This former Hudson River ferry was recently renovated by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders and now shuttles commuters across Puget Sound. The Freeland shipyard will be building two new similar ferries for Kitsap County’s system. (Photo provided)

This former Hudson River ferry was recently renovated by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders and now shuttles commuters across Puget Sound. The Freeland shipyard will be building two new similar ferries for Kitsap County’s system. (Photo provided)

Nichols Bros. awarded foot ferry contract

‘Fast cats’ will carry commuters across Puget Sound

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders was awarded a $23-million contract by Kitsap County to construct two fast ferries that will shuttle walk-on commuters across Puget Sound.

The Kitsap Transit board authorized the selection of the Freeland shipyard for the design and construction of two bow-loading passenger-only vessels to add to its new fast-ferry system consisting of three routes.

“Nichols Brothers provided the most complete, competitive proposal for Kitsap Transit’s bow loaders that could meet our speed requirements,” said Sanjay Bhatt, Kitsap Transit public information officer.

The deal was finalized Thursday, said company president Matt Nichols.

In 2016, Kitsap County voters approved a ballot proposition for a dedicated sales tax to support Kitsap Transit’s plan for foot ferry service to downtown Seattle from Bremerton, Kingston and Southworth.

Nichols Brothers also just completed a $5.4-million refurbishment of a New York City passenger ferry, M/V Finest, for Kitsap County. The Finest was part of a fleet of ferries and water taxis that evacuated hundreds of thousands of people from Lower Manhattan during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Its new life began the morning of Nov. 26 when it left the Port of Kingston and arrived in downtown Seattle about 40 minutes later.

All the ferry vessels are double-hulled catamarans that are speedy and designed to easily maneuver in and out of ferry docks. The low bow allows passengers and bicyclists to easily board.

The boats are 130-feet in length, 34-feet wide and can cruise at 38 knots. They have only one deck and 250 passengers fit in the elongated cabin.

“The seats are like on an aircraft,” Nichols said. “Snug.”

In 2016, Kitsap County voters approved a ballot proposition for a dedicated sales tax to support Kitsap Transit’s plan for passenger-only ferry service to downtown Seattle from Bremerton, Kingston and Southworth.

The service was launched in July 2017 with a Bremerton/Seattle route.

Work on one of the Kitsap ferries is expected to begin at Nichols Brothers shipyard in January with delivery in 2020.

The brand new ferries will be used to operate the Kingston-Seattle and Southworth-Seattle ferry routes.

In the mid-2000s, Nichols co-owned a company called the AquaExpress that connected Kitsap County to the other side of Puget Sound via a small, high-speed ferry.

“We started that whole run,” he said, “but fuel prices went up and we couldn’t sustain it.”

Back then, people weren’t so gung-ho about trying mass transit, and it suffered from low ridership.

But that’s changing. Fast.

High-speed passenger-only ferries have become more popular in many coastal cities as vehicle gasoline prices rise, and highways become more clogged. Ridership on new passenger ferry fleets in San Francisco and New York City have far exceeded expectations.

Nichols predicts the demand for the “fast cats” could keep his crews busy for years to come.

“We’ve got two cats in the yard right now, one from Long Beach, California and one from the Bay area,” he said. “We’re doing a major upgrade and giving them a second life.”

Fast foot ferries keep cars off the road, decrease carbon emissions give former car commuters time to zone instead of groan.

“When the new Kitsap ferry is done, it will save commuters tremendous time,” Nichols pointed out. “Instead of driving to Kingston, waiting to get on the Washington State ferry, then getting off in Edmonds and driving the I-5 nightmare to Seattle, they get on a fast ferry and 39 minutes later, boom, they’re in Seattle.”

Fast ferries are double hull catamarans, providing both speed and stability. Nichols Brother Boat Builders renovated this former New York waterway vessel, M/V Finest, and it’s now one of Kitsap County’s ferries. (Photo provided)

Fast ferries are double hull catamarans, providing both speed and stability. Nichols Brother Boat Builders renovated this former New York waterway vessel, M/V Finest, and it’s now one of Kitsap County’s ferries. (Photo provided)

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