PHOTOS: Visiting Vigor as two state ferries, Chimacum and Suquamish, are built

(WSB photos by Christopher Boffoli)

Those who took the Water Taxi for the first time during our Viaductless week-plus might have glimpsed the work going on at Vigor Industrial‘s shipyards on Harbor Island, where two new Olympic-class ferries are now under construction for Washington State Ferries, the third and fourth in the series, following Tokitae and Samish.

On Tuesday, news-media crews were invited to Vigor to tour the Chimacum, which is three-fourths complete, after its superstructure arrived by barge from a North Sound shipyard a month ago and was quickly joined to the Vigor-built hull, and to see the keel-laying ceremony marking the start of construction on the Suquamish. Photojournalist Christopher Boffoli was there for WSB. He reports:


Tuesday’s hardhat tour took us down inside the dry dock where the Chimacum is being built and up a set of stairs into the interior of the ferry:


They showed us control and mechanical rooms that are adjacent to the two engine rooms.


The ferry will have 6,000 total horsepower when it is up and running. The inside looked far from complete but they told us that it is actually only about two months away from being floated out of dry dock.


A lot of the work now is cleaning the vessel to get it ready to paint.


The propulsion system is installed and would start up today if the ferry were filled with fuel and water.


We saw the bridge where all of the controls are installed:


The crew deck also features a walkway – above and apart from passenger decks – where the crew can walk to the opposite bridge.


The ferry has also been built with enough bunks for all of the crew members on board, which we were told his required by law. There are also showers and a washer and dryer for the crew. On the passenger decks we saw the bolts on the floor where the seats will be attached, but not the seats. They, and other finishes, will be installed during the fitting out process which will happen elsewhere. Everything from the car deck down was built at Vigor on Harbor Island. The upper “superstructure” of the Chimacum was built by Nichols Brothers and was barged down from Whidbey Island.


When complete in early 2017, the 144 car, 1,500-passenger ferry will serve the Bremerton-Seattle route.


The tour of the Chimacum was actually intended as an aside to a ceremony that drew a slew of VIPs – the keel-laying for the ferry Suquamish.


The keel-laying ceremony was attended by Governor Jay Inslee and his wife Trudi Inslee, WSF Assistant Secretary Lynne Griffith, state Senator Christine Rolfes (23rd District), Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman, various other WSF staff and personnel, Vigor Shipyards reps (including Vigor owner Frank Foti) and leadership and members of the Suquamish Tribe, whose song and drumming presentation followed the speeches.

Then Governor Inslee, Senator Rolfes and Chairman Forsman all made ceremonial welds to the Suquamish keel. Inslee welded a disc with his granddaughter’s initials:


Rolfes welded an orca and Forsman welded a disc with a circle and a dot which he said is an ancient symbol of the Suquamish tribe.

Inslee talked about how proud he is of the Washington State Ferry system and its performance, and talked up the state’s maritime industry and its importance to the history and culture of the state. Some of what he said:

“I’m proud of our ferry fleet. I’m proud of Lynn Griffith and her team that has brought us more on-time performance in the largest ferry system in the largest ferry system in the Western Hemisphere. That’s the Washington State Ferries and I’m proud of their operations.”

Lynne Griffith, WSF Asst. Secretary

“This boat is going to cost $21 million dollars less to taxpayers than the second boat that we built. And it is going to beautiful and it is going to run forever.”


“We have never before built two boats at the same time in the same yard. We have never used the continuous build process to such success. But it is also a continuation of the historic nature of plying the waterways. And that is why we are thankful to the Suquamish people for lending their name to this boat. They plied the waters for so many centuries, they gave their name to Seattle, and thank you Chairman Forsman for your leadership and sharing your name for this great boat. We really appreciate what you’ve done for us.”


“This is personal for our family too. My family has been involved in this. My dad used to build barges on the ship canal during WW2. My brother loaded halibut up in Bellingham, and my kids fished a little bit on the David B. This goes back in our heritage. But it is deep across the State of Washington. This maritime industry is here to stay in the state of Washington and it’s in all corners of the state of WA. The maritime industry is the ports of Clarkston, the Tri-cities, Grays Harbor, Puget Sound, Anacortes. This is as deep as apples and wheat in who we are as a people. And I’m really happy to say that it is really a robust industry in the State of Washington.

“It is a $30 billion economic driver that employs 150,000 people. And we want to make sure that this industry continues for generations to come. That’s why we have been so dedicated to building it. We’ve created a maritime sector that we can be all across the spectrum of the maritime industry.”

After the speeches and ceremony were over, Governor Inslee spoke briefly with the gathered press and then posed with the Suquamish leaders.



He also met some of the Vigor shipbuilders, chatting briefly with Hae Gill Chang, who is an outside seam welder.

Inslee, Hae Gill Chang

Chang told me he is in his 70s and has worked as a welder at Vigor for 25 years.

With the ongoing ferry construction and other projects at the shipyard, it’s a specialty that remains in demand, with Vigor hosting a training center in partnership with South Seattle College (WSB sponsor) to help ensure a supply of workers for these types of maritime jobs.

7 Replies to "PHOTOS: Visiting Vigor as two state ferries, Chimacum and Suquamish, are built"

  • miws May 11, 2016 (7:41 am)

    Thanks for this, Christopher and WSB! Love our ferries! 

    Looking forward to riding on the Chimicum when she starts on the Bremerton run,  as I have yet to ride on an Olympic Class vessel. This one will be just a bus ride and bit of a walk away! 


  • BlairJ May 11, 2016 (11:36 am)

    Love the fact that these vessels are still made in Washington State.  But the governor’s welding jacket is WAY too clean.  ;)

  • dsa May 11, 2016 (1:54 pm)

    Seems kinda pointy from the dry dock angle.

  • keith bryant May 11, 2016 (7:13 pm)

    It’s nice to have ship building revived in Seattle but if you check, Todd Shipyard Seattle built the jumbo ferries Spokane and Walla Walla at the same in 1972.I had the honor to work on both of them and make the name boards for both boats.

  • Aaron Leduc May 11, 2016 (7:55 pm)

    Thank  you on behalf of Nichols brothers boat builders. We have seen countless articles that failed to mention that the superstructures were mainly built by our shipyard. We understand that it is a contract effort however, we are very proud of our work and do not want to go unnoticed. 

  • bobby joe May 12, 2016 (10:39 am)

    the notes mention that the WSF assistant secretary was in attendance. why didn’t the secretary attend something this significant?

    • WSB May 12, 2016 (10:42 am)

      The assistant sec’y IS the head of WSF. She is an assistant WSDOT sec’y.

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