July 17, 2007
Kitsap Transit, in the name of research, hopes to buy and run a passenger ferry between Bremerton and Seattle in 2009.
The six to eight months of service would cap a five-and-a-half year study — called the Rich Passage Passenger Only Fast Ferry Study — conducted with mostly federal money by the transit agency and others.
During the service, the boat's wake and the economics of operating a route through Rich Passage would be analyzed, said Phil Osborne of Edmonds-based Pacific International Engineering, the project's manager.
"It would provide the final stage of research in terms of validating what we've done so far in terms of impact (on the shorelines)," Osborne said.
The service would not be a commercial venture but part of the study, and paid for as such. The number of departures would be determined by the level of government funding.
The low-wake boat would cost between $3.5 million to $4 million, said Kitsap Transit executive director Richard Hayes. U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, announced last week that he reserved $1.5 million in the House transportation appropriations bill for the ferry. That came a day after Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she snagged $2.2 million for the study. The bills still have to be passed.
The shortfall might be made up through state mobility funds or money from the sale of state passenger ferries Chinook and Snohomish, Hayes said. If not, Kitsap Transit could lease the new boat.
"We would prefer to buy it because it costs less in the long run, but we don't know if there'll be a long run yet," Hayes said.
By leasing other boats, Kitsap Transit has built up about a $300,000 credit that could contribute to buying the ferry, Hayes said. Some of the $2.2 million snagged by Murray might also go toward purchasing it if the senator designated it for a test operation, Hayes said.
The foil-assisted catamaran would be an upgrade of the Spirit, which the agency used for testing through Rich Passage in 2005. It would be designed by Teknicraft of New Zealand and built by All American Marine of Bellingham. The Spirit was based on the Condor Express, another cooperative project between the companies. During tests in Bellingham Bay in 2002, the Condor Express recorded the lowest wakes of any 149-passenger vessel.
Using computer modeling by the University of Iowa and other research, those hulls will be "optimized" for the new boat. The Spirit was designed to be a whale-watching boat, not a passenger ferry, and not specifically for Rich Passage, so the new ferry should create even less wake.
"I don't think anybody doubts that this will be the lowest-wake boat in the world the day it hits the water," Hayes said.
Teknicraft is designing around Kitsap Transit's basic parameters — 149 passengers on one deck and loaded from the bow. The designer likes the foil wing, which spans the dual hulls, to carry 40 percent of the boat's weight and for the power to be delivered by four small engines with water jets. That might be changed to two, Hayes said.
After the testing period, the ferry could be the first of many in Kitsap Transit's fleet, if the agency can figure out how to get the public to support them, or it could be sold. It is advancing the science of wake generation, which has value in itself, Hayes said.
"Somebody is going to be using this boat somewhere, even if we don't get to," he said.
The earliest the testing could begin would be late 2008, Hayes said. Murray's $2.2 million should pay for the rest of the study, through 2009, according to Osborne.