Posted by: Blue Lou Logan | June 12, 2011

Kalakala update: Aboard for Faith, A First-Hand Account

The Kalakala:  See?  She floats.

It’s historic.  It’s beautiful.  It’s creepy.  It’s alive.  Today, Zanne and I boarded the Kalakala for the first time, after years of seeing her from afar.  As previously written, Steve Rodrigues had put out an open call to come out Friday or Saturday to help “clean.”  It was an opportunity not to be missed, and it was so very worth it.

Nary a right angle:  The essence of Art Deco
Approaching the Kalakala:  Hold on tight, mate, and don’t look down

There were only four of us:  owner and visionary Steve, Zanne, me, and a guy who called himself John W.  Getting aboard the vessel is an adventure worthy of the boat’s old home on Kodiak Island, Alaska.  First, you go through a gate past a tall cluster of silos long out of use.  Second, after you park your car, you cross a rickety pier that is little more than a couple of loose planks over rotting pilings.  Third–having donned the one life vest they own–you climb over a dead, sunken hulk tilted at forty five degrees.  Finally, you slowly and carefully cross a gangplank just wide enough to step upon while going hand over hand with a slack line.  I took a Josh Gates attitude towards the whole thing, and Steve actually told me to slow down.  Zanne, brave soul, handled all this like her fear of water had never existed.

Total style:  the top of the staircase to the Promenade Deck
How heavenly:  windows in the ballroom

Knowing that it was our first time aboard the Kalakala, Steve was kind enough to first give us a tour.  The old Car Deck is now crowded with supplies and parts, including enough to get potentially get the engine working.  Up a staircase is the main Passenger Deck.  This is a place of rust and treacherous holes but also a place of beauty, from the curved braces where there were once benches, much like our modern Washington ferries, to the magnificent ballroom with its high ceiling and round portholes at the bow.  An artfully styled staircase leads up to the Promenade Deck.  Here, only bolts and shadows indicate where the famous Double Horseshoe Café once stood.  Up again, via stairs narrow and steep enough to be worthy of a warship, is the equally famous Flying Bridge.  Although I already knew, it was still astounding that the pilot had little more than three small, round windows to see forward, and that did not actually allow a view of the bow.  Finally, Zanne and I clamored onto the roof!  This was possibly Steve’s proudest moment:  If you stand aft of the roof of the Captain’s Quarters and look forward, you can see how much care went into the building of this boat, how critical it is to to the history of maritime design.

Up on the roof:  pure symmetry
Picture this:  braces on the Passenger Deck

The tour over, Steve gave us our task.  He defines tasks as “work packets.”  Ours, which all three of us cooperated on, had an end goal of resurrecting the Art Deco curvature up in the Captain’s Quarters, which had had succumbed to plain right angles some time between State servitude and cannery slavery.  Steve’s idea was to make the old Quarters into a sort of Honeymoon Suite to be rented out to stylish newlyweds.  To this end, we endeavored to make a template from “Brace #7” on the Passenger Deck which could be copied multiple times in the rooms above.  We traced the bottom half with chalk onto a sheet of plywood and traced the top half–backwards–onto a sheet of styrofoam.  Honestly, it was not entirely clear what the methodology was to this project.  Eventually we got the plywood copied onto another sheet of foam, and, once matched up, we had, in fact, recreated a sort of miniature piece of Art Deco design.

If ye dare look aloft…
…the doors to the future may open.

About 2:00, we all crossed back over to solid land.  The boat had now risen several feet at high tide, and the crossing felt much hairier.  Our visit was, truthfully, an amazing and uplifting experience.  Yet I am not beyond a dose of realism.  On one hand, the vessel is NOT a “disaster waiting to happen.”  On the other hand, Steve Rodrigues is, perhaps, a lone man against a hurricane.  Zanne asked why no one in the area seems to care, and I asked if it was true that her hope lies in other places.  The common answer:  “No one here knows her history.”  As I have said before, it’s beyond that.  Preservationism does not live strong in the heart of Seattleites.  The Center for Wooden Boats, The Historic Seaport, and The Museum of History and Industry are exceptions to the rule.  Apathy and a desire for “progress”–a view that only a city with a small-town attitude can pass–kill any extensive efforts at keeping even vestiges of the past alive.  Steve Rodrigues and his tiny crew are fighting time, tide, and odds.  Steve maintains something beyond hope to what I can only call faith.  All I can say is…we’ll be back.

A view


  1. Well-spoken, Lou. I was having trouble getting my words together to describe that day. I knew you'd have them.

    Oh, and yeah, that gangway business with the life jacket and the rope and the sunken ship beneath us? Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. The trip back was much worse, just for the steep incline and having to actually crawl on a sunken ship. It felt like walking across a grave.

  2. ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! Blue Lou, Thanks for the up-date on Special K. Sad to hear nobody gives a rat's azz and Steve is pretty much alone in his endeavors. Just read a quote from Pete Bevis right after he lost the Kalakala in the bankruptcy auction. He said he hadn'treally lost because in 10 years the ship would be somewhere restored. ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRNNNNTTT!
    Broken dreams…..but we can hope. Someday I too would like to see and board Kalakala.


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