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Newest ferry restores Port Townsend-to-Coupeville route

A spectator strolls down the car deck of the Salish, Washington State Ferries’ newest vessel, during a dedication Thursday in Port Townsend.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
A spectator strolls down the car deck of the Salish, Washington State Ferries’ newest vessel, during a dedication Thursday in Port Townsend.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

After nearly four years, two-boat service has been restored on the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville ferry route.

A gathering of community leaders, state legislators and singers from nearby tribes ventured to Port Townsend Thursday to celebrate the completion of the Salish, Washington State Ferries newest 64-car ferry.

The Salish, a Kwa-di Tabil class ferry, will join the Chetzemoka during the summer on the route that runs between Whidbey Island and the Olympic peninsula.

Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said the Salish’s start on the route not only provides added service during the busy summer, but provides a back-up should the Chetzemoka break down.

“We can finally say we have reliable, predictable service,” Conard said during the ceremony on the car deck of the Salish.

The ferry route that crosses Admiralty Inlet has been without full service since November 2007. Ferry officials back then removed the 80-year-old Steel Electrics from service because of safety issues concerning their hulls. Since then, ferry service has been provided by a combination of passenger ferries and a smaller 50-car ferry that Pierce County loaned to Washington State Ferries.

The Salish is virtually identical to the Chetzemoka, with one difference. The Salish has a variable-pitch propeller, while the Chetzemoka has a fixed-pitch propeller.

David Moseley, assistant secretary for Washington State Ferries, said the new propeller system may make the Salish a bit more maneuverable than the Chetzemoka. That may reduce the cancellations caused by tidal conditions on the difficult run.

It cost $58 million to build the Salish; Moseley said the project was completed on time and within budget. The Salish is the second of three 64-car ferries being built for the ferry system. The third vessel, the Kennewick, is scheduled to be complete in October, approximately three months ahead of schedule. The Kennewick is scheduled to sail from Point Defiance and replace the Rhododendron.

Singers and drummers from three tribes — Lower Elwha Klallam, Port Gamble S’Kallam and the Jamestown S’Klallam — performed two songs during the ceremony.

With restored service, business leaders expect to see an increase in traffic. Sue Richards, owner of Lavender Wind Farm on Whidbey, predicted that traffic will pick up once people realize there is just a 45-minute wait between sailings rather than the previous 90-minute period.

The reservation system on the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville route will continue. Reservations for the Salish were available Wednesday. The first sailing of the Salish was scheduled to begin at noon on Friday from Port Townsend.

 

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