Future uncertain for ferry Olympic

The ferry Olympic at its Eagle Harbor mooring. - Tad Sooter/Staff Photo
The ferry Olympic at its Eagle Harbor mooring.
— image credit: Tad Sooter/Staff Photo

Once a crown jewel of the Washington State Ferry system, the 207-foot Olympic has gathered rust in a slip on Eagle Harbor’s south shore for more than a decade.

But the 72-year-old ferry’s fortunes could soon be changing – for better or worse.

The boat is being offered for sale to Seattle’s Pacific Marine Foundation, which is hoping it will be bought for conversion to a hotel or home. But if no workable offers are received by the ferry could be sold for scrap, according to Rich Wallace, Pacific Marine’s director of charters and sales.

Wallace also said the foundation plans to relocate Olympic by the end of the summer to make way for an expansion of the Bainbridge Island Marina and Yacht Club, which has long been planned but has yet to be approved by the city.

In June, the ferry was listed on eBay for a “Buy Now” price of $199,500. Several offers were made, but according to Wallace none has been accepted. The ferry is still advertised on the foundation’s website, where it is billed as an “excellent opportunity for conversion to floating hotel or private home!”

One thing Olympic will likely never be again is a working ferry. Olympic’s U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection has expired, and it would require a costly overhaul to return to service.

“Recertification for carrying passengers in U.S. waters is thought to be prohibitively expensive,” Wallace said. “But she is an excellent platform for conversion for a number of uses.”

Wallace notes that other former WSF boats have been converted into shoreside ballrooms and other commercial ventures.

But Olympic would also not be the first ferry condemned to a scrap yard. Last month, WSF sealed a deal that will send four retired steel electric ferries to a recycling yard for a price of $200,000. The boats also failed to sell on eBay.

Like the steel electrics, Olympic once played an integral role in the state ferry system.

Along with sister-ship Rhododendron, Olympic was purchased from a Chesapeake Bay, Md., company to help meet growing demand for service on Puget Sound in the 1950s. Olympic was capable of carrying 55 vehicles and 605 passengers.

It served several routes over its 40-year career, spending most of its time on the Port Townsend-Keystone and Clinton-Mukilteo runs. The Olympic was forced into retirement in 1997 over safety concerns and was subsequently sold for just over $70,000 at auction to Bainbridge Island Marina Owner Darrell McNabb.

McNabb said he purchased the boat with plans to create a museum. The plans never came to fruition, and the Olympic was turned over to Pacific Marine several years ago. McNabb said WSF has now set a poor precedent, selling its steel electric ferries for a low scrap price.

“The story is, the state is throwing away the taxpayer’s money,” McNabb said. “That’s the story.”

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