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77-year-old Ferry Returns to Point Ruston

By John Gillie,  Staff writer

Shipyard workers at Tacoma’s Vigor Marine eased the 77-year-old former Pierce County ferry Point Ruston back into the water Thursday after a month-long sabbatical in drydock.

The ferry will resume its role as a floating showroom for its namesake mixed use development, Point Ruston, Friday.

The ferry had a long history serving the Navy and Pierce County before Point Ruston developer Mike Cohen bought it five years ago and converted it into a showroom for his $1 billion development on the site of the former Asarco copper smelter near Point Defiance.

The ferry, built by Bath Iron Works in Maine, first served as a ferry for the Navy in Hawaii before serving in Pierce County’s fleet connecting Steilacoom with Anderson and Ketron Islands.

Mark Donahue, shipyard manager at Tacoma’s Vigor, said workers there removed all of the hull paint down to bare metal, patched spots where that metal had grown thin and repainted the hull in a five-step process designed to withstand the rigors of salt water immersion for a decade.

The shipyard also repaired some of the ship’s fixtures and inspected its safety systems.

The ferry formerly was known as the MV Steilacoom when it was owned by the county and the Aquidneck when it ferried passengers and vehicles to and from Ford Island at Pearl Harbor for the Navy.

The ferry was acquired by Pierce County in 1976.  In its last years of county service, it served as the backup boat on the Anderson Island route.

The Point Ruston normally is tied up at a dock on Ruston Way at the Point Ruston development.

The vessel was in Vigor’s Tacoma Tideflats drydock with a crane barge that the shipyard had been preparing.

The shipyard began the process of refloating the two vessels about 11 a.m. Thursday.  To refloat the  vessels, the 1944-vintage drydock’s lower compartments are gradually filled with water until the dock sinks beneath the docked boats.

As the dock drops lower in the water, the repaired vessels float free of the concrete and wooden blocks that supported them. A small tug pulled the Point Ruston ouf of the dock.

Assisting the tug was a one-man aluminum boat, the Mini-Me, powered by a 7.5 horsepower Honda outboard motor.  That small boat nudged the Point Ruston away from the dock and into the center of the Middle Waterway where the Vigor shipyard is located.

Read more here: Tacoma News Tribune

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