The design and build time for the first vessel in a new ferry program is often three years or more. Blueprints, construction, fitting out, sea trials and delivery are a laborious and time-consuming process. This posed a huge challenge to the Washington State Ferries (WSF), which needed to quickly replace ferries on the Port Townsend-Keystone route.

Chetzemoka (Photos courtesy Washington State Ferries)

The need arose because of the decision to pull the system’s 80-year-old Steel Electric-class ferries from the route in 2007 because of corrosion. But the state had not added a new ferry since 1999 thanks to budget constraints, and it wound up leasing the 50-car ferry Steilacoom II from Pierce County to fill in.

The boatbuilding drought is finally over with the introduction of Chetzemoka, a 64-car, 750-passenger ferry. However, the changeover has not been smooth: WSF postponed the ferry’s inaugural run, scheduled for late August, when concerns developed during testing over excessive vibration in the drive train, including the main engine, couplings, shafting, reduction gears and propellers.

Chetzemoka will be joined by a sister ship next year. The vessel’s name honors a S’Klallam chief who befriended 19th-century settlers on the Olympic Peninsula. The ferries’ class name, Kwa-di Tabil (“little boat†in the Quileute language), was suggested by students at a Port Townsend middle school.

The No. 1 end propeller, a Rolls-Royce 90-inch-diameter design made of stainless steel.

The design and construction of state-owned vessels in Washington state takes place under much more restrictive conditions than in most states: by law, in-state firms must do the design and construction.

While this is designed to bolster employment in the state’s shipbuilding sector, it comes with a penalty, since Gulf Coast shipbuilders have historically built ferries similar to those used by WSF at far less cost. The original contract award for Chetzemoka was $65.5 million; the contract for Island Home, a 254-foot ferry built by VT Halter Marine in 2007 for the Steamship Authority in Massachusetts, was for $32 million.

Even with the restrictions it faced, WSF was determined to use every way possible to fast-track the new ferries. Three main strategies cut at least a year off delivery time: using an existing design, modifying the midsection and using engines originally ordered for another project.

Shipyard workers paint Chetzemoka’s hull in dry dock.

Chetzemoka, a classic double-ender, is based on Island Home, which Seattle-based Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) designed several years ago for the run between Martha’s Vineyard and Woods Hole. At least on paper, the vessel seemed to meet the service needs of the WSF route.

In February 2008, WSF captains and engineers rode Island Home and confirmed that the vessel, with modifications, could serve the Port Townsend-Keystone route.

The design modifications to the ferry were done by EBDG per Washington state law. The major modification was the addition of a 20-foot midbody section to increase capacity on the car deck from 57 to 64 autos (Island Home also has a hydraulic ramp system to pack in more cars, which WSF elected not to include).

A shipfitter apprentice at Todd Pacific Shipyards grinds steel edge in the early days of construction.

Other changes included modifying the bow to the standard WSF “pickle fork†configuration, which mates with the docks at both ports and gives the operator a better line of sight. The bow thruster was removed and the heating and cooling system capacity reduced. The carbon fiber shafts between the engines and gearboxes were replaced with standard steel shafts.

A major change was the reduction of the passenger areas from 1,200 to 650-750 people, which saves crewing costs while still meeting the service demands of the route. Guido Perla & Associates of Seattle did design engineering on the ferry.

WSF also compressed the time line by using new engines it had warehoused for another project. The time line from order to delivery has reached 18 to 20 months for some marine engines, but the ones for Chetzemoka and its sister vessel were ready for installation.

Installing windows on the passenger deck.

A shared shipbuilding arrangement was devised for this project, also to save time. Todd Pacific Shipyards of Seattle built the hull in steel and Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland, Wash., constructed the aluminum pilothouses and passenger compartments. Everett Shipyard on the mainland did the final outfitting, dock and sea trials, and Jesse Engineering of Tacoma, Wash., built the steering gear.

Chetzemoka is 273 feet 8 inches long with a 64-foot beam. Minimum draft is 9 feet; maximum is 11 feet 6 inches. The design is a classic roll-on/roll-off with engine rooms at opposite ends of the hull and twin pilothouses at opposite ends of the bridge deck.

Main engines are a pair of EMD 12-710 diesels rated at 3,000 hp each at 900 rpm. These, along with an identical pair, were in storage at WSF; the second pair will be used on the second ferry of the series. Also on hand at WSF were two pairs of MTU Series 60 engines, one rated at 300 kW and one at 350 kW. These are being put to use as generators on the first two ferries.

Each main engine powers a Reintjes WAF 3445K gear, each with a 3.036:1 reduction and internal shaft brakes, spinning a 90-inch Rolls-Royce stainless-steel propeller. Rudders on each end of the vessel are of the high-lift flap type. The gears were supplied by Karl Senner, of Kenner, La., which will also be supplying the Reintjes gears and Berg CPP systems on the next two boats.

With the Seattle skyscape in the background, Chetzemoka leaves Todd’s yard April 3rd for Everett Shipyard for final outfitting, including insulation, crew and passenger accommodations, galleys, flooring and safety equipment.

The contract for this ferry was awarded to Todd Pacific in December 2008 for $65.5 million. WSF has a budget of $211.6 million for a total of three 64-car ferries through 2013; final cost for Chetzemoka will be $76.5 million. In October 2009, the legislature awarded a contract for $141.1 million to Todd for the second and third ferries, to be named Salish and Kennewick; Todd and its partners indicated they could build a fourth 64-car ferry for $50 million. The second ferry is scheduled for completion next spring and the third in the winter of 2012.

Another ferry building program for Washington state is awaiting funding by the legislature. Earlier this year, WSF signed an agreement with Todd to begin detailed design drawings for a series of 144-car ferries. Todd commissioned Guido Perla to do the drawings, which should be finished by June 2011.

The legislature originally approved funding for the 144-car ferries in 2003, and $62.1 million has been spent, including $47.8 million for long lead-time items such as engines. However, those engines were snapped up for use in Chetzemoka and its sister vessel.

Any way you look at it, WSF needs to move ahead to replace its aging fleet. Nine of its 20 vessels are between 40 and 65 years old and must be replaced in the next 20 years. WSF is the largest ferry system in the United States and the third largest in the world, transporting more than 24 million passengers annually.

Meanwhile, Washington’s in-state restrictions are in question after a review conducted by the Passenger Vessel Association at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire reported in September that the state should bid new ferry construction nationwide.

“The panel believes that WSF is paying a high price for requiring in-state construction,†the report said.

By Professional Mariner Staff