New ferry Tokitae will serve Mukilteo-Clinton route

SEATTLE — Travelers between Mukilteo and Whidbey Island will be the first to enjoy the state’s newest ferry.

The 144-car Tokitae was christened Thursday at Vigor Industrial in Seattle. State transportation secretary Lynn Peterson smashed a bottle of sparkling wine over the edge of the boat to a round of cheers from many of the workers who helped build the vessel.

After sea trials, the Tokitae is scheduled to go into service on the Mukilteo-Clinton route in June. It will replace the Cathlamet, which is being moved to the Vashon Island route so the Evergreen State, a 60-year-old vessel, can be retired.

Mukilteo is getting the new boat because more cars travel on that route than any other in the system — more than 2 million last year, outgoing ferry chief David Moseley said.

“A little added capacity there, we felt, was needed,” he said.

The Tokitae will hold 20 more cars than the 124-car Cathlamet, so the new boat will slightly shorten the long ferry lines that extend up the hill on the Mukilteo Speedway in summer.

The other boat on the Mukilteo-Clinton route, the 124-car Issaquah, will remain there for the time being. The Issaquah and Cathlamet were built in the late-1970s.

The Tokitae is the first of three planned vessels in the new Olympic Class. The budget for the three boats is $387.5 million.

The Olympic Class boats are patterned after the Issaquah Class because of their versatility, but with modern features such as better heating and ventilation, more seating choice and better fuel efficiency, according to the state.

The Tokitae took two years to build. The next boat, the Samish, is under construction and scheduled to be finished in spring 2015. The third boat was funded just this year and has yet to be named.

Two other ferries, built in the 1950s, the Klahowya and the Tillikum, are scheduled to be retired as the new boats become ready.

This will be the fourth new ferry built in six years. The three boats in the Kwa-di Tabil class — the Chetzemoka, the Salish and the Kennewick — were built after the 1920s-era Steel Electric Class boats were pulled from the water in 2007 after cracks and corrosion were found in their hulls.

The four vessels completed in recent years, plus the Samish, were funded while former state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island was chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee. She lost her bid for re-election in 2012 but attended Thursday’s event.

“We built five boats,” she said proudly.

Replacing the old boats with the new will save the state money on maintenance in the long run, Peterson said at Thursday’s event.

The state’s policy of requiring the boats to be built in-state came under fire when the Chetzemoka exceeded the projected cost. But Vigor, formerly Todd Shipyards, and the subcontractors who have now worked on several boats have streamlined their skills, Moseley said.

“The learning curve is there, the efficiencies are there,” he said.

About 500 people worked on the Tokitae ­— 200 at Vigor Industrial and 300 at other locations, including Nichols Bros. Boat Builders in Freeland on Whidbey Island. That’s where the boat’s superstructure was built, officials said.

John Beeton, 33, who lives near Snohomish, fitted parts together on the new boat at Vigor Industrial. A veteran of two tours of Army duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, his nickname at Vigor is “Rambo.”

He spoke at Thursday’s event.

“Working on ferries is like building a landmark for the place where I live,” he said.

The name for the ferry also is representative of the specific area where it will begin service. Tokitae was the original name given to one of several orcas captured in Penn Cove at Whidbey Island in 1970 and taken to marine theme parks. Tokitae’s name was changed to Lolita, and she was taken to the Miami Seaquarium, where she continues to perform.

The Orca Network, a whale advocacy group based on Whidbey, submitted the name suggestion, state officials said. The group has been lobbying, so far unsuccessfully, for Lolita to be released from the Miami Seaquarium and brought back to local waters.

Tokitae, according to the Orca Network, is a Salish Indian greeting meaning “nice day, pretty colors.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; bsheets@heraldnet.com.

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