Washington State Partners Set Out to Build Fast Foil Ferry

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

August 20, 2020

(Image: Glosten)

(Image: Glosten)

A group of public and private partners in Washington have come together to accelerate the design of a fast foil ferry to provide zero-emissions, high-speed passenger ferry service in the Evergreen State.

Participants in the Joint Innovation Project include three Washington ports that have joined forces to support the effort: Port of Anacortes, Port of Bellingham and Port of Skagit. The vessel is under design by Glosten, a naval architecture and marine engineering firm, and Bieker Boats, a performance marine craft designer. Kitsap Transit has identified a potential route for their ferry operations and sponsored the team in applying for additional funding to advance the concept. 

Leading this collaborative joint innovation project effort is Washington Maritime Blue, a strategic alliance formed to foster maritime innovation and sustainability in support of an inclusive blue economy, and DNV GL, a technical assurance firm providing independent advisory services to the maritime and energy industries.

Additional project partners Skagit County and EDASC (Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County) share the maritime focus and joint goals of lower emissions, less road congestion and economic development opportunities for the designers and manufacturers in the county.

The idea began when Paul Bieker returned to Seattle after his work designing the first hydrofoil vessel for the Americas Cup-winning Team Oracle and was stunned by the traffic. He realized that applying hydrofoil innovations to ferry vessels would improve speed, efficiency and access. Working with Glosten, they created a preliminary design that would enable Washington State to recreate the “Mosquito Fleet.” Aptly named because of the numerous ferries travelling from port to port like a “swarm of mosquitoes,” the fleet had its heyday from 1850s through the 1930s, but ended as road and rail transportation began to dominate. With increased congestion from land-based transportation, a new fleet of ferries could alleviate regional transportation issues and take advantage of the advanced design, manufacturing, boatbuilding and materials capabilities found in the region.

The project will advance an innovative, replicable business model for an efficient electric transit concept: a high-speed hydrofoil passenger ferry. The Foil Ferry is designed by Bieker Boats and Glosten, and leverages private sector innovations including hydrofoil design, lightweight carbon fiber construction and battery technology. It supports transit options by connecting urban, suburban and rural communities with green transit alternatives that can take cars off the roads.

“Our three local ports see this innovation as an opportunity to spur economic recovery in the boatbuilding world, a critically important industry in our region,” said Patsy Martin, Executive Director of the Port of Skagit. “There are strong maritime industry clusters in each of our districts that could benefit from the design and construction of these vessels in our communities, resulting in a direct economic impact.”

Because of the nature of joint innovation projects, the expected time it will take to complete the entire project, from business model to the first demonstration project, is compressed. Several streams of work will occur either in parallel or in succession, as appropriate, creating efficiencies and avenues to take advantage of the collective strengths of each of the organizations involved. This will include design, an exploration of required infrastructure, a review of environmental benefits and impacts, regulatory and permitting needs, and determining possible routes and operators.

“An ambitious but needed project like the relaunch of this type of ferry service would be exponentially more difficult if each individual stakeholder acted alone,” said Joshua Berger, Founder and Board Chair of Washington Maritime Blue. “A cluster organization like ours can bring together the technologies, required local knowledge, and resources that will ensure that this joint innovation project will be successful.”

The intent of the project is to bring to market a zero-emission high-speed waterborne transportation alternative in Puget Sound. The design includes the options of fully electric propulsion or diesel-electric propulsion for extended range. Owing to its extreme efficiency, the diesel electric option is two to three times more fuel efficient than conventional fast ferries and has the potential to save 1,500 tons of CO2 emissions a year, while the fully electric version offers even greater improvements.

“Developing the Foil Ferry in collaboration with the Washington Maritime Blue Joint Innovation Project exemplifies the very best of our Pacific Northwest values and capabilities. This partnership of ports, designers, builders, and operators is a catalyst that is propelling our design into a reality, to the benefit of our economy, the environment, and the passenger vessel community at large,” says Glosten Project Manager Matthew Lankowski.

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