Ferry runs aground near Port Townsend

The Rich Passage 1 ferry ran around Monday morning while heading to Port Townsend. Photo by Jim Surgent

The Rich Passage 1 ferry ran around Monday morning while heading to Port Townsend. Photo by Jim Surgent

A skipper’s misreading of channel markers led to the passenger ferry Rich Passage 1 running aground Monday morning while traveling from Bremerton to Port Townsend.

The vessel, with three people aboard, ran aground about 6:15 a.m. on a sandy beach on the south side of the entrance to the canal connecting Oak Bay with Port Townsend Bay. The canal is located between Indian Island and the mainland.

Kitsap Transit Executive Director John Clauson was on the 78-foot ferry with his son when it ran aground. Clauson chalked the incident up to user error.

“The skipper basically misread the channel markers and kept the red marker to his right,” he said. “Unfortunately, it should have been on the left as you’re going through the cut toward Port Townsend.”

Clauson said the boat had been traveling at about 22 to 24 knots during the trip, but he wasn’t sure of its exact speed when the skipper noticed the beach ahead and slammed the boat into reverse. It was dark at the time and visibility was poor, he said.

Marine Assist of Port Hadlock was the first responder, and the U.S. Coast Guard arrived on scene soon after and inspected the vessel. The tide was going out by that time, Clauson said, so a decision was made to wait until Tuesday morning to rescue the vessel. The 118-passenger boat was pulled off the rocks at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The boat, which is powered by four waterjets, was shut off and towed to Port Townsend as a precautionary measure, Clauson said, in case anything had been sucked into the intake hoses. He said the boat appears to not have been damaged by the grounding.

“There’s virtually no damage,” Clauson said. “There’s some scraped paint, but that’s about it.”

Kitsap Transit owns the ferry and has been testing it for possible use on a Bremerton to Seattle route. The impact of the vessel’s wake on beaches along the route was measured, and Clauson said researchers are now analyzing that data before a decision is made about next steps.


13 Responses to Ferry runs aground near Port Townsend

  1. Sean Munger February 3, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Uhhh? Chart plotter, Radar, an experienced skipper , ok what gives?

  2. Art Guy February 1, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    Pardon my ignorance, however I’m a little unclear. The majority of my/our boating is in California waters. Is it possible the channel marker is confusing due to the Red/Right returning rule? Although I’ve chartered in the San Juans and Gulf Islands, thankfully I never ran into a situation where I questioned entering an inlet or port with red on my right.

    • Bill Ray February 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

      You hit the nail on the head regarding red-right-returning in this area (hitting rocks is the #1 insurance claim here). Because of the complex waterways, figuring out what is “returning” can be tricky. In the popular channel past La Conner the buoys switch sides halfway through. The only way to use buoys and markers in the Salish Sea is with a current chart. Even experienced boaters get surprised from time to time.

  3. Jay N January 29, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    §162.235 Puget Sound Area, WA. (Coast Pilot 7)
    (2956) (a) Waterway connecting Port Townsend and Oak
    Bay; use, administration, and navigation-(1) Works to
    which regulations apply. The “canal grounds” when used in this Paragraph shall mean that area between the south end of the jetties in Oak Bay and the northerly end of the dredge channel approximately 400 yards northwest of Port Townsend Canal Light. The “canal” is the water lying between these limits and the banks containing the same.
    (2957) (2) Speed. The speed limit within the canal grounds
    shall not exceed five miles per hour.

    Of course, he was outside the “canal grounds”.

  4. Matthew Moeller January 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    I’ve got to agree with Pamela. I don’t think Kitsap Transit would be so complacent if one of their bus drivers forgot which side of the road to drive on. Does the vessel have no charts, GPS, radar or trained person in charge?

    • Bill Ray January 30, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      In darkness (6:15 am) in poor visibility that radar antenna is required to be in use to maintain a proper watch (colregs). On radar the correct channel is pretty obvious. There must be something more to this, like a distraction of some sort at the wrong moment.

      • Pamela Benson January 30, 2013 at 11:53 am #

        Actually Bill, the radar is required to be in use *whenever the vessel is underway*, no matter the time of day or conditions. I

        • Bill Ray January 30, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

          I agree with you operationally; I find radar handy in all situations (including anchoring)! It seems to be a controversial point in the colregs because the language is not quite that categorical (that exact phrase is not there in the copies I found) and I have heard different interpretations. What is clear that in limited visibility under rules 5, 6, 7 and 19 if radar is installed you must use it.

  5. Pamela Benson January 29, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Honestly? I am not surprised the skipper “mis-read” the channel markers. Last Fall I was almost run down by him while under sail downwind, well out of any traffic or ferry lanes. The Skipper is sadly lacking. I am just glad no passengers were hurt. Amazing how Kitsap Transit Director in his comments seemed unconcerned and dismissive that a licensed captain of a commercial vessel did not understand basic channel markers. Proceeding through that channel at that speed, when it was dark, and visibility was poor? Does the skipper even know Colreg #2??

    • Pamela Benson January 29, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

      Tried to edit my previous comment and found I could not. The last sentence should have read, ” evidently the Director is not familiar with Colreg # 2 and obviously the skipper does not understand nor implement Part B Rule 6!” Ok, nuff said. Done ranting, Karma played her hand in the end.

  6. Bill Ray January 29, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Thanks. Given the narrow dredged portion of that canal I hope he was not doing 22 knots. In any case its a good reminder to use charts not rules of thumb for deciding how to pass marks or buoys.

  7. Bill Ray January 29, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    Any information on boat speed and visibility?

    • Deborah Bach January 29, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

      Hi Bill,
      I got a little more information and updated the story. Apparently they were traveling around 22 to 24 knots during the trip, though it’s unclear exactly how fast the boast was going when the skipper noticed the beach ahead and slammed the boat into reverse. It happened at 6:15 a.m. and was dark, with poor visibility, according to Kitsap Transit’s ED.

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