The Suquamish ferry brings Tacoma and Seattle together in its final leg of construction.
With a few hundred million dollars of taxpayer money resting on whether they do it right or wrong, Vigor’s shipyard workers took their time marrying the two halves of the Suquamish.
The 144-car ferry is scheduled to launch next year, but its two big pieces — one built in Tacoma, one in Seattle — were joined at the Vigor shipyard on Harbor Island on Saturday.
The $122 million Suquamish is the last of four 144-car “Olympic-class” ferries being added to the Washington State Ferries (WSF) fleet. The first was the Tokitae in 2014, followed by the Samish in 2015 and the Chimacum this year. The Suquamish is named after the ancestral tribe of Chief Seattle.
The top part of the Suquamish was loaded onto a barge Wednesday night at Jesse Engineering in Tacoma, where it was built. It arrived at Vigor, where the hull was already finished, early Thursday morning.
“This is a pretty big milestone for us,” said Kyle Manis, the project manager for Vigor. “There’s been a buzz the last few days in the crew — this is when we go and make it look like a ship.”
But some of the crew are also concerned. This signals the upcoming end of a profitable contract for Vigor, and there will be a “lapse” in new projects after this, meaning fewer jobs. Vigor will transfer as many of these workers into ship repair as possible, according to Jill Mackie, a Vigor spokeswoman.
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The shipbuilders used four heavy-duty transport rigs Saturday morning to roll the 1,600-ton top half, slowly bring it over the top of the hull, and position it with the help of a laser-aligning crew.
The top and bottom half have to fit almost perfectly, according to Manis — there’s only room for three-eighths of an inch of error, or “flatness tolerance.”
“It’s basically 1,600 tons sitting on its own edge,” Manis said, “so once you set it down it isn’t going anywhere.”
A team of 30 fitters and welders will spend two weeks tying the parts together.
The Suquamish is being built this way for two reasons: It’s faster to build in two places at once, said Ron Olson, production manager for Vigor, and it also spreads around the taxpayer money funding the WSF project.
Next, workers will attach the propeller and the rudder, install the electrical systems, pave the boat with a nonskid surface for cars and complete the interior. The next milestone comes a few months from now, Manis said, when crews put the Suquamish in the water.
Vigor hopes to turn the ferry over to WSF next June to test its seaworthiness.