The Kalakala conundrum

While riding along during a recent sea trial for a new Navy boat being built by Modutech in Tacoma, we ran by the Kalakala on the Hylebos Waterway while leaving and returning. As you can see, I snapped a few photos.

 
 The Kalakala 

Poor Kalakala (pronounced ka-lock-a-la). What a sad story. Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, the silver ferry was a star. She carried shipyard workers back and forth between Seattle and Bremerton. She posed for photos by visitors who admired her art deco, futuristic style. Before the Space Needle, the Kalakala was the iconic image of Seattle. According to the Kalakala website, the boat was the second-most photographed object in the world. The Eiffel Tower was number one.

But after 30 years as a passenger/vehicle ferry for both the Black Ball Line and then Washington State Ferries, the Kalakala was retired in 1967. American Freezerships bought her for $101,551 and towed her to Alaska where she ultimately ended up being beached in Kodiak and used as a fish processor. When the owners went bankrupt, the boat was abandoned in Gibson Cove.

As impossible as it now seems, a Seattle artist, Peter Bevis, decided to save the Kalakala. He raised enough money with a new foundation and pulled the old ferry off the beach and towed it back to Seattle, where he hoped the vessel would be restored to something of its former glory.

Didn’t happen. After a succession of different owners who moved the boat to various moorages in the Puget Sound area, the vessel has essentially become a derelict and it’s surprising she even floats.

In Seattle, we often fantasize that Bill Gates or Paul Allen will write a fat check for whatever worthy project cries out for funding. Apparently neither billionaire, nor any other, is willing to subsidize the restoration of the Kalakala.

So maybe it’s time to put the old “Flying Bird” out of her misery. Here’s an idea: sink her intentionally, somewhere in Puget Sound. Make her an underwater attraction so fish and divers can swim through her round portholes. Let her come to rest and decompose in the salt water that floated her for so many years.

You listening, Bill? Paul? Anyone?

About the author

Bruce Buls

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).

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