By Mark Edward Nero
The Washington state officials this week took part in a keel-laying ceremony marking the beginning of construction of a new vessel that will add to its Olympic-class ferry fleet.
On May 10, Gov. Jay Inslee, state Sen. Christine Rolfes and Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman struck ceremonial welds on the keel of the ferry Suquamish at shipbuilder Vigor Industrial’s Harbor Island Shipyard in Seattle.
Traditionally, a keel-laying ceremony is said to bring good luck during construction and to the captain and crew who will operate the vessel.
The keel-laying ceremony came weeks after significant progress was made on the third Olympic-class vessel, Chimacum. Last month, Chimacum’s superstructure was joined to its hull in dry dock at Vigor. Construction on Chimacum is now about 75 percent complete, according to the Washington State Dept. of Transportation.
“The simultaneous construction of two vessels is exciting,” Matt Von Ruden, director of vessels for Washington State Ferries, said. “We hope to continue investing in long-term ferry build programs to keep up with our increasing ridership and replace our aging fleet.”
The 144-car Suquamish is the fourth Olympic-class vessel and has not been assigned to a route yet. The first Olympic-class vessel, Tokitae, joined the Mukilteo/Clinton route in June 2014. The second, Samish, was put into service on the Anacortes/San Juans Island route in June 2015. Chimacum is expected to replace one of the older vessels on the Seattle/Bremerton route in 2017.
The new vessels are replacing vessels built during the 1950s and 1960s. Nine of 24 vessels in Washington State Ferries’ fleet are between 40 and 60 years old.