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 scrapped between 2012-14.
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.
At top,the Fresno sails under the bridge that will soon put her out of work. Middle photos: the
redesigned passenger cabin included a ladies lounge and more bench seats. Above, the
summer sun shines brightly on the Willapa as she sailed through Rich Passage in the summer
of 1964. Photo courtesy of Bill McDaniel.
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 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 awarded
to Enterprise Marine Company Inc. to recycle the ferries.
The scrapping of the Willapa began in November of 2009, leaving only
the hull. After the hull had been there for a time, both Park Marine and
the scrapping firm were sued for the final removal, as both hulls were
parked illegally. The Willapa's hull was finally broken up, but as of the
middle of 2014, the hull of the San Leandro remains at Spud Island.
And then there was
The remains of the Fresno aground
off Spud Island on the San Joaquin
River. The hull has since been
broken up, leaving only the Santa
Rosa as the sole survivor of the Steel
Photo courtesy of Robert Mann.