Dear good, old reliable Hyak, with your torn-but-comfy seats, your workhorse engines, your spacious double-decker design:
You will be missed.
When you sailed into Elliott Bay more than a half-century ago on the Fourth of July, they shot fireworks into the air and hailed your glory.
Now you’re being retired, a few years shy of your 60-year life expectancy, and soon you will be sold as a nonrunning boat to the highest bidder. When you headed out for the last time on the 9:05 p.m. Sunday Seattle-to-Bremerton trip, it’s fitting you were pointed west as you sailed both literally and figuratively into the sunset.
(Washington State Ferries said Friday that Saturday would be your last night, but apparently you were needed one more day!)
The ferry system and Gov. Jay Inslee had for several years asked legislators for about $40 million to repair you and keep you on as a relief boat — but alas. Olympia handed down a final decision this year: The money would go toward younger models.
“It’s like an old car,” Washington State Ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said. “At some point, it becomes cheaper to get a new one.”
You’ve had a good run, though, Hyak. Or rather, a good several thousand runs.
The first of the state ferry system’s Super class vessels, you were built at a San Diego shipyard in 1967 and sailed to Puget Sound the next year. Though you’ve navigated every route in Puget Sound, you spent the bulk of your nearly 52 years in service skipping back and forth between Seattle and Bremerton, where you’ve been beloved.
As the oldest ferry in the fleet without a facelift, you gave your riders a dose of vintage charm on every ride: cracked linoleum tiles that have never been replaced, and stackable beige vinyl chairs included by your designer who predicted — correctly — that people would want to move them to make room for square dancing.
When your steady commuters saw you at the dock, we rejoiced because we knew we wouldn’t have to push and shove to be first on or race for a seat; with your capacity of 2,000 passengers and 144 cars, you usually had enough room on your 4:50 a.m. run for all the tired construction workers intent on sleeping through their daily commute to the city.
“I need this extra hour of sleep,” Ross Brown of Port Orchard said Thursday as he prepared to bed down for one of the last times on your benches. “It’s important to rest in the morning because we work so hard physically during the day. But I can’t sleep on the other ferry (the Chimacum); its seats are so hard!”
“Maybe they can trade out the seats,” said his friend Brian Sewell of Sunnyslope, as he stretched at his usual table.
You’re just so well and simply made, Hyak, that your staff chief engineer says he thinks it’s a mistake to just tie you up and move on. You could be used as a relief vessel for when your sisters break down, he says; those are needed most of all in the busy tourist season that’s just getting underway.
“It’s been a great boat and a great workhorse,” Dave Knutsen said, reflecting on his 12 years as your chief engineer. “It could run forever.”
Knutsen would know. He’s a 42-year veteran of Washington State Ferries — in service almost as long as you were. And in a fitting gesture, he’s retiring with you.
It must have made you proud when Knutsen bragged about your reliability at a media event held Thursday to mark your departure. When he mentioned all the awards you’ve won because of it. When he walked folks around your clean, organized, boiling-hot engine room, pointing out your well-oiled machinery and boasting that you still have your original relays, switchboards and breakers.
You may not be shiny anymore, Hyak, but I imagine you were beaming then.
As she watched this unfold, Knutsen’s wife acknowledged, with some emotion, how much he’ll miss you.
“I guess when you’re so mechanically inclined, you like old, good, simple things,” she said of her husband.
Count captains among the fan club, too. Every skipper at your helm enjoyed your might, agility and responsiveness, Knutsen said.
Because you were built back when people didn’t care so much about fuel efficiency, you’re a powerhouse. And because engine-room workers would alter your speed and direction by hand, you were the only boat in the state’s ferry fleet that could come to a dead stop from 17 knots in 38 seconds.
Even your sister ships, Kaleetan, Yakima and Elwha, can’t do that. They take a full minute to stop, Knutsen said.
It seems only fitting that your name, Hyak, means “fast” or “speedy” in Chinook. And boy, did you ever cover some ground (er, water): By 2016, you had sailed enough miles to circle the globe twice, according to a KOMO story at the time.
Sure, you’ve suffered some indignities over the years. Only you know how many people have thrown up on your deck while taking the last ferry home from a night of drinking. Or the unmentionable things that may have been done in your bathrooms. Or the number of trysts and affairs that took place in the darkened vehicles on your car deck. You’ve seen fights, blood, police, tantrums, heart attacks, water rescues and eulogies.
But you’ve also been home to closely held memories. You’ve seen tourists thrilled on your decks. You’ve seen so many women jockey for space at your bathroom mirrors on weekday mornings and Friday evenings that at times it must have felt like prom night (perhaps sometimes it was). You’ve hosted performances of the Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra.
And of course, there were those square dances.
We’re hearing that your sister, Kaleetan, will be on the Bremerton route now. We know her well, and we love her, too. Almost as much as we’ve loved you.
Seattle Times reporter and Bremerton-Seattle ferry rider for more than 20 years
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated the Hyak’s passenger capacity. It holds 2,000 people.