Efforts to launch new passenger-only ferries on Puget Sound bring to mind metaphors like "encountering headwinds," "paddling upstream," and "treading water." Kitsap Transit still awaits a functional hydrofoil to get its much-delayed Seattle-Bremerton foot ferry out of the figurative doldrums.
For the Port of Kingston's Seattle-Kingston foot ferry, launched in October, the problems have rolled in like winter storms, forcing an embarrassing suspension of that service after only one month. In Port Townsend, advocates for a pedestrian ferry to and from the Emerald City are facing the fact that the federal and state governments have as yet declined to underwrite the venture.
Kitsap Transit executive director Dick Hayes has had to immerse himself in marine-engineering issues since a carbon-composite hydrofoil fell off and sank to the bottom of Bellingham Bay last March, during the first high-speed test of his agency's foot ferry. The hydrofoil, a sort of high-tech wing attached to a boat’s hull, lifts the craft out of the water, reducing drag and thus allowing increased speed.
“We’ve even hired a forensic engineer to hold up our end of the debate,” Hayes said, summarizing the ensuing negotiations with the craft's builder, Bellingham's All-American Marine. He spewed out terms like “computational fluid dynamics” and “finite element analysis.”
“At the end of all that you wind up with a foil that should be strong enough. We’re very close to that,” he said. He expects a launch in May, followed by a prolonged testing phase that will focus on the key question: whether the boat can limit the wake it generates, thereby minimizing damage to pricey shoreline properties along Rich Passage, which separates Bainbridge Island from mainland Kitsap County. He does not expect the boat to begin revenue-generating service between Bremerton and Seattle until the spring of 2012 — assuming the months of testing prove successful.
The boat, the Rich Passage I, would join the Kitsap Transit’s own Bremerton-Annapolis and Bremerton-Port Orchard shuttle ferries and the King County Ferry District’s water taxi, which travels from downtown Seattle to Vashon and West Seattle, as the Sound’s only pedestrian ferries. One might also include the Seattle-Kingston ferry in the fleet, except that it has been out of service since Nov. 18.
Murphy’s law, that is, has had its hands on the helm at the Port of Kingston. For one stormy month — both literally and figuratively — beginning on Oct. 18, the port’s Spirit of Kingston plied its route to and from Seattle’s Colman Dock. On its first day of service it lost one of its four engines. It limped along on the other three until the Nov. 18 suspension. A backup boat could not take over because it lacked proper Coast Guard certification and needed a new gangway suited to the docks in Kingston and Seattle.
At 30 to 40 passengers per run, the service was falling far short of its goal of 130 to 150 riders — which would have allowed the unsubsidized operation to break even. Program manager Eric Osnes was dismissed Oct. 29, for reasons port commissioner Pete DeBoer, in a recent interview, declined to specify. An interim manager, Karen Arnold, was hired a few days later. She lasted a month, resigning at the end of November because, in DeBoer’s words, “she lacked the skill set” for the position.
The port commissioners have not yet sought a new manager. The backup boat has now been certified, and its new gangway fabricated and installed. “We’re thinking March” for a service-resumption date, DeBoer said.
A reserve of $359,000 has provided something of a cushion, but “We don't have the money to run [the service] ourselves through the summer right now,” he said. “We have to do some smart business stuff. We’re working on a marketing plan, which kind of hadn't been done very well. The only reason we have the $359,000 in the bank is we chartered the boat out in the summer.”
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