MV Vashon

Former Black Ball Line ferry boat wrecked by a storm in Alaska in 1986.
by Matthew Anderson

Year Built


Year Sank



2 ft (0.7 m)

Difficulty Level


MV Vashon

Wreck Location

The Vashon lies on the southwestern part of Johnson Cove on Prince of Wales Island southwest of Ketchikan in Alaska. Her wooden superstructure has long since rotted and fallen away, leaving only her steel hull behind. The hull still lies on its side at the same capsized angle as it has been since 1986. Likely all that remains intact aboard the wreck is any remaining machinery aboard below the car deck.Vashon lies partially above water at normal tide and almost completely above water at low tide. The wreck's remains may very well include both propellers of the former Washington State Ferry. The wreck of Vashon is in a very remote location and is not often visited. The last known photograph of her was taken in 2007 in an aerial shot.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   54° 58' 36.1596" N      Longitude:   -132° 6' 32.2704" W


Vashon was a steel hulled double ended ferry boat built for the Kitsap County Transportation Company in 1930 by the Lake Washington Shipyard at Houghton, Washington, locally famous for reconstructing the destroyed ferryboat Peralta into the iconic Puget Sound ferryboat Kalakala. The Vashon sported one rudder and one propeller on each end as well as a single diesel operated engine. Her superstructure included a car deck, passenger deck and boat deck with two wheelhouses. Being a double ended ferry, Vashon would operate from one end and upon reaching the dock at her specified destination, the crew would switch to the other end operating from the opposite end, meaning the terms bow and stern were interchangeable depending on what wheelhouse and set of rudders or propellers were being used at one given time. She operated between the Fauntleroy neighborhood of Seattle and Vashon Island with her fellow running mates the Kitsap and Bainbridge. All three were made of local steel and lumber from in-state industries.

In 1935, the Kitsap County Transportation Company was bought out and merged into its biggest rival, the Puget Sound Navigation Company, better known as the Black Ball Line. Black Ball put the Vashon on the San Juan Islands service in 1941, operating between the islands and the port of Anacortes on Whidbey Island, one of the longest and most scenic routes in the ferry system both then and now. In 1950, Black Ball suffered a massive labor strike, which the state of Washington used to their advantage, bullying the company out of operation in Puget Sound. Black Ball was forced to sell almost all of its ferries and routes to the state of Washington and reorganize with what small number of ferries they had in British Columbia. The original Black Ball Line was reorganized into the Washington State Ferries division of the state's department of transportation.

In 1954, Washington State Ferries acquired two new out of service ferryboats from the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, named the Governer Herbert O'Connor and Governor Harry Nice, both renamed the Rhodedendron and Olympic respectively. Olympic replaced the Vashon in service on Hood Canal sending the old ferry back to the San Juan Islands. Vashon remained in service, being very popular with San Juan Island locals until the 1970s, when she was replaced by larger and more modern ferryboats. When the Hood Canal Bridge sank in the mid-1970s, Vashon was placed back into operation on Hood Canal one last time. In 1980, she was finally retired and replaced by the newly built Issaquah-class ferries. Throughout the 1980s, she passed from owner to owner including a failed attempt to make her a hostel in Port Townsend.

In 1986, she was sold to a businessman in southeast Alaska and brought up to Johnson Cove near Ketchikan. She was going to be converted itno a floating resort lodge in Moira Sound accessable by seaplane. Sadly, nature had other plans. A terrible storm in June 1986 forced Vashon aground where she quickly leaked oil, broke her keel and sank in the sand, becoming a total loss. Her wreck still remains where she was destroyed to this day.


Primary source of information:

Fanastic website regarding the history of Washington state's ferry system.


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