There comes a time in the life of every child when they must grow up, move on and live on their own. Everyone reaches that point in their own time, sooner or later.
Much, much later, for some.
In the case of the “baby” in the Washington State Ferries family, it took about 50 years.
After 49 years of service, the M/V Hiyu, the smallest vessel in the WSF fleet, has been retired. The 199-passenger, 34-vehicle capacity boat will now be decommissioned and sold to a new owner for new adventures, WSF officials announced last week.
The tiny boat (it’s only 162 feet long) is know affectionately around the fleet as “baby Hiyu.” Despite the cutesy name and diminutive stature, it actually boasts a greater resale value than its larger brethren, explained Jim Nicks, the vessel’s last chief engineer, as the Hiyu can be more easily refitted for a multitude of purposes and is also easier to operate and maintain.
“Everything works great,” Nicks said. “The boat is seaworthy, it’s sound. The hull is great. The steel is great. The generators are fine.
“You could grab your tools out of your garage and fix pretty much anything on here,” he said.
This decommissioning was particularly bittersweet, as the Hiyu was arguably the most beloved boat in the fleet, said WSF Chief of Staff Elizabeth Kosa.
“What makes the Hiyu so cute is also what makes it so impractical for Washington State Ferries,” she said.
“While the Hiyu was a good and dependable vessel, its tiny size means it is no longer the best option for moving passengers and commerce across the Puget Sound,” Kosa explained. “The addition of modern, bigger and faster Olympic Class vessels to the fleet means it’s time to bid farewell to the Hiyu.”
Nicks agreed, saying he was not overly nostalgic about his role as the vessel’s final engineer and acknowledging the need to retire the small ship for the sake of progress.
“I think it’s outlived it’s usefulness,” he said. “It’s slow. It’s small.
“If you get a couple of garbage trucks on here and maybe a grocery truck, it kind of takes up all the space,” he added.
The retiring of the Hiyu marked the end of a quirky chapter in WSF history, Nicks explained, as there would surely never be another boat like it.
“There wouldn’t be any value in it,” he said. “It was more like a family [amongst the crew], everybody kind of took ownership, and that was nice. But as far as the paying public or taxpayers, it just wasn’t a good value anymore.”
The Hiyu required a very minimal staff while underway, including just one engineer, making it further unique among the fleet’s vessels.
“It is easier until something happens,” Nicks laughed. “But [then] you’re the only guy. On this boat, there’s only one engineer and all the other boats have at least three people in the engine room, minimum. So you’re the guy if something goes wrong. However, as far as the dynamics of getting along with people, there’s no problem because you’re the only guy there.”
Built in 1967 in Portland, Oregon, the Hiyu was first assigned to the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route, where it would remain active until the mid 1980s. It then spent 10 years serving on the San Juan Islands route, before being transitioned to a standby vessel in the mid ’90s.
The Hiyu would occasionally return to its old stomping grounds for sporadic service throughout the years to come, and also make appearances on the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth and the Steilacoom-Anderson routes, before its final sailing on July 23, 2015.
The Hiyu will remain Coast Guard-certified for another year, Nicks said, having passed its most recent inspection “with flying colors.”
No official asking price has yet been announced, as WSF officials are still in the process of cataloging and repurposing as much equipment from the Hiyu as possible for use on other vessels.
However, Nicks said that at least three separate parties have already expressed serious interest in the tiny vessel, including a private business in Seattle and the Lummi Tribe of Whatcom County.
Nicks praised the work of the Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility team in decommissioning the Hiyu.
“The island crew is great,” he said. “The Eagle Harbor people did a great job taking care of this boat. They do all the heavy lifting and they’ve done a really, really good job.”
The last ferry to be decommissioned was the M/V Evergreen State, the oldest boat in the fleet, in January. Built in 1954, the M/V Evergreen State remained active until November of last year.