The historic Vashon was one of three ferries built for the Kitsap County
Transportation Company--a ferry service that, for a brief time, gave the rival
Puget Sound Navigation Company serious competition.
KCTC constructed three large ferries between 1925 and 1930 that proved
to be reliable, solidly built craft that were extremely versatile in their auto
and passenger carrying capacity. The three--Kitsap, Bainbridge and
Vashon were tremendously popular vessels with patrons of KCTC.
All three vessels were built at the Lake Washington Shipyard at Houghton.
The last vessel out of yard, and the largest of the three, was the Vashon.
Launched on 10 May, 1930, the ferry mainly served its island namesake
until 1941 when the vessel was assigned to the San Juan Islands. For the
next nine years the vessel made the rounds in the Islands until the new
route between Lofall and Southpoint opened up. She was then moved to
Hood Canal, making 28 trips a day until the Olympic took her place in 1954.
Official Number: 229805 Radio Call Number: WB3763 Built: Lake Washington Shipyard, Houghton WA 1930 Hull: wood Length: 200' Beam: 58' Draft: 12'
Auto Deck Clearance: 11' 6" Speed: 10.5 knots Propulsion: Washington Estep Diesel Autos: 90 (1930) 50 (1980) Passengers: 646 Gross Tonnage:
Name Translation: Named for Vashon Island
FINAL DISPOSITION: Sank in Johnson Cove, Alaska, after running aground. Parts of the vessel still visible in the Cove.
The Vashon at Orcas Island in the 1950's. Photo courtesy of Alfred P. Roemer. Whistle sounded by Captain Frank Fowler.
|The Ghost of the Vashon...
Nearly three decades after her grounding, the remains of the Vashon are still visible near the beach in Johnson Cove, Alaska.
Courtesy of "ElainaG"/Google Earth.
At left, a newspaper clipping from the time she was grounded. The ferry's remains are still in the same canted over position.
After Washington State Ferries took over ferry operations on Puget Sound,
the Vashon moved back up to the San Juans. The ferry became
synonymous with the route--she stayed working there for the next 18 years.
Island residents became protective of their little ferry, giving her the name
"old reliable". She was joined by the much larger Evergreen State by the
late 1950's, but still held her own, making countless landings at San Juan,
Orcas, Shaw and Lopez Islands.
In the early 1970's, the Vashon was displaced by the Jumbo Class Walla
Walla, and two Steel Electrics. The Vashon moved over to the Mukilteo run,
working Friday through Monday during the fall, spring and summer months.
In June of 1978 she went to work on the newly-established "inter-island" run
in the San Juans. She was, by this time the last all-wood car ferry in
operation on Puget Sound.
Her up-keep was starting to become extremely expensive by this time.
The State was scheduled to retire the 40 year old vessel, but the sinking
of the Hood Canal Bridge and delays in the delivery of the new Issaquah
Class ferries kept the Vashon in service. Despite the dryrot, she could do
a day's work, and with the fleet suffering from capacity woes again, the
ever-reliable Vashon was called upon to work.
Finally there were enough Issaquah Class ferries in service. The Vashon
made her last run in December of 1980, from Mukilteo.
Sold in 1982, the ferry lingered on the waterfront near Colman Dock for a
few years. A group called "The Friends of the Vashon" were unable to
raise the money to bring her to Friday Harbor for use her as a
restaurant or floating resort.
The ferry was sold again, and was used as a hostel in Port Townsend,
but she operated in that capacity for only one summer.
Her owner took her to Alaska, planning to use the vessel as a supply
boat. Outside of Ketchikan in June of 1986, the Vashon ran aground. For
days she leaked oil and sank into the sand. Finally, she rolled on to her
The remains of the vessel are still visible on the beach at Johnson Cove
Many a resident of San Juan County mourned her passing. While not
always the fastest, most comfortable or most modern, the Vashon could
almost always be depended upon.
|At top, the launch of the Vashon.
Center, the Vashon after Black Ball took over the ferry.
Bottom, the passenger cabin in 1971. Courtesy of Brandon Moser.