After roughly half a century of service, one of Washington State Ferries’ oldest vessels may set sail for the final time this year.
“It’s always sad when boats are decommissioned,” said retired WSF Captain Jon Tegnell of San Juan Island, “but you have to make room for the new ones.”
According to Justin Fujioka, with the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Hyak could sail its last run by this fall or the summer of 2019. The 51-year-old vessel was originally slated to be replaced by the newest WSF ship, the Suquamish, in 2018 to keep the Hyak as a relief vessel, which would expedite maintenance on other ships. That requires additional state funds, said Fujioka, that the department has yet to receive.
The M.V. Hyak has been sailing the Salish Sea and Puget Sound ever since President Lyndon Johnson was in office and “The Graduate” first hit theaters. Today, it has the most backlogged repairs of any of the WSF 22-vessel fleet at $37 million, according to Fujioka.
You can tell the roughly 382-foot vessel’s age by a line — not a wrinkle per say — but the gold strip on its stack, which it received last year, to symbolize 50 years of service.
What makes the Hyak special, said Jon Tegnell, who retired from WSF last June after 30 years, is the way the vessel moves.
“Its ability to stop is very good,” he said. “There’s more of a human element in there.”
The manpower in the ship’s mobility is just that — engine room workers who alter the boat’s speed and direction by hand instead of captains doing so with automated machinery.
Modern ships don’t have equipment like this. You might recall one of these Engine Order Telegraphs in the film “Titanic,” when crewmen crank a brass lever on the bridge to commands like “slow” and “full speed,” which the engine room staff reads below and follows the orders.
Docking with this equipment requires faith, said Jon Tegnell’s wife Donna.
“That’s the old-fashioned way to stop,” she said. “There has to be a lot of trust in a telegraph landing.”
Donna should know — she worked on the Hyak just last week as a second mate. She’s been with WSF for 15 years and intermediately worked on the vessel, which she admits is a bit rusty by now.
Yet, when the Hyak debuted, it was a pristine model of a modern vessel, just like its sister super class ships: the Elwha, Yakima and Kaleetan, which also came out in 1967.
The Hyak first set sail from San Diego that year and primarily served the Anacortes to the San Juans route in the 1990s. Currently, it’s on the Edmonds to Kingston run but has also served the Seattle to Bainbridge route and as a maintenance relief vessel, when others are not in operation.
The Hyak’s beige, vinyl chairs can even be moved for public activities. Jon Tegnell recalls about a dozen times when passengers moved them, often to square dance, “back in the old days.”
It was around that time when he met his wife, while she was working in the galley and he on the deck, before they married in 1998.
According to WSF, the Suquamish will begin sea trials in mid-2018 and start carrying passengers in the fall. This newest ferry will be on the Mukilteo to Clinton route in the summer and serve as a relief vessel in the winter.
Yet, as far as when the Hyak will actually make its final docking, said Jon Tegnell, that’s as fluid as the sea.
“Nothing about the schedule of the Hyak is set in stone,” he said. “This boat is leaving, that one is coming, but you never know for sure until it happens.”