By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“We believe that the captain misjudged the approach,” said Coast Guard spokesman Nathan Bradshaw, adding that the investigation was not complete as of Tuesday.
The powered catamaran, owned by Kitsap Transit and last used for commuter use between Bremerton and Seattle, ran aground in the narrow Portage Creek canal separating Indian Island from Port Hadlock.
High tide allowed it to be dislodged at about 6 a.m. Tuesday. It was towed to Port Townsend Boat Haven, authorities said.
There was no damage to the boat aside from scratched paint, said Kitsap Transit Executive Director John Clauson, who was on the boat when it ran aground.
Bradshaw also said there was no damage to the hull and that no one was hurt.
Bradshaw said drug and alcohol tests were administered to all those on board, but the results were not available.
While there was no visible damage, the engines were not started in case rocks or other material had lodged in the mechanism, Clauson said.
Clauson said the boat ran aground because of confusion about a buoy, saying it did not conform to standard maritime signals.
“In most cases, the correct response to a buoy is ‘red right return,’ but in this case, we were supposed to travel on the port side,” Clauson said.
The Coast Guard found no inconsistencies with standard maritime buoy operation when the buoy was examined, Bradshaw said.
When told of the Coast Guard’s findings, Clauson said: “It’s one of those illogical situations where things aren’t where you would expect them to be.
“It was different from how it would be normally.
“We got the signal that we were supposed to be on the right side of the buoy, but it was the other way around, and we went aground.”
Jim Pivarnik, the Port of Port Townsend’s deputy director, said the buoy signal was open to interpretation.
“When you are following ‘red right return,’ are you returning from Seattle or from Port Townsend?” he said.
Pivarnik added that he had been through the channel several times, “and it doesn’t confuse me.
“It’s pretty clearly marked, but if you are in an unfamiliar channel in the dark, I can see how you can make a mistake.”
Pivarnik suggested that the captain would have been better off if he had gone around the east side of Marrowstone Island instead of attempting to go through the cut.
“Hindsight is always 20/20, but I would not have taken a boat that size through that channel,” he said.
“It’s not easy to go through even under the best of conditions.”
The catamaran had operated on an experimental basis until last fall as a passenger ferry between Seattle and Bremerton.
Clauson said the boat is equipped as a research vessel and gathered data about the effect of its wake on the shore.
It was on its way to Port Townsend on a maintenance call when the data was to be downloaded and analyzed, Clauson said.
If the data show no significant environmental impact, Kitsap Transit will look into the possibility of placing it on the route permanently, Clauson said.
Placing it into service as a passenger ferry will require a solid business plan and a vote by Kitsap County residents to approve the money needed for its operation, Clauson said.
Clauson said he did not know how long the vessel will be in Port Townsend.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.