The first state ferry — the Chilkat — broke free of its moorings on Wednesday (1-13-21) and sank during a windstorm in Anacortes, Washington. Although long retired from passenger service, some still remember the ship as the first “Blue Canoe.”
An amateur video caught the sights and sounds of the Chilkat’s final moments being battered in high winds. At some point the 64-year-old ferry had broken free from her moorings. She rolled over on her starboard side. In less than a minute she founders; her keel to the sky.
“We had a pretty big storm system blow through the Seattle area, causing winds and gusts up to 50 knots. And from the storm, one of the concrete piers in Anacortes, Washington sunk,” Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier in Seattle told CoastAlaska on Thursday.
He says three boats broke free in the storm. But only the 99-foot former ferry sank.
“We have a commercial salvage company that will be coming out and assisting with recovery efforts of the vessel,” he added. “When and how long that will take is unknown at the time.”
The Chilkat had been out of service for some time. In 1988 the state sold her to a seafood company as a scallop tender. But for decades she’d been a workhorse in Southeast Alaska, entering service in 1957 as the territory’s first purpose-built passenger ferry.
The Chilkat had replaced a surplus military landing craft with a similar name that had been doing runs between Haines and the territorial capital Juneau, says Southeast Conference Executive Director Robert Venables.
“The Chilkat was the actual very first ferry as part of the marine highway system fleet that began in 1963, after the statewide vote to bond for the new boats and begin the state-sponsored service,” he said Thursday. “The Chilkat was the Queen of the Fleet.”
She could carry 59 passengers and 15 vehicles and regularly plied the waters of Lynn Canal running a daily service between Skagway, Haines and Juneau. Later, she would shuttle between Ketchikan and Annette Island.
Painted blue and gold, the Chilkat was the Alaska Marine Highway System’s original “Blue Canoe” and a key piece of the region’s history.
Venables says he’s watched the video of her sinking a few times.
“It’s just sad,” Venables said. “You just kind of hate to see a vessel go down like that.”
The Coast Guard says the Chilkat didn’t have any fuel or other pollutants on board, having been out of service for some time. The owner of the boat yard posted a statement saying it had been one of the worst storms seen and years and that there are plans to raise the vessel.