With the promise of passenger only service realized with the Express (later
Tyee) WSF ordered a pair of new boats to expand the service. The two,
named Skagit and Kalama were built for five million dollars in 1989 by Halter
Marine of New Orleans. The original design of these boats were based on
one used to ferry offshore crew to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. WSF
altered the superstructure by adding another deck to accommodate more
Arriving in the fall of 1989 the boats along with the Tyee were tied up.
There were no funds to run them. The state's newest members of the fleet sat
unused and in limbo.
The Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco put the boats to work.
Loaned to the city while the bridges were down, the ferries proved their
worth--and it would turn out to be their finest moment.
Returning to Puget Sound, the ferries went into service...and soon after the
Designed for the Gulf of Mexico, the boats rolled with the waves. The cabins
proved to be uncomfortable, freezing in the winter and sweltering in the
summer. The residents along Rich Passage began complaining about erosion
on their beaches due to the the large wake the ferries produced. To appease
property owners, WSF slowed the boats.
They were successful on the direct route from Vashon to down town Seattle,
where the open water presented no issues with the wake.
The pair proved to be unreliable and subject to frequent breakdowns.
When Washington State Ferries started a new passenger only program with
the Chinook and Snohomish, plans called for the Skagit and Kalama to be
retired. Instead, the ax fell on the passenger only program in 2005. The
Chinook and Snohomish were pulled off the Bremerton run and the full scale
dismantling of the passenger only fleet started, beginning with the auction of
the Tyee on eBay.
The Skagit and Kalama were assigned to carry on at Vashon. The
commuters on Vashon Island remained grateful for their ungainly boats. The
two provide the link from the Island directly to downtown Seattle, instead of
going to the dock at Fauntleroy in West Seattle as the auto boats do.
In the winter of 2006, the legislature directed the sale of the Chinook and
Snohomish. The remaining passenger only run between Vashon Island and
down town Seattle was to be discontinued by Washington State Ferries by
After the summer schedule of 2009 King County took over the
Vashon-Seattle run, using the 149 passenger catamaran Melissa Ann. King
County has plans to lease up to three 149-passenger vessels: one for
Vashon; one for the water taxi; and one for backup. Eventually the county will
buy its own fleet.
The Skagit and Kalama were declared surplus in the fall of 2009. The state
tried to sell them on eBay but were unsuccessful. The pair were finally sold in
2011 and transported to Tanzania where they would provide service between
the mainland and Zanzibar.
On 18 July, 2012, after encountering heavy winds, the Skagit capsized off the
coast of Zanzibar. A resulting inquest by Tanzanian authorities found the ferry
had been dangerously overloaded, carrying an estimated 447 people--well
over its capacity. The final death toll from the disaster is a staggering 293
dead--although officially 81 are listed as dead and 212 as "missing."
Official Number: D949139 Call Sign: WAA6310 Length: 112' Beam: 25' Draft: 8' Horsepower: 2,840 Speed in Knots: 25 Max Passengers: 230
City Built: New Orleans Year Built/Re-built: 1989 Name Translation: From the Calama language: "pretty maiden."
Official Number: D949140 Call Sign: WAA6309 Length: 112' Draft: 8' Beam: 25' Horsepower: 3,840 Speed in Knots: 25 Max Passengers: 230
City Built: New Orleans Year Built/Re-built: 1989 Name Translation: The meaning is now unfortunately lost, but a county and river are named after
this Northwest Washington tribe.
Final Disposition: Skagit--Sank while dangerously overloaded on 18 July 2012 with an estimated death toll of 293; Kalama was removed from
Vallejo, November 1989: the Skagit and Kalama far from home waters working after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo courtesy of Brandon Moser.
At left, a photo by the author about 1999, showing the Skagit heading into the
passenger only dock in Seattle. At right, a magazine clipping showing how the
ferries looked in their all-white livery. Courtesy of Brandon Moser.
Below, the horrifying image of the capsized Skagit, with survivors on the
upturned hull. The ferry would sink a short time later.