|The Elwha arrives as the Samish leaves in the summer of 2016. Photo courtesy of Dietrich Menzer.
After some careful study, Washington State Ferries determined that for most of their routes, a vessel roughly the size of the Super Class seemed to or could fit in nearly any
of the Puget Sound crossings, save for the high demand for both traffic and commuters on the Seattle-Bainbridge Island route and the Kingston-Edmonds route.
Ostensibly built to replace the rapidly aging Evergreen State Class, the Olympic Class bears for more in common with the Issaquah Class than either the Supers or
Evergreens. With a capacity of around 1500 passengers and a wide tunnel making it much easier for loading trucks, the two vessels currently in service, Tokitae and
Samish have been proving their worth on the Clinton-Mukilteo run and San Juan Islands run. The third vessel, Chimacum, is due to retire the Klahowya and start service on
the Seattle-Bremerton run, where she'll be paired with one of the aging Super Class. The fourth, Suquamish, will start service in 2018 on the Clinton-Mukilteo route, paired
with sister Tokitae. ( It's unsure at this point if sailings will have to be eliminated or adjusted to accommodate the longer loading/unloading (dwell time) at the dock. WSF has
a bad habit of putting larger vessels on routes without changing the schedule to account for the increased dwell time, which has resulted in sailings being consistently late in
the San Juans as the 144 car Samish took over for the 90 car Sealth. The Vashon route has suffered them most with this--with two and soon to be three Issaquah Class
ferries assigned to the route while operating on a schedule designed for one Issaquah, and either two Evergreens or a Steel Electric, the vessels have been leaving cars on
the docks to maintain the schedule. "Keeping the schedule like this because it has always been done that way" is not a mantra that should be present in a 21st century
In any event, the vessels have proven to be a welcome addition the fleet, and have performed very well so far. With any luck, the ferry system will be able to continue
building--three more vessels of this size are needed to replace the ever-troublesome Super Class, and one needs to be built to SOLAS standard to continue the route from
Anacortes to Sidney, as the Elwha's time on this route is fast running out.