Official Number: 512324 Call Sign: WY3960 Length: 382' 2'' Beam: 73' 2'' Draft: 18' 9'' Auto Deck Clearance: 16' Horsepower: 10,200
Speed in Knots: 20 Max Passengers: 1090 (International), 2000 Domestic, Max Vehicles: 144 City Built: San Diego Auto Deck Clearance: 16' Year
Meaning of Elwha: Native American/Chinook: "elk."
The Elwha landing in Friday Harbor, July of 2016. Photo courtesy of Dietrich Menzer.
Of all the vessels in the Washington State ferry fleet, the
Elwha is probably the most well-known. Or perhaps the
most notorious. She has an established dislike of ferry
docks, chewing them up with gusto and regularity that
hasn't been seen since the Kalakala.
The Elwha has the distinction of having both a
geographical landmark and a drink named after her for her
antics in the San Juans.
The first of the Supers to be refurbished, the Elwha (much
like the Klickitat which was first for the Steel Electric
refurbishment project) got a much different rebuilding then
the Yakima and Kaleetan that followed afterward. Part of it
was due to having to repair the extensive damage she
suffered while being rebuilt in the winter of 1990.
Hurricane-force winds descended on the Puget Sound
region in December of 1990 (later dubbed the "Arctic
Express") which left thousands without power and extensive
damage throughout the state. The Elwha, without power,
partially broke free of her moorings and was slammed into
a concrete pier for hours until being cut adrift. The
resultant damage led to her interior not being done over so
much as updated, with new floor tile but all the original
hardware remaining in place, albeit with new upholstery
Up until the last few years the Elwha served as the
international ferry between Anacortes and Sidney, British
Columbia. Falling numbers of travelers and the greater
expense of running the Super have led her to be replaced
by the slightly smaller (a difference of 20 cars) and far
more economical Chelan. In addition, the Elwha's well
documented stability issues (she is top heavy, though in
the last few years some mitigation has been done to
correct this) make her less the ideally suited for the route
in the fall months when seas in Haro Strait can become
On April 11th, 2006, the Elwha suffered a major mechanical
problem when her drive motor burned out. The ferry spent
15 months out of service, not only for the repair of the drive
motor, but also to have propulsion upgrades made. She
finally returned to service in the fall of 2007--but with a six
month SOLAS certificate. She was granted an extension
on the SOLAS certification pending more work done to her
plumbing system. In the winter of 2009 WSF canceled the
project and the vessel surrendered her SOLAS
documents. Later, as part of a federal grant, the repairs
were made and the Elwha was re-certified, working the
Anacortes-Sidney run in the fall of 2010. For the last
several seasons she has been taking over the Sidney
route in the fall, where her greater capacity is needed for
the domestic runs in the evening.
In July, 2015, the same drive motor that failed in 2006
failed again--not as spectacularly this time as last. The
Elwha has been knocked out of service at the busiest time
of year in the San Juans, repalced with the smaller Kitsap.
The ferry returned to service in the fall, and as of autumn,
2016 is on the Anacortes-Sidney run.
At top, refurb, light: the lower passenger cabin, with the same uncomfortable chairs placed on her in 1968, only
now sporting blue and dark brown upholstery.
Above--perhaps the best way to view the Elwha--from the air. The ferry is seen here docked in Friday Harbor in
August 2014. Photo courtesy of Brandon Swan.
What forever altered the Elwha...
Left, the damaged steel after the Arctic Express of 1990. One entire side of
the vessel was completely bashed in. All the bent steel in this photo had to
be cut out and replaced. The Elwha ended up with a permanent twist to her
keel, and in all actuality, probably should have been scrapped. Millions of
dollars were dumped into fixing the ferry because, as usual, Washington
State Ferries was short of vessels and couldn't afford to lose her.
Many who worked on the vessel before and after this even say the ferry was
never the same afterward--and given the amount of damage and repair that
took place, it isn't terribly surprising. Photo courtesy of Tom Sanislo.