Home Making Waves Making Waves – December 2022

Making Waves – December 2022

by Randy Woods
Christmas Boat Parade - Photo by Kevin Fitzgerald
Photo by Kevin Fitzgerald

[ ‘tis the season ]

Deck the Yawls: Christmas Boat Parade Returns December 17

It’s been wafting on the sea breeze for a while now, but you knew it would arrive—schooner or later. Seattle’s favorite maritime holiday tradition, the Christmas Boat Parade, is back to spread yuletide cheer to Lake Union on December 17.

This annual celebration is a chance for the boating community to strut their stuff and deck out their vessels with the brightest, most innovative holiday pageantry. Taking part in the parade also gives boaters a chance to give back to the less fortunate by donating to the Toy Drive charity in support of Seattle Children’s Hospital. Toy donations for the drive can be dropped off at West Marine in Ballard.

While the toy drive is the main reason for the seasonal parade, there will be prizes for the boaters, of course. Judges at the parade will evaluate all participants and designate awards for best in show (the people’s choice award), the best Santa and reindeer theme, best and biggest Christmas tree and lights, best Christmas snowman (winter wonderland theme), and most overall Christmas lights. Competition is expected to be fierce.

The parade route will encompass the full loop of Lake Union, starting from Fremont Tugboats site and sailing clockwise around the lake shore, turning south at Buoy 12 near the I-5 bridge, and ending up at Morrison’s North Star Marine’s fuel dock on Westlake. Leading the parade will be a tug from Western Towboat Co.

The parade start time is set for 7 p.m., with registered boats lining up by 6:30. For more information about registering your boat, visit: seattlechristmasboatparade.com, or check-in with “Salty Dog” on VHF 68. Don’t miss it!

[ a quieter sound ]

Shhh! Keep It Down: Coalition Asks for Vessel Noise Reduction to Protect Orcas

In an innovative effort to protect endangered Southern Resident killer whales in Puget Sound, a consortium of environmental and maritime organizations is asking vessel operators to temporarily reduce transit speeds in North Puget Sound to lessen engine noise deemed harmful to dwindling marine mammal populations.

The zone involved in the “Quiet Sound” program roughly covers the waters between Admiralty Inlet off Port Townsend to the northwest, Randall Point to Mukilteo to the north, and Apple Cove to Edmonds to the south. Hood Canal is excluded from the zone.

This plan was devised to help reduce the acoustic noise in busy shipping lanes that interfere with the orcas’ ability to hunt for food and communicate with each other through echolocation. The time frame of the program is set to last from late October through late December, when orcas return to Puget Sound in search of Chinook salmon, one of the staples of the toothed whales’ diet.

Quiet Sound is the brainchild of a coalition of federal, state, tribal, port, maritime, and environmental organizations intent on protecting the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales, a locally based population that used to number in the hundreds, but now has shrunk to an estimated 73 individuals. The group is also affiliated with the state’s Washington Maritime Blue program to promote sustainable efforts and technologies in the maritime sector.

The voluntary program, which began on October 24, has earned strong support from some local maritime businesses, specifically the Puget Sound Pilots association, which represents pilots who guide large ships in and out of Puget Sound ports. But Quiet Sound has also generated friction over the plan’s effects on shipping schedules, most notably from Washington State Ferries (WSF). Run by the Washington State Department of Transportation, WSF has flatly rejected participation in the program, as the slowdown zone affects three busy ferry routes in the system (Port Townsend-Coupeville, Edmonds-Kingston, and Mukilteo-Clinton) and would drastically impair its route schedules.

Those participating in the voluntary effort are asked to slow down to no greater than 14.5 knots, when operationally feasible, for large vehicle carriers, cruise ships, and container vessels. Other ships such as bulkers and tankers are asked to reduce their speed to 11 knots or lower. Quiet Sound said this represents an estimated speed reduction of 30% to 50% over a distance of 20 nautical miles, adding between 10 to 20 minutes of transit time through the restricted zone, depending on the vessel type and water currents. 

Inspiration for Quiet Sound came from the ECHO program, an effective six-year-old Canadian noise-reduction program run by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. The Canadian quiet zone lasts through the summer months and covers shipping through the Haro Strait in Boundary Pass, next to the San Juan Islands, and the Swiftsure Bank, a popular orca feeding ground. To date, participation in the ECHO Program has reached 93%.

This first application of the voluntary Quiet Sound program will end this month on December 22. The group said it will reassess data at the end of the project and decide whether to repeat or expand the program in 2023. For more details, go to quietsound.org.


[ electric current ]

State Ferry System Charges Up its Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Program

At a time when the Washington State Ferries (WSF) system has faced unprecedented problems with maintenance delays, ferry accidents, and lack of available staff, the system remains committed to its ambitious plan to drastically reduce carbon emissions by overhauling its aging fleet with hybrid-electric ferries.

In a November meeting at the FERRIES 2022 conference in San Francisco, Matt von Ruden, WSF’s Electrification Program System Administrator, outlined the current initiative to shift to hybrid-electric propulsion technology in a three-step process: building five new ferry vessels, converting 11 current vessels to hybrid engines, and electrifying ferry terminals around Puget Sound.

Currently in the pre-construction phase of the initiative, WSF has secured $1.33 billion to fund the project so far through the 2022 Move Ahead Washington transportation package that the state passed this fall. The total estimated cost of the program will be $3.98 billion.

After issuing a request for information for a new design-build contract for five hybrid-electric Olympic class ferry vessels, WSF said in October that it has nearly completed the functional design for the initial five new hybrid ferries through a contract with Vigor ship builders in Seattle. Each of the new vessels will have capacity for 144 vehicles. WSF added that a request for proposal (RFP) for a future competitive bidding opportunities to build 11 more hybrid vessels will be issued as part of state law.

The system is also accepting bids for hybrid-electric conversion work on three Jumbo Mark II-class ferries set to begin in March 2023. The latest estimate from WSF said one ferry, the Wenatchee, could begin service as a hybrid vessel in 2024, followed by conversions of the Tacoma and the Puyallup. At the same time, WSF will continue working with local utilities and engineering firms to add electric charging infrastructure to 16 existing ferry terminals in Puget Sound.

WSF is the largest ferry system in the United States, with 21 vessels that carry about 24 million passengers each year. It is also currently Washington State’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, using 19 million gallons of diesel fuel each year. By reaching its planned 20-year timeline for the hybrid-electric conversion, WSF expects to improve the state’s air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 76% by 2040. For information on the state’s project plans, visit: wsdot.wa.gov/construction-planning/major-projects.

Blue Heron Slough, Photo Courtesy of Port of Everett
Photo Courtesy of Port of Everett

[ reviving marine habitats ]

Blue Heron Slough Estuary Restoration Project Nearly Complete in Everett

Good news for sportfishing fans in North Puget Sound: After more than 30 years of effort to restore damaged habitat for local salmon and trout populations, the Port of Everett and its projects partners have launched the final phase of the Blue Heron Slough estuary project.

The 353-acre saltwater estuary, located between Everett and Marysville, had been cleared, diked, and drained for agricultural and industrial purposes since the 1880s. Working alongside an environmental organization called Wildlands and contractor Dungeness Construction, the Port of Everett removed many of the old impeding dikes and man-made structures this summer, replacing them with channels, marshes, and mudflats to increase natural water flow.

The aim of the $20 million project is to re-flood old riparian land and return it to a more natural estuarian state directly impacted by tidal rhythms of Puget Sound. The slough, currently home to deer, coyote, ducks, frogs, owls, cougars, heron, and many other bird, tree, and fish species along the lower Snohomish River, is now expected to bounce back as a thriving habitat for Chinook salmon, bull trout, and steelhead species that are key to the area’s commercial and recreational fishing industries.

According to findings from the 2005 Snohomish River Basin Salmon Conservation Plan, the restored Blue Heron Slough will also benefit endangered orca whales in the Sound that feed primarily on migrating salmon. The nine miles of restored river channels in the slough project will also improve water quality through improved wetlands filtration, provide a natural buffer to absorb periodic flooding, and capture greenhouse gases more efficiently.

For more details on the restoration, go to: portofeverett.com/environment/.

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