols Brothers on Whidbey Island and set onto the lower section, at a dry dock. Altogether, the shipyards and suppliers for the Chimacum employ 278 people.