The Steam Ferry Malahat: Phoenix of the Black Ball
Monticello Steamship Company was in dire need of new vessels in the early years of the
20th century. In 1909 they secured the financing to build what would become their flagship
vessel: the SS Napa Valley.
Construction began in late summer of 1909. Built of steel to the main deck, the modern
vessel would carry ten autos and 1,500 passengers. She was powered by a single
triple-expansion steam engine and measured 231.2 x 48.7 x 15.3 feet. A single bronze
propeller measuring some eleven feet in diameter pushed her through the water at a speedy
A comfortable vessel, the Napa Valley was fitted out with upholstered bench seats, a
smoking room, galley, and dining saloon. Her saloon deck was open fore and aft, allowing
passengers to enjoy the crossing outdoors on warm days.
1922 saw the first rebuild of the vessel. The superstructure and deck house were altered to
allow the ferry to carry more cars. Carrying capacity went up to sixty autos. Part of her texas
deck was enclosed to accommodate the relocated smoking room, which was now around the
boiler and engine room casings. Further changes occurred in 1926. The bow and stern
were both widened to handle autos more quickly. Her car deck was widened, and she could
now carry 75 autos and 1,623 passengers. Sadly, the changes came at the expense of her
looks. No longer a trim-looking steamer, the Napa Valley had a squared, shorn look to her.
1929 saw the Napa Valley included in the merger that formed Southern Pacific-Golden Gate
Ferries. She continued in service until September of 1937. At that time, she was offered for
sale along with her other steam running mates, City of Sacramento and Calistoga.
The Puget Sound Navigation Company purchased the vessel, and the second stage of her
career was about to begin.
|S.S. Napa Valley
Official Number: 207402 Built: 1909 Length: 231' Beam: 49' Draft: 15'
Propulsion: Triple expansion Steam engine Passenger Capacity: 1632 Auto Capacity: 75