Official Number: 226344 Radio Call Numbers: WB4495 Built as FRESNO, Oakland, CA, 1927
Length: 256' Beam 65' Draft: 12'9" Auto Deck Clearance: 12' Propulsion: Diesel, Busch-Sulzer, 2,800. Speed: 15 knots. Autos: 90 Passengers: 1,500
Name translation: from the extinct Willapa tribe from Southwestern Washington. Meaning unknown.
FINAL DISPOSITION: Upperworks scrapped November 2009; hull still aground at Spud Island, San Joaquin River, CA.
The upper deck of the Willapa, circa the 1950's. Courtesy Brandon Moser.
| Launched as the Fresno in 1927, the Willapa started life as a San Francisco Bay ferry for the Southern Pacific Railroad system.
After plying San Francisco waters for over ten years, the new bridges over the Bay effectively ended ferry service across San Francisco Bay. The Puget Sound Navigation Company, looking to upgrade its fleet in the 1940's, purchased all six of the Steel Electric ferries from Southern Pacific to bolster their fleet and improve service. Starting in August of 1940, the ferries began traveling northward in twos.
The Fresno and Santa Rosa worked for a short time in their original configuration while work was being done to ready the Lake Tahoe and Redwood Empire, renamed Illahee and Quinault for service. Once the other two ferries were ready, the Fresno and Santa Rosa went into the yard at Eagle Harbor to be specially configured for the Bremerton run.
Traffic on the "Navy Yard Route" had picked up dramatically. With WWII about to start, the run would soon be crowded with workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Like her near sister Enetai, the Willapa was extensively rebuilt. One wheelhouse removed. One rudder was welded into place, and the propeller removed. Her New London diesel-electric engines were removed and were replaced with one direct-drive Busch-Sulzer diesel, which gave both the Willapa and Enetai a speed of about 15 knots.
Her interior was expanded and the passenger cabin lengthened to the ends of the promenade deck. The wooden benches were removed, replaced by plushy padded, longer bench seats similar to those on the Kalakala.The two sisters would lack any artistic touches though; both were intended to haul people. Their passenger carrying capacity increased from around 800 to nearly 1500.
The Willapa became a "Bremerton boat," not leaving the route for 25 years. During her quarter century on the run, her companions were the silvery Kalakala, the distinguished former Great Lakes steamer Chippewa and her sister Enetai. During the war years, two other ferries joined the route, the steamers Malahat and City of Sacramento.
|The Fresno sails under the bridge that will soon put her out of work. A move north and many changes would soon be coming to the vessel. Author's collection. At right, upper deck of the Willapa was a popular place in the summer. She is shown here in the late 1940's. Photographer unknown.|
| With the transfer to Washington State Ferries, the Willapa changed little in appearance. Like the others in the Steel Electric Class (which technically neither the Willapa or Enetai belonged to any more, having had their power plants changed) the large windows on the car deck were welded in and replaced by open, round portholes.
Her conversion to a single-ended ferry by Black Ball was to spell the end of her service on Puget Sound. Initially,single-ended ferries were faster, and even with the turn around time, could still cover the travel time quicker than the slower double-ended boats. By the 1960's, that was no longer true, and in addition, the aging Busch-Sulzer diesels were expensive to run and maintain.
With the addition of the massive Super Class ferries, the state was able to retire some of the more inefficient vessels. As soon as the Hyak arrived, the Kalakala and Willapa were retired. The Hyak could make ten trips to the Willapa's five.
The Willapa was sold to a group of San Francisco investors and returned to the Bay area under her old name of Fresno Unfortunately, little was done to her.
The Fresno after years of neglect finally sank at her berth and remained submerged in about 30 feet of water, mid-way up the car deck windows for six months. A salvage company was hired to raise the vessel, patching her hull with concrete. Her hull, according to the Coast Guard report, resembles a slice of Swiss cheese. Constant pumping is maintained to keep her afloat.
Efforts to sell the ferry on Ebay in 2006 failed. There were no takers.
In October of 2006 her owner stated that if something wasn't done soon, the Fresno would be sold for scrap.
In December the ferry caused a bit of stir when she showed up moored unexpectedly in Port Costa. Her new owner, D.D. Parker of Parker Oceanic had a dispute with the tug operator towing her from Mare Island, and the captain of the tug tied up the boat. The dispute was later settled and the Fresno was towed away.
The Parker Oceanic website currently lists the Fresno as "The Ferry MV Fresno is 250'x60x19' is almost identical in size to the Delta King in Old Sac and is being refitted as boat storage/cabins with 80 units 12'x25' @ $10,000 each for early bird buyers. Completely renovated storage cabins are going to sell in excess of $75,000 so call now."
The Fresno ended up in Stockton for a time, but is now currently grounded off of Spud Island on the San Joaquin. It appeared from the website listing she is still considered "For Sale."
No buyers were forthcoming, so in fall of 2009 a contract was awared to Enterprise Marine Company Inc. to recycle the ferries.
The scrapping of the Willapa began in November of 2009, leaving only the Santa Rosa, aka Enetai as the sole survivor of the six Steel Electric sisters from San Francisco.
|The ladies lounge on the Willapa while not luxurious was airy and comfortable. The main canin of the Willapa was a bit bare, but comfortable. Courtesy WSHS/Curtis Photo, color by Nevermore Images.|
|The summer sun shines brightly on the Willapa as she sailed through Rich Passage in the summer of 1964. Photo courtesy of Bill McDaniel.|
to the K a l a k a l a
|The remains of the Fresno aground off Spud Island on the San Joaquin River. Photo courtesy of Robert Mann.|