Washington’s newest ferry, Suquamish, cast off from Clinton’s dock for the first time Thursday, on its way to Mukilteo and a new daily routine.
Suquamish is an Olympic-class ferry, able to load 144 cars and carry 1,500 passengers; it will share the Whidbey Island route with Tokitae, which is the same size.
Suquamish temporily replaces the smaller, older Kittitas, according to Washington State Ferries.
Seattle shipbuilder Vigor finished Suquamish at a cost of $122 million and delivered it to the state in July.
The Suquamish name translates into the “people of the clear salt water” in Southern Salish Lushootseed language.
Suquamish will operate on the Mukilteo/Clinton route during the busy summer season and will also serve as a maintenance relief vessel filling in on routes throughout the system when other ferries are out of service, according to State Ferries.
“Welcoming the Suquamish to our fleet brings us one step closer to providing much-needed relief to our system,” said Amy Scarton, Washington State Ferries assistant secretary. “This new ferry will help modernize our aging fleet and allow us to perform necessary maintenance to keep our ferries reliable and in good working order.”
The new ferry is the 23rd vessel to join the fleet and the last one approved for funding. She is a sister ship to ferries Chimacum, Samish and Tokitae, all completed by Vigor and launched in the past five years; Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland completed the superstructure of those three ferries but not of Suquamish.
The new ferry is named in honor of the Suquamish people, a tribe that has inhabited the central Puget Sound for approximately 10,000 years. Tribal members blessed the vessel during a marine christening ceremony earlier this year.
Prior to her official launch Thursday, Suquamish could be seen in local waters being put through a series of sea trial maneuvers.
“I watched her go back and forth several times,” said Bart Bartee of Mukilteo.
Bartee anxiously awaited going aboard Suquamish for the first time Thursday. A self-professed lover of Washington’s ferries, the 80-year-old says he passes time riding many different routes. “I must be on them six days a week,” he said.
Ready to jump aboard for a second time were walk-on passengers Ali Fuentes and P.C. Chamberlain of Lake Stevens. They had already made a crossing in the new ferry, then waited in Clinton until Suquamish appeared again.
“We had to be on it for it’s first run,” Chamberlain said. “We drove all the way from Lake Stevens just to take a walk-on ferry.”
Similar to other ferries, Suquamish gives passengers the story behind its name with exhibits throughout the seating area.
“Inside, the native art is just beautiful,” Chamberlain said. “And there’s old black and white photographs.”
Suquamish’s diesel engines meet EPA tier four standards, making the vessel the cleanest burning passenger boat of its fleet, according to Washington State Ferries. It is also more accessible with wider staircases and vehicle lanes and two elevators.
Last month, Washington State Ferries released its Long Range Plan of the system’s needs; ridership is expected to increase 30 percent between 2017 and 2040.
The plan is being discussed at a series of regional public meetings; about 60 people came out Wednesday for a meeting at Freeland Hall.
“It was a great way to connect with Ferry Advisory Committee members and our customers and to hear more about what they would like to see from the ferry system in years to come,” said Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson.
The ferry plan, which will be delivered to the Legislature in January, recommends retiring and replacing more than half its fleet as aging vessels reach “retirement age” after 60 years of use.
“Just to maintain current service levels, thirteen of our oldest ferries will need to be replaced by 2040,” Scarton said in a press release. “We’re recommending building sixteen new vessels in total to continue to provide reliable service.”