All three Evergreen State Class ferries had been in service for several years when
Washington State Ferries did a comprehensive assessment of their fleet in 1962. 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 Evergreen State Class, 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--a special consideration for narrow Rich Passage on the Bremerton route.
Property owners had been complaining about wakes from passing vessels as far back as
the days of the H.B. Kennedy.
The distingushing feature of the new vessels, aside from the flat wake would be their
speed: the Supers were designed to travel at a brisk 20 knots, speeds not seen since the
S.S. Seattle was retired some thirty years before. Each ferry would also be capable of
carrying 160 cars, almost double of anything currently in the fleet and carrying an
astounding 2,500 passengers.
National Steel and Shipbuilding of San Diego was awarded the contract to build the four
vesels. 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
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 and the hoggish fuel consumption would see them replaced by the smaller, far
more efficient 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.
Unfortunately it was in the Islands that the Elwha would develop an unsavory reputation.
Undoubtedly 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. While there were some soap opera like qualities
to the accident, it was far from comic. The Elwha began taking on water due to a tear in
her hull and had to be pumped out at the Orcas Dock.
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. Later, 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 over ten year
old) incident, she lost power 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 cuts, was not upgraded at all, and as a result, she was
retired in June 2019. (see The Retired Fleet section.)
Top the Hyak arrives on Puget Sound for the first time, with her paint line too
high and her false bow intact. Below the Hyak, the Kaleetan has arrived,
ready for service on the Winslow run. Below the Kaleetan, the Yakima
makes one of her first landings after her trip up the the Pacific Coast. Finally,
above, a publicity photograph of the Elwha,shortly after going into service
on the Seattle-Winslow run.