Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Carcass of the Ferry Leschi in Shotgun Cove

The Wreck of the ferry Leschi in Prince William Sound's Shotgun Cove
On the east shore of Neptune Cove in Shotgun Cove, an arm of Prince William Sound's Passage Canal, the wreck of the old ferry boat Leschi has slowly been rotting away, since it was thrown ashore there in 1978, after an autumn storm.  At the time, I was harbormaster for the nearby City of Whittier.  The Coast Guard asked me to go there and get some pictures of the beached vessel, and send them to the Marine Safety office in Anchorage.  I wish I had kept some copies of them. 

Nisqually War Chief Leschi
The Leschi, named after the Nisqually tribal war chief who was illegally executed in 1858 during the Puget Sound War, had started its career as a ferry between Seattle and Mercer Island on Lake Washington.  When constructed, in 1913, it was a paddlewheel vessel.  In 1931, it was reconstructed to propeller drive and its steam engine was replaced with a diesel. 

The Leschi was the last ferry boat to operate on Lake Washington, running between Madison Park and Kirkland long after the 1940 completion of the first floating bridge, between Seattle and Mercer Island.  In 1950 the Leschi switched to the Fauntleroy (West Seattle) - Vashon Island run on Puget Sound.  It served periodically on the Sound fro then until 1967, when it was sold to St. Elias Ocean Products in Cordova, Alaska, for operations as a floating fish and crab processor.

In May, 1974, along with my business partner Kirk Condon, I bought my first boat, the purse seiner-gillnetter, FV Swanee, in Jim Poor's office above the fantail of the Leschi, which had been renamed the St. Elias.  We unloaded our first load of commercially caught salmon - 350-odd Copper River Sockeye - from the Swanee, onto a crane on the opposite end of the ferry.

I might have a picture of the Leschi when it was being operated as a processor in Cordova somewhere, but haven't been able to find one.  And a lot of people took pictures of it in Cordova, and in the earlier stages of its ruin alongside the beach in Shotgun Cove.  A Google search on it came up with nothing past pictures of the Leschi when it was operating as a ferry.  Maybe somebody can help come up with some images.
The ferry Leschi on Lake Washington in the early 1920s

The Wikipedia article on the ferry erroneously states:
[Upon purchase by St. Elias in 1967] the vessel then was transferred to Leschi Alaska where it was operated as floating salmon and crab cannery off Cordova and Valdez until 1986 when near Valdez the vessel capsized.
At the time the ferry broke loose from the Shotgun Cove mooring buoy it had been attached to, many speculated that Jim Poor had had it brought there so that it would end up beached or sunk.  It was heavily insured and the policy was redeemed by St. Elias Ocean Products..  However, the USCG made no such determination.

1 comment:

Matt McCauley said...

Wow, GREAT info! I am a Kirkland, WA, history researcher, writer. Our Kirkland historical organization and community are quite fond of the 'Leschi' given that it was the last ferry to serve our town, for about a decade prior to King County discontinuing Lake Washington ferry service entirely.

We would be very interested in any photographs of the vessel's remains for reproduction and use in exhibits, newsletter, websites, etc. to help when telling the story of the 'Leschi's' days on Lake Washington -- as would the Bellevue, WA, organization, given that the boat ran to Medina (Bellevue) from about 1913-40. (We never copy off websites without permission).

We are also in the process of setting up a new historical museum here in Kirkland and would be very interested in obtaining a physical artifact from the wreck for the envisioned 'Leschi' exhibit. If you know anyone up there who might be able to help with that, then please let us know!

You can reach me, Matt McCauley, at:

Many Thanks!