Wind, waves too much for ferry

High winds Monday were too much for the Steilacoom II, the little vessel tapped by Washington State Ferries to sail out of Keystone Harbor.

Those winds, coupled with high seas, caused the cancellations of the final three voyages from Keystone Harbor. The cancellations began at 6 p.m. and continued through to the end of the day.

Estimates of those winds were at 45 miles per hour.

Hadley Greene, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries, said it’s up to the captain’s discretion on whether to cancel sailings. She wouldn’t speculate how the antiquated but larger Steel Electric ferries would have handled the conditions. They were pulled from service last November due to safety concerns. The ferry route went more than two months without vehicle ferry service.

The Steilacoom II, which is owned by Pierce County, started sailing out of Keystone Harbor last month.

Greene said that the Steilacoom II has been performing well in its first several weeks of service.

While the Steilacoom II restored car ferry service, people in the community and in the Legislature want something a bit bigger serving the route in the long term.

Currently Washington State Ferries is out to bid for a project to build up to three ferries that would be similar in design to the current vessel on the route. Some would rather see the system build two of the three based on a different design.

The ferry system recently sent several people familiar with Keystone Harbor to Massachusetts to examine the Island Home ferry, which is a vessel design that could be used on the route.

Those staff members, Capt. Mark Haupt, Chief Engineer John Bailey and Vessel Project Engineer Ron Wohlfrom and Port Capt. Pete Williams, spent several days touring the vessel and learning about how it handles. They seemed impressed with the vessel, which was originally designed in Seattle.

“The Island Home, as constructed, will really reduce the number of weather cancellations and fits the unique requirements of the Port Townsend/Keystone route,” Haupt said in a written statement. “The Island Home is the most maneuverable vessel for its size that I’ve seen.”

The Island Home came up as a possible design option through a vessel planning study the ferry system was developing when the Steel Electrics were pulled from service. Those plans were changed when officials had to find a way to restore car ferry service that connects Whidbey Island to the Olympic Peninsula.

Residents on both sides of Admiralty Inlet will have a chance to learn more about the new vessels being considered for the route by attending a public meeting this month.

The Port Townsend/Keystone Ferry Partnership Group will meet Thursday, March 27, at 3 p.m. at Camp Casey’s Auditorium B.

Greene said the meeting will include an update on new vessels and a discussion on possible summer mitigation. Business leaders are looking for help because there will only be one car ferry available during a time of the year when two normally serve the route, and even then waits can be lengthy at Keystone and in Port Townsend.

Following the partnership meeting will be a Ferry Advisory Committee meeting that is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the same room. That meeting will focus on the proposed ferry financing legislation.

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