|The Super Class|
| All three Evergreen State Class ferries had been added to the fleet by 1962 when Washington State Ferries did a comprehensive assessment of their fleet. The news was not good. Aside from the Evergreens, the Rhody and Olympic, and the Steel Electric Class which had just been recently renovated, the rest of the fleet was not in good shape. All the wooden vessels (save for the Vashon and Crosline which had recently had extensive renewals) were in need wide-ranging repairs. The Kalakala was in poor condition and the Chippewa was no longer a viable vessel.
The system needed new ferries, but it would be a some years before that was possible. The older boats were patched up as best as possible, including extensive work to the Kalakala, but the Chippewa and Kitsap would have to go.
Meanwhile, W.C. Nickum and Sons, designers of the Evergreens, were commissioned to design a new class of ferries. Nickum's design incorporated some of the best features of some of the older vessels--the two level passenger deck of the Kalakala, for example,and the narrow hull of the Vashon that would make the new boats practically wakeless. Unlike the older boats, the new class would be fast--traveling at 20 knots--and able to carry an 160 cars and an astounding 2,500 passengers.
National Steel and Shipbuilding of San Diego was awarded the contract to build the four vessels. Construction on the first ferry, the Hyak, began in 1966.
Arriving in the summer of 1967, the Hyak was placed on the Seattle-Bremerton route, enabling the retirement of the Kalakala and the Willapa. Both vessels were single enders and their large Busch-Sulzer diesel engines consumed a great deal of fuel, even by 1967 standards. The Hyak's unlikely running mate until the Yakima would arrive would be the Enetai.
The Kaleetan entered service next, and was sent to the Seattle-Winslow route, allowing the Illahee to be cut loose for the Kingston run. The Yakima arrived a short while later, sending the Enetai into retirement. Finally, delayed by a strike, the Elwha appeared at Winslow in 1968.
The Yakima and Hyak would stay at Bremerton for 13 years. The downturn in traffic on the run would see them replaced by the smaller Issaquahs for over a decade. With the arrival of the Jumbo class, the Elwha and Kaleetan were reassigned. The Kaleetan went to the San Juan Islands, a route she would call home for the next 25 years, and the Elwha would fill in as needed, appearing at Kingston and Bremerton until finding a more permanent home in the San Juan Islands in the early 1980's.
|Top of the page: the Hyak arrives on Puget Sound for the first time, with her paint line too high and her false bow intact. Courtesy of NASSCO. Left, the Kaleetan not long after going into service between Seattle and Winslow. Author's collection. Middle, the Yakima on the Bremerton run, 1970. Right, the Elwha, not long after going into service on the Seattle-Winslow run. Photos courtesy of Brandon J. Moser.|
| Unfortunately it was in the Islands that the Elwha would began to develop an unsavory reputation. Perhaps the most famous incident for the vessel happened in 1983 when her captain "discovered" an uncharted rock in Grindstone Harbor while showing a female passenger what her home looked like from the water. The event, while hardly comic, as it resulted in a tear in the Elwha's hull did have some soap opera-like qualities to it. Soon thereafter the woman in question began being referred to as "the Siren of the San Juans" and local bars began selling a drink called "Elwha on the Rocks." A local band in Friday Harbor cut a 45 with a song of the same title.
Even though the Hyak made a bit of a splash after going aground off Shannon Point outside the Anacortes ferry dock a few years later, the Elwha garnered the lion's share of attention. While awaiting refurbishment, she broke loose of her moorings in a violent storm and was heavily damaged when high winds bashed her repeatedly into the pier. She smashed into the Anacortes dock, was taken on an unauthorized route by one captain that resulted in grounding and more hull damage In the most recent (but now nearly ten year old) incident, failed to back down and demolished the Orcas Island dock. .
The class was scheduled for major upgrading in the 1990's. The Elwha started the program, but the delays and extra expense in repairing the storm damage resulted in her cabin getting the short shrift. The Kaleetan and Yakima were completely refurbished, leaving no trace of their plain and somewhat austere interiors. The Hyak, a victim of funding, was not upgraded at all. She had received the rebuilt engines from the Spokane and Walla Walla, but other than a complete cleaning and some new tile and paint, looks nearly exactly as she did in 1967. The only major addition to her cabin has been an elevator.
The Current Fleet