PORT TOWNSEND — The MV Kennewick will be the only ferry serving the Port Townsend-Coupeville route for the foreseeable future after the MV Salish was taken out of service Sunday by a grounding incident in Keystone Harbor.
Washington State Ferries spokesperson Ian Sterling said it appears the Salish, one of two ferries on the route, came in contact with a sand and gravel bar in the harbor and bottomed out.
“At about 12:30 p.m. the rudder got stuck, a mechanical malfunction occurred or an operational situation happened. Right now, we don’t know the cause,” Sterling said.
“This was not a high-speed incident and everyone disembarked as planned. No one was injured.”
The incident caused the route to be closed down for six hours as ferry officials assessed the damage.
The MV Kennewick began moving vehicles and passengers after 6 p.m. Sunday.
“Behind the scenes it was a challenging day [Sunday], but a lot of people and engineers were involved,” Sterling said.
“They were able to get the ferry inspected, get the tow arranged and get divers in water to ascertain the extent of the damage.”
The crippled Salish was towed by Crowley Tugs to Port Townsend on Sunday.
On Monday morning, divers were able take another look at the damage.
Sterling said the ferry will be towed today for repairs.
“We have a dry dock available in Anacortes. The work will begin immediately on the Salish and it is anticipated it will take days not weeks,” he said.
“Of course, we’re not sure what they’ll find until it’s out of the water. But all parts are available and there are people waiting to do the work.”
Sterling said ferry users should expect delays and stand-by options might be difficult.
He suggested checking www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries to stay up-to-date on schedule changes.
On Monday afternoon, delays were up to 90 minutes in Port Townsend and longer than two hours in Coupeville.
Sterling said that alternate routes are Edmonds-Kingston and Bainbridge-Seattle.
He said this situation has happened before on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.
Last year, the Salish was out of service for rudder problems and crab pot damage and it took six weeks to repair.
The ferry system had no available dry dock space, which delayed repairs then, but Sterling said this time the repairs will begin in the next couple of days.
“This is our most challenging route and we use our most experienced captains. The boat capacity is 64 vehicles, the smallest in the fleet, because they have to fit into Keystone Harbor. To make them maneuver, they have an articulated rudder system, which is more complex than the big boats and they operate differently.”
He said this route is problematic for a number of reasons.
“There are tidal cancellations and fog that cause delays or cancellations,” he said. “And because the currents are moving so quickly, the ferry can’t get into the Keystone Harbor easily.”
Only three ferries are able to operate on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route: the Kennewick, the Salish and the Chetzemoka, which is now serving the Point Defiance/Tahlequah route in the Tacoma area.
Sterling said Washington State Ferries is “the safest system on the planet with 23 boats on 10 different routes throughout Western Washington’s waterways.”
For more information, visit the state Department of Transportation website at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries and click on “Ferry Alert Bulletins.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]