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: Retired by attrition, 2020.
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 ate up
nearly 60 percent of the maintenance budget, and only uncovered more steel wastage on the increasingly unreliable ferry. An assessment was undertaken to
determine whether or not investing any more money into the ferry was worth it; at the transportation hearing in the winter of 2020, the head of the DOT said that
the cost of repairs outweighed her value to the ferry system. Governor Inslee's supplemental budget called for savings made to the ferry system by not fixing
the Elwha, where repairs were estimated at $20 million plus, and retiring the boat.
With the passage of I-976 and the DOT's funding now with a multi-billion dollar hole blown in it, there was little desire to dump tens of millions of dollars in new
steel and other repairs into the potentially unsafe fifty-two-year-old Elwha. With the supplemental budget passed in March 2020 and no money allocated for the
Elwha and with her inspection certificates allowed to lapse, the ferry was essentially retired.
After spending some months tied up in Anacortes, she was towed to Eagle Harbor in April of 2020 for de-crewing and decommissioning, near the already retired
Klahowya and Hyak.
Left: 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 Moser.
Right: the Elwha boasts some exquisite Native American artwork. Hopefully these pieces will be reused on the Elwha's replacement.
What forever ruined the Elwha...
Left, the damaged steel after the Arctic Express of 1990. One entire side o
f the vessel was completely bashed in. All the bent steel in this photo had t
o be cut out and replaced. The Elwha ended up with a permanent twist to
her keel, and in all actuality the ferry should have been scrapped at that
time. Millions of dollars were hurriedly dumped into fixing the ferry because,
as usual, Washington State Ferries was short of vessels and couldn't afford
to lose her. Unfortunately, these repairs would lead to sever steel wastage
some thirty years later.
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.