The “new” Vashona, anchored in Bedwell Harbor, B.C., in 2016 (Terry Donnelly Photo).

The “new” Vashona, anchored in Bedwell Harbor, B.C., in 2016 (Terry Donnelly Photo).

A tale of two ‘Vashonas’: boats have long local history

One ferried passengers on the Quartermaster run in the 1920s. The other is active in island life.

Vashona was a Mosquito Fleet steamer that was built in 1922 at the Martinolich Shipyard in Dockton and served for nine years on the Burton-Tacoma run before being sold to the Kitsap Transportation Company to carry passengers on the Bremerton-Seattle run. She was sold to the Gray Line Company in the late 1930s, renamed Sightseer and began serving as a tour boat from Lake Washington, through the Ship Canal and Hiram Chittenden Locks into the Sound and Elliot Bay. After the Seattle Worlds Fair in 1962, she was sold to a tour operator in the Tri-Cities area and was once again renamed, this time as the Columbia Queen.

Vashona was built to replace the steamer Vashon that Martinolich had built in 1905 for John Manson, Captain Chance Wiman and their newly formed Vashon Navigation Company. Vashona was 126 feet long and 24 feet wide, “being 28 feet longer than the Vashon and about 6 feet wider,” according to the Vashon Island News-Record report. The steam engine from the steamer Vashon was used to power the new vessel, and while the engine transfer took place, the steamship Virginia III was used to serve the Burton-Tacoma route until Vashona was ready. As the news article reported, “Much credit is due Manson Brothers and Sons for their progressiveness in giving to the Vashon-Maury Islanders this new and more modern service.”

When the Vashona was ready for service, Captain Billy Phillips and Engineer E.E. Stone continued to provide the regular service they had provided while operating the steamer Vashon. Captain Thomas William “Billy” Phillips was a legendary Mosquito Fleet Captain, who began working on the water at age 14 serving on the sternwheeler Glide with John Vanderhorf on the West Passage. He worked on a range of different boats and finally took command of the Dove on the East Passage and then the Vashon, Verona, Vashon II and Vashona on the Quartermaster run. He ended his career in 1949 on the auto-ferry Kitsap on the Point Defiance-Tahlequah run. He suffered a massive heart attack bringing the Kitsap into the Point Defiance dock but had signaled the engine to stop, and the boat glided into the slip. He died at his home in Burton days after his heart attack.

Vashona served the Quartermaster run from 1922 until May 1931, when she made her last trip to Burton and was replaced by the Concordia, one of the oddest of the Mosquito Fleet boats. Concordia was designed like most of the other Mosquito Fleet boats with long elegant lines, but when staffing rules allowed one less crew member for vessels under 65-feet, the stern of the Concordia or “Conkie,” as she was often called, was cut off, so she had a truncated, stubby look uncharacteristic of the Mosquito Fleet boats.

Vashona was sold to the Kitsap Transportation Company and worked the Bremerton and Harper routes into the late 1930s. Gray Lines Tour Company purchased Vashona, renamed her Sightseer, and by 1940, she was taking tourists through the locks, along the Seattle waterfront and around Lake Union and Lake Washington. She continued as a Seattle tour boat through the Seattle Worlds Fair in 1962. In 1948, the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society was formed to preserve the Northwest’s marine history. As a publicity event, the society sponsored a steamship race between Virginia V and Sightseer (formerly Vashona) on National Maritime Day. The Great Steamboat Race began on May 22 at 2 p.m., and at the end of a 5-mile course that ran across the Seattle waterfront, Virginia V was victorious by a small margin.

Vashona/Sightseer was sold in 1963 to John Houston of Richland, WA who renamed her Columbia Queen, her third name, and began running excursions on the Columbia, Snake and Yakima Rivers from the Tri-Cities. The transition to the Columbia River did not go smoothly for the former Vashona. While moving from Puget Sound to the Tri-Cities, she blew a boiler near Portland and had to be towed to a shipyard for repairs. Once back on the river and headed to the Tri- Cities, she blew another boiler plug near Sacajawea State Park and had to be towed to the Tri-Cities for further repairs. On her maiden voyage on the Columbia, she ran aground on a sandbar and was towed off by the Coast Guard. Then, on the evening of June 13, 1964, as the Columbia Queen left the dock for a fundraising cruise for senatorial candidate Richard Christensen sponsored by the Republican women’s group Women on the Warpath, she was caught in strong currents and thrown broadside against a bridge abutment. Two passengers were slightly injured, and the boat returned to the dock. But the damage, a deep gash in the hull, while initially viewed as minor, proved difficult and expensive to repair. Vashona/Sightseer/Columbia Queen settled into the mud and sat derelict for six years before the Corps of Engineers declared her abandoned and tried to auction her off before deciding to demolish her in September 1970. The ship’s 6-foot bronze alloy propeller was given to the Tri-Cities Naval Reserve Unit for display, and the bulldozer operator who did the final demolition declared, “She’s the toughest old lady I ever saw,” a fitting epitaph for the 48-year-old Vashona/Sightseer/Columbia Queen.

The “new” Vashona was built in 1978 in Taiwan and imported by Edmonds Yacht Sales as a Puget Trawler, a 36-foot sedan trawler, and named Fly Aweigh by her first owner. Pam and Bruce Haulman purchased her in 1997. They began searching for a new name that would reflect their life on Vashon and interest in Vashon History. Aaron Sherman, a descendant of the Sherman Family, who settled on Vashon in 1877, suggested the name Vashona because he had worked on her as a young man when she was on the Burton-Tacoma run. Pam immediately fell in love with the name, and the “new” Vashona was named in an appropriate re-naming ceremony. The “new” Vashona is an active part of Quartermaster Yacht Club, provides historic harbor tours for numerous Vashon nonprofits, is a water-based platform for the annual Audubon Christmas bird count, and is part of the VashonBePrepared Marine Emergency Response Team (MERT) that will provide water-based support in case of an island emergency.

Pam, Bruce, and family have enjoyed owning Vashona for the past 22-years, cruising local waters and exploring The Salish Sea and beyond.

— Bruce Haulman is an island historian, and Terry Donnelly is an island photographer.

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