BUILT: 1925 Lake Washington Shipyard, Houghton, WA
OFFICIAL NUMBER: 224849 CALL SIGN: WA6847
L/B/D: 166 x 51 x 9 GROSS/NET TONS: 525/258 PASSENGERS/AUTOS: 325/95 cars in 1920s, 44 by 1960
PROPULSION: Washington Estep Diesel, 600 HP. SPEED: 9 knots
NAME TRANSLATION: named for chief Kitsap, meaning “brave”
FINAL DISPOSITION: Sank under tow in Alaska, 1966
The Kitsap not long after being transferred to Washington State Ferries. Courtesy of WSF.
One of the few companies seriously giving the Puget Sound Navigation
Company (Black Ball Line) a run for its money in the 20's and early 30's
was the Kitsap County Transportation Company. It looked as if they'd keep
it that way too, when a series of new ferries took to the water starting in
The first of the near sister ferries was the Kitsap, launched in 1925 from the
Lake Washington Shipyard at Houghton. The Kitsap was (as her sisters
would be as well) every bit a product of Washington State: from the
Washington fir that made up her hull and superstructure, to her Washington
Estep diesel engine.
The ferry was "square built," essentially a box on a hull with a raised deck
on top of which was built the passenger cabin. On the texas deck were the
wheelhouse and crew quarters.
The design allowed for six lanes for cars—about a hundred of 1920's sized
cars, and about 800 passengers. At a speed of 12 knots, the Kitsap was
one of the most versatile ferries built at that time.
She began work on the Fauntleroy-Vashon route, but in 1930 was switched
over to the Suquamish-Ballard run. Five years later, in November of 1935,
a labor strike forced KCTC to sell out to PSN. The Kitsap and her two
sisters were painted in the colors of PSN and raised the Black Ball flag from
The ferry remained on the Suquamish-Ballard run until 1938, when PSN
sent her to the Mukilteo run. She stayed there for two years then moved up
to the Port Townsend-Keystone route in 1940. In 1941 she went back to
Mukilteo where she would work until the end of WWII. Between 1947-49
she was assigned to the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route.
She started work for Washington State Ferries in 1951, assigning the
Kitsap to the new Lofall-South Point route across Hood Canal. By this time
the size of cars had greatly expanded, and the Kitsap could only carry
about 30 cars. Her passenger cabin was also only certified for a little over
Still, she could do a day’s work and sailed the route on Sundays to help out
the Rhododendron and daily during the summer months. With the Hood
Canal bridge completed in 1961, however, there was no use for the ferry
anymore. WSF put her up for sale.
The Oregon highway department bought her and put her to work on the
Columbia River between Megler, Washington and Astoria, Oregon. When
the bridge over the Columbia was completed in 1966, the Kitsap was out of
job once again. The Oregon work proved to be her last outing as a ferry
though. Purchased to be used as a cannery in Alaska, she sank while
under tow and could not be recovered.
In 1979 WSF christened a new ferry Kitsap—honoring not only the county
and chief of the same name, but also the auto ferry that had given so many
years of reliable service.
It didn't matter how small the ferry--every last one of them was made into a
bilboard for the Seattle World's Fair in 1962. The Kalakala was the most
famous example, but it was NOT the only ferry to carry the logo as some
have suggested. The clipping here, showing the Kitsap, and several
photos throughout the site are ample proof of that!
Above: the Kitsap as she looked working for Black Ball. Author's collection.
Below: far from home waters, the Kitsap is shown here in 1964 crossing the
Columbia River. Courtesy of Cliff West.