As the 1980's closed out, it was becoming evident that even with the Issaquah Class
expanded to carry more cars, the ferry system was still going to be woefully short of carrying
capacity. Added to the problem, the fleet was aging rapidly and two classes of vessels were
going to need mid-life upgrades which would result in vessels being out of service for
extended periods of time leaving the system with no back up. (Eerie how that seems to keep
happening with the system, isn't it?)
The runs needing more capacity were two of the busiest routes in the system: Seattle to
Winslow, Bainbridge Island and Kingston to Edmonds. The Jumbos on the
Seattle-Bainbridge route had reasonable carrying capacity for autos, but their cabins were
rated for 2000 passengers. On the early morning runs and the early evening runs it was
becoming standing room only. While the Supers could have been placed on the route for
added walk on capacity (at the time, still at 2,500) the loss of some 40+ spaces for cars
resulted in large backups on either end of the run.
At Kingston where the Yakima and Hyak were working, the backups on weekends were
becoming hours long. The boats were in serious need of reconditioning, and were getting
slower by the day. The plans to refurbish them had already been made and were set to take
place after the Elwha went in for upgrading in the winter of 1990-91. The damage the boat
sustained during the Arctic Express and the lack of back up boats shelved the projects until
the boats could be spared.
Three boats were authorized for construction. They would be drawn off the plans for Jumbos,
but with expanded capacity for both autos and passengers. They would carry 218 cars,
2,500 people and be just over twenty feet longer than their predecessors, which would make
them for a time the largest double-ended ferries in North America. (The title has since gone
to B.C. Ferries new Coastal Class and will likely remain theirs as WSF has no plans to build
larger boats. The Mark II's are still the largest double-ended ferries in the United States.)
Christened rather unimaginatively the "Jumbo Mark II Class" the contract was awarded to
Todd Shipyard and construction finally started in 1996. The first ferry, the Tacoma, would
appear in 1997 with the other two following in 1998 and 1999.
In the decade since they first appeared on Puget Sound, the trio have proven to be very
reliable additions to the fleet. After ten years of service they've recently all had security
upgrades and new paint, and one interior upgrade. The Mark II's are ready to continue
serving Puget Sound commuters for many more decades to come.
At right, from top to bottom, Tacoma, Wentachee, and Puyallup. All photos courtesy of Matt