PORT TOWNSEND — Two-boat service will be restored for the route between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island for the weekend.
The ferry route between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island has been down to only one ferry, the MV Kennewick, after the second ferry, the MV Salish, was taken out of commission. The Salish had run aground trying to enter Keystone Harbor on Tuesday.
The MV Chetzemoka will be taken off its Seattle route and will be sailed to Port Townsend to restore two-ferry service for the weekend to deal with increased summer ferry traffic.
“This has historically been one of the busiest summer weekends, if not the busiest,” said Ian Sterling, public information officer for Washington State Ferries.
The Salish will be out of commission for the foreseeable future, according to Sterling.
The Chetzemoka will be on the Keystone route Saturday and Sunday, so the ferry will run on a normal summer schedule.
However, after that, service might be cut again, Sterling said.
Should that happen, Sterling encourages people to walk on the ferries, if that is an option, or take ferries farther south such as the Kingston ferry.
Keystone Bay on Whidbey Island has the state ferry system’s most difficult dock, Sterling said.
“There’s really no room for error,” he said.
The ferry hit a sandbar despite having one of the ferry system’s most experienced captains at the helm, Sterling said.
Initial reports were that the ferry’s rudder was not operating properly. The ferry was sailed back to Port Townsend to assess the damage, but a much bigger issue was soon discovered.
According to Sterling, rope from several crab pots had been wrapped around the ferry’s propeller shaft and had worked into some of the seals that keep water out of the engine and electrical systems.
The Salish will have to be pulled out of the water for repair, but there aren’t any dry docks available now for a ship of that size.
“That’s a whole other issue,” Sterling said. “There’s actually a shortage of dry docks in Puget Sound, and we’re really limited since there are only a few that can handle boats of this size.”
Divers were sent Thursday morning to cut most of the rope off the ferry’s propeller.
The state Department of Transportation also will send a robot to check the Kennewick for crab pot ropes and possible damage caused by those ropes as soon as possible.
“Our crew do the best they can to avoid crab pots,” Sterling said. “During the day, they do the best they can, but at night, that’s a whole other issue.”
Washington State Ferries has reached out to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to get the word out that crab pots shouldn’t be set near ferry routes.
“Best case, you lose your gear,” Sterling said. “Worst case is this: that you inconvenience thousands of people.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected].