Storm-damaged Kalakala close to sinking; feds could step in to dismantle ship (updated)

New storm damage to the Kalakala has caused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a call for a contractor to be on call to stabilize the vessel and move it to a new location if needed.

And if the Corps has to step in, it will likely be the end of the iconic ferry.

The Kalakala was blown into a derelict barge onshore during last week’s winter storm. As the tide retreated, the ship got caught on the barge and began listing to port at about 30 degrees, leaving the deck less than a foot above water.

“The vessel is likely damaged and highly susceptible to further injury or deterioration with any sudden impact or severe movement,” according to a Corps document.

On Friday, the Corps issued an emergency request for a contractor to stabilize the 276-foot vessel and tow it to a new location on Commencement Bay if needed. Corps spokesman William Dowell said the idea is to have a plan in place in case the Kalakala breaks loose or otherwise becomes a navigational or environmental hazard. The Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma, where the 1926 vessel has been moored for six years, is one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites. At the bottom of the waterway is a toxic layer of sediment contaminated with PCBs, arsenic and other harmful materials. 

The Corps will not step in unless it has to, Dowell said, but if that happens, it will be the end of the historic vessel.

“The Corps isn’t in the job of towing this boat somewhere where they can fix it up,” he said. “We’re going to tow it somewhere and it’s going to be dismantled. Once we get involved, that’s it. We can’t stop the process.”

The Corps action comes after a desperate effort by the boat’s previous owner, Steve Rodrigues, to sell the Kalakala for as little as a dollar. Rodrigues, who purchased the Kalakala in 2003, had tried unsuccessfully to raise $49.5 million to restore the vessel.

The Art Deco ferry, once an icon of the Pacific Northwest on par with the Space Needle, has been moored on the Hylebos Waterway for six years. Last spring, the ship began taking on water and listing to the side. The Coast Guard gave Rodrigues until Dec. 19 to provide information on where he plans to move the boat. Concrete Technology Corporation, the owner of the site where the Kalakala is moored, terminated its lease and demanded that it be moved by the end of the year.

In late December, a notice on the Kalakala’s website announced that the boat had been sold for a dollar, but as of Sunday, the notice was no longer on the site. The boat remains moored at Concrete Technology’s site, and Rodrigues, who could not immediately be reached, is believed to still own it.

The hope is that the Corps will not have to seize the vessel, Dowell said.

“It’s a sad situation,” he said. “We don’t want this to happen at all.”

35 Responses to Storm-damaged Kalakala close to sinking; feds could step in to dismantle ship (updated)

  1. Hal Vandevord March 3, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    The Kalakala was a piece of junk from the start. Form over function, visibility for the pilot was poor, making docking difficult, compounded by direct drive which meant that to reverse, the engine needed to be shut off and then quickly restarted in reverse. The engine was likely misaligned, causing terrible vibration. No longer useful, she is still a problem.
    She reminds me of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Another piece of junk from the start. On the bottom of the Narrows, when a new bridge was being constructed, the rusty remains on the bottom were declared an historic site, which caused no end of problems for the bridge builders who were forbidden to disturb anything. The public paid for that, for what benefit is beyond me. And we will eventually be required to pay for the ultimate disposition of the Kalakala.

  2. Lee B March 2, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    If she is sunk, could I have the location because when I am cremated I want my ashes to be with her.

  3. BillyRay January 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    I used to keep my boat down at Hylebos Marina and we would see the rusty bird going out the waterway and on the way back. So I did some research on the old gal and guess what, that diesel engine way down in the bilge is a Bushsulser diesel built by Budweiser yep, look it up. So if there is anything worth saving, its that diesel engine, and its big. Put that engine on display and goga about something that is historic.Its a ugly rusting hulk, we could build a better ship cheaper and nobody would know the difference really. Times up,like that car project you had in the back yard,after a couple of beers it does’t seem important.I really agree, sink it for the divers and give them some fun!

    • Frank January 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

      I agree, the Busch-Sulzer main engine is a treasure that no one ever mentions in discussions about the boat. A lot of parts were donated to restore it, too. Whatever happens to the Kalakala, let’s hope the engine ends up in a good home.


  4. Mike January 23, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    Making it into an artificial reef would only benifit divers – (and fish)a small minority of the population.

    I would call that selfish.

    Keep it on the surface so all can see/use it.

    • thom permenter January 23, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

      That would be my first choice also. And has been since Beavis started trying to get it home to Seattle.
      That obviously is NOT in the cards now.
      Logically it looks like the options are:
      A. chop it up for scrap.
      B. sink it as a reef
      C. You come up with the $50 million ’cause nobody else has and it has been a long time.

      Pick one.

    • Joe Petrich January 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      I agree with Thom. I would love it if someone with deep pockets stepped in to rescue the Kalakala but it’s getting late in the game and nobody is stepping up to the plate with the money to save her. The boat is currently rusting out. It has already nearly capsized twice. If nobody steps in immediately it will sink and pollute the Hylebos Waterway, unless scrapped or cleaned out and used as a reef. If it is scrapped it will benefit no one. If it is sunk as a reef at least it will benefit someone.

  5. Joe Petrich January 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Most of the ideas people put forth to save the vessel either afloat or on land have been bandied about for years and years but no one has stepped forward with the funding. I think is to much of a gamble for most investors. To restore a boat with as many problems as the Kalakala has is just to big a financial risk.

    I think it is time to scuttle it. A dive reef is a great idea. It would let the old girl live a little longer and would benefit divers and the fish habitat.

    • thom permenter January 23, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

      I like the dive site scenario. Lots of large open spaces for safe exploring on her and as Joe said, “It would let the old girl live a little longer.”

  6. Darryl January 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Drag it onto shore and make it into an art deco diner selling fish & chips, clam strips and chowder.

  7. M. Pollard January 23, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    It is so sad to see the Kalakala to end up in this forlorn state. I loved that ferry boat. As a child, I was disappointed when that wasn’t the ferry we rode on our trips from Bremerton to Seattle & back again. If the money were only available to restore it to its former glory. I cry that this wonderful icon of Puget Sound is now just a hunk ofjunk. Won’t somebody please love it like I do & take care of it?

  8. John January 23, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    The time has come to dump this and move on with life, since no eccentric billionaire has stepped forward to spend their money on this money pit. There are far more important things in life today that require money, funds better spent on things that actually make a difference in people’s lives. Restoring the past at a huge expense is not important. Let the past be the past, forgotten if it’s not that important.

  9. Frank January 23, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Thanks for your interesting, well written report, Deborah!

    I think the current problems with the Kalakala can be traced back to Mr. Bevis’ decision to tow it here without a plan or financing in place. The proper course would have been to stabilize and restore the vessel in place in Alaska. His intentions were good, but so are those of the child that brings home a puppy and says to his parents, “can we keep him? Can we keep him?”.

    My feeling is that the current owner (Rodrigues) does have an interested buyer on the phone, but the secrecy of it does not inspire confidence. Is the potential new owner serious, or just a serious flake? Given that the outcome of the deal impacts the public (the Hylebos is a public, navigable waterway), that means Rodrigues should keep the public informed of his dealings.

    I really hope this turns out well for the Kalakala. The story of its failed preservation is the story of irresponsible adults thus far.

  10. Brian Bundridge January 23, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    $50 million.. that’s another 64 car ferry boat we could use…

  11. Brian January 23, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    It seems to me that the “rescue the Kalakala” fans have had a more than adequate opportunity to save the old ferry. And have come up wanting. It’s easy to make suggestions like making it a museum or a restaurant–but the old boat’s been gutted and used for a fish processing cannery and then towed back to the Sound to rot away.

    Maybe towing it out someplace and scuttling it is a possibility–we don’t know the actual condition of the hull. It’s possible that it’s not seaworthy enough for that.

    I think it’s time to give it up and dismantle the old girl. Let her live on as recycled metal to build new Toyotas or Hyundais. If you have fond memories of the boat, fine, let her live on in you memories.

    If you saved everything old, but that’s outlived it’s usefulness, your teams would all be playing in the Kingdome (which at onetime was fairly iconic as part of Seattle’s image.)

  12. Robert Pirnie January 23, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    We took the former Tacoma Fire Boat and made it a permanant land installation on Ruston Way. Whay not do the same with the Kalakala? No worries about sinking then. Maybe as a replacemnt for the old “Top of the Ocean”.

    • D Lee January 23, 2012 at 7:39 am #

      I like this idea, wish it could happen! Anything to save the old girl from the scrappers torch.

    • ACDC January 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

      Good idea. The exception is a boat that old is most likely a toxic waste bomb of god knows what. The local government wont touch it with the proverbial 10 foot pole.
      Why is that ? The environmental lawyers will gang up & conspire to put the next private owner’s head on a pike if they try to restore her. Thus she may end up a toxic waste site with the govt blessing. She will undoubtably end up by default in the Feds hands since it is hard to sue the Fed government.
      So long as she floats, she is grandfathered into the maritime rules. Once you drag her up on land, the environmental lawyer sharks will attack.

  13. Terry Parkhurst January 22, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    It could be turned into a vintage motorcycle museum, with 100 to 200 motorcycles, out on the deck, just as if prepared for a crossing. Inside, there could be a restaurant just where one had been for passengers. Static display could be inside, educating the public to the history of motorcycles and scooters in America.

    Leslie Eaton “Red” Parkhurst, the first factory racer for Harley-Davidson (circa 1912-1921, with a break for WWI), moved to Spanaway, after the Second World War. He worked from there as a jobbers for automotive products; passed away in 1972 (buried in Colorado). A display on Red’s career would draw international attention. (There’s such a display at a motorcycle museum in the Netherlands.

    It might be something the LeMay Museum could pull off, if someone would just buy the old girl for a dollar and move her to a safe place.

  14. Terry Parkhurst January 22, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Back in 2003, there was a rumor that the LeMay Museum organization was going to buy it, as a place to store some autos for display. If someone could start a concerted effort to raise funds to restore it, after buying it for a dollar, it would make a good vintage motorcyclemuseum. You could get 100 to 200 motorcycles around the deck, put in a restaurant where one had been for passengers; and have static,educational display inside.

    One such display could be on Leslie Eaton “Red” Parkhurst, the first factory racer for Harley-Davidson, circa 1912-’21 (with a break for WWI). Red moved to Spanaway, after the Second World War; passed away there in 1972 (buried in Colorado).

    It would be a great way to give the old girl a new lease on life and preserve Northwest history.

  15. Verne T. Kelling January 22, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    I and my wife, before we knew each other, in our teen years, rode the Kalakala (during the WWII period), and it was known for it rattling even in those days.

    A younger cousin of my wife’s, visiting from Colorado, was aboard on a crossing, and (a la Shirley Temple)danced and sang the Good Ship Lollipop, to the applause of fellow passengers. Carol, my wife, has that fun memory.

    Its regular run from Seattle to Bremerton, carrying shipyard workers, was a significant contributor to the WWII winning of both the wars in the Pacific and the Atlantic.

    The “old girl” deserves to be lauded, and treated with respect.

  16. KPz January 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    Far more historic vessels than this eyesore have been scrapped without second thought. Time to wad up this tin can and kick it down the street.

    • Kris January 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Well put KPz! Get rid of this scrap heap & sell the aluminum

  17. BOB SHAFFER January 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm #


    • donny April 2, 2013 at 3:46 am #

      Soyou will pay more taxes to have it saved. I saw a guy eating out of a garbage can today and you are worried about a damn ferry? Nice.

  18. Lynn Self January 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    Just Dump the darn thing. I rode on it back in the 50’s and it was like a rattlely old tin can and I thought it was gong to break apart back then. It’s seen it’s day. No sentimenality here.

  19. Lynn Self January 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    Just DUMP the darn thing. I remember riding on it back in the 50’s and it was like a rattlely old tin can and I thought it was going to break apart back then. Icon or not is has seen it’s day. No sentimentality here.

  20. Jon Soules January 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    Peter Beavis needs a swift kick – so many time.

  21. Duff Hendrickson January 22, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    The City of Tacoma could buy Kalakala for a dollar, move it to Ruston Way on the city waterfront. Prop it up with pilings to make it a building, a use no longer as a boat. Lease it as a combination meeting hall and restaurant.

    There was once a building on a pier in Old Tacoma that looked like a boat named “Top of the Ocean.”

    • Jeff M. Hall January 22, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

      Donate to Tacoma Parks & Recreation, Get volunteers to refurbish the the boat an provided a meeting place as well as a maritime interpretive center.

      Jeff M. Hall

  22. John January 22, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Turn the d*mn thing into a reef already.

    • deflater mouse January 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

      i’d donate to a cleaning fund if they’ll sink it in the sound…

  23. Larry Hansen January 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Any chance to sink it as a dive reef? Perhaps the structure is too weakened, as to not be a hazard? If feasible, it would become a dive destination for NW divers.

  24. Capt. John TAR January 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Saddly, the time has come for her to be returned to the beach. and maybe even scrapped. 50 million dollars might fix it but where is the $50 MILLION?

    • james mischel January 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

      How about an an artificial reef – may not be visible to all, but at least she’ll be burried in seattle….

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