Kalakala Is Facing Another Delay

Plans to pull the historic ferry Kalakala free from the beach in Kodiak, Alaska, have been postponed for the second month in a row, with Seattle sculptor Peter Bevis still seeking insurance, title to the boat and more evidence about the condition of its hull.

Bevis, who had hoped to tow the Kalakala out of a cove at high tide this week, said workers will now aim for a high tide July 23.

The additional month gives engineers and salvage workers time to determine if the hull, long buried in dirt and gravel, is strong enough to survive a tow.

Options include towing the Kalakala by tug to nearby Womens Bay outside Kodiak, towing it to Seward, Alaska, for repairs in dry dock, or placing it aboard a submersible barge for a tow back to Puget Sound.

Two experts in riveted hulls are in Kodiak this weekend assessing the hull's soundness. A naval architect in Seattle is preparing a detailed structural analysis and drawings that would be needed for a tow.

"We learn more every day," Bevis said yesterday. "We've never been closer."

For Bevis and the Kalakala, the postponement was one more small delay in what has become a 10-year saga of false starts and wrong turns, redemptions and miraculous revivals.

The project has suffered both from disorganization and lack of money. It didn't really kick into gear until 1995, when Bevis and some close friends began working on the boat and he hired a full-time executive director for the Kalakala Foundation.

Last summer Bevis moved to Kodiak to devote himself to the project full time. Last winter he hired a paid crew of nearly 20 in Kodiak to excavate the hull, haul out debris and weld fresh steel over gaping holes.

For years Bevis and foundation staff assumed they could tow the boat home. Bevis spent thousands of dollars on ultrasound testing and marine surveyors to establish that the inside of the hull was sound.

But when the hull was excavated and exposed this spring, marine insurers had doubts: They worried that exposed exterior rivets could pop in an open-water tow and said the Kalakala should be towed aboard a submersible barge.

Excavating the hull was only possible after literally tons of cannery debris, old buildings and a dock in front of the Kalakala were cleared away.

"It's easy to say we knew these things before, but we really didn't," said Holly James, executive director of the foundation. "Before, it was all theory. You couldn't quantify it until the stage we are at now.

"I'm not discouraged. Each date we've learned more than before. . . . We are progressing each day. The Kalakala is coming home. And she is coming home safely."

A tow aboard a barge is much more complicated and expensive than simply towing the vessel. It requires engineering studies to design a cradle to support the Kalakala on a barge. Then come custom fabrication, the tow itself, and dry-docking the ferry somewhere. Cost? Estimates have been as high as $600,000 - money Bevis says he doesn't have.

Added to the usual difficulties are problems peculiar to the Kalakala. Kodiak is remote, labor and materials are expensive, and the vessel's design is one of a kind.

Then there's Bevis, who admits he hasn't always wanted to hear the voices of reason, and who once dismissed talk of insurance and engineering studies as "paperwork."

But defenders say Bevis, controversial and charismatic, is the only one who could have gotten the project this far - or tried it in the first place.

Bevis says he is listening now and realizes he needs the expensive barge tow, insurance and expert advice. "I've been trying to bring other people into this project for years," he said last week. "I'd like to work myself out of a job."

Tom Putnam, a Seattle documentary filmmaker who served on the board of the Kalakala Foundation in 1995, acknowledges that keeping the project on track has been a struggle.

"There were some real lapses," Putnam said. "It took years to get the foundation's paperwork done. Real nuts and bolts things would fall through the cracks. It just drove us crazy. Something was supposed to be filed, but it sat in a drawer, that kind of thing."

Among other things, the foundation hadn't registered itself as a charity with the Secretary of State's office, as required by law, until asked about it by a reporter.

"I stood on the bow of the Kalakala a year ago," Putnam remembers, "and did a critical-path analysis, a systematic analysis of what needed to be done, and Peter was standing right there. It fell apart right away. Things weren't getting done or not getting done in the proper sequence or not getting done because of ineptitude or disagreements.

"It's magical thinking, that maybe someone would come forward and create a miracle."

Randy McGreal, a current Kalakala Foundation board member, is the developer of a $150 million revitalization planned for the Bremerton waterfront, and would like to install the Kalakala as a centerpiece of that project.

"Have they made mistakes and missteps? Sure. It just seems to me to be a normal progression," McGreal said. "Peter's an artist; a sculptor. I don't think he's going to be nominated personnel director of IBM any time soon. But there's no question he's generated more excitement than anyone else about the Kalakala."

James said the foundation continues to grow. "We are at a level of professionalism and involvement with the community where we have never been before." Just this month, an anonymous donor gave $10,000 to the Kalakala restoration, James said. And engineering drawings and a professional survey of the riveted hull are under way in Kodiak.

"Every day new people get involved," she said. "This started out as a family-and-friends-based operation, but the project has grown, against all odds."

Lynda Mapes' phone message number is 206-464-2736. Her e-mail is lmapes@seattletimes.com