BUILT/REBUILT: 1968/1991, National Steel and Shipbuilding Co., San Diego, CA/Fisherman’s Boat Shop, Everett, WA.
OFFICIAL NUMBER: 512324 CALL SIGN: WY3960
L/B/D: 382 x 73 x 19 GROSS/NET TONS: 2813/1322
PASSENGERS/AUTOS: 1090 (International), 2000 Domestic/144 cars
PROPULSION: 4 EMD 16-645 BC diesels SPEED: 17 knots
NAME TRANSLATION: Elk, and for the first Elwha.
FINAL DISPOSITION: ?
The Elwha sporting her gold stripes in March of 2019. Photo courtesy of Brandon Swan.
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 than 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 and paint.
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 than
ideally suited for the route in the fall months when seas in Haro Strait can
become quite violent.
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 had been knocked out of service at
the busiest time of year in the San Juans, replaced with the smaller Kitsap. The
ferry returned to service in the fall of that year.
The ferry spent a great deal of 2018 out of service when it was discovered that
there was extensive wastage of her steel decking. The resulting repairs totaled
over $25 million dollars, eating up nearly 60 percent of the maintenance budget.
This still did not complete all the repairs the vessel needs, as each Super Class
has an outstanding repair backlog totally anywhere between $20-$25 million
each. In the case of the Elwha, this doesn’t include the $10 million needed to
repair her auto deck; the ferry was taken from service July 28, 2019 and as of
this writing is awaiting a legislative decision whether or not to continue
overhauling the veteran.
WSF's long range plan calls for the immediate building of new vessels to replace
the Super Class vessels which are becoming increasingly unreliable and
obsolete. Hopefully they'll pony up with the cash for the new vessels instead of
dumping millions of dollars into vessels with less than ten years of service life left
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.
Middle: what 25 million dollars will net you--the Elwha's new floor. The tile was a fraction
of the cost--it was the rotten steel underneath that ran up the bill. Courtesy of Brandon
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.