Ploverferry: Looking towards the next 60 years

Published on Thu, Oct 7, 2004
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Plover ferry: Looking towards the next 60 years

by Jack Kintner

Blaine’s beloved old passenger ferry Plover turned 60 this past summer, counting nearly 7,000 passenger boardings over its 47 day run.

Thanks to recently begun renovations, it can look forward next year to landing at the pier it once used for 20 years when it carried workers from Blaine across the Drayton Harbor entrance to the Alaska Packers Association (APA) Cannery.

The Plover currently operates between Blaine’s marina and a pier and float on the Semiahmoo side owned by Semiahmoo Resort, but next year will land at a float tied to the century-old wharf beside the old red two-story APA Commissary building, officially known as Building 6, because a half-million dollar restoration project has finally gotten underway.

In terms of this past season, Richard Sturgill, guiding hand behind the non-profit Drayton Harbor Maritime who owns and operates the Plover, said contributions from the summer’s passengers amounted to “about $1, give or take, from each person boarding, which is the way the Coast Guard wants us to count people even though many get counted twice that way. Years ago as a passenger ferry it carried anyone who could find a spot to hang on, like a San Francisco cable car, but we’re limited to two crew and 17 passengers.”

The daily log that Captain Ryan Meyer and his first mate (and wife) Ann kept has entries like “Day 32: 150 people, eight dogs, 14 bicycles and 19 Captain’s Certificates given out.”

Funding for the project currently underway to restore the Plover’s old APA landing site was originally granted four years ago by the Washington State Historical Society. That year the Plover project had come in ninth out of 130 projects that were competing for the agency’s available funds, and was one of 25 scheduled to receive money. One condition was that it needed to show additional evidence of support within a two-year time limit.

Trillium’s $137,000 seed money grant satisfied the requirement and was signed over in 2002, the day before the original $216,000 grant awarded through the Washington State Historical Resource Center would have expired.

The next hurdle was a “letter of permission” from the Army Corps of Engineers, necessary before working on a project that affects the shorelines, which was received in February of 2003.

Sturgill continued putting the rest of the funding together, primarily from other federal transportation sources, the city of Blaine and from individual donations of cash or in-kind help.

Last week a pile driver from Blackwater Marine in Kirkland, the 70-ton self-propelled crane barge Alaskan Venture, tied up alongside the century old wharf that surrounds the faded red two story former APA Commissary building and began lifting off sections of the pier in order to replace piling that have rotted.

Blackwater’s operations manager George Lulham, who is also the captain of the Alaskan Venture and foreman for this project, said that he’s driving the 75-foot timber and 80-foot steel piling 25 feet into the sand and clay bottom, “deeper than we usually go, because it’s kind of soft,” and must be finished by next week to avoid disturbing nearby herring spawning habitat. Instead of creosote, which never dries and is an environmental problem long after pilings have served their use, the timber piling are treated with an arsenic compound called ACZA.

The design includes an 80-foot aluminum ramp from the pier that attaches to the south and east sides of Building 6 to a 16 by 100-foot permanent float where the Plover will tie up. Lulham said he’ll also be removing some isolated old timber piling that once served as dolphins to guide larger ships into the berth but are no longer used.

Sturgill hopes the available space on the float and the larger pier next to it, over 200 feet in total, will be attractive to larger heritage vessels as they come by, including Blaine’s annual visitor the Lady Washington. “The Star Fleet of square riggers came in here, too,” he said, “and with this facility available there are a lot of possibilities for other heritage ships to stop here as well.”

This work may prove to be a major step forward in creating what Sturgill hopes will one day become a living maritime museum based in the old APA commissary, including displays, educational projects and a marine railway and boat-building shop for small craft. But for now his efforts center around his 16-year history with the Plover and the project designed to get it back to its original run from the end of Marine Drive to the Building 6 wharf.

When it retired from hauling people in 1964, the Plover was re-engined with the same Daggenhaeim in-line diesel it still has, and for a time was used as a harbor tug. A year before APA closed its operation on the spit in 1982, it donated the boat to Whatcom County Parks as part of a bigger package that became the Semiahmoo Maritime Museum in what is now Semiahmoo County Park. Drayton Harbor Maritime now operates the museum on weekends under the direction of Sunny Brown of Birch Bay.

Sturgill discovered the Seattle-built 32-foot Plover in storage at the old Blaine Air Force base in Birch Bay in 1988. “The former Southern California surfer fell in love,” he said, “and figured I could get it back in the water in maybe a year at the most.”

Eight years and $80,000 later the Plover began making runs between the visitor’s dock in Blaine’s Marina and a landing made available by Semiahmoo Resort near its original destination.