Now it’s done: The scrap yard for the historic ferries

Four Washington State Department of Transportation 1927-built Steel Electric Class ferries wait at the WSF Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility on Bainbridge Island. The ferries, from front right, back to left and finally in the back right are: Klickitat, Quinault, Illahee and Nisqually. The Nisqually and the Quinault will be towed next week to Ensenada Mexico, where they will be recycled. The Klickitat and the Illahee will follow in about two weeks. (Photo: Grant Haller)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      This time, it’s the scrap yard for sure.

      After two earlier tries to sell its four 1920s-vintage ferries, the state now has actually done it, and the first two of the boats may be heading for Mexico by next week.

      Once they get to Ensenada, the four so-called “steel-electric” ferries that hauled passengers and vehicles across Puget Sound for close to seven decades will be cut up for scrap.

     The Illahee, Klickitat, Nisqually and Quinault will be gone forever.

Brian Corey welds a wall of metal called a “Wave Breaker” onto the No. 2. end of the ferry Nisqually. A crew of Boilermakers were putting the wall into place Friday. It will prevent ocean wave damage to the ship on its way south. (Photo: Grant Haller)

     Washington State Ferries has sold all four vessels to Eco Planet Recycling of Chula Visa, Calif., for $200,000, a fraction of what it was thought they were worth a few months ago.

      The four boats, originally built in 1927 for the Southern Pacific Railroad in the Bay Area of California, have been moored at the ferry system’s Bainbridge Island maintenance facility since they were permanently removed from service in late 2007 because of bad hull corrosion.

 

 

       There’s plenty of metal in the old boats, but it took months for the state to reach its goal of selling them all at once. Several prospective buyers had come to the ferry system’s Bainbridge Island maintenance area hoping to buy just one of them.

 

Brian Corey welds a wall of metal called a “Wave Breaker” onto the No. 2. end of the ferry Nisqually. A crew of Boilermakers were putting the wall into place Friday. It will prevent ocean wave damage to the ship on its way south. (Photo: Grant Haller)

“There were a lot of looky-loos,” said Vern Day, manager of the maintenance facility, including an Oregon couple who wanted to buy the Illahee and convert it to a floating restaurant. No sale.

      “We wanted them (all) out of here. We need the space,” said Doug Russell, the state’s chief naval architect.

  With the boats occupying what would be maintenance slips, the system had to spent time moving them out of the way so maintenance chores could be completed on boats still operating. Occasionally, crews had to be sent off-island to do the work because the old boats were in the way at the island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vern Day, Washing State Department of Transportation Vern Day leaves the Engineering Operartion Station of the Nisqually. Day has worked nearly 20 years remodling and keeping the Nisqually, other ferries of the fleet and WSF docks in operating shape. Day was leading a media group on one of the last tours of the ship before it heads south. (Photo: Grant Haller)

 

      The Puget Sound area’s former private ferry operator, the Black Ball Line, brought six of the ferries to Puget Sound in 1940 after they were made obsolete by new cross-bay bridges in California.

       The state acquired them when it bought the ferry system in 1951. Two were retired in 1967. The boats worked all over the Sound, most recently on the Port Townsend-Whidbey Island route, among the San Juan Islands and in service as backups. They were called “steel-electrics” because of the metal in their hulls and because their diesel engines powered electric motors that turned the propellers.

       They were pulled from service because officials said they were too risky and expensive to run. The state has begun building new boats for its fleet and expects one to be finished next year.

       Once the old boats were mothballed, a rush for souvenirs began. One woman said she’d had a baby delivered during a ride on one of the vessel and wanted some piece of hardware as a keepsake. Another woman tried to get something for her father, who once commuted to work on one of the ferries and is now terminally ill.

      Memorabilia such as artwork and nameplates from the boats have been stored in a warehouse and archived and eventually may be used in other ferries, at terminals or displayed at the system’s Seattle headquarters. The upholstered wooden lounge seats, installed during a 1980s renovation, are still on the vessels and will head south with them.

 

A Nisqually life ring waits on a railing of the ferry. Four Washington State Deartment of Transportation 1927-built Steel Electric Class ferries wait at the WSF Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility on Bainbridge Island. (Photo: Grant Haller)

Day donated jigsaw puzzles left on the Illahee to a local charity on Bainbridge Island.

     State crews went to work stripping the old boats of usable equipment such as radar and other navigation hardware, life jackets and fire-suppression hardware.

      On Friday, welders were busy preparing the ships for their ocean trip southward: They’d installed a horizontal breakwater on the Nisqually, planned more on the other boats and were welding rudders and propeller shafts in place so they wouldn’t turn during the trip.

 

 

 

 

  State welders are doing their part of the preparation work for the private buyer because they’re the only ones authorized to do the work in the yard, and to save time. “We were trying to facilitate the removal of the boats as soon as possible,” Russell said.

       Two different tug companies will be used to pull the boats, one at a time, out of their Eagle Harbor slips into the sound, where they’ll be lashed two at a time to each tug for the Pacific Ocean trip south. One steel line will be attached to each ferry from the tug, with the line for the trailing ferry to be strung around and under the leading one.

     The trip is expected to take seven to nine days. Eco Planet Recycling is making arrangements for taking the boats to the Gran Peninsula shipyard in Ensenada, where they’ll be dismantled.

      The sale ends months of state attempts to unload the ferries. It couldn’t get the price it wanted listing them on the state surplus list and eBay. Trying a negotiated-sale route, it got one bid from a Shoreline-based recycling firm for $500,000 plus 10 percent of the actual scrapping revenue.

     That deal fell apart when the expected $700-per-ton scrap price dropped to $200. Escalating fuel prices increased the cost of hauling them south. The state  then negotiated a second sale, for $650,000 to a Tacoma real estate firm thinking of using them as possible office or restaurant spaces. But that sale also fell through because the company couldn’t find moorage for the vessels.

     The ferry system arranged the sale to Eco Planet Recycling last month. Coursey said two ferries, the Nisqually and the Quinault, will be towed away next week, “exact date to be determined.” The system thinks the Illahee and the Klickitat “will be towed away approximately one to two weeks after the first two,” Coursey said. Both must be gone by mid-September.

5 Responses to Now it’s done: The scrap yard for the historic ferries

  • Jack Smith:

    Screw the boats! what can we do to restore to restore daily paper newspaper competition to Seattle. The only thing I can think of is making Real Change a daily. Any takers?

  • Ruby West:

    Is eighty years a good life span for a boat? Especially boats used as heavily as these? It seems overall as if both states got a lot of service from these.

    It appears that WSDOT tried hard to sell these. What made it feasible for the new buyers to take these ferries? Is their plan also to take them apart and sell for scrap?

  • Ruby West:

    Is eighty years a good life span for a boat? Especially boats used as heavily as these? It seems overall as if both states got a lot of service from these.

    It appears that WSDOT tried hard to sell these. What made it feasible for the new buyers to take these ferries? Is their plan also to take them apart and sell for scrap?

  • Riccardo Gaudino:

    We are now working to give them a new career.

  • skipholmes:

    back in june of this year i was in ensenada,mexico and preparing to go charter fishing the next day,as i was looking at the boat we would be on i spotted what appeared to be a washingtom state ferry.i indeed was puzzled.the next day as we were leaving ensenda harbor i grabbed the binoculars and what to my amazement was the m/v klickitat this sure brought back memories if seattle but was puzzled until i found out that these were being scraped.well i can remember the many years of service these vessles provided on the waters of puget sound RIP peace my old friend