Original Name: Mendocino Year Built/Re-built: 1927 /1958/1987 City Built: San Francisco Official Number: 226712 Call Sign WA8696 Length: 256' Beam: 73' 10''
Auto Deck Clearance: 13' 3'' Horsepower: 2,896 Draft: 12' 9'' Speed in Knots: 12 Max Passengers: 616 Propulsion: Diesel-Electric Max Vehicles: 59
Name Translation: Derived from French traders who called the South Puget Sound natives nez quarr, meaning "square nose," and altered by the native's inability to
pronounce the letter "R." A large Mt. Rainier glacier and resultant river are also named after the tribe.
FINAL DISPOSITION: Scrapped in Ensenada, MX 2011.
The Nisqually departs Anacortes in August, 1971 Author's collection.
Above, the Nisqually arrives in Sidney, B.C. in 1949. Note the broken windows
on the car deck. Courtesy of the Robert Parkinson collection.
Above, perhaps the worst accident in WSF's history, the Nisqually collided with a freighter in July of 1963 while working the Kingston-Edmonds run. Though both vessels were
equipped with radar, the thick fog resulted in 0 visibility. Slicing right into the galley, it was amazing that no one was hurt. The ferry still shows scars of the collision to this day.
Courtesy of Tom Sanislo/MOHAI, Williamson collection. Mouse over for the color photo.
Northwestern Pacific Railroad built the M/V Mendocino in 1927. At the time, she
and her sisters Redwood Empire and Santa Rosa were the most advanced type of
ferry in the world. With their steel hulls and diesel-electric power plants, they were
known as "Steel Electrics" to set them apart from a fleet of slightly smaller vessels with
the same type of power plant set up but with wooden hulls. (The Wood Electrics would
become the Klahanie, Kehloken, Chetzemoka and the first Elwha on Puget Sound.)
Later absorbed by Southern Pacific, the ferries joined the Southern Pacific-Golden
Gate ferry fleet until 1938 when the bridges shut down nearly all auto ferry operation
on San Francisco Bay.
Sold to Captain Alexander Peabody's Puget Sound Navigation Company (Black Ball
Line) in 1940, the vessels were all towed north to start their careers on Puget Sound.
Mendocino renamed Nisqually, started work on the Edmonds-Kingston-Port Ludlow
route. She stayed on this run from about 1941 until the Port Ludlow route was
dropped in 1950 with the opening of the Lofall-Southpoint run.
The State of Washington took over ferry operations in 1951, sending the Nisqually
up to the San Juan Islands and to the Vashon Island routes until 1957 when she went
back to the Edmonds-Kingston run.
Considered to be the "backbone of the fleet" the ferries were modernized beginning
in the late 1950's. All the boats had their decks sponsoned out eight feet. The
passenger cabins were modernized though still made out of wood.
In 1977 the ferry system painted a gold band on the smokestack of each Steel
Electric, symbolizing 50 years of service. It was at this time that the system was
modernizing the fleet as well. Looking at the Steel Electrics, an assessment was done
and found that the boats could be modernized again, adding another 20 years to
their service life.
After many delays, the Nisqually was rebuilt in 1987. Over the next decade she
would work the Port Townsend-Keystone run and up in the San Juan Islands. By the
end of the 1990's though, it was becoming clear that the entire class as a whole was
winding down their careers. The Nisqually left the San Juans in 1999 and was
reduced to stand-by service, making her last run in 2003 and then being put officially
on the retired list.
In 2007 she was reactivated, but cracks found in her sister ferry's hull caused the
Coast Guard and WSF to take a closer look at the class as a whole. When it was
determined that all the concrete ballast poured into the hull would have to be
chiseled out and the stern tubes replace, the Nisqually was quietly withdrawn. While
WSF never officially said the ferry was not going to return to service, no yard time for
the hull inspections was ever booked. After the entire class was deemed too
expensive to repair on 13 December 2007, the status of the Nisqually as "retired" was
In September of 2008 all four Steel Electrics were sold to Environmental Recycling
Systems. The boats were to be towed to Mexico, but the deal fell through when the
price of scrap metal dropped.
After several proposals, a deal was finally reached in June 2009 with Eco Planet
Recycling, Inc. of Chula Vista, California. All four ferries were sold for $200,000.00.
The Nisqually and Quinault were the first to be towed out for scrapping, leaving
Eagle Harbor on 7 August 2009 and arriving in Mexico on 16 August for scrapping,
ending their long and colorful careers. Captain Peabody would have been amazed at
how long his 300,001.00 purchase lasted.
The Delayed Execution...
The Nisqually, which was last seen afloat in February 2011 (as seen in the photo
here, courtesy of Shawn J. Dake) had vanished by the time Mr. Dake made a return trip
past Ensenada in late April 2011--by which time active demolition had begun on the
sunken hulk of the Illahee. (See the Illahee page for photos.)
As Mr. Dake noted, there are no places to hide a vessel of the Nisqually's size in
Ensenada Harbor, and it is likely in the time the photo was taken and the Mr. Dake's return
trip in late April, the Nisqually was cut up. Adding credence to this is the fact that there
were two freshly cut off Steel Electric wheelhouses on the shore across from the Illahee,
which still had hers in place.
It appears that the Klickitat was scrapped first, followed by the Quinault (the last of
her hull disappearing sometime between June of 2010 when the Google photos were
taken and February 2011) and then the Nisqually and finally the most difficult job, the
sunken Illahee--which, given the added work it is taking, was likely sunk by accident.
Originally the galleys on all the Steel Electrics looked like this. The Illahee, on
the busy WInslow run, was remodeled in the 1950's, taking away the gracefully
curved counters. See the section on the Illahee for post-remodel galley.
Courtesy of the Williamson Collection/MOHAI.