The First Years: 1947-1954
The Puget Sound Navigation Company, or the Black Ball Line as it was known, had long had an established "night route" between Seattle, Port Angeles and
Victoria. Passengers would embark for a midnight departure time on suites aboard the stately Iroquois, or, in years past, the Chippewa or Indianapolis before their
conversions to auto ferries in the 1920's.
Official Number: 252908 Radio Call Sign: WA3646 Length: 318 Beam: 65 Draft: 16.8
Twin -screw vessel, steel hull Propulsion: diesel engines Horsepower: 4,800 Service Speed : 18 knots.
Auto Capacity: 100 automobiles Passenger Capacity: 1000 Stateroom Accommodations: 200
Above, the launch of Captain Peabody's new flagship on 23 April 1947 at Todd Shipyards in Seattle.
Left to right Garden Lounge, Club Saloon, Bridial Suite, Coffee Bar, Dining Saloon, After Lounge.
By the 1940's, the Iroquois, despite having been modernized to carry autos and overnight
passengers, was still steam-powered and was becoming unprofitable to keep on the route.
Although a finely appointed vessel, she was showing her age--at that time, already approaching
nearly 50 years old.
Captain Alexander Peabody, president of the company, looked to build a vessel from the ground up
for the route. The new vessel would be the most modern to sail Puget Sound waters since the
debut of the Kalakala over ten years before.
Peabody had the vessel designed by William Francis Gibbs, the prominent naval architect
responsible for rebuilding the former German liner Vaterland into the United States Lines
Leviathan. Gibbs would later build the greatest American liners ever, the America and perhaps his
greatest achievement, the wondrous S.S.United States . The "Big U" as she was dubbed broke all
speed records on the Atlantic. At over 40 knots, the liner would take the Hale's Trophy by
crossing the Atlantic in just over three days.
Gibbs' commission for Black Ball was constructed at Todd Shipyard in Seattle. She was christened
as the Chinook, and was the most modern vessel to grace Puget Sound waters. The new vessel
was dubbed by Gibbs himself as "The Queen Elizabeth of the Inland Seas." With her finely raked
profile, the ferry certainly looked more like an Atlantic ocean liner than a ferry boat. Her arrow-like
profile gave the sensation that she was moving even when standing still.
With room for 100 cars and staterooms for as many people, the Chinook proved to be an immediate
success, solidly booked for weeks. Black Ball was eager to publicize the vessel. Promotional
photos were produced and a number of postcards were printed. Not since the Kalakala had a new
vessel been built for the company, and they wanted to the boat to be profitable. They were not
disappointed. Her accommodations earned her reputation quickly.
Unfortunately by the time the vessel made her debut, storm clouds were churning on the horizon for
Black Ball. Strikes, fare issues and pressures from commuters and politicians forced Peabody into
a tight corner. By 1950 it was over. The state had pushed the sale of the Puget Sound Navigation
Company. Peabody retained the Chinook, Bainbridge, Malahat, Quillayute and the fine old express
ferry-steamer, City of Sacramento. When the State of Washington took over operations in 1951,
the Chinook could still be seen departing Colman Dock for trips to Port Angeles and Victoria.
Time was running out for the Seattle portion of the route. Profits had dropped on the run, and with
Peabody's new venture in Canada, the Chinook was pulled from the Seattle part of the route. She
continued between Port Angeles and Victoria, but by 1954, Peabody had a need for her elsewhere.