Want to own a ferryboat? A former Washington state ferry is for sale again

Jan 23, 2020

Do you want to own an old ferryboat? A retired Washington car ferry is for sale again after the current owner's many ideas for the boat did not work out.

Florida businessman Gregory Jones bought the decommissioned ferry, Evergreen State, at auction nearly three years ago.

"You know, it's the type of thing you just kind of start falling in love with," he said with a chuckle, during a phone interview from the Florida Panhandle on Thursday.

His original plan was to move the 310-foot ship to the Caribbean to use as a car ferry in Grenada. He soon switched gears to explore conversion into a floating restaurant or an event center wrapped around a TV studio on the Pensacola waterfront.

But Jones said his business priorities have shifted and he has run out of "hours in the day" to make something happen, so he would like someone else to give the ferry "a good home."

"It could be the ultimate live-aboard," Jones said. "It could be the ultimate floating waterfront event center. It could be the ultimate floating hotel or whatever you can imagine."

The handsome ferry is now for sale on eBay with a minimum bid of $100,000. As for shipping, the listing offers "free local pickup" at the Port of Olympia.

Jones said he has a backup offer on the table, from a buyer who would use the steel ship for scrap, but he is loathe to see the venerable ferry cut to pieces and melted down.

"I think that scrapping a national treasure would be an absolute waste, so we decided to go this route on eBay," Jones said. "Ever since I bought it, I have had calls and emails from people telling me what the vessel meant to them."

Jones said he is prepared to lose money on his investment. The Washington State Department of Transportation said Jones' winning bid on the ferry in 2017 was $300,000. He has since sunk "significant" additional sums into the 66-year-old boat in moorage fees, maintenance and assorted modifications to permit a transit of the Panama Canal. Jones described the ferry Thursday as in "100 percent seaworthy" condition.

Corporation filings in Florida list Jones as a principal in a number of businesses, some of which are inactive. The largest of them appears to be Jones Broadcasting, which once owned 14 independent TV stations across the U.S. Southeast. The stations have been sold off piece by piece in recent years, and the company website now pitches video streaming services.

In an email, a Port of Olympia spokeswoman said Jones is running behind on his December and January moorage payments, but that it wasn't a problem to accommodate any potential buyers of the ferry.

"The Port has had a positive relationship with the customer over his time at the Port and we wish him well," said a talking points document shared Wednesday by the Port of Olympia.

The decommissioned ferry has not moved from the Port of Olympia since arriving there in spring 2018.
Credit Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

While in state service, the Evergreen State had a capacity for 87 cars and a maximum of 854 passengers. The diesel-electric, double-ender was custom built for Washington State Ferries in 1954 and extensively rebuilt in 1988. Its drive motors were surplus from a World War II destroyer.

The ferry was the first of three of this design to be delivered to the nation's biggest ferry system. The last one in the series, the Tillikum, is still in service and has the distinction of being the oldest vessel in the current Washington state fleet. The Evergreen State sailed on many routes, although it may be most fondly remembered by San Juan Islands commuters.

Some other retired state ferries have been successfully repurposed including theĀ  MV Skansonia, which shuttled travelers across South Puget Sound for nearly four decades. After being declared surplus and sold in 1971, she first served as a private residence. Since the mid-1980s, the wooden ferry has been moored in Seattle's Lake Union to serve as a party and event venue, including hosting many weddings.

But the conversation about old ferries in the Pacific Northwest also inevitably returns to the onetime pride of the Washington ferry fleet. The sleek, art deco Kalakala passed through multiple hands and many ports after she was auctioned off in 1967. Historic preservationists failed several times to raise enough money to restore the increasingly decrepit ship. The saga came to an end when the Kalakala was sold for scrap to pay off debts in 2015.