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SAMISH READIES TO SAIL | Barges, tugs mobilize in Holmes Harbor in preparation for ferry departure

The superstructure of Washington’s newest 144-car ferry is planned to depart Nichols Brothers Boat Builders by barge today.  - Justin Burnett / The Record
The superstructure of Washington’s newest 144-car ferry is planned to depart Nichols Brothers Boat Builders by barge today.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

Washington’s newest 144-car ferry is expected to embark on its first sailing today, though instead of shuttling passengers through Puget Sound it will be the one hitching a ride.

Freeland’s Nichols Brothers Boat Builders finished work on the massive superstructure of the uncompleted ferry and it is loosely scheduled to depart Holmes Harbor by barge today on the high tide.

This is the second superstructure the shipyard has fabricated in two years, and company CEO Matt Nichols was all smiles Thursday afternoon as workers busily prepared for the ship’s departure.

“The pride comes from people who said we couldn’t do it ... we proved them wrong,” he said.

In recent years, Nichols Brothers has partnered with Vigor Industrial to build the superstructures of three Kwa-di Tabil-class ferries, and now two 144-car ferries. They were barged, just like this one, to Vigor’s yard in Seattle for mating with the hulls.

Before landing the contracts, some critics debated whether Nichols Brothers had the space to build ships of this size. The superstructure of the Olympic Class, 144-car boats weigh in at 1,500 tons — 3,000,000 pounds. Once complete, they’ll measure 362 feet long, 83 feet wide and be capable of speeds of up to 17 knots, according to the Nichols Brothers website.

The state has a contract with Vigor for design and construction of up to four of the vessels but only two are currently funded at $264.3 million. The state Legislature is expected to consider a third vessel during the 2014 session in Olympia.

Nichols is hoping for a third contract, but this week his attention was focused on successfully barging the second to Vigor’s yard.

KRS Marine was hired to float the superstructure to Seattle. To do the job, he brought in two barges: one 340-feet long and rated for 11,000 tons and another that’s 200 feet long that’s used to position the first. It’s accomplished with an onboard crane and long “spuds” —poles driven vertically into the ground — that weigh 70,000 pounds each.

According to KRS Marine owner Kelly Pleas, the transit will take less than 24 hours and could involve several tug boats, depending on the wind.

“All of this makes for a huge sail,” said Pleas, while motioning to the superstructure’s huge sides. It can take a lot of muscle to maneuver such a heavy load, he added.

Loading of the ferry onto the barge began Friday morning and departure was scheduled for the high tide Saturday morning.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, Ferries Division’s website, the first 144-car ferry — the Tokitae — is planned for service this summer. The second, the Samish, is scheduled for service in early 2015.

 

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