Chetzemoka to move south

Last year, christening ceremonies for the new state ferry Chetzemoka featured a tribal blessing that included descendants of the chief for whom the boat was named.

Chetzemoka was known as a peacemaker in the 19th century between white settlers and the people of his S’Klallam tribe on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula — one of the areas served by the new boat.

Photos on board his namesake ship include images of Port Townsend and Whidbey Island, the two destinations served by the vessel.

Now, the Chetzemoka is being moved to the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route in south Puget Sound, to be replaced by the Kennewick — a new boat named for a town in Eastern Washington.

The Chetzemoka will go out of service for maintenance Tuesday when the Port Townsend-Coupeville route shifts to one boat for the winter. The Salish, which began service in July, will serve as the lone boat until January, when it will be replaced by the Kennewick. The Salish will return and join the Kennewick when two-boat service resumes next June through early October. When the Chetzemoka goes back into service it will replace the 64-year-old Rhododendron, which is being retired from service, said George Capacci, deputy chief of operations and construction for the state ferry system.

State officials say the move is a practical one. While the three 64-car ferries are similar in most ways, the Salish uses a different type of propeller from the Chetzemoka but the same type as the Kennewick.

When two boats are both running during the summer, it will make for a smoother transition for captains and first mates moving between the two vessels, said Capacci.

Some who live on the Olympic Peninsula and Whidbey Island are okay with the change and some are not.

“I don’t own the ferry, it belongs to the people of the state of Washington,” said Les Prince, 79, of Sequim — the great-great grandson of Chetzemoka — who took part in the ceremony last November.

“They can do what they want with it,” he said.

State ferry chief David Moseley called him and explained the change, Prince said.

“Their reasoning sounded pretty good to me why they were going to have to move it,” he said.

Moseley also called JoAnn Bussa, a member of the Jefferson County Historical Society in Port Townsend. Bussa, at the suggestion of the late historical society member Steve Levin, pushed for Chetzemoka as the name for the new boat.

At first, she said, she accepted Moseley’s explanation about the switch, but there’s been a shift in her feelings.

“It’s starting to sink in,” Bussa said. She’s been hearing nothing but negative comments.

“I’m not surprised by the reaction of the people who have come up to me that are extremely disappointed,” Bussa said.

She said she hasn’t decided whether to protest the move with the state.

She asked hypothetically why the state couldn’t simply switch the names of the two boats, the Kennewick and the Chetzemoka, and move the artwork.

Ferry spokeswoman Marta Coursey said others contacted said they were OK with the change and that the artwork and advertising on the boat could serve as a promotion for the area.

“When the Chetzemoka goes to any other route, they’re basically getting added benefit for tourism,” she said.

Bussa doesn’t buy it.

“That is not the general consensus that I’ve heard,” she said.

Lynda Eccles, executive director of the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce, said she hasn’t heard any negative reaction.

“I’m just pleased with what Washington state did for us in getting the new ferries in place,” she said.

The route was without a state-built ferry for nearly three years.

Three ferries in the Steel Electric class, including two on the Port Townsend-Whidbey route, were pulled from service in 2007 following an investigation by The Herald that found the ferries were being used to carry passengers despite extensive corrosion and cracking in the hulls. The 80-plus-year-old vessels did not meet federal standards in place since the 1950s.

The route was served by the Steilacoom II, a small ferry on loan from Pierce County, from early 2008 until last November, when the $80.1 million Chetzemoka began service.

The Salish and Kennewick are being built for roughly $68 million each.

The Chetzemoka was built to get it into service as quickly as possible, ferry officials have said, and uses what is called a fixed propeller system. The Salish and Kennewick have a more sophisticated variable-pitch propeller that takes longer to install and demands different skills of captains in slowing down the boats, Capacci said.

“We like to remove as many variables as possible,” he said.

Ultimately, the Chetzemoka could return to the route in some fashion, Capacci said.

“The vessels will still be moved throughout the system,” he said.

Eccles acknowledged there’s a sentimental spot for the Chetzemoka because it was the first new ferry.

“We were excited to have her, we had a great launching for her, but it’s just moving forward, I guess you call it,” she said.

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