Sneak peek aboard West Seattle’s new Water Taxi, the Rachel Marie

When you step on board the 77-foot catamaran Rachel Marie – which will make the West Seattle-Downtown Seattle run of the King County Water Taxi when this year’s service starts April 5 (new date) – you may feel a little smarter. That’s because the boat used to carry rocket scientists. True! As explained by Robert Patronsky of Four Seasons Marine, which owns the RM and its sister ship Melissa Ann – the Water Taxi for the Vashon-Downtown Seattle run – this one made shuttle runs in the Western Pacific for many years, to a US military missile-testing site. A photo inside the vessel is testimony to this:

So are signs in English and the Marshall Islands’ language, Marshallese.

More recently, the RM was on a foot-ferry passenger project in Honolulu. But we digress. The reason we asked the King County Ferry District for a sneak peek on board the Rachel Marie, which is currently at a Ballard shipyard, is because many WSB’ers asked for more details when we first reported on the Rachel Marie (with photos) last month. Ask, and we’ll do our best to make sure you receive. “Is there an outside deck?” some asked. Here it is – room for about 40 people topside, stern – a one-minute tour of where you can sit/stand outside:

There’s an inside deck upstairs, too – keep in mind, this eventually is meant to run year-round – and then, the main deck:

While the Rachel Marie is capable of carrying more than 200, Susan Whitmore with King County says it will be certified for up to 150 – any more, and they have different crewing and security requirements. Right now, they’re finishing hiring the crew – they’ve got their captains, who will be in a wheelhouse you can watch through windows at the front of the top interior deck:

Some other notes: No concessions; the county might look at that later as a revenue measure, says Whitmore, but nothing’s planned when the season starts. You can bring your own food/drink, though, and there are some tables in the main-deck seating.

(A few power outlets, too, if you just can’t stay off your laptop during the trip across the bay.) And as you probably noticed in the video clip, interior bike racks – enough to hold 18 total, no extra charge. Though the Rachel Marie has the ability to run faster than its predecessors, they’re keeping the same schedule for now – while looking for the “sweet spot” between fuel efficiency and speed. The basic fare is higher if you’re paying cash, as reported previously; Whitmore says they’ll keep taking cash “for a while,” but the farebox will be at the dock, along with an ORCA transit-card reader, and they hope eventually to install credit-card-capable ticket machines at the docks (remember, on the downtown side, they’ll be switching to Pier 50, just south of Colman Dock). Again, the new Water Taxi season starts April 5; that’s a Monday, so Whitmore says they’re not planning the kind of festivities with which they kicked off the season in past years, but might have an open house at some point. Meantime, the new dock at Seacrest needs to be finished – and then this summer, county leaders have to figure out the funding that’s needed for the service to run year-round as hoped.

37 Replies to "Sneak peek aboard West Seattle's new Water Taxi, the Rachel Marie"

  • aramis February 19, 2010 (1:19 pm)

    Does anyone know if the water taxi will take the U-Pass?

  • Jeff February 19, 2010 (1:26 pm)

    Why Marshallese?

  • jack February 19, 2010 (1:31 pm)

    Marshallese I am guessing because the missile testing base was in the Marshal Islands.

  • blah February 19, 2010 (1:52 pm)

    Is there something wrong with our bus system? What a waste.

  • austin February 19, 2010 (2:00 pm)

    As most bus systems, our bus system is limited to roads, and when you look at a map of our area you can see that much of it is water. I agree that it would be a waste to not utilize water routes, particularly during times of day when roads are slowed down by large numbers of people.

  • eldan February 19, 2010 (2:07 pm)

    blah: it turns out, amazingly enough, that buses don’t do very well on water.

  • buddsmom February 19, 2010 (2:18 pm)

    Blah…You have obviously never been caught in rush hour “game day” traffic on 1st Avenue. Stuck in a 3 1/2 hour commute when the WS bridge is closed down for whatever reason? The water taxi is a viable transportation option.

  • Diane February 19, 2010 (2:20 pm)

    holy cow, I got so sea-sick watching that fast motion video of outdoor deck
    so can’t watch again; did I see correctly, just 2 benches on outside deck?

    • WSB February 19, 2010 (2:28 pm)

      Should’ve clarified, sorry. Stuff stacked on some of the benches will be stowed.

  • Alki Area February 19, 2010 (2:28 pm)

    Sometimes you have to go over water or underground (subway). Try crossing Manhattan at 7pm from lower east to midtown. ugh. Or time the drive from Capital Hill to Bremerton at 5pm vs the ferry.

    Ok, the water taxi isn’t going to REPLACE all cars and buses, but it’s not supposed to…it supplements them. Cars didn’t replace all trains, trains didn’t replace all cars, airplanes didn’t replace all boats. It’s not an all or nothing.

    And waste? I suppose it’s not the most effecient theoretical use, but then lets close ALL of our socialist collective tax payer “parks”. If YOU want green space, use the free market system and YOU buy 50 acres and have it maintained…what you expect your GOVERNMENT to do it FOR you? Yes, 98% of us do. I like our socialist public libraries, our socialist public parks, and our state run ferry system. There’s no lock on the door, everyone is free to leave Seattle and move to the middle of North Dakota where there is “less government”. ;-)

  • Birdgeek February 19, 2010 (2:57 pm)

    OMG. SO excited.

    like happy, hand-clappy excited.

    I bike commute to Shilshole, and this rocks my lifestyle when it’s running.


  • betsorama February 19, 2010 (2:57 pm)

    Any word on how many bikes the new boat will accommodate?

    • WSB February 19, 2010 (3:11 pm)

      Hi – it’s in the story. 18.

  • I. Ponder February 19, 2010 (3:04 pm)

    Waste of $? How many minutes of Iraq War spending equals a full year of Water Taxi cost? Bottom line is we can’t afford modern warfare (on 2 fronts no less) and have public spending here in the US. Anyone disagree?

    Every person commuting on the Water Taxi is one less car sitting in front of you on the West Seattle Bridge.

    Who is/was Rachel Marie?

  • RickSteel February 19, 2010 (3:13 pm)

    I’m really looking forward to riding this beautiful boat to and from Sounders and Mariners games in another few weeks.

  • Smitty February 19, 2010 (3:17 pm)

    Ponder: Fixed:

    “Every person commuting by Water Taxi is one more empty seat on the bus that just cut me off”

  • Donna February 19, 2010 (3:59 pm)

    Is no one else annoyed that pier 50 isn’t so much downtown as SODO? Quite the hike for market shoppers and downtown commuters. Is pier 50 pedestrian friendly?

  • dwar February 19, 2010 (4:16 pm)

    There is plenty of problems with the bus system. The latest is Metro’s decision to operate 40 ft. coaches on the expanded routes funded by the State. This funding was intended to increase service to West Seattle when reconstruction of the south portion of the Viaduct begins (soon). We had standing room only on many of these trips before this change using 60 ft. coaches. Metro uses this funding for more trips, but less service (seats) than before. This is not appreciated by the many more standees on the 40 ft. coaches.

  • austin February 19, 2010 (4:22 pm)

    Pier 50 on Yesler is closer to being Pioneer Square waterfront than SODO. It’s four blocks from where the water taxi has arrived in the past.

  • Brian February 19, 2010 (4:45 pm)

    Pier 50 is the same location the Vashion ferry lands and next to the rest of the ferries for downtown. Closer to Pioneer Square than Sodo and while that intersection is a bit akward for people on foot it is set up to handle the traffic

  • JayDee February 19, 2010 (5:05 pm)

    My concern at this point is the crossing speed not the schedule, per se. The Sightseer was built for comfort, not speed. The Rachel Marie is built for speed. I sure hope it makes the crossing faster than the Sighseer which I semi-affectionately called “The Pig” due to it’s graceless plowing of the water. Please ask how *long* the crossing will take.

    I see the other boat, the Melissa Ann, rocketing by Alki at 25+ knots. These boats can book (I seem to recall they were sister ships at one point). A faster crossing helps make up for the extra walking distance to Downtown. While those working for the various government agencies may like Pier 50, those in the core downtown are out of luck if the crossing isn’t shortened by 4-6 minutes.

    • WSB February 19, 2010 (5:09 pm)

      They are sister ships. I got lots more info than I could even work into this story by the time I needed to publish it and move on – I should probably do a followup over the weekend! There were 20 or more made stateside based on an Aussie model, some bigger, some smaller. The fact that Melissa Ann and Rachel Marie are virtually identical means that when the M/A is idle on the weekends, it might be able to be swapped out with R/M so that some maintenance can be done on the latter, although they also will have engineers/oilers on board at times to do some maintenance while under way. The speed thing sounds like something they’ll be working on, as I alluded to in the text – fuel vs. convenience, what really works …

  • WestSide 45 February 19, 2010 (9:42 pm)

    I’m hoping it’s just the photo angle, but where are you supposed to put your legs while sitting at the table? Looks severely cramped to me.

  • TJR February 20, 2010 (5:47 am)

    I use to ride this boat back and forth to work in the Marshall Islands great boat and really fast. I will love to ride the boat again to bring back some great memories..

  • cmm February 20, 2010 (9:12 am)

    The Marshall Islands are not in the South Pacific. The are in Micronesia not Polynesia or Melanesia.

    • WSB February 20, 2010 (9:43 am)

      Thanks, cmm – Traveled the region on a very long cruise in childhood and the entirety of Australia to Bora Bora (and beyond) was blanket-described as “South Pacific.” So it looks like Western Pacific is more appropriate? I’m changing, but let me know if there’s something even more appropriate than that – TR

  • Mike F February 20, 2010 (12:33 pm)

    It would be great if the two ferry routes could be combined, so that one could go from Fauntleroy to Alki to downtown.

  • Joe February 21, 2010 (10:54 pm)

    Has anyone looked into the handicap access for the new boat and its approach and boarding systems? I’d love to know. The old one had steps and was not at all accessible for powered or even manual chairs.

    • WSB February 21, 2010 (11:01 pm)

      I don’t think I have a photo of this but one thing I can tell you anecdotally from being on board the boat on Friday, there is more, flatter deck space between the edge of the boat and the sliding door (which opens very wide) to the inside deck. What kind of gangway there will be between the new Seacrest dock and the boat, would be the question – I will send my contact a note – TR

  • kk February 22, 2010 (6:06 pm)

    Dow’s so called pet project is going to fail with the new system. Taking it away from Argosy and Pier 55 will be the end all. You will never get the numbers from Pier 50? aka a mile from downtown that they saw on Pier 55. Oh and all bus passes and senoirs will have to pay full fare now. Just like the bus now. What is the fare going to be $7 a day for commuters

  • kk February 22, 2010 (6:09 pm)

    Wait till Spring when it all changes, make sure you let Dow know.

  • David Kannas February 25, 2010 (4:33 pm)

    OMG, the sky is falling! Dow must fail! The buses work! The buses don’t work! Get a grip, folks, the water taxi works and has for quite a while. The buses work and have for some time. They’re all part of a grand scheme called getting around in a modern world. Have you tried that light rail thingee that runs to the airport. It works.

  • guitarboy53 February 25, 2010 (8:54 pm)

    So will the new ferry use the ORCA card?

  • Chuck February 26, 2010 (1:45 pm)

    Adding an engineer underway… when the taxi starts, I want you to count how many employees it takes to operate Rachel Marie and compare that to how many it took to run Sightseer (1 captain, 2 crew). Cost differential… worth looking into… No wonder the fare increases.

    • WSB February 26, 2010 (2:12 pm)

      For what it’s worth, Chuck, county rep Susan Whitmore explained that the engineer/boiler person who will be on some of the runs will be doing some maintenance while the boat is running, since it will be operating 7 days a week.

  • LEO February 28, 2010 (3:13 pm)

    My quess is the boat will not be that fast as there may well be wake size considerations…
    Parking on the Seacrest side is limited and if poeple who ride get anywhere near 150 per trip it’s lilely that all the parking on Harbor will be taken… look for somewhere else to park if you like to play on the trail….
    Wonder if all the divers will find parking…..

  • Dky March 8, 2010 (11:59 am)

    So which one is the Jera and which is the Jelang K (the original names when in service in the Marshall Islands)?

    I grew up on Kwajalein, Marshall Islands and my mom was a deckhand on these from 1990-1992. I can’t believe they are here, and I can’t wait to take a trip on one.

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