“As seen at Seafair, old ferry enjoying a new lease on life”


Reprinted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 2000; used with permission


by Liza Tewell, boating and sailing columnist


            Perhaps you caught a glimpse of her on the log boom during the running of the hydros last weekend.  At 72 by 40 feet, she’s hard to miss.

            “She” is the MV Annabelle, a ferry built in 1938 in The Dalles, Ore., to carry cars and passengers across the Columbia River.  She’s now home to a Tacoma family, chronicling yet another chapter in her saga as a piece of Northwest maritime history.

            Back in 1955, after 17 years serving the public, Annabelle planned on early retirement, but as she sailed out of the mouth of the river for the last time she discovered that her twin skedges, with their limited 4-foot draw, were no match for the open ocean.

            So she crawled to Seattle, where she spent the next four years in aquatic rehab, recovering from the pounding the Pacific Ocean had dealt her.

            Once again seaworthy, she was sold to the community of Herron Island, just south of Tacoma, where for 30 more years she once again shuttled cars and people on her back until she was replaced in 1989 by progress and a newer, bigger ferry.

            Tired and outdated, she was sold off for a song.  Her new owner had plans for her to serve as either a waterside construction barge or personal-use ferry for his RVs and campers.  He died two weeks later.

            For four years, Annabelle wallowing in escrow and the mud flats of Shelton before being discovered by Dennis and Katherine Redmon and their baby daughter, Sierra, who enjoyed gunkholing the nooks and crannies of the waters of the south Sound aboard their 1959 Chris Craft.

            Within six months, the Redmons had packed up their small high-rise apartment with the view of Lake Union, their antique furniture and wedding crystal, and found themselves water-rich and dollar-poor.

            While diving on Annabelle’s hull in that  spring of 1993, the Redmons spotted her broken rudder, damaged when she was beached on Shelton’s shores.  The repair cost more than expected, and what was to be a $5,000 job at the Foss yards in Tacoma cost closer to $15,000.

            There were other surprises as well, both the kind new-home owners confront and the kind boat-owners deal with every day.  It’s not too often that a homeowner wakes to find diesel fuel accidentally overflowing into his walk-in closet.  How many live-aboards can even claim to have a walk-in closet?

            There were other challenges in store.  Annabelle is the size of a small lot in Ballad.  Moorage is hard to find for such a lengthy, beamy vessel, so instead of sailboats and motor cruisers, Annabelle’s neighborhood consists of commercial maritime vessels, including trawlers down from Alaska in the off season, and foreign trading vessels traveling from port to port.

            Considering her blue-collar roots, Annabelle feels right at home.  She is several steps above the average pleasure cruiser.  Supplied by four, 450-gallon diesel tanks, the MV Annabelle’s 1960 Cummins diesel engines purr, and can push her at a steady 10 knots - in either direction.  An inverter kicks the power from shore to ship when Annabelle leaves the dock.

            The year-old, copper-tubed water-boiler, which replaced the sooty, albeit charming, wood-burning stove, radiates heat and keeps the outdoor hot tub at an even 110 degrees.

            Her deck-top structure is an artfully arranged puzzle of donated finds.  The porthole of the Redmon’s front door, salvaged from some other vessel and painted cherry red, frames a stained glass window made by a friend.

            Currently berthed underneath Tacoma’s 100-year-old 11th Street Bridge, Annabelle boasts an unrivaled view of Dale Chihuly’s courthouse art.

            The family that tends to Annabelle’s historic hull is equally as colorful.  A mechanical magician, Dennis Redmon often strips down to his shorts when working on the engines, looking like a better-fed Ben Kingsley.  A taxman from 9 to 5 and entrepreneur 24/7, his burnished scalp reveals his seafaring home life.

            His wife Katherine, a trained medical professional and adept with tools as well, tends a bountiful garden atop the roof surrounding the pilothouse.

            Born with sea legs, the Redmon’s eight-year-old daughter, Sierra, has never lived on dry land.  She’s a modern incarnation of Huck Finn, though with her penchant for dresses and black Mary Janes, she’s of a decidedly less tomboyish bent.

            Gracing Annabelle’s living-room wall are precise plans, drawn by Katherine’s brother David Rash an architectural historian.  The drawings hint that one day, Annabelle’s Swiss Family Robinson exterior and eclectic interior may change, but to the Redmons, she’ll always be “home.”

Special thanks to the Seattle PI for allowing us to reprint this article.