Leaks cut Keystone route to single boat

The Keystone ferry route will be down to one vessel earlier than expected this fall due to leaky boats that have been taken out of service for repairs.

Ferry officials have to pull the Nisqually from the route Sunday. Sept. 9, so it can undergo United States Coast Guard-mandated inspection and concrete removal.

That leaves just one of the ferry system’s four, 80-year-old Steel Electric vessels, the Klickitat, to run the route. The Steel Electrics are the only ones in the fleet capable of navigating the difficult entrance into Keystone Harbor.

Typically the ferry system cuts back to one vessel on the Keystone to Port Townsend run later in September, after the busy tourist season ends.

However, the boats are old and each has been pulled from service in recent months to repair leaks that have suddenly sprung up.

Two of the vessels, the Quinault and the Illahee, are currently out of service having stern tubes replaced, said Marta Coursey, communications director for Washington State Ferries.

The Illahee was pulled from service at the end of July when workers found a crack in the vessel’s stern tube. It turned out the Quinault also needed the same work done to it.

The breakdown wreaked havoc with tourists coming home for the weekend and the Nisqually was brought in to replace the Illahee.

To allow the Nisqually to run the route, ferry officials were allowed to delay pulling the vessel until September.

Then, in November, the Klickitat undergoes a full hull inspection.

The inspection is the latest in the stepped up inspections and maintenance ordered by the Coast Guard to keep the vessels functioning safely.

“It’s like having an old car. The maintenance just builds up and builds up,” said Mike LaCroix, port engineer for Washington State Ferries during a Tuesday morning media tour of the Klickitat.

The Coast Guard required more inspections of the hulls after cracks and leaks were found in the various vessels. Last March, the Klickitat was pulled and the route cancelled for several days when a crack formed in the hull at the front of the vessel. Several cracks were discovered in the Illahee and Quinault in May and June.

LaCroix didn’t have a price yet on how much the stern tube replacement will cost.

The ferry system says it is committed to maintaining the vessels until viable replacements are found.

Currently there is an engineer and an oiler on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the Klickitat. They maintain the two diesel engines and four electric motors needed to propel the boat, which can carry 64 cars and approximately 600 passengers.

The Klickitat was built in 1927 and rebuilt in 1981. Interestingly enough, the Klickitat has a telegraph system that allows the pilothouse to communicate with the engine room.

During a tour of the Klickitat, LaCroix showed the patch that repaired the crack that knocked it out of commission last March.

Engineer Andy DeGraaf said the crack occurred right where a sponson meets the hull.

The ferry system is looking to replace the Steel Electric vessels, which were built the same year, 1927, that Charles Lindbergh made his historic flight across the Atlantic. But there is no state funding and the process could take several years.

Ferry officials are working on a study looking at options to replace the antiquated vessels. That study is scheduled to be finished in January and forwarded to the Legislature when it convenes next year.

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