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Sunday, April 22, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Afoot And Afloat -- Passenger-Only Ferries Launch Sound Service With Pomp And Fanfare

Two frisky little ferries, the newest and fastest in the state fleet, rumble into regular service early tomorrow from Seattle's Colman Dock to Vashon Island and in reinstated service to Bremerton.

No cars, please. The Kalama and Skagit, about twice as fast as auto ferries, are for people only.

The Kalama inaugurated service on the new Seattle-Vashon Island run yesterday for invited guests and put on quite a show, just as it did for guests Friday between Seattle and Bremerton.

Zipping along at 28 to 30 mph on the blue-gray waters of Puget Sound, sending up streams of spray, it deviated from its normal route to flirt with the Fauntleroy ferry terminal in West Seattle before docking at the north end of Vashon Island.

``Wouldn't have cracked an egg, captain!'' Harold Parker, chief of the ferry system, yelled at skipper Brian Henshaw as the 112-foot Kalama came to a smooth landing next to a concrete float at the Vashon terminal.

The 250-passenger boat, pennants flying from its bow, had given one short blast of its horn as it left Colman Dock and was answered by a deeper blast from an auto ferry.

Ceremonies were held at both Colman Dock and the Vashon Island terminals. The passengers seemed to like the Kalama. Up in the pilothouse, some were invited to steer it briefly and said they were amazed at its quick responsiveness.

``Up to this time the largest thing I had driven was a combine. Now I can say I've driven this ferry,'' said Florence Henning of St. John, Whitman County. She is the wife of Jim Henning, a member of the state Transportation Commission.

Diane Frederickson, who lives on Vashon Island, said she believes the passenger-only service will be good for people there. It will eliminate some car traffic and hence pollution, she said.

Said another passenger, Father Tryphon, superior of a Russian orthodox monastery on Vashon Island: ``I love the ferry system, but this is even better, because you get the feel of being on a boat. It's good that it will be going directly downtown.''

In the past, foot passengers and those in cars have had to ride auto ferries between Vashon Island and Fauntleroy in West Seattle. The larger ferries will continue on that route and will continue to carry foot traffic.

Gov. Booth Gardner, who was born on Vashon, gave the Kalama its send-off at Colman Dock. The terminal for the small boats was draped in bunting for the occasion.

In the Vashon ceremony, while the Kalama nodded at its berth, Jo Ann Young said of the service: ``This has been a long time coming and it represents a dream to many of us. Now we have to make it a success.'' Young is chairwoman of the Washington State Ferry Riders Coalition and also of a ferry advisory committee.

The Kalama and Skagit are identical boats built last year in New Orleans at a cost of $2.5 million each. When they had first arrived, the ferry system had run out of money to operate them and a third passenger-only boat, a catamaran now named the Tyee. As a result, the new ferries' first service came when all three vessels were sent to help ease transportation difficulties in the San Francisco Bay Area after October's devastating earthquake.

The ferry system was given money to operate the boats during the last session of the Legislature, and it now has a stable funding source through the motor-vehicle excise tax.

The Tyee initially will be kept in reserve to the other passenger-only ferries.

Fares will be the same as for foot passengers on auto ferries on cross-Sound routes.

Weekdays, the small boats will run 16 hours a day on both the Seattle-Vashon Island and Seattle-Bremerton routes. There will be 8 hours of service on Saturdays on both runs, and 8 hours on Sundays only on the Bremerton route.

Crossing time to the island on a passenger-only vessel is about 30 minutes and to Bremerton is about 45 minutes. The first sailing to Bremerton tomorrow will be at 5:10 a.m., the first sailing from Vashon at 5:30 a.m.

State Sen. Peter von Reichbauer, speaking at the ceremony on Vashon Island, said he envisions the day when there might be small ferries sailing between Tacoma and Seattle, and stopping at such places along the Sound as Redondo and Des Moines.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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