steamship Virginia V is the last operational example of a
Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet steamer. She was once part of a
large fleet of small passenger and freight carrying ships
that linked the islands and ports of Puget Sound in
Washington State in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Her original route was between the cities of Tacoma and
Seattle, along the West Pass (also known as Colvos Passage)
between Vashon Island and the Kitsap Peninsula.
Today the ship operates from Heritage Wharf at Lake Union
Park in Seattle.
West Pass Transportation Company
Around the turn of the 20th century outlying communities all
over Puget Sound, particularly those on the many islands,
were dependent on small boats and ships for delivering goods
and basic transportation. The primary shipping lane from
Seattle to Tacoma was along the east side of Vashon Island.
Farmers and business people along Colvos Passage in Kitsap
County and on the west side of Vashon Island were very
dissatisfied with the unreliable boat service they received.
In 1910 Captain Nelse "Nels" Christensen and John Holm
formed the West Pass Transportation Company and purchased
their own boat to serve this part of the island.
The boat they bought was Virginia Merrill, a 54-foot (16 m)
long gasoline-powered tug. She was renamed simply Virginia
and converted for use as a small ferry.
The Virginia boats
Virginia was replaced in 1912 with Virginia II, a 77-foot
(23 m) long ship propelled by a 110 hp (82 kW) Corliss
gasoline engine. In 1914 the West Pass Transportation
Company purchased the 92-foot (28 m) steam ship Typhoon and
renamed her Virginia III. In 1918 they purchased the 98-foot
(30 m) steam ship Tyrus, and in 1920 they renamed her
Virginia IV and put her on the West Pass route.
In 1921, Anderson & Company of Maplewood, Washington, began
construction of Virginia V. The ship was built of local
old-growth fir. She was launched 9 March 1922, and towed to
downtown Seattle for the installation of her engine and
steam plant. In Seattle the engine was removed from Virginia
IV and installed in Virginia V. On 11 June 1922, Virginia V
made her maiden voyage from Elliott Bay in Seattle to Tacoma
down the West Pass. She continued to make this voyage nearly
every day until 1938.
Storm of 1934
Heavy damage to Virginia
V caused by October 1934 storm.
On 21 October 1934, a severe Pacific storm swept through the
Puget Sound. Virginia V was attempting to dock at Olalla,
Washington, when the brunt of the storm hit. The powerful
winds pushed the ship against the dock as the waves pounded
the ship into the pilings. The result was the near
destruction of the upper decks. The ship was re-built at the
Lake Washington Shipyard at Houghton, near modern day
Kirkland, Washington. She was returned to service on 5
Camp Sealth and the
Camp Fire Girls
Each summer from 1922 to 1970 (with a few interruptions
around World War II) Virginia V carried girls to and from
Seattle to Camp Sealth on Vashon Island for the Camp Fire
Girls. Thousands of women in the Northwest recall a ride on
Virginia Vee (as she was affectionately called) as the
beginning of a camping adventure.
Columbia River service
The West Pass Transportation Company went out of business in
1942. Virginia V, which had been operating for a while on
the Seattle-Fort Worden run, was transferred to the Columbia
River, where for a brief time she was placed on the
Portland-Astoria run, thus becoming the last scheduled
passenger vessel running on both Puget Sound and the
Columbia River. Her Columbia River career was unsuccessful.
Her owners were unable to pay her crew and she was libeled
(legally seized for debts owed) and sold at Vancouver,
Washington by the U.S. Marshals to pay her owner's debts.
Virginia V was purchased by O.H. "Doc" Freeman and Joe Boles
of Seattle. They resold the vessel to Jack Katz and Captain
Howell Parker less than a year later.
Captain Howell Parker and The Great Steamboat Race
Captain Parker operated Virginia V carrying war workers
between Poulsbo, Washington, and the Keyport Naval Torpedo
Station with his wife Mary as steward and purser. After the
end of World War II, the Parkers continued to operate her as
an excursion vessel all around Puget Sound. In 1948 the
Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society (PSMHS) was formed
to preserve the Northwest's marine history. As a publicity
event, the PSMHS sponsored a race between Virginia V and a
similar ship, Grayline Sightseer (formerly Vashona) to be
held on National Maritime Day. The Great Steamboat Race
began on May 22 at 2PM. At the end of a 5-mile (8.0 km)
course that ran across the Seattle waterfront, Virginia V
won the race by a small margin.
Puget Sound Excursion
In 1954 Virginia V was
sold to Captain Phillip Luther of Puget Sound Excursion
Lines. Captain Luther sold her to Charles McMahon in 1956.
McMahon extensively refurbished Virginia V, and then
continued to operate her as a commercial excursion vessel
around Puget Sound. In 1958 James F. "Cy" Devenny purchased
controlling interest in Puget Sound Excursion Company and
took over operation of Virginia V along with several other
small vessels. Among these was the McNeil Island federal
prison tender J.E. Overlade (ex Arcadia), built in 1928,
herself one of the last survivors of the Mosquito Fleet.
Devenny renamed her Virginia VI to match her more famous
In 1968 a group of steamboat enthusiasts formed the
Northwest Steamship Company, and raised the funds to buy
Virginia V from Puget Sound Excursion Company. The ship was
placed on the National Registry of Historic Sites in 1973,
but despite her recognition as historically significant, it
was increasingly difficult for her owners to maintain her as
a commercial venture.
Steamer Virginia V Foundation
In 1976 the non-profit Steamer Virginia V Foundation was
formed to preserve Virginia V. The Foundation acquired her
on 30 September 1980, for $127,000.
In 2002, the Foundation was able to put Virginia V back in
service after a six-year, $6.5 million stem-to-stern
restoration project. It included a rebuild of the steam
engine, construction of a new boiler and rebuild of the
superstructure using traditional tongue and groove fir
planking. The Foundation was honored in 2001 with the
Washington State Historical Society's "David Douglas Award"
for the restoration work completed to-date.
Since 2002 the Virginia V
has been providing public excursions, private charters, and
visits to local maritime festivals throughout Puget Sound.