Horluck ferries poised for a major sprucing up

Horluck Transportation will be getting a $500,000 face-lift this spring.

Owner Hilton Smith plans to repair or rebuild two boats, introduce a fifth boat to his fleet and make necessary repairs to the Port Orchard landing pier and float. He also hopes to modify Horluck’s leased portion of the Bremerton dock to create a softer place for his boats to land.

“We’re having some damage caused to the boats when they land, particularly in bad weather,” Smith said.

The Mary L has already been pulled from service because of damage caused by hard landings and will need portions of her steel hull repaired before returning to the run.

Smith said the Bremerton dock is designed for much larger boats, and the hard rubber bumpers are too tough for his ferries. He said he is currently working with Kitsap Transit to install softer rubber fenders. In the meantime, he wants to string tires along the dock to create a landing site more akin to the ones in Port Orchard and Annapolis.

Until then, Smith said he is just trying to minimize damage to the two remaining boats.

Kitsap Transit spokesman John Clauson said they have been battling the issue of boat damage for some time now. Although Kitsap Transit does not yet have the title for the Horluck slip, it has accepted responsibility for it.

Originally, the float only had a molded rubber edge protecting the Horluck boats from the concrete decking. At Smith’s request, transit engineers installed inflatable plastic bumpers to keep the boats from banging down on the hard edge. Later, more inflatables were installed when the originals were not found to be adequate protection.

Now, Clauson said, it looks like tires are going to be a necessary short-term solution. Because of the boats’ different hull shapes, the inflatables are not able to protect against all damage, particularly when the water is rough.

However, Clauson said transit officials will eventually install vertical rubber fenders similar to the ones the WSF passenger-only ferry docks against. Until then, staff is going to design a temporary tire fix that will at least not be an eyesore.

Clauson said he didn’t want it “looking like an afterthought with tires hanging over the edge.”

He said he expects the tires to go up in a few weeks, but couldn’t estimate how long it would take before permanent fenders could be installed. Staff will have to find out how much work will be needed based on what type of devices are eventually used.

However, “this is getting pretty high up on their list of things to do,” Clauson said. “Horluck Transportation is an integral part of the transit system in Kitsap County, so we want to make sure it’s working.”

The Carlisle II, the oldest boat Horluck owns, is made of wood and is therefore very susceptible to rough handling. Nevertheless, because there are currently only two fully operational boats, the Carlisle II is used to fill in when the Spirit of ’76 is down for repairs. Smith said he hopes when his other boats return to service he will be able to pull the Carlisle II off the ferrying run completely.

Smith also plans to rebuild the Eagle, which has been out of service for nearly two years. The Eagle will be the most expensive fix, as it needs new engines and a new superstructure.

However, Smith hopes to save up to 50 percent of the cost of contractor work by doing the work himself, via his business Port Orchard Marine Railway.

The Eagle, which is already the fastest boat in the fleet, will get fuel-efficient 285 horsepower engines. The engines will run on four gallons of fuel an hour, less than half the eight to ten gallons of fuel and hour it takes to run the Spirit of ‘76.

“It’s pretty expensive, but when we’re done, we’ll have a really nice boat,” Smith said. “Completing the triangle run with the Eagle would be pretty easy.”

The contract for the Mary L repairs is out to bid now, and the repairs are expected to take three months. The Eagle will be last on the fix-it list, but Smith hopes to have it up and running by late summer.

The fifth boat will be a smaller water taxi type which Smith plans to name the Retsil II. Horluck has owned the boat’s hull for about a year now, but only now has been able to get the funding to modify it for service.

Among other problems, the boat was previously in service in Long Beach, California and therefore is not equipped to handle inclement Northwest weather. Smith will contract with an aluminum-work company to build a shelter for passengers.

The rest of the rebuilding work will be handled by Port Orchard Marine Railway. When finished, the Retsil II will carry 70 passengers. Smith plans to use it during the middle of the day when ridership is down.

The work on the Port Orchard landing is also out to bid.

Smith plans to replace 18 pilings — the maximum possible in a single year — and eight piling caps, which the pier itself rests on. A new landing float will also be brought in at some point to replace the current dilapidated one. When the weather clears, Smith said he plans to give the whole structure a new coat of paint.

The piling replacement, however, will need to be completed by Feb. 15. Permitting rules do not allow any shoreline work after that date nor for the rest of the salmon spawning season. Smith said that although that deadline necessitates a very aggressive schedule, he doesn’t want to wait until the spawning season is over this fall.

Apart from the repairs, Smith said he is also working to provide coffee service on the morning commuter runs — between 4:30 and 10:00 a.m. He is currently negotiating with an area vendor to set up shop on board starting Feb. 1. Smith envisions the ferry coffee stand would sell coffee and breakfast rolls, although no contract has yet been signed.

“We’re working out the details right now,” Smith said.

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