I said goodbye to an old friend recently, a friend I’ve known for 60 years.
I watched from the damp, sandy shore of Ship Harbor in Anacortes as Evergreen State–a Washington state ferry–moved slowly toward her terminal, passing the wing walls of the slip and slowing, slowing until she halted and the loading ramp clanged down on her foredeck at about 1620 hours.
Scores of cars debarked, rattling the heavy ramp, and foot passengers followed the long pedestrian route to shore, carrying souvenirs from a relaxed weekend on the island and urging children onward. When they were all gone, Evergreen State, after carrying uncounted passengers over uncounted miles on a network of routes over six decades, was retired.
She was built in Seattle in 1954 and began service in 1955 as the first new ferry in the fledgling Washington State Ferry system. I’ve lived on two islands served by the big white-and-green boats but can’t count how many times I’ve been aboard Evergreen State as a passenger. As a boater, a cruise into the San Juan Islands would have been empty for me without sighting her in Thatcher Pass, Harney Channel or San Juan Channel. I’ve watched her come and go and listened for her whistle signals in Friday Harbor, Orcas, Anacortes . . . and other destinations in the Salish Sea.
On that last day Evergreen State was late leaving Friday Harbor, her final stop in the islands, because of heavy traffic – some of it well-wishers who also wanted to say farewell to an old friend. She was accompanied on her last run to Anacortes by a Coast Guard cutter from Bellingham and a trio of small boats heralded her last stop in Anacortes with long cries from air horns.
A friend who is a retired ferry captain–and who served aboard Evergreen State–described her as one of the best, one of the most reliable ferries in the state fleet. He thought she was ready for more years of service and predicted the state eventually would regret her retirement.
The state’s plan was to take Evergreen State to the system’s moorage at Winslow on Bainbridge Island, where she would be offered for sale. If no offers were received, equipment that could be useful on other ferries would be removed and the hull likely would be sold – perhaps for scrap.
Her last assignment was the inter-island route. It begins at Friday Harbor and loops through the San Juan Islands with stops at Orcas, Lopez and Shaw Islands. It offers a lot of stop-and-go cruising.
Evergreen State was repowered and overhauled in 1988, but she still remains one of the system’s smaller vessels.
She’s 310 feet by 73 and can carry 87 vehicles and 983 passengers. Her diesel electric propulsion system produces 2,500 horsepower and gives the vessel a top speed of about 14 knots. In contrast, the system’s Jumbo Mark II ferries are 460 feet overall, have engine rooms that produce 16,000 horsepower and can carry 202 vehicles and 2,500 passengers at about 18 knots.
Evergreen State will be replaced in the San Juans by Klahowya, a sister ship three years younger. To keep the fleet at a total of 23 boats, the system launched and is prepping a new ferry named Tokitae that will carry 144 vehicles.
(As you must suspect, these ferries bear names associated with native American groups and the Washington regions in which they lived. A community effort to name a new ferry for a famous Seattle waterfront restaurateur recently flopped.)
Tokitae is overdue in entering service. Ferry officials say it’s a matter of crew training. Others think there may be problems with the boat. My only problem is how to pronounce its name.
As a reporter in Seattle I wrote about the ferry system, an independent state agency created when the state bought a privately owned ferry system that had shut down because of financial woes. The state system then was run by mariners; more recently it has been managed by bureaucrats.
The system manager recently resigned and the state began advertising for an assistant secretary of transportation. Some professional office secretaries were interested until they learned what the job entailed. The one candidate who might have qualified decided he wasn’t interested.
Washington ferries struggle financially because voters years ago killed a motor vehicle excise tax that provided funds for the system and the Washington State Patrol. The result: costly rides aboard ferries. A friend and I recently went to Friday Harbor (a run of 19 miles) and the round trip fare for driver, auto and a passenger was a little more than $60.
(Voter approval of the measure killing the excise tax freed owners of motor vehicles, trailers, RVs and $500,000 motor homes from paying the excise tax annually with license renewal. Guess who still pay the excise tax of one half of one percent every year. Right. Those of us who own pleasure boats.)
My last thought on the retirement of an old ferry: I hope the state will refuse to sell the vessel to someone planning an art gallery, an antique market or a wedding venue. No, send her to the cutters and leave us with memories of a good friend.