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Historic Argosy ferry boat, MV Kirkland, can't be salvaged

The historic Argosy ferry boat MV Kirkland was damaged by a fire Aug. 28 and can not be salvaged.  - Contribued by Argosy
The historic Argosy ferry boat MV Kirkland was damaged by a fire Aug. 28 and can not be salvaged.
— image credit: Contribued by Argosy

Argosy Cruises announced Monday that it will not be able to repair the historic MV Kirkland Ferry boat, which had become a fixture at the Kirkland Marina. The MV Kirkland , which was built in 1924, caught fire the morning of Aug. 28 at the Kirkland Marina.

"It is like loosing a family member for us and our employees," said Argosy spokesperson Maureen Black. "It was woven into our culture and the Kirkland community and it will be sorely missed."

The Kirkland Fire Department determined that the fire was started by faulty wiring in the engine room.

Argosy has utilized other boats in its fleet for the run that the MV Kirkland worked for 14 years. Black said that the run will continue to be staffed by various vessels and a decision has not been made as to if just one boat will staff the run in the future.

"We are dedicated to keeping that tour running but no decisions have been made beyond that," said Black.

The loss of the 108-foot vessel is a huge blow to Argosy, as it was placed on the Washington Heritage Register in 1997 and has a long rich history.

The following is a history of the MV Kirkland as provided by Argosy:

A Ferry Tale, the Final Chapter

Ferries have always been a lifeline of the Pacific Northwest today and in days past. They are found in historical documents, in nostalgic photographs, and etched in our memories – even after the boats sail away for good.

Simple, oar and sail‐powered rafts survived into the 1870s when steam powered craft became popular. By the early 1900s, the diesel engine began to replace the steamer. Soon, bridges were spanning Northwest rivers in all the large cities, but where bridges were not possible and in some cases where smaller populations existed, the car ferry bloomed into existence.

In the early 1920s, at the northernmost corner of Oregon State, just such a scenario was present. A smaller population existed with a need to ferry cars from Oregon to Washington across the mouth of the mighty Columbia River. The first man to see the potential of a regular vehicle ferry across the lower Columbia was Captain Fritz Elfving, an immigrant from Sweden. In 1920, in a brilliant business move, he successfully converted a gravel barge to a car ferry in Astoria, Ore. and thus established Oregon’s first commercial ferry service.

Eventually he had a dedicated car ferry built in 1924, called Tourist No. 2, which was used for transportation from Astoria to Illwaco, Wash.

When she was launched, Tourist No. 2 was a wood hulled vessel measuring 110-feet long by 36-feet wide, with a gross tonnage of 95. Powered with a 320‐Horse Power engine, she could hold 20 cars and 155 passengers and came with a price tag of $42,000. Under the watchful eye of Captain Fritz, Tourist No. 2 worked as a ferry until her late teenage years.

Shortly after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Tourist No. 2 was commandeered by the U.S. Army and placed in military service, laying mines in the lower Columbia River. Later, the Army used her as a ferry running between Fort Canby and Fort Stevens. After the war, the Army sold her back to Elfving for an estimated $36,000. In 1946 the State of Oregon purchased the operation, which had grown to five vessels, and the Tourist No. 2 continued ferry service until the Astoria Bridge was built in 1966.

She was moved to Pierce County in 1967 and renamed the Islander of Pierce County, this time providing ferry service between Anderson Island and Steilacoom.

Eventually, however, her wood‐hulled design became too expensive to maintain and was overshadowed by vessels with more modern steel‐hulls. In 1994 a new boat was purchased by Pierce County. The former Tourist No. 2, which for all intents and purposes was destined for the scrap yard, was sold to Seattle‐based Argosy Cruises.

Much like Captain Fritz, the owners of Argosy could see a potential future for a wood‐hulled vessel. But this time around, she was destined to carry passengers only – no cars. It took nearly a full year, but the boat was completely refurbished. The retired ferry had gone through a labor of love and had a new lease on life.

As part of the Argosy fleet she was renamed, for the last time, the M/V Kirkland and moored in Kirkland. To add one more feather in the cap of her long career, in March of 1997 the M.V. Kirkland was placed on the Washington Heritage Register and National Register of Historic Places. For 16 years under Argosy she ran tours and held countless parties and weddings. She made her mark on the residents of Kirkland and was an icon on their waterfront.

In the early morning hours of August 28, 2010, a faulty engine‐room wire led to a fire on the 86‐year old vessel. Although more than 50 fire‐fighters appeared on the scene and the majority of the fire was out within 30 minutes, the end result was the historic vessel being declared a total loss ‐ the damage just too severe for a wooden vessel.

To the Argosy employees and the residents of Kirkland it felt as though they had lost a family member, she was woven in as part of the Kirkland community and will be sorely missed.

Retired nearly 45 years ago, the ferries that once made the crossing from Oregon to Washington are long forgotten, yet amazingly, the Tourist No. 2 survived and truly never looked better or was given such care by her owners.

While there is no happy ending for the M/V Kirkland, her fond memories and stories do live on.

In 2008 she held a cameo appearance on ABC’s "The Bachelor," she hosted countless weddings and receptions, holiday parties and business functions. She had a “centerfold” shot in 425 magazine this past summer, and her images abound on Flickr.

There are even countless anecdotes about the haunting of the M/V Kirkland. Until the day of the fire, a framed picture of Captain Fritz Elfving, her original captain, was permanently hung at the bottom of the stairs in the main passenger cabin of the historic vessel. As legend claims, Captain Fitz’s ghost haunted his old boat and any incidents of the photo being removed or relocated resulted in unexplained events such as shattered glassware, rearranged furniture and other mysterious occurrences. Stories such as these brought character and personality to a wonderful vessel.

We say goodbye to a venerable old friend who deserves recognition. The M/V Kirkland, may she always ride on waves of the past.

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