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Time is running out for a classic ferry - Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

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Time is running out for a classic ferry By NATALIE JOHNSON Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter Apr 26 2011, 12:44 PM · UPDATED

Jack Barbash loves his commute. And he says it’s because he gets to ride the Rhododendron. The middle-aged environmental research chemist who has commuted to Tacoma for more than a decade uses the 12-minute ride across Puget Sound to wander the edge of the Rhododendron’s deck and stand under the open sky or journey upstairs to relax on the upper deck, shoot the breeze with fellow commuters and, on nice days, look out at Mount Rainier. “Almost every trip I’m out there,” he said. “It’s still a magical thing for me to be able to do.” Lately, however, Barbash’s enjoyable commute has been tinged with sadness. The 64-year old boat is scheduled to retire early next year and be replaced with a newly built, slightly bigger vessel. Barbash says he and other commuters will miss the Rhododendron — or the “Rhody,” as Islanders often call it — because it is unique in the ferry system. Originally constructed in 1947 to cross the Chesapeake Bay and restored in 1993 for use on the Tahlequah-Point Defiance route, the boat charms riders with its brass railings, polished wood benches and unique upper deck layout, allowing passengers to walk along either side of the vessel. “I’m a hopeless fan of the (Rhododendron),” Barbash said. “There are a lot of us who have a very deep love of the boat.” However, Washington State Ferries (WSF) officials say the Rhododendron’s construction is outdated and doesn’t meet current coast guard safety standards. Since at least 2009, it has been slated to be replaced with the third vessel in the new Kwa-di Tabil class, the Kennewick, which is currently under construction at Vigor Shipyards in Seattle. Last Friday the state Legislature passed a transportation budget that included the final $32.1 million needed to complete the Kennewick’s construction. The three 64-car ferries cost the state a combined $213.2. The Chetzemoka is already serving the Port Townsend-Keystone route, and the Salish will join it in July, each replacing 80-year-old Steel Electric ferries deemed unsafe in 2007. Paul Brodeur, WSF’s director of vessel maintenance and preservation, said the Rhododendron — the oldest boat in the fleet — was next on the list for replacement because it is an aging single-compartment vessel with a riveted steel plate construction that makes it more vulnerable to perforation and sinking. “When she was built the standards were not what they are today,” he said. “If she was to go on a rock or have a hole punctured by hitting an object and flooding was to ensue, if the boat’s pumps couldn’t keep up, that boat would sink because there’s no way to isolate the compartment,” he said. Though Brodeur doesn’t believe the boat is currently a safety hazard, he said WSF didn’t want to wait until it became one, recalling the problems caused when the Steel Electrics were suddenly pulled from the fleet. “On the Rhody we’re ahead of that process. ... We don’t want to do things in an emergency,” he said. Though many are pleased to know the south end will be getting a brand new boat, Barbash, a well-known Islander with an infectious laugh who recently served on the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council board and performs on the Island with local bands such as Island Fusion, is frustrated, saying the state has not been transparent in its decision-making process. [...]

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4/29/2011 3:17 PM


Time is running out for a classic ferry - Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

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4/29/2011 3:17 PM


Rhododendron