FERRY CRASH: Cathlamet captain has resigned

(Thursday morning photo by Mark Dale)

8:23 PM: Four days after the state ferry M/V Cathlamet crashed into an offshore structure at the Fauntleroy terminal, the captain who was on duty is reported to have resigned. That’s according to the Kitsap Sun, which cites an all-staff email sent by Washington State Ferries chief Patty Rubstello. According to the report, the memo also says the drug/alcohol tests given to the Cathlamet’s crew after the Thursday morning crash were all negative. The damaged vessel has been at WSF’s Eagle Harbor facility on Bainbridge Island since Thursday afternoon; that’s also when the Fauntleroy terminal went back into service, after it was determined ferries could safely use it with the damaged vessel-guiding “dolphin” out of service.

9:37 PM: We just talked to WSF spokesperson Ian Sterling, who confirms the captain’s resignation and the crew’s drug/alcohol-test results. He still doesn’t have information on how long the captain had been with WSF. He says the resignation happened “over the weekend”; WSF had told us on Friday that Thursday was the last day of the captain’s scheduled workweek.

ADDED TUESDAY MORNING: Sterling tells us today that the now-former captain had been working for WSF for 36 years.

41 Replies to "FERRY CRASH: Cathlamet captain has resigned"

  • StopCuttingDownTrees August 1, 2022 (8:28 pm)

    Oh, please. The Sound was glass-calm, no wind, unlimited visibility, etc. This same Captain parked those ferries during wind storms at night countless times. I smell a rat any time WSF officials are involved. 

    • ttt August 1, 2022 (9:00 pm)

      He was likely not paying attention and resigned because he knew he could have killed someone. He messed up, but at least he has integrity.

      • Ferns August 2, 2022 (1:35 am)

        Agreed. But won’t this just exacerbate the ferry transportation problem??? Maybe a better punishment would be to have to return to work! 

  • Question Authority August 1, 2022 (8:41 pm)

    Without the investigation findings save your outrage for the facts please, everyone has a bad day here and there and nobody got injured.

    • Kalo August 1, 2022 (9:09 pm)

      Agreed! WSF vessels have been on deferred maintenance for a while now. This could very well be a mechanical issue. Could be, resignation vs the expenses of defending themselves against false allegations is the best option for this individual. Let’s hold the negativity until the investigation is complete.

      • Westseattleboater August 3, 2022 (12:53 am)

        @kalo if this was a mechanical issue, the ferry would have been towed back to port for repairs, not piloted. WSF wouldn’t have risked a second accident if the ferry was inoperable. 

      • Parker Holden August 7, 2022 (2:19 pm)

        Good comment.  We will have to rely on a quality investigation by the USCG.The Captain may have steered into the dolphin to avoid hitting the dock.  Previous captain on this vessel had reported control system problems.  Normal operation for most ferry  is about 85 % of the engine load on the stern and 15 % on the bow with the stern pushing and the bow unit pulling  When slowing down the bow goes into some reverse that coordinates with a decrease in stern power  Not exactly a simple system.  This very easily could have been a design or maintenance issue of the control scheme.  The resigned captain may be trying to avoid a long and drawn out investigation,  particularly when the public likely blames the captain.   Experts who actually understand the details of the system are few and far between   Good luck Coast Guard in getting the facts.

    • flimflam August 1, 2022 (9:11 pm)

      Well, we’ll see what is revealed. I don’t have confidence in a real investigation by the ferries that’s for sure. I wouldn’t resign if I was innocent.

      • WSB August 1, 2022 (11:07 pm)

        WSF isn’t the investigation lead. The US Coast Guard is.

        • Sparky August 2, 2022 (10:23 am)

          According to the Seattle Times article, WSF is running an investigation in parallel with the Federal investigation. 

      • Ferns August 2, 2022 (1:39 am)

        It might not have to do with innocence or responsibility at all. I might resign to save face. To avoid as intense of pressure to step down as would likely be headed his way. Or I might resign due to shame or trauma or burnout. To put such a tragic incident behind me in a way. 

    • Frog August 2, 2022 (4:00 am)

      If your job is to operate a very valuable piece of essential transportation infrastructure, then no, you don’t get to have bad days.  Pay, procedures, staffing levels, and technical design are supposed to reflect that.  In general, surface transportation systems are not supposed to be designed with mechanical failure modes that involve continuation of full power.  Quite the opposite, they tend to be designed with dead-man levers and such so that they automatically power down if something is wrong.  It’s hard to explain how this ferry went fast into a dolphin, and then was able to reverse.  It would be astonishing if some sort of mechanical failure prevented the engine from being powered down, or made reversing impossible prior to the crash, but then the crash itself somehow restored that ability.

      • Marina August 2, 2022 (8:06 am)

        I was docking a ship once on the Elizabeth River (1600 tons) and our main engine got stuck in clutch ahead. Anything above 2-3kts while docking, especially without a bow thruster, is VERY fast. I took the engine off-line and switched to pony, but momentum is momentum. I don’t know how we didn’t take a chunk out of either the ship or the dock, but we got lucky. No safeguards, no dead man switch. And I did shut down the engine, but like I said, you can’t really combat momentum. And this was a military vessel. I don’t know what happened on that ferry, but going as fast as that ship was going, hitting that dolphin was the best thing that captain could have chosen to do (or done accidentally).

      • Alan August 2, 2022 (10:16 am)

        Note that there is a back down engagement process that takes about 20 seconds and should be begun about 3/10’s off the dock.  Back down is not instantly available during the crossing.This is not automatic.   

  • flimflam August 1, 2022 (9:13 pm)

    Forgive me if this is a silly question but does he still need to cooperate with the investigation if he resigned?

    • 22blades August 1, 2022 (11:14 pm)

      One of the hallmarks of the transportation industry in the United States is that we strive to find what went wrong as opposed to who did wrong. Lessons learned for the next generation… It’s what we take away so it doesn’t happen again.

      • Derek August 2, 2022 (10:38 am)

        This doesn’t answer the question 

        • 22blades August 3, 2022 (12:54 am)

          Yes. How’s that?

    • Sarah August 2, 2022 (2:17 pm)

      Why wouldn’t he? This is a strange question.

      • Pete R August 6, 2022 (1:46 am)

        I get it. The question is whether the threat of termination was the only tool WSF had to encourage cooperation with the investigation. But it sounds like no, that’s not the case, and the captain will have to cooperate regardless.

  • Brad Storch August 1, 2022 (9:25 pm)

    Docking a ferry is in pristine conditions is hard enough. This is a human being, right? His kid could be sick or something. Plus, the ferry is still usable but you Americans like things to be perfect…

    • Spicy Eight Piece August 1, 2022 (10:09 pm)

      Weak troll.

    • Desert August 11, 2022 (1:21 pm)

      Forgive us if we like to maintain our public safety infrastructure. We rather not have our ferries sink with 100s of people on board. 

  • 22blades August 1, 2022 (10:29 pm)

    I’m saddened to hear of the Captain’s retirement & I have the utmost respect for what these crews do day in & day out. I may get 6 landings a month while these guys will do 14 a day. Waiting for the phone to ring for a hearing can be one of the most agonizing experiences that makes you question every minute of your career. I trust that the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots will oversee a fair & just hearing.

  • 22blades August 1, 2022 (10:42 pm)

    It’s what these guys do…

    • Anne August 2, 2022 (8:19 am)

      Thank you for posting that picture- as a reminder of the kinds of conditions ferry crews deal with. It can be human nature to start speculating & finger pointing-especially the “ I wouldn’t resign if I was innocent “ remark. I trust the Coast Guard to do a thorough investigation &  the public will know what the findings in due time. 

      • flimflam August 2, 2022 (11:34 am)

        I’m sure it’s not an easy job, but that picture of the ferry in rough waters has absolutely nothing to do with the incident, which occurred during extremely calm times.

  • Me Mama August 1, 2022 (11:04 pm)

    Agreed.. presume innocence.  If I were him I would have serious PTSD and would resign too!   

  • waikikgirl August 2, 2022 (7:32 am)

    The Captain may have resigned because it’s just time too and yes I do believe he will still have to cooperate with the investigation, just because he resigned doesn’t mean that’s it.And as for all you “perfect” people who’ve commented, it must be a wonderful world you live in!  

    • waikikigirl August 2, 2022 (7:55 pm)

      OR —whether he was the fault or it was mechanical he more than likely retired with full pension than went out being fired, can you blame him after putting in all those years of service?

  • Rick August 2, 2022 (9:22 am)

    I grew up above the Fauntleroy dock (1969) and commuted from Southworth for 12 years so seen some hinkey things and heard some wild stories (West Seattle barber) so I’d agree with ME MAMA. 

  • D August 2, 2022 (9:39 am)

    This had to be gross negligence in nature. Weather wasn’t an issue that day, and if it had been mechanical, I can’t see the union NOT backing up the Master to protect their job.The CBA with the Master’s union states (under Discipline, which includes up to discharge):”Negligence in navigational and/or ship handling responsibilities, which
    results in property damage or injury to vessel personnel and/or passengers,
    shall be deemed “just cause” for discipline.”Master probably resigned in lieu of going through the discipline process, where they know it’s going to in in termination.

    • 22blades August 2, 2022 (10:53 am)

      There is no escaping the NTSB & the USCG. The hearing will mandate all parties to the table regardless of employment status. None.

      • D August 2, 2022 (12:04 pm)

        I didn’t say this had anything to do with the investigation. I said that with him resigning, I think it strongly points to negligence. Either get fired or resign (perhaps with some negotiations behind the scene).The investigation is a completely separate issue which current employment status has no bearing on.

  • tim August 2, 2022 (10:33 am)

    fix it and get back to work. move on.

    • RJ August 2, 2022 (2:56 pm)

      No Tim, Actions have consequences. He’s paid well to pilot that vessel. If he resigns before any hearings he can keep his retirement. If he stays and goes thru the investigation he might loose everything over the 36 years he’s been here.  Something went wrong.  I ride a ferry daily and no one has hit a dolphin like that in the 10+ years I’ve been on them.

    • desert August 11, 2022 (1:27 pm)

      @Tim. If this was a bus driver and he plowed through an intersection carrying your family and slammed into a building, would you be so quick to move on?  You wouldn’t want to know why the driver did that? If they were safe to carry other passengers? If was like he was on his little sailboat and ran into a dock? He was carrying passengers and needs to be held accountable for their safety. 

  • Commuter August 2, 2022 (12:13 pm)

    Maybe after 36 years  he got tired of the underbudgeted system that is in desperate need of new boats. And NOW the Kitsap ferry is out of service “until further notice”.  For one of the largest ferry systems in the world, it is a sad state of mismanagement – and those who depend on the ferry system are paying the price. #ineptitude

  • Graciano August 2, 2022 (3:38 pm)

    36 years with the WSF, He was already  planning to retire. Better to go out with a full retirement, then go through all the BS and end up sitting in an office. WSF or the USCG have never said if it was a human error, mechanical or computer failure. Must of you…, probably were not West Settle residents when the computer system on the Issaquah ran into the dock at full speed. 1980

    • mfmatusky August 3, 2022 (11:41 am)

      Yes.  I thought I remembered that.  When the Issy Class was brand new the Issaquah rammed the dock HARD. My recollection from the time is that it was attributed to some sort of computer “failure” perhaps similar to the “unintended acceleration” failures seen in some drive-by-wire autos in past years.What may have been a failure in programming on a brand new “high tech” boat back in 1980 may have come down to a system or component failure causing this crash.What I am wondering about is it appears the boat hit the outer dolphin on the south side of the dock with the port (left in the direction of travel) side of the bow.  That would seemingly put it a bit off course to dock between the wing walls of the slip…  And at that distance from the dock it may not have yet powered down to docking speed.Any comments from anyone with more facts than opinions?

  • 22blades August 3, 2022 (1:20 am)

    People still love a good lynching. A sad commentary…

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