Ferry captain bids farewell to Keystone route
September 26, 2012 · Updated 10:16 AM
By Tristan Hiegler
Port Townsend Leader
Semi-trucks exiting the ferry let out loud horn blasts to mark a special day. Cars honked their horns and people waved at the bridge as they drove into the Port Townsend terminal.
They were honoring Washington State Ferries’ Capt. Mark Haupt, a long-serving ferry captain who piloted the Kennewick between Port Townsend and Coupeville for the last time Sept. 13.
“It’s very tough to leave what I consider to be one of the best jobs in the world,” Haupt said in an interview aboard the Kennewick.
Haupt, 57, has worked for the state ferry system since 1973. He started working as deckhand part-time while attending college. He became a full-time, permanent ferry worker in 1978 and earned his captain’s license in 1986.
He captained the Klickitat beginning in 2006 and oversaw that Steel Electric boat’s last years on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.
He helped usher in the era of the new class of ferry and captained the Kennewick since its introduction in February 2012.
Haupt said he enjoyed piloting the older Steel Electric class ferries such as the Klickitat, which was pulled from service in late 2007, but added they definitely needed to be replaced.
“Those boats had reached 80 years old. Even with the proper preventative maintenance, nothing lasts forever. Parts of the boats still dated back to 1927,” he said. “I’m very happy and proud of the people involved in rolling out these new ferries. This route needed them.”
New ferry benefits
Haupt praises some of the design features of the newer Kwa-di Tabil class ferries built to serve the Admiralty Inlet crossing, infamous for wind issues, fog, strong current, tidal changes and a narrow Keystone Harbor.
“The hulls are very stout; they have great maneuverability,” he said of the new boats. “With their large engines they’re able to make up time that is lost due to storm courses or heavy vehicle traffic situations.”
The Kwa-di Tabil class consists of the Kennewick, the Salish and the Chetzemoka, all built in Seattle from 2010 to 2012. The class can carry about 64 cars and 750 passengers.
Both the Salish the Kennewick are currently on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route, although the Salish departs Oct. 9 as the route returns to one-vessel service.
Haupt said the boat’s articulated rudders help maneuver into narrow Keystone Harbor.
“I consider this my No.1 job, that I get paid to keep the schedule safely. We do that quite easily with these boats,” he said.
He said despite the boat’s narrow lanes, the crew is managing to fit in a record number of trucks and larger vehicles.
“They’re quite versatile; they carry a lot of traffic,” he said of the new ferries. “We’re setting records with our truck traffic here. It’s just a wonderful thing. I’m really happy to see that happen because it was a lot more difficult to load the trucks with the Steel Electrics.”
“It’s like a blank canvas,” Haupt said of the car deck. “And our job each and every trip is to get the most out of the load that we can.”
He praised the new design’s evacuation slide system, calling it a state-of-the-art way to keep passengers safe in the event of an emergency.
“If you ever have to abandon ship, the folks may never get wet,” he said. “It’s really a cool boat in a lot of ways.”
Issues to address
However, while sailing across to Coupeville on his last active day, Haupt pointed out some flaws with the new design, most notably the tendency of the vessels to list several degrees.
“We don’t care for it as operators. It is a negative in my opinion. I think the ferry system will address it though,” he said.
The passenger stair tower weighs heavily on one side of the vessel because the stairwell landings were built as fire refuge areas, per U.S. Coast Guard rules, and the elevator was built according to land-based codes.
“This is pretty much built like a bunker, this column that goes down to the car deck and comes up to this level,” Haupt said while pointing at the stairwell-elevator shaft from the pilot’s station on the top level on the vessel.
“One of the negatives of making the elevators safer, more spacious, is more weight,” he said. “We’ve had some issues with our elevators and our fire-screen doors not working as well as they should because the boat is tilting a little bit.”
The list was one of a series of concerns raised by Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, in an Aug. 1 letter to Washington State Department of Transportation officials.
The response to her letter stated the list is an intentional design feature that “maximizes car deck space and allows for an increased number of overheight vehicles.”
The response, written by Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond and Assistant Secretary David Moseley, states the new design was procured quickly and based on the Island Home class ferry currently active in Massachusetts.
He said the list could have future consequences by allowing saltwater to pool up in the ferry, possibly corroding parts of the interior hull. The list can also slow vehicle loading, Haupt said, making the crew load one lane at a time until the list is corrected.
Haupt said that due to the vessels’ increased engine power over the Steel Electrics, the new class does use more fuel with their 6,000-horsepower diesel engines.
He said the new class has a broader surface area presented to the wind, making navigating during intense weather situations more challenging.
“I’m the operator literally that was tasked with making these boats work here. I consider it an honor and a privilege but I had no power in changing the fundamental design or structure in the boats and was actually told not to change anything,” Haupt said. “I think our boats work quite well, there are some drawbacks really associated with the list. My personal opinion... the list issue should be resolved for the long-term welfare of the vessels.”
This story first appeared in the Port townsend & Jefferson County Leader’s Sept. 19 issue.