In the dark, in the rain, the ferry Kalakala made its final voyage Thursday morning.
It came to die.
It did not go easily.
After more than a decade spent rusting on Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway, and lit Thursday by a single spotlight, the ferry was released from its moorings at 3:45 a.m.
A pair of tugs then guided it over 2.5 miles and just over 90 minutes into Commencement Bay and then to a graving dock on the Blair Waterway. It will be cut apart for scrap over the next week.
“Things have gone perfectly,” said project coordinator Brian Cunningham as the Kalakala arrived. “Not one minute have we been off schedule. It’s gone better than we planned.”
Among those watching the move was owner Karl Anderson, the Tacoma businessman who owns the spot on the Hylebos where the boat had been moored. As he’d often promised, he lit a cigar in celebration of the successful effort.
“I’m thankful that I was able to do this for the old lady,” Anderson said. “I believe the Kalakala knew I had moorage space in Tacoma, knew I had a dock where she could be put to rest, at peace.
“Now she is getting the peace she deserves.”
Earlier, as the Kalakala glided through the Hylebos, pushed along by the tug Fury and led by the tug Ironman, it resembled the sleek ship of years past. Semi-darkness obscured years of damage wrought by rain, saltwater and neglect.
But the deterioration became readily apparent as the ferry was pushed into the bright lights of the graving yard.
“Looks like you would need a tetanus shot if you were on board,” said Ben Chiefcalf, an employee at Concrete Technology, where the demolition work will be done.
In 1935, a flotilla of boats and upward of 100,000 people welcomed the Kalakala to Seattle’s Elliott Bay. Seven thousand schoolchildren were given the day off.
But few onlookers followed the ferry’s progress on Thursday.
No one watched from the East 11th Street bridge across the Hylebos, and no one lingered to stare through the fence surrounding the graving dock at Concrete Technology on Port of Tacoma Road.
The graving dock is a hole in the ground — in this case, 465 feet by 160 feet by 25 feet deep — that can be filled with tidal water. The gate that encloses the dock can be removed as the tide lowers.
The Kalakala and the two tugs that accompanied the ferry entered the dock at 5:24 a.m. As the boat was made fast by lines, a moving-day crew of a dozen or so workers hurried to remove equipment used to monitor the boat.
Ben Kent was the last to leave. For four years he made the Kalakala secure, responding to flooding alarms, sometimes alone.
Last week, he recalled his initial visit to the boat.
“The first time was so exciting,” Kent said. “Four years later I cannot wait for this thing to go away. Working below the car deck, it’s terrible. Dark. It smells bad, musky, diesel. It’s really creepy down there.”
By Thursday he’d mellowed.
“It’s been a privilege to be a part of this,” Kent said. “Today it wasn’t creepy at all. I found myself feeling it was a privilege to serve it until the end.”
Along with the years of moorage, the removal of toxins, the transportation of the boat and the cost of security personnel, Anderson arranged for a proper valediction of the Kalakala’s remains.
As the tide slowly removed the water from the graving dock, the Rev. Dr. Frances Lorenz of Tacoma’s Center for Spiritual Living performed a brief blessing.
“We’re putting her to rest with dignity,” she said. “There needs to be a death with dignity.”
She asked that the small group of officials and workers give thanks “to those who loved her.”
“Her time is coming to an end,” Lorenz said.
She offered Anderson four symbolic feathers, and everyone was given a white feather to toss into the receding water.
The Kalakala, Lorenz said, is “a lady way past her prime and ready to die.”
But not quite.
As Lorenz spoke, as the people prayed, as the water receded, the several hundred tons of steel that is the Kalakala hit bottom.
Engineers had expected the boat to keel over, turn half-turtle, slip quietly onto its side.
It would not turn.
A pair of excavators armed with hydraulic pincers repeatedly pushed the side of the ferry. Porthole glass broke and the boat groaned under the strain.
In the end, it tiled sharply on her flattened keel, steady enough for the scrapping crew to do its work.
But until the end, on the day of her last voyage, the Kalakala stayed upright.