Islander builds model Hiyu ferry

The Samish ferry may be out of service, but Fred Perez of San Juan Island is bringing the Hiyu back into rotation.

“I’ve actually floated it in my bathtub,” said Perez, “but that’s not a very good place to run it.”

The Hiyu model Perez built is just like the original, now-decommissioned Washington State Ferry, except built to a 1/64 inch scale. Instead of 162 feet long, it’s about 30 inches. Instead of steel, the majority of the structure is plastic.

He operates it from a wireless remote control, which commands the direction of the rudders and speed of the propellers. There are LED lights on the car and passenger decks, which change from clear to green when in reverse. Two engraved popsicle sticks serve as the Hiyu name boards.

According to WSF, the Hiyu was in service from 1967 to 2016, until it was sold to be turned into an “entertainment vessel” on Lake Union.

Perez first started construction around 1994, soon after he and his wife Colette moved to San Juan Island from Southern California. She requested a model of what she called the “little ferry that could,” after WSF staff placed it in storage in the late 90s. Colette had recommended a mailbox in the shape of her favorite ferry, but what she received was from the mind of an engineer.

“I know how exact the details are, I know the perfection of the scales,” she said.

Perez studied mechanical engineering at Penn State. Later, he briefly worked on capsules for the Apollo program, which eventually landed the first man on the moon. Around his San Juan home, he’s done plumbing and built cars.

“I can take most things apart and put them back together again,” he said.

Those skills helped him to create the ship’s electrical circuits and cut the designs, laid over plastic, with a utility knife.

Perez finished construction last year, after working on the project intermittently. Now, he’s looking for a freshwater pond, protected from the wind, for the vessel’s maiden voyage. He doesn’t want parts like the stainless steel anchor or brass propellers to corrode in salt water or a small ripple to act as a large wave to the tiny vessel.

The Hiyu, he said, was about 10 knots slower than other ferries.

“If [the model] can do one or two knots,” said Perez, “I’ll be happy.”

To recommend a body of water for the miniature Hiyu’s maiden voyage, contact the Journal at 360-378-5696.