Ferry running despite crack

"Although scratched and hobbled in the wake of a still-unexplained grounding, the Wenatchee remains a safe and serviceable ferry, and will remain on the Bainbridge Island route for now.That's the word from Mark Nitchman, maintenance director for Washington State Ferries.There's a hairline crack in the hull, but it's not letting any water in, Nitchman said. We're monitoring it to see if it's something that happened as the result of the vessel grounding, rather than something that developed afterwards.The Wenatchee hit bottom near the mouth of Eagle Harbor on July 2 during an extraordinarily low tide. The hull was dented and one propeller bent, and over the weekend, divers discovered the crack.It isn't a problem right now, Nitchman said. We've marked it, and will inspect it daily to make sure it isn't getting any bigger. If it is getting bigger, we'll have to take the Wenatchee out of service...Regional Port Captain Jim Malde said the crack shows no sign of growing in size. Both the crack and propeller will be repaired as soon as a drydock becomes available, probably at the end of this month.Malde estimated that the initial repairs won't take more than a day or two. The more extensive work required to get the dent out of the hull won't be undertaken until the Wenatchee's regularly scheduled drydocking this winter. The grounding bent the propeller on the Seattle end of the ferry, knocking it out of balance. That prevents running the propeller at full speed because of increased vibration. Operators can compensate by using the propeller at the Bainbridge end to pull the boat through the water on the westbound run.The boats are designed to both pull and push, Malde said. You normally have some of each. We're doing more pulling and less pushing now, and all you lose is some fuel efficiency.Meanwhile, the mystery deepens about why Eagle Harbor was so shallow. Even though the tide was minus 3.7 feet, Malde said there still should have been four to six feet of water under the keel.The sonar survey hasn't come up with anything yet, he said Tuesday. Now we're having a diver go down to inspect. We've narrowed the area down to about 50 square yards where we think it happened.He was in water where he shouldn't have touched bottom, Malde said."

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