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 natives 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 arrives in Friday Harbor in June 2007, the last time she would work. Author's photo.
At right, perhaps the worst accident in WSF's history, the Nisqually
collided with a freighter in July of 1963 while working the
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 carried the scars of the collision the rest of her
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
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 replaced, 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 officially assured.
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.
|Above, the Mendocino makes another crossing in San Francisco. Author's collection.
|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. Color by the author.