Year Built/Re-built: 1947/90 City Built: Baltimore Official, as Governor Herbert R. O'Conor
Official Number: 2516446 Call Sign: WB6079 Length: 227' Beam: 62' Draft: 10' Auto Deck Clearance: 13' 5''
Horsepower: 2172 Speed in Knots: 11 Max Vehicles: 48 Max Passengers: 546
Name Translation: State Flower
Final Disposition: Sold to Island Scallops of Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, a branch of Atlantic Capes Fisheries of Cape May, N.J. Floating platform to
handle scallops. Currently for sale.
The Rhododendron at Point Defiance. Courtesy of Matt Masuoka.
|The Rhododendron as she appeared in the years before retirement. Special thanks to
Matt Masuoka for the wonderful photos!
|Top, the Governor Herbert R. O'Conor.
Above, the Rhody in mothballs in the early 1990's. Brandon Moser photo.
As early as 1952 the newly formed Washington State Ferries knew they were in
need of additional boats. Preparation was underway for what would become the
Evergreen State Class, but in the meantime the State needed ferries as soon
As luck would have it, two ferries from Chesapeake Bay had just been put out of
work. The Governor Herbert R. O'Conor and the Governor Harry Nice were
available, and while not huge they were of good size by 1950's standards and
would certainly be welcome additions to the fleet.
Towed through the Panama Canal and up the coast, the ferries were given an
overhaul and cleaning. The Nice was renamed Olympic. Painted in the green
and white of the new ferry system, her only outward change was to her car deck
windows, which had been square but were turned into portholes to match her
near sister. She was placed in service at between Lofall and Southpoint
on Hood Canal.
A short time later the O'Conor was finished. Renamed Rhododendron, she was
sent to replace the Olympic on Hood Canal. For the next eight years she
worked the Lofall-Southpoint route, often with the Vashon or Crosline acting as
back up boats in the summer months.
Again put out of work by a bridge--this time the Hood Canal Floating Bridge--the
Rhody was reassigned to work alongside her near sister Olympic on the
Mukilteo-Clinton run. The pair along with the Chetzemoka worked Mukilteo-
Clinton for many years.
1974 saw a change in the lineup. Olympic Ferries Inc had gone out of business
and the ferry system was ordered to take over the route between Port
Townsend and Keystone. The Olympic went first, in June of 1974 and later the
Rhododendron followed. The two ferries worked the route off and on until the
early 80's when the Klickitat became the permanent ferry on the route.
By 1983 both of the Chesapeake Bay ferries were scheduled to be retired.
Problems with the Issaquah Class and the rebuilding of the Steel Electrics kept
them in service. While never officially retired, the Rhody spent nearly a decade
moth balls at Eagle Harbor while Washington State Ferries. The Olympic
continued to work, but the Rhody remained moored at Eagle Harbor. In the
early 1990's, with the Issaquah Class's bugs long worked out and the Steel
Electrics all out of the yard and back in service, it was decided that the idled
Rhododendron would go in for rebuilding.
As the project got underway, the state soon was regretting their decision. The
Rhody was in far worse condition than anyone had anticipated. The entire
passenger cabin was full of rotten steel. In the end a completely new cabin had
to be made from fresh steel. The unexpected deterioration caused the project
to run millions over budget, and canceled plans to similarly refurbish the
After some teething problems with her new engines, the Rhododendron went to
work on the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route.
For the nearly the next two decades, the Rhody faithfully served the Point
Defiance-Tahlequah run, becoming a favorite of Vashon Islanders. As the years
went on, she increasingly became of limited use for the ferry system. A “one
compartment” (the ability to stay afloat with only one compartment flooded)
ferry, the vessel was only allowed to work on short, inland water routes, such as
the Point Defiance-Tahlequah run, which is a mere 1.5 miles long.
With the construction of the Kwa-di-tabil class ferries, the Rhododendron's
retirement date was finally set in concrete. As soon as the Kennewick went into
service, the Rhody would be retired.
On 23 January 2012, the Rhododendron made her last scheduled run between
Tahlequah and Point Defiance, replaced with the Chetzemoka, which is now the
permanent replacement ferry for the route, ending 65 years of service.
After one sale fell through the Rhody was sold on 26 February 2013 to
$275,000 to Island Scallops of Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, a branch of
Atlantic Capes Fisheries of Cape May, N.J. Not long after her conversion for
this purpose, the bottom fell out of the scallop market. The Rhody, still moored
at Fanny Bay, is now listed for sale.