WSF crew appreciation turns into nightmare with more boat issues

It was supposed to be a weekend of support for the Washington State Ferries crew, and while it still was, another blow to the already spread-thin ferry lineup has Kitsap County continuing to bear the burden of the agency’s reduced schedules and delays.

The latest troubles began when WSF reported Oct. 28 at 10:45 a.m. that the Chimacum ferry had been put “out of service until further notice,” which left the Seattle-Bremerton route without a boat for nearly five hours. WSF spokesman Ian Sterling said it was having engine problems.

“The Chimacum threw a rod on an engine which will take some weeks to repair,” he said in an Oct. 30 statement.

The Chimacum had been filling a common vacancy for WSF in 2023, serving in place of the Walla Walla, which has had mechanical issues and was pulled from service again Sept. 15 due to a damaged propeller.

The jumbo-class ferry’s repair was given an initial timeline of four weeks due to the need to drydock and has been completed, Sterling said, but additional maintenance to restore the boat is backlogged.

He said, “An inspection on the second propellor found metal fatigue that must also be fixed. The repair itself is relatively quick, but there is currently no shipyard capacity in the region, so it will be out of service until we can find a yard that can take it.”

Meanwhile, Kingston commuters have also seen a reduction in service as the Issaquah ferry was pulled from the two-boat route to fill the vacancy. Bremerton’s route was restored at 4:15 p.m. Oct. 28, and the Kingston/Edmonds route continued to see reduced service as of two days later. Sterling acknowledged that had the Issaquah not been available, Bremerton would have seen many more cancellations.

A WSF reply on X, formerly Twitter, said that it planned to move the larger Kaleetan to Bremerton in the days ahead. The Issaquah is equipped to hold just 1,200 passengers and 124 cars compared to 1,868 passengers and 144 cars for its super-class counterpart. An Oct. 30 update from the agency confirmed the switch of vessels that afternoon.

In response to the problems, Eric Morley, one of the leaders behind a growing voice in advocacy for rider and route equity in the Bremerton Ferry Coalition, said: “It seems to happen every time. We try to plan something good for Bremerton, and I don’t know if we’re just that unlucky.”

The organization had seen ferry troubles interfere with proceedings before, but Oct. 28’s Chimacum failure proved to be the ultimate stroke of bad luck. That same day, the group’s members and other Bremerton riders organized at the Bremerton Ferry Terminal for a crew appreciation ride, a product of the coalition’s closed-door session with local and state leaders Sept. 7 that Morley said would be used to show appreciation to crew for their dedicated work in such a pressing environment.

“Bremerton is known as one of the tougher routes because of our riders,” he said. “We want to change those perceptions, which in turn, should provide some crew stability in that people want to work this route; they want to stay on this route.”

The group was scheduled to take the 11:10 a.m. ferry to Seattle and ride back, but as fate would have it, that would not be the case. John Vezina of WSF, who has been a common connection between the two organizations, shared his blunt thoughts on the failure of the vessel with Morley, saying, “The horribleness of the Chimacum having a mechanical issue on the day you’re going on is the stuff of nightmares.”

However, the setback did not sink the initial mission but instead gave the coalition a unique chance to speak with crew directly. The group was invited on board, support signs in hand, and allowed to have an audience with the entire ship’s crew in the passenger area, something that would not have been possible during regular service. Supporters even got an invitation from the ship’s captain to tour the bridge.

It was an incredible opportunity filled with respect and commonsense humanity that Morley said is already scheduled to happen as a once-a-month ride.

Organizer Kate Millward said in a statement: “Today’s engine trouble was not ideal for anyone, but in some ways, it was just the right day to launch our crew appreciation campaign. Everyone was disappointed, so it made a true difference to show up for the crew today.”