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.
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Mossback poses with paint-chipped ferry

It's time to get our state's ferries in shipshape and take care of their bad outbreak of Eyman's eczema.

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.

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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.




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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.