West Seattle, Washington
1:53 PM: Though cruise-ship season doesn’t officially resume until May 4th, a big ship is at Pier 66 today and will then be at Harbor Island for a while. Port of Seattle spokesperson Peter McGraw tells WSB that the 3,804-passenger-capacity Norwegian Joy will move from the downtown dock to Vigor “for some minor interior work” before it returns to 66 for the May 4th departure. (This report indicates that’s the final phase in a “refit” as the two-year-old ship shifts to Alaska cruises after starting out in Asia.)
SUNDAY MORNING UPDATE: MarineTraffic.com shows the Joy is now off Harbor Island.
ADDED: Thanks to Max for the photo:
Two ships that Elliott Bay-watchers will see soon:
FIRST CRUISE SHIP ON MONDAY: Though regular weekly cruise-ship departures don’t start until May, the first call of the season will be on Monday (April 15th), when the Celebrity Cruises ship Eclipse stops at Pier 66. It will be on its way to Vancouver, B.C., where it will depart on a 12-night one-way cruise to Hawaii two days later. After that, the next arrivals aren’t scheduled until May 4th. See the full schedule here; the port’s 2019 cruise-season one-sheet is here.
MATSON’S MOVE: We’re following up on all the changes set in motion by last week’s vote approving short-term and long-term leases for West Seattle’s Terminal 5. The former, Matson, will have its first T-5 call on April 26, according to the Northwest Seaport Alliance, whose spokesperson Katie Whittier adds, in response to our inquiry, that “Matson yard equipment will be delivered to T-5 between now and April 22. The gate will open for receiving cargo on April 22.” According to the Matson website, that Hawaii-bound vessel should be the Mahimahi.
10:01 AM: Just in from Kersti Muul – orca alert! She says a small group, probably transients, is headed southbound, off Alki. Let us know if you see them!
11:11 AM: David Hutchinson saw them – from Constellation Park – and sent the photo we just added above.
1:55 PM: Kersti reports in comments that they are headed back northbound!
2:25 PM: Update from Kersti – they’re “just north of the Fauntleroy ferry, NB on the east side of the channel.” Research boat headed that way, too.
8:18 AM: We’ve just received multiple reports of orcas in the area right now! Five seen headed southbound, south of Alki Point. Please let us know if you see them!
8:50 AM: Thanks to Jim, Kersti, and Betsy for the alerts. Jim was first to call and subsequently has reported multiple groups.
9:37 AM: Still in view if you look toward Blake Island, we’re told. Kersti says they’re transients. Adding more photos – thank you, everyone!
FRIDAY NIGHT: Thanks for the photos added in comments! Also, Jim Borrow caught this view of the Vashon Water Taxi Sally Fox whale-watching:
… it might be related to a Sunday incident involving this one:
That U.S. Coast Guard photo and the one below were taken by Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Caraballo in the Sunday morning fog on the water between Fauntleroy and Blake Island. This Coast Guard news release explains the rest of the story:
A Coast Guard boat crew responded to a report of an unmanned adrift kayak and found that it belonged to a group of six kayakers stranded on Blake Island Sunday.
A 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew from Coast Guard Station Seattle safely transported all six people and their dog from Blake Island back to a pier in Manchester, as well as recovered two of their five missing kayaks.
At 8:07 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound watchstanders received a report from the crew of the Washington State Ferry Chelan of an unmanned and adrift kayak. The ferry crew spotted the red kayak while pulling in to the Fauntleroy terminal.
The Station Seattle boat crew launched in response, conducted a search for the reported kayak and located it in the vicinity of Faunteroy and Vashon Island.
Around the same time, one of the kayak owners had contacted the watchstanders at Coast Guard 13th District Command Center. They reported that they had been camping on Blake Island and when they woke up, all five of their kayaks were gone. District personnel connected them to the Sector Puget Sound staff, and their red kayak matched the description of one of their missing craft.
Station Seattle grabbed the kayak, headed toward the campers, and found a second one of their kayaks while en route.
A tug crew in the area found two more of the kayaks, but one kayak remains missing. The missing kayak is reported as 12-foot fiberglass white kayak with black trim and a dolphin on the side. If anyone sees a kayak matching this description, please contact Sector Puget Sound personnel at 206-217-6001.
This response also highlights the importance that mariners properly secure and label their vessels, as well as file a float plan. Had the owner been unable to call, the search would have continued and they could still be stranded.
2:35 PM: Thanks for the messages and photos (the one above is from Carolyn Newman). That’s the U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship USS Manchester, as identified the number 14 on its hull. It was commissioned less than a year ago.
3:31 PM: As for the question “why is it here?” SeaWaves Magazine tweets that the Manchester is at Vigor on Harbor Island for its “Post-Shakedown Availability,” explained here as “an industrial activity availability assigned to correct deficiencies found during the shakedown cruise or to accomplish other authorized improvements.”
Just got a text from Kersti Muul – orcas are passing West Seattle! Off Blake Island, midchannel, southbound right now.
We’ve received a few questions about why the Washington State Ferries vessel Puyallup is docked at Terminal 5 in West Seattle. No, it’s not waiting for space at nearby Vigor Industrial (where it was built). WSF spokesperson Ian Sterling explained when we inquired, “Puyallup is in for light maintenance for minor wear and tear on the car deck, as well as some work on the electrical systems.” He added that this is being done by Foss Maritime, which, you’ll recall, has had an interim lease for space at T-5 for the past few years: “We’re excited to have more options when it comes to maintenance and repair of the state fleet. Puyallup is expected to be at T-5 until the end of the month.” It’s usually on the Edmonds-Kingston run.
Thanks to Jim Borrow for the photo. That’s the Zhen Hua 31 headed north in Puget Sound on Saturday evening. You might not recognize it without the high-profile cargo – it was last seen passing West Seattle (twice!) a week and a half ago, carrying four huge cranes bound for the Port of Tacoma. They were unloaded this past week and now the heavy-lift ship is headed back to China – in the Strait of Juan de Fuca headed for the open Pacific as we get ready to publish this early Sunday.
First, from the “seen off West Seattle” file:
CANADIAN VISITORS: That photo by Jim Borrow shows the Renard (58), which along with Wolf (59) is visiting Seattle from Esquimalt, B.C. Both are Orca-class Royal Canadian Navy Training Tenders.
And from the “soon to be seen” file:
USCG HOMECOMING: Thanks for the tip that the U.S. Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star is due back in Elliott Bay this afternoon after three months away on a mission to Antarctica. Its official arrival has been announced by the USCG as midmorning tomorrow but, following up on the tip, we note via the MarineTraffic.com tracker that it’s off North Kitsap right now and headed this way.
7:42 AM: Thanks for the photos and texts! That was the double-take scene in Elliott Bay this morning – the heavy-lift ship Zhen Hua 31 carrying four huge cranes, which just yesterday afternoon – as chronicled here – was last seen headed for Tacoma. When we stopped watching, MarineTraffic.com showed it south of Burien. So why was it back off West Seattle this morning? We just checked with Northwest Seaport Alliance spokesperson Katie Whittier, who told us, “The crane vessel left Commencement Bay overnight because the anchors were not setting in the bay floor. … We expect them back in Tacoma at some point this morning.” She promises more details later. Meantime, the ship has indeed sailed south – again – and is shown as off Burien – again.
10:15 AM: More from NWSA’s Whittier:
The cranes have been back in Commencement Bay for a bit over an hour now. We don’t know yet whether they’ve successfully anchored. Last evening when they anchored, they began to drift, so they pulled up the anchor and tried a second location. The same thing happened there, so the captain decided to return to Elliott Bay where he had successfully anchored earlier in the day during the pilot change. A different anchorage location in Commencement Bay will likely be available today but was occupied yesterday.
The engineers will board the vessel after it completes Customs. If all goes according to plan, that will happen late this morning. I should have more information by the end of the day, but as you can imagine, there are a lot of moving pieces and other decision-makers involved in the next steps. Our hope is to bring them to berth by the end of Friday, though that depends on when other ships arrive—unlike last year, Husky Terminal is now a fully-operational facility so we must schedule the cranes to move between other vessel calls.
1:27 PM: We’re at Alki, where the heavy-lift ship Zhen Hua 31 is in view in the distance, headed this way, carrying 4 huge “super-post-Panamax” cranes – lift height of 165 feet – to the Port of Tacoma. Backstory is in our Monday preview. The Northwest Seaport Allianc tells us that, as was the case when a similar delivery was made a year ago, the ship will be pausing to change pilots, so it’s likely to be in view a while.
1:53 PM: The ship is at the bay’s entrance now.
2:22 PM: Back out of the bay now.
Should be visible a while longer from west-facing West Seattle.
3:04 PM: Now out of West Seattle waters, passing Burien. (More photos added)
And yes, we’ll see cranes like these headed for West Seattle’s Terminal 5 eventually – the NWSA says the modernization project to make T-5 big-ship-ready will include them.
ADDED 7:15 AM WEDNESDAY: For some reason the Zhen Hua 31, cranes and all, sailed back up here at some point and is now off West Seattle again. Trying to find out why.
Remember that heavy-lift ship and its four-crane cargo that caught so much attention passing West Seattle one year ago, on their way to Tacoma? Tomorrow, the encore – four more of the same type of cranes will pass on the same type of ship, headed for the same destination. Here’s the heads-up sent late today by the Northwest Seaport Alliance:
A huge ship carrying four super-post-Panamax container cranes is scheduled to travel through Puget Sound March 5 to Tacoma.
Among the largest on the West Coast, these cranes are identical to the four that arrived in the Pacific Northwest last year.
Puget Sound Pilots are scheduled to board the Zhen Hua 31, a 771-foot-long heavy-lift ship, Tuesday morning in Port Angeles and begin the journey to Tacoma. … The ship will sit at anchor in Commencement Bay for a day or two before delivering the cranes to Husky Terminal at the northwest end of the Blair Waterway.
The Northwest Seaport Alliance ordered eight new super-post-Panamax cranes from Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co. Ltd (ZPMC) in China through a competitive bid process. No container cranes currently are manufactured in the U.S.
Learn more about the cranes in this short video.
ZPMC is the largest heavy-duty equipment manufacturer in the world and delivers more than 200 cranes every year around the world, including many seaports in the U.S.
The cranes will be installed at Husky Terminal, which underwent about $250 million in terminal improvements on Tacoma’s General Central Peninsula.
Upgrades included strengthening and realigning a berth and adding eight new super-post-Panamax cranes capable of serving two 18,000-TEU container ships at the same time. Learn more about the project.
The new cranes will have an outreach of 24 containers and a lift height of 165 feet above the pier deck.
Checking MarineTraffic.com right now, the Zhen Hua 31 is about to enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
SATURDAY REPORT: Thanks to the texter who reports a humpback whale sighting off Jack Block Park, headed northbound, a while ago. Not sure how to tell what kind of whale you’re looking at? Here’s The Whale Trail‘s page about humpbacks.
ADDED SUNDAY: Thanks to Colin for sharing the photo, added above, via a comment.
2:48 PM: Thanks to Joseph for the heads-up: The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is in view from west-facing West Seattle right now, headed southbound toward Rich Passage and on to Bremerton. The Vinson (CVN 70) is switching homeports from San Diego to Bremerton, starting with a maintenance period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
3:10 PM: Added above, a photo just sent by Jim Borrow. He notes the detail that many cars are visible on deck – likely because of the aforementioned relocation.
12:05 PM: Another orca alert from Kersti Muul: Whales have been spotted in the Bainbridge Island ferry lanes, southbound, so are likely to be within view from West Seattle soon. As always, please let us know if you see them!
12:29 PM: An update from Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales – seven to ten orcas, closer to the Bainbridge side but coming into view off Constellation Park south of Alki Point and likely visible from Emma Schmitz Overlook/Me-Kwa-Mooks within half an hour.
ADDED SATURDAY EVENING: Thanks to everyone who provided location updates in comments. Adding a photo sent by Monica Zaborac.
3:01 PM: Earlier today, transient orcas passed West Seattle southbound. Right now, Southern Resident Killer Whales are inbound, north of Elliott Bay and headed this way, according to a tip just in from Kersti Muul. Let us know if you see them!
3:30 PM: Off Beach Drive, according to commenters.
3:56 PM: Mel just tweeted about seeing them from the Southworth ferry.
4:18 PM: Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales just called. He says there are three groups of wildlife out there – the orcas traveling through the Fauntleroy ferry lanes and a humpback with them, a “large group of harbor porpoises” near Lowman Beach, and a bottlenose dolphin off Me-Kwa-Mooks (Emma Schmitz Overlook)!
West Seattle is unique in the Washington State Ferries system as home to the city’s only WSF dock in a residential area (Fauntleroy). So you might be interested in the 2018 ridership report just released:
Thirty-four times the population of the city of Seattle – that’s how many people Washington State Ferries carried in 2018.
Annual ridership on the nation’s largest ferry system increased by more than 225,000 last year to nearly 25 million, its highest level since 2002.
“Our ridership is up 10 percent from five years ago and it’s forecast to grow another 30 percent to all-time highs over the next 20 years,” said WSF Assistant Secretary Amy Scarton. “In order to support this projected demand with reliable service, our recently released 2040 Long Range Plan calls for 16 new vessels by 2040.”
The largest jump in 2018 came on the Southworth/Vashon route, where ridership was up 8.8 percent, or a gain of nearly 17,000 customers over 2017. This is the third year in a row that the biggest percentage increase has been on a route serving Southworth, as people move to more affordable housing in South Kitsap County.
WSF customers took more than 161,000 trips aboard state ferries last year, travelling nearly 1 million miles – enough to circumnavigate the earth 36 times.
2018 route-by-route ridership highlights
· System total: Customers up 0.9 percent from 2017 to 24.7 million, vehicles up 1.1 percent to 10.8 million.
· Seattle/Bainbridge Island and Bremerton: While it remains WSF’s flagship terminal servicing the most customers throughout the system, there was a year-to-year drop of nearly 60,000 total riders (0.6 percent) passing through Colman Dock. Vehicles down 2.3 percent on Bainbridge Island route, up 3 percent for Bremerton.
· Edmonds/Kingston: Second highest total ridership with customers up 2.2 percent. Biggest year-to-year increase in total vehicles, going up nearly 40,000 (1.8 percent).
· Mukilteo/Clinton: Welcomed system’s fourth Olympic class ferry, Suquamish, to the route in the fall. Busiest route for drivers with vehicles up 1.5 percent and customers up 1.7 percent.
· Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth: Customers up 1.4 percent and vehicles up 1.5 percent, led by the Southworth/Vashon segment, which had the largest year-to-year percentage growth with customers up 8.8 percent and vehicles up 6.8 percent.
· Anacortes/San Juan Islands: All-time record ridership with customers up 1.4 percent and vehicles up 1.5 percent.
· Point Defiance/Tahlequah: Customers up 2.9 percent and vehicles up 3.7 percent. Ridership up more than 250,000 from low point in 2008.
· Port Townsend/Coupeville: Customers up 4 percent and vehicles up 3.8 percent. Ten-year ridership increase of more than 350,000.
· Anacortes/Sidney, British Columbia: Slight drop due to a two-week suspension of the route due to vessel breakdowns with customers down 0.7 percent and vehicles down 1.8 percent.
· Route-by-route ridership numbers: Available on the second page of WSF’s Fact Sheet.
· Additional highlights: See more in WSF’s 2018 Year in Review.
Mark Dale sent the photo from Gatewood. He’s one of several people who asked about that sighting this morning – U.S. Coast Guard “response” boats escorting a Fauntleroy-bound ferry. We checked with USCG District 13 public affairs – no incidents, no threats, they told us. So apparently just training.
Again this week, Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network received reports of what someone thought was a marine mammal in distress – but wasn’t. David Hutchinson as a result shares information we’ve published in the past about “a typical behavior of sea lions that causes concerns each year,” known as “sailing.” He sent the photo, too, to help explain:
Every fall and winter, Seal Sitters’ Hotline receives calls from folks out walking West Seattle beaches who are concerned about marine mammals offshore that they feel are in distress or entangled. These reports typically turn out to be California sea lions who are regulating their body temperatures by raising flippers out of the water, referred to as “thermoregulation.”
When a single animal does this, it is called “sailing,” while if a group of sea lions is involved, it is called “rafting.” For more details on this behavior, please see the 2010 story in Seal Sitters’ Blubberblog at this link: “Sailing” sea lion sparks concern.
It is also normal behavior for a resting sea lion to just float and drift on the water’s surface without raised flippers, occasionally lifting the head to take a breath. For more information on California sea lions that visit our area during this time of year, see: About California sea lions.
Each year, marine mammals are killed by entanglement in derelict fishing gear. If you see an animal entangled in visible fishing line or net or with obvious injuries, please report this to our Hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325).
If you haven’t heard the promising news yet: The endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales that visited central Puget Sound on Thursday had a brand-new visitor with them – as announced by the Center for Whale Research, L-Pod has a new calf, L124, born to 31-year-old L77. This is the third calf known to have been born to L77; the first one died in 2010, same year it was born, and the second one is L119, born in 2012. As CWR somberly points out, many calves don’t survive their first year, so everyone is watching and hoping for the best. The Southern Resident population is now at 75.
1:30 PM: Thanks to Kersti Muul for the tip! Southern Resident Killer Whales – K-Pod, to be specific – are headed this way, northbound from Burien’s Three Tree Point. They passed here southbound earlier in the day and have now turned around. Please let us know if you see them!
2:01 PM: Another texter says they’re in view from south of Alki Point.
2:54 PM: Turns out there are TWO groups of orcas in the area – southbound transients, northbound residents. And a TV helicopter (according to FlightRadar 24‘s tracker, the one channels 4/5 share) is buzzing them right now off Fauntleroy.
3:16 PM: Thanks for the updates in comments! NB whales are off The Arroyos now.
4:17 PM: As dusk nears, they’re between Fauntleroy and Vashon, per comments as well as a call from Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail.
Thanks for the tips and photos! The sailboats seen off West Seattle late this afternoon are part of the Three Tree Point Yacht Club‘s Duwamish Head Race. Top photo is by Lynn Hall; below, by John Saalwaechter:
This race had 61 registrants, according to the club website.