Prototype ferry still causing too much wake on island beaches

Kitsap Transit is going back to the drawing board to produce a ferry that both gives Bremertonians a 30-minute link to Seattle and satisfies Bainbridge Islanders who sued over the wake earlier fast ferries were kicking up.

Read Kitsap Sun transportation reporter Ed Friedrich’s story below.

Research Passenger Ferry to Be Scaled Back for Wake’s Sake
By Ed Friedrich

Kitsap Transit is reducing the size and speed of a prototype passenger ferry because computer modeling showed that the boat would create too much wake.

With all of the time and money spent developing a vessel that won’t harm Rich Passage beaches, wake performance can’t be compromised.

“First and foremost, the goal is to keep the faith of the program — getting a boat that goes through there without any damage,” said Kitsap Transit Executive Director Dick Hayes.

There is wiggle room on two other criteria — a 35-minute trip between Bremerton and Seattle (the same as the Bainbridge ferry) and capacity for 149 passengers. A slower boat could still make the trip in 32 minutes as compared with 28 for the original design, and there would be enough seats even if 20 to 40 were eliminated, Hayes said.

The drawback is that the redesign, which was approved by the transit board of commissioners on Aug. 19 and has already begun, will delay construction by four months. All American Marine of Bellingham will begin building the boat in September and deliver it in June.

The ferry will be shortened from 98 feet to about 80, and the weight sliced from 79 tons to about 60. That should significantly decrease the wake and improve fuel economy, said Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown, transit board chairman.

“The board was pleased,” Brown said. “The goal of this program is to build a high-speed boat that won’t damage the beaches.”

The smaller boat should be less costly to build, but redesign costs will eat into the savings. The board learned in July that the cost of the 149-passenger boat had risen from $3.7 million to $5 million because the design was changed from 80 to 97 feet, the cost of materials rose and the dollar is weak. The boat’s motors and water jets are being bought overseas.

In 2005, Kitsap Transit tested the MV Spirit, a boat designed by Teknicraft of New Zealand and built by All American Marine, through Rich Passage. The 110-passenger foil-assisted catamaran performed well.

The goal of a six-year, $10 million research project by Kitsap Transit and Pacific International Engineering of Edmonds is to take the Spirit’s principles and make it bigger, faster and with less wake. Hayes said last year that it would be the lowest-wake boat in the world the day it hit the water.

The Spirit could run through Rich Passage several times a day, but there would come a point where its wake could cause some shoreline damage, Hayes said. Computer modeling showed Kitsap Transit’s proposed 149-passenger boat would create less wake per person, but it wasn’t much better than the Spirit overall.

“We made progress, but we still had a boat that could only run about 10 trips a day without causing damage,” Hayes said.

The wake research will be capped by testing of the prototype ferry’s wake with passengers aboard for six to eight months while also testing an economic model for providing the service, based primarily on how much riders think it should cost. The price for a passenger ticket for the Bremerton-Seattle car ferry, which takes an hour, is $6.70 per round trip.

The research, which includes the passenger service, has been paid for primarily with federal grants. There is no funding to continue service. Kitsap voters have twice voted down tax increases that would have paid for fast ferry operations. Washington State Ferries had run two 350-person passenger ferries between Bremerton and Seattle. Rich Passage property owners sued the state, claiming the boats were eroding their beaches, and won. The route also didn’t generate enough ticket revenue to pay for half the cost of operating it.