WSF's newest vessel, Chetzemoka, sails closer to Keystone

 The Washington State Department of Transportation
The Washington State Department of Transportation's new 64-car ferry Chetzemoka was moved from Seattle to Everett Saturday for final outfitting and system testing prior to conducting dock and sea trials. The tug is the 72-foot long Westrac.
— image credit: WSDOT photo by Jim Culp.

Washington State Ferries' newest vessel made its first voyage Saturday but is still a few months away from service.

The Chetzemoka, a 64-car Kwa-di Tabil class ferry, was towed from Todd Pacific Shipyard in Seattle to Everett Shipyard, where it will remain for the next several months. South Whidbey residents enjoyed the view of the vessel passing by.

Shawn Devine, Washington State Department of Transportation communications coordinator, said the ship will undergo its final equipment outfitting and systems testing in Everett.

The Chetzemoka will start its sea trials in late June and it is scheduled to start service on the Port Townsend to Keystone ferry route in August. Its construction marks the first time in nearly three years that a permanent ferry will serve the route that crosses Admiralty Inlet.

In November 2007, transportation officials pulled the four Steel Electric ferries, which were the only vessels in the ferry system's fleet capable of navigating Keystone Harbor, because the hulls weren't safe. The Steel Electrics have since been sold and scrapped.

Ferry service on the route has been provided by a combination of passenger ferries and the Pierce County-owned Steilacoom II, which holds 50 cars and is smaller than the Steel Electrics and the Chetzemoka. Sailings on the route have been frequently canceled due to high winds, heavy seas and equipment breakdowns.

Business leaders on Whidbey Island will soon start planning celebrations for the Chetzemoka's arrival. Linda Eccles, executive director for the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce, said leaders from North, Central and South Whidbey Island will be invited to help plan the festivities.

"We're going to put the call out to a lot of people to see who is interested in participating," Eccles said, adding that having improved service out of Keystone benefits all parts of the island.

"It's going to be great having a big ferry back here," Eccles said.

Construction of a second Kwa-di Tabil class ferry will soon begin. The Washington State Transportation Commission is seeking suggestions for the new ferry name. The second 64-vehicle ferry should be operational sometime in 2011.

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