Smaller boats mean longer waits on ferries this Thanksgiving

SEATTLE -- While you juggle your holiday plans, the state ferry system is juggling its boats.

One of the largest boats in the fleet, the Walla Walla, suffered serious damage while out of service for maintenance.

Pictures show just how much damage was done when a drive motor failed. Parts around that motor ended up melted and charred.

"I'm not sure what's going on, they seem to have a lot of problems this year," said ferry passenger Barbara LaDue.

The state routinely rotates its boats in and out of maintenance during the fall and winter months. But this year, not getting the Walla Walla back from its maintenance as planned, means more shuffling.

The Walla Walla is one of the state's largest ferries, able to carry 188 cars and 2,000 passengers. With that boat out of service, the ferry system's now juggling its other boats to handle a high volume of holiday travel.

"Holidays are a little stressful anyway so you know," said ferry rider Bryan Hood.

Beginning Monday -- kicking off the busy Thanksgiving holiday week -- two routes have to carry passengers back and forth with smaller than usual boats.

"Yeah I don't know how they're going to do all that boat shifting, because there's a lot of traffic on this ferry," LaDue said.

The Edmonds-Kingston run will lose 58 car slots, for the next month, while the Seattle-Bremerton runs will lose the capacity for 54 cars, which equals about one third of normal capacity.

"We're going to have long waits, yeah," Hood said.

So what's the best advice from regulars?

"Try to get up early and get on the first ferry," LaDue said. "I've done the Thanksgiving and Christmas one before and yeah you want to be early."

And now the Problem Solvers have also learned that state legislators asked the ferry system to return the Rhododendron to service.

It's currently on the auction block, but so far without a bidder. That auction expires on Tuesday. A state ferries spokesperson told me that they are now considering a return to service, since lawmakers asked.

And what will happen December 16 after this shift of boats? Ray Deardorf, who does the scheduling for the ferry system told me they're still working on that plan.