New Wash. state ferry sets sail


by KING 5 News

Posted on November 14, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 15 at 1:37 PM

COUPEVILLE, Wash. - The state's newest ferry is officially in service. The most expensive ferry ever built in the U.S., the Chetzemoka will travel betwen Coupeville, Whidbey Island and Port Townsend.

The first new ferry in Washington state in more than a decade made its inaugural sailing Sunday between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend.

The MV Chetzemoka, named after the late Klallam Chief Chetzemoka, was christened by Gov. Chris Gregoire. 

The boat is small, yet carries a big price tag: $80.1 million. 

"The Chetzemoka provides an important link between communities on both sides of the inlet," Gov. Gregoire said. "The inaugural sailing is truly a big event, and I'm thrilled to be able to share in the excitement of the occasion."

The new ferry that carries 64 vehicles and 750 passengers will begin its regularly scheduled service between Port Townsend and the Coupeville (Keystone) terminal on Monday.

For three years there has been a much smaller ferry traveling this route, which was leased from Pierce County.

"Some occasions, due to weather, I wasn't able to leave Port Townsend when I wanted to," said Gene Laes.

Laes and other residents hope the addition of the Chetzemoka will help make traveling easier. 

The ferry was scheduled to go into service in August but was delayed to fix vibrations discovered during sea trials.

The KING 5 Investigators recently uncovered  that for every vehicle the ferry can carry it cost $1.2-million to build. By using that marine industry standard of calculation, it is by far the most expensive ferry ever built in this country. The $80.1 million vessel was built by Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle. Todd is in the process of building two more ferries of the same design for Washington State Ferries.

Passenger John Plake woke up early Monday, determined to be one of the first passengers on-board. He did notice a flaw.

"It just looks like it's leaning - just a slight tilt - to one side, the right side," he said. "I'm not worried about it. At first I thought I was."

The KING 5 Investigators also found many employees who've worked on the boat are concerned about the vessel being lopsided . It has a noticeable list. Sources tell KING it's a flaw that creates safety concerns and inefficiency. But the company that designed the Chetzemoka, Elliott Bay Design Group, says it's supposed to be that way and will sail evenly when cars are loaded.

Leaders of Washington State Ferries say one of the reasons the boat cost so much is that the state needed it in a hurry. Commuters in that area were caught off guard, without service, when Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond pulled boats on that route out of service due to safety concerns in 2007.