MV Elwha – Wikipedia

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Elwha passing Flat Point 04.JPG
Operator Washington State Ferries
Port of registry Seattle, Washington,  USA
Launched December 16, 1967
Christened December 16, 1967
Maiden voyage June 16, 1968
Out of service April 17, 2020
Status Retired
General characteristics
Class and type Super-class ferry
Displacement 3,978 long tons (4,042 t)
Length 382 ft 2 in (116.5 m)
Beam 73 ft 2 in (22.3 m)
Draft 18 ft 9 in (5.7 m)
Decks 2 auto decks/2 passenger decks
Deck clearance 15 ft (4.6 m)
Installed power Total 10,200 hp (7,600 kW) from 4 × diesel-electric engines
Speed 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
  • 2,000 passengers
  • 144 vehicles (max 30 commercial) – On the international route, SOLAS passenger capacity is 1090 people.
Crew 14

MV Elwha was a Super-class ferry in the Washington State Ferry System. The 382-foot (116 m) vessel entered service in June 1968, and spent most of her career working the Anacortes-San Juan Islands-Sidney B.C. route.[1]


Elwha was built in 1967 in San Diego, California, as the last of the four Super-class ferries. She made her maiden voyage on June 16, 1968 on the Seattle-Bainbridge Island route, and remained on the route for the first four years of her career before being replaced in fall 1972 by the Walla Walla.

For much of the 1970s, the Elwha served as a maintenance relief vessel, filling in for other Super and Jumbo-class ferries when and where needed for maintenance cycles.

In the 1980s, Elwha was assigned to the Anacortes-San Juan Islands route, where she stayed, with rare exception, until her retirement in 2020.

On October 2, 1983, the Elwha ran aground in Grindstone Harbor, near Orcas Island, on a submerged reef while carrying 100 passengers.[2] The collision was initially blamed on the failure of a steering component, but was later found to have been caused by Captain Billy Fittro going off-course to give a visitor a view of her waterfront home.[3] The captain resigned in lieu of being discharged a few days after the incident;[4] ferry chief Nick Tracey was fired the following month, after failing to report Captain Fittro’s past negligence.[5] The collision caused $250,000 in damage and forced the ferry out of service for several weeks.[6] The rock was later named “Elwha Rock” in 1989 after the ferry;[7][8] the incident also inspired the song “Elwha on the Rocks”, performed by the Island City Jazz Band.[9]

In December 1990, a winter storm descended on the Puget Sound region while the Elwha was out of service for routine maintenance. Hurricane-force winds ripped mooring lines and repeatedly slammed the now partially adrift ferry into the concrete pier it was tied up alongside. The accident resulted in millions of dollars in damage and forever altered the ferry.[10]

On September 8, 1999, the vessel suffered another serious accident when a software glitch led to it ramming the Orcas Island ferry dock, causing $3.8 million worth of damage to the linkspan and other terminal structures.[11][12][13]

In April 2018, an inspection of the ferry uncovered 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2) of corroded steel beneath the floor of the Elwhas main passenger cabin. Repairs to the ferry took seven months and cost $25 million dollars.

MV Elwha docked at Bainbridge Island

In July 2019, just eight months after her return to service, another routine inspection at Lake Union Drydock uncovered further steel corrosion on the ferry’s car deck. Repairs were estimated at $12 million, and the ferry was placed in layup while WSF attempted to procure the necessary funding to repair the ferry. Following the passage of I-976 in November 2019, the State Legislature proposed to retire the ferry rather than fund the repairs. On April 17, 2020, following seven months of layup, the ferry was towed to Bainbridge Island to be taken out of service.[14]


  1. ^ “M.V. Elwha”. Evergreen Fleet. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  2. ^ Norton, Dee; Basset, Brian (October 3, 1983). “Ferry hits reef; steering failure blamed”. The Seattle Times. p. A1.
  3. ^ Norton, Dee; Birkland, Dave (October 7, 1983). “Ferry skipper gave women tour, say officials”. The Seattle Times. p. A1, A4.
  4. ^ Birkland, Dave (October 6, 1983). “Ferry ‘had time to reverse course’“. The Seattle Times. p. A1.
  5. ^ “Ferry chief fired in wake of Elwha furor”. The Seattle Times. October 21, 1983. p. A8.
  6. ^ Corr, O. Casey (December 10, 1989). “Ferry makes the map with rock hit”. The Washington Post. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  7. ^ Broom, Jack (July 26, 2002). “Showing Off: Welcome aboard as we float a few facts on the state’s ferries”. The Seattle Times. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  8. ^ “Ferry crash gives new name to Elwha River”. The Free Lance–Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Associated Press. December 19, 1989. p. 44. Retrieved September 10, 2016 – via Google News Archive.
  9. ^ Duncan, Dan (November 9, 1983). “Spoof song ‘Elwha on the Rocks’ makes splash in ferry country”. The Seattle Times. p. A1.
  10. ^ “The M/V Elwha”. Retrieved May 25, 2020.
  11. ^ Santana, Arthur (September 8, 1999). “Ferry Loaded With Passengers Slams Into Orcas Island Dock”. The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 20, 2021.
  12. ^ “Ferry Elwha rams dock, strands passengers”. Kitsap Sun. Associated Press. September 9, 1999.
  13. ^ This paper describes the planning, design and construction of the $3.8 million replacement facilities.
  14. ^ “Private ferry service to Sidney, B.C., possible, but area leaders express worry”. Anacortes American. January 6, 2021. Retrieved December 20, 2021 – via NewsBank.

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