Ferries flow smoothly as summer begins to ebb

Ferry service in the San Juans should return to its regularly scheduled operations now that the slow-moving Yakima has been replaced with the Kaleetan for the rest of the summer.

The Kaleetan was in dry dock until June 25, undergoing engine repairs and having its annual inspection. That ferry returned to the San Juans’ route on July 30 to fill in for the Yakima for approximately five weeks. Both ferries have a capacity to hold 144 cars.

When the Kaleetan left the dry dock, it still had a problem, said County Councilman Rick Hughes, who is also a member of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee. On Aug. 1, the vessel was still operating slightly below full speed so that crews could work on the boat as it traveled.

“This shouldn’t be a long-term problem,” Hughes said. “It should be up and going immediately.”

The Kaleetan returned to full speed on Aug. 2.

The Yakima sustained a damaged propeller when it hit something underwater, possibly a log, on the morning of April 22. The vessel was out for three days, returning to service on April 25.

“While (the Yakima) was out of service, we were able to make underwater repairs necessary to get the Yakima back in service,” Washington State Ferries spokesperson Broch Bender told the Sounder in May. “These underwater repairs were not complete, however, so the vessel (could) only operate within specified speed restrictions to ensure passenger comfort.”

The Yakima continued to travel at half-speed from April 25 until July 30, causing a domino effect of delayed sailings throughout the early summer months on the San Juans’ routes. There were no extra ferries available to fill in for the Yakima during this time, and Hughes said that the FAC decided having a boat sail at half speed was better than not having a boat at all.

“Our general feeling was: level of service is level of service, which is better than a reduction of service,” Hughes said. “I’ve always felt that while it is inconvenient for a lot of us in our community to have ferries be late, of any community in the ferry system, we’re the ones that would rather have service over on-time performance, even if it messes things up, just because this is our only way to get here.”

Meanwhile, the Elwha, another San Juans’ route regular, has been in dry-docking since late spring to repair steel corrosion under the deck. Hughes said in May that the damage to the Elwha is roughly $11 million. With the Elwha out of commission until at least September, only one ferry – the Chelan – is able to take the route to Sidney, British Columbia.