New state ferry picking up vibrations; could delay Port Townsend debut

State ferries engineers hope to have answers early this week after sea trials revealed excessive vibration in the driveline of the newly built Chetzemoka ferry, which is scheduled for the Port Townsend-Whidbey Island route late this month.

“It’s vibrating, and they know it exists and that the vibration increases if they accelerate,” Marta Coursey, Washington State Ferries spokeswoman, said Friday.

Tests were being conducted Friday.

Analysis was expected over the weekend.

More information was likely by Monday or Tuesday, Coursey said.

The $77 million ferry constructed by Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle — the first the state has built in 12 years — was expected to begin sailing from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island on Aug. 29.

“It’s too early to tell if [the problem with the driveline] will change the first sailing,” Coursey said.

“We’re presuming we can remedy it. . . .We don’t know how much of a fix it is at this point.”

Coursey also didn’t know how the problem would affect crew training, which was expected to begin sometime after last Friday.

During training, the 64-car ferry would be seen at Port Townsend while state ferries system crew members and Coast Guard personnel practiced running the boat over the often-choppy waters of Admiralty Inlet and docking it at Coupeville and Port Townsend.

“We are still currently in sea trials,” Coursey said.

Sea trials began in July in Possession Sound, part of Puget Sound, north of the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry route and south of Hat Island. They are expected to end some time in August.

“At some point, when its ready, it will go on the route and the crews will train,” Coursey said.

The new ferry passed other tests during sea trials, including steering, propulsion systems and navigation equipment.

Although engineers don’t know what caused the vibrations, such a problem “could affect the integrity of the vessel,” Coursey said.

“This is why we do sea trials, to make sure everything operating at its peak,” she added.

State ferry system officials have been planning a ceremony for the first scheduled sailing on Sunday, Aug. 29.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, state Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond and David Moseley, deputy transportation secretary for Washington State Ferries, are expected to attend the event, which will offer activities in Port Townsend, on Whidbey Island, and on the vessel.

The Chetzemoka, one of two 64-car ferries planned for the Port Townsend-Coupeville run, will replace one of the 80-year-old Steel Electric ferries that Hammond pulled out of service in late November 2007, saying the vessels were unsafe because their hulls were corroding.

The 50-car ferry Steilacoom II, which the state leased from Pierce County, has plied the route since.

Construction of the hull of the second ferry, which the Transportation Commission named the Salish, a name proposed by Jefferson County Ferry Advisory Committee member Tom Thiersch and the San Juan Island Council, is under way at Todd Shipyards’ facility on Harbor Island.

It is expected to begin plying the route in spring 2011.

A third 64-car ferry will be built but used elsewhere in the state ferries system.

The Chetzemoka was named for a Klallam chief.


Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or leah.leach@peninsula

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