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Paging Jay Inslee: What's with the rusting ferries?

It's time to get our state's ferries in shipshape and take care of their bad outbreak of Eyman's eczema.
Mossback poses with paint-chipped ferry

Mossback poses with paint-chipped ferry Carol Poole

Rust build-up on Washington ferries

Rust build-up on Washington ferries Carol Poole

Dear Gov. Inslee,

It was a gorgeous spring day, Mother's Day in fact. The ferry was crowded with people who headed to the top deck for the sun and views. Many — perhaps most — were from out of town. They crowded the rails taking pictures of the skyline as if they'd never seen a city before.

It is the start of tourist season, and any seasoned Bainbridge Island commuter knows the lines get long and the people watching improves. Forget the new waterfront in Seattle, that ferry ride across Puget Sound is our real face to the world — snowcapped peaks, sea, city and sky.

But what a shabby welcome. Everywhere on the top deck, paint was peeling. Large tan splotches were everywhere. The decks had rust. The vessel deck felt neglected. I suppose most people wouldn't notice, being all entranced with the views and that strange yellow orb in the sky. But, really? Peeling paint and rust?

The ferry was the MV Tacoma, but does that mean the boat has to look like Tacoma?

Welcome to Seattle, home of the floating rust-bucket.

Our fleet increasingly seems to resemble something put afloat by what, the Albanian navy? And I'm talking about the ferries that actually work.

Those peeled paint splotches, I call it "Eyman's eczema." It seems to me that maintenance of the ferries has declined since Tim Eyman sponsored an initiative to cut the funds that paid for it. I know, we can't blame Tim Eyman for everything — just like we can't blame Typhoid Mary for every case of that disease.

 

But something isn't working. I mean, I didn't inherent the nautical genes of my ancestors, but I do know what shipshape looks like. I remember the ferries used to be thickly painted with protective coats fending off rust, salt and Salish sea.

My first house in Ballard had been occupied for the previous 50 years of its life by the original owner, a Norwegian sea captain and his wife. The place was built like the proverbial brick shit-house, but it was painted like the battleship Missouri.

Every year, that captain swaddled everything with a layer of paint — including the rocks in the garden. You could peel a thick piece back and count the layers like rings of a tree. That place was protected — if you didn't count lead poisoning.

But the bottom line is, you have to take care of your vessels.

Surely there is some seaworthy, non-toxic eco-paint in the proper hues available.

I don't know why rust and peeled paint prevails on the Tacoma.

Perhaps the ferries are too busy and overworked to get the care they need. Perhaps there are too few deckhands to do the work, or some union dispute won't allow anyone to pick up a paint brush. Maybe I just happened along on the day before the place was due for its maintenance.

Or maybe someone in Olympia is trying to get us to notice that there's a problem.

In any case, Governor, can't you get the ferries cleaned up? It's a lot easier than cleaning up Hanford.

You can't tell me we can afford Bertha but we can't afford paint brushes.

And you, I think, have a particular responsibility here. The ferry system should flourish under your leadership. You, after all, are a Bainbridge Island resident. You take the ferry. I've seen and talked to you on the ferry. You know what it's all about.

It's time to go Captain Bligh on the ferry crew and tell them to shape up or ship out and toe the line after toting the barge and lifting that bail, by thunder! (That's the end of my nautical terminology, but I might come up with some more after a ration of grog.)

If there's an issue with the ferries, it's going to land at your dock!

I suspect the problems with running the ferry system — building new ferries, redoing docks, maintaining service, cutting down on blunders like punching holes in the hulls of ships — are greater than a mere coat of paint.

But jeez, a bucket of paint is a place to start.

Sincerely,

Mossback

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, May 14, 6:59 a.m. Inappropriate

All of the ferries are in the same shape. I ride from Clinton to Mukilteo (used to do it twice daily) and there have been times that ferry runs have been cancelled due to lack of staffing.

If you ride the ferry on a daily basis, you get to learn the faces (at least) of the crews and there are few people on board who are able to "paint" the bulkheads and the decks. The inside of the boats are swabbed (mopped to you landlubbers) and the bathrooms are cleaned daily.

On the Clinton-Mukilteo run the ferries are in constant use. There's a ferry every half hour on the half hour until late at night. I'm not sure we want ferry workers who've spent hours making sure the runs are safe and comfortable are painting the boat.

As to Bertha, I've always been a doubter and thought there were easier ways to connect West Seattle to the mainland, namely a bridge, like the Rio-Antirio bridge in Greece's Peloponnese.

Perhaps someone could do an inventory of what absolutely needs repair and maintenance throughout the state and what it would cost. Then when we taxpayers are asked to raise taxes, we would know what we're buying. But it seems that shiny new things (Bertha, 520 expansion, etc.) seem to be all the state thinks the people will support.

We all know you have to take care of what you own to ensure you still own it.

Amaliada

Posted Wed, May 14, 9:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Eyman's ecxema? I dunno. Looks like Union Ulcers to me.

Cans of paint don't send dues to the Democrat Party.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, May 16, 12:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Democrats these days that are progressive run their operations as emotional appeals first. See the 15$ an hour movement. OWS... etc.

AKA the important squeaky wheel gets the grease. That is it in a nutshell.

Thus 4 billion will be spent on a tunnel while bridges, potential landslides and ferries go under budgeted.

This precedes Inslee. See Paula Hammonds tenure in the previous administration. See Gregoire's. They avoided essential maintenance in exchange for high profile emotional political projects. It's a search for glamor.

If we are going to spend a billion dollars in the state we should have a super majority approve it first. Not some behind the scenes old girls club decision based on smoke and mirrors.

pdx

Posted Wed, May 14, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Blue Light, you comment is cute, but not on point at all. Or even accurate. Check the $ in the last Haugen
race in District 10.

And I'm personally a Democrat - and in over 45 years, I have given the State party exactly zero dollars and no cents.

I support candidates - sometimes even Republicans. I support issues.

AND I SUPPORT BETTER MAINTENANCE FOR THEN THE FERRY FLEET.

Ross Kane
Warm Beach

Ross

Posted Wed, May 14, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Your comment is cute, too, Ross.

Check this list of articles and count the times unions figure into the corruption.

http://www.king5.com/news/investigators/Investigators-Waste-On-The-Water---a-series-of-special-reports-93442684.html

BlueLight

Posted Wed, May 14, 1:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Great article. I think the Ferry system is definitely one of those things we take for granted. Every infrequent trip I take delights me as much as the first time. I think we also overlook what an attraction it is for tourists. Most of my visiting friends know more about the system than I do (largest passenger/vehicle system in the US and 4th largest in the world) and most include a short trip to somewhere in their vacation schedule.

jmrolls

Posted Wed, May 14, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

"The ferry was the MV Tacoma, but does that mean the boat has to look like Tacoma?"

Slow news day?

afreeman

Posted Wed, May 14, 4:39 p.m. Inappropriate

It is a union thing that deckhands are not allowed to do painting. The Tacoma is terrible looking. The ferries maintenance is horrible. They don't seem to understand how important it is to maintain the equipment. The primer that was used on the Tacoma's upper deck was rejected by the navy and bought by the state for half price...and of course they used it.

Posted Wed, May 14, 7:17 p.m. Inappropriate

The root problem is not crew members not painting, but the paint itself. New paint no matter what type you use will not stick to steel in severe use. Perhaps if we went back to the good stuff that stuck to everything, lead based paint, you could not get it to peel even using dynamite.

Posted Thu, May 15, 1:47 p.m. Inappropriate

"The ferry was the MV Tacoma, but does that mean the boat has to look like Tacoma?"


Your Seattle is showing.

dbreneman

Posted Thu, May 15, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate

The ferries look bad. There shouldn't be any excuse for the lax maintenance. All one has to do is ride a BC Ferry. They are in bristol condition. The crew wears pleated starched white shirts and clean pants. The officers and deckhands give the clean-cut military appearance. Our deck hands look like grease monkey's. Our organization should get a chief commander to run the system like the Navy.
D. Keyser, Capitol Hill

dckeyser

Posted Thu, May 15, 11:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Let's let the Navy run WSF and make it a federally funded Interstate Marine Highway.

Posted Fri, May 16, 12:24 p.m. Inappropriate

I like this idea. Good practice for the sailors.

pdx

Posted Sun, May 18, 8:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Anyone but WADOT and WSF could run the ferry system better.

It's a joke. Admin offices get larger and larger, boats get older and older, ferry waiting lines get longer and longer.

Time for a news update on the number of people WSF employs today, and the number of people WSF ferries annually, compared to the number of people WSF employed 50 years ago, together with the number of people WSF ferried annually 50 years ago.

The numbers will tell the story, and it's a story any ferry rider already knows.

WSF and WSDOT and the legislature are failures at business management 101.

Posted Fri, May 16, 6:45 a.m. Inappropriate

All you have to do is ride the Coho from Port Angeles to Victoria to see how nice our ferry fleet might have been if the state hadn't driven the Black Ball Line into bankruptcy and nationalized it in the 1950s.

dbreneman

Posted Thu, May 22, 3:20 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm assuming this is a vote for Canadian and BC style taxes then to support ferries?

Further rant in 3, 2, 1......

Treker

Posted Fri, May 16, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

I hate to be the downer dude who brings a dose of reality to the conversation, but Knute (and others here) have you any idea of what it costs and takes to paint a ferry? Probably not. Do your research please before ranting about how the ferries look. First of all, you cannot just give someone a paintbrush. Second of all, you are looking at a $30 million dollar investment. Those ferries need to get as much life out of the paint as possible. Sorry that it offends your aesthetic sensibility as much as this piece has offended my journalistic sensibility.

ABC123

Posted Fri, May 16, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

$30 million to paint 23 boats? See, Knute, those ARE union ulcers.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, May 16, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

I'd paint one boat all by myself for $1 million.

pdx

Posted Fri, May 16, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you but the Democrat Party and their Public Sector Unions won't let you save us money like that.

BlueLight

Posted Sat, May 17, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

That's for ONE boat. You have no idea the amount of work it takes to paint a vessel and do it in a way that will not harm the environment. It is not a matter of you going out with a paintbrush and a bucket. It has nothing to do with the union either.

It would be nice if we had some real journalism on this point and actually look into the facts of the matter so that folks won't come out of the woodwork with their axes to grind about unions and gov't, which have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

If only life was so easy as to have every problem solved by blaming unions and gov't, eh?

ABC123

Posted Fri, May 16, 12:27 p.m. Inappropriate

You need a better captcha system here. This the worst one of the lot that you use. And is captcha really useful at all? Most of the time it is just a barrier to valid communications. There are enough back end tools to void the usefulness of captcha.

pdx

Posted Fri, May 23, 10:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Come on! The unions are NOT the problem. It is the WSF headquarters which seems incapable of systematic maintenance planning and budgeting. Somehow they don't have enough money for routine (and highly predictable) hull repainting, but they do find enough money sloshing around in their budget to fix embarrassing problems without asking the legislature to authorize more money. Keeping a ship/ferry well painted is at the "A" end of the ABC's of operating a fleet.

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