Historic vessel could dock for tours at Pier 39
By Edward Stratton
EO Media Group
The dream of bringing back the historic Columbia River ferry Tourist No. 2, recently on the rocks and in search of money and a fresh infusion of volunteers, is afloat once again. The ferry once linked the north and south shores of the Columbia estuary.
An expanded cadre of volunteers, gathered in part by Cannery Pier Hotel developer Robert Jacob and ferry owner and Capt. Christian Lint, is gussying up the 93-year-old Columbia River ferry for a move to Pier 39.
The Astoria Ferry Group was formed as a nonprofit to restore and eventually acquire the ferry from Lint, who, with co-Capt. Jim Peacock, brought the vessel to Astoria in August 2016 from Bremerton.
The ultimate goal, after gaining certification from the Coast Guard, is to make the ferry a floating platform for events and a unique tourist attraction, a waterborne counterpart to the Astoria Riverfront Trolley.
In August, board members Cindy Price and Dulcye Taylor sounded the alarm, saying the group’s efforts had plateaued and needed $100,000 and some new board members by the end of September, or the effort to bring the ferry back would fold its sails.
Taylor said “Jake kind of answered the call.”
One bite at a time
Jacob, 68, has helped bring back historic attractions like the trolley, Liberty Theatre and Astoria Armory. Over a 12-year period, he developed a former cannery on a pier in the Columbia below the Astoria Bridge into the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa.
All the projects faced hurdles he chipped away at, some with big price tags, Jacob said.
“I was taught not to stare at that elephant in that kitchen, ’cause you can’t eat it,” Jacob said in an analogy to the ferry. “But if somebody takes it out to the table and hands you a chunk of ear, you can eat a chunk of ear.”
For labor, Jacob enlisted the help of Tongue Point Job Corps Center’s seamanship program. The students have been tearing out carpet and plywood flooring to expose the original deck, before putting on a fresh coat of paint. Joseph White, a seamanship student for the past 19 months at Tongue Point, said trainees are used to maintaining the center’s steel-hulled training vessel Ironwood, but are learning some valuable skills for working on older, wooden-hulled boats.
Job Corps students have also been helping fix the Salvage Chief, a regionally famed former marine towing vessel under restoration by another nonprofit.
“I love this vessel,” White said of the ferry. “I love this community project. To bring back almost 100 years of history is really bringing a big thing in my heart.”
Lucien Swerdloff, an instructor with Clatsop Community College’s historian preservation program and a ferry board member, said his students will also use the ferry as a floating classroom for workshops.
Overseeing the Job Corps students is Lint, who has been traveling from the Olympic Peninsula weekly with other boat restoration partners. The cosmetic restoration of the ferry pales in comparison to the structural issues he faced in the recent restoration of a 137-foot, 1893 sailing yacht, he said.
“Everything is good about the boat except for the cosmetics,” Lint said.
The Astoria Ferry Group previously estimated $500,000 was needed for Coast Guard certification, a necessary step before taking out large groups on the vessel. Lint has disputed the figure, saying the boat is close to the condition needed for certification, and that much of the work can be done at Tongue Point for a lesser cost than at other commercial shipyards.
After the face-lift, the ferry heads back down the Columbia to Floyd Holcom’s waterfront commercial complex at Pier 39, where the ferry group hopes to hold tours and build public interest while continuing to upgrade the vessel’s safety, electrical and other systems in preparation for certification by the Coast Guard.
“By putting it at Pier 39, it will be more in the sight of people,” Taylor said.
Meanwhile, a new influx of volunteers has expressed interest in joining the ferry group, Taylor said. She, Price and other volunteers have been continually working on grants for the boat. Taylor and Price claimed the operation of the boat would cost upward of $500,000 annually but could be covered by operational revenue with tours, weddings, conferences and other events on board.
Donna Quinn, Cannery Pier’s director of marketing and sales, said the group is in the beginning stages of developing a marketing plan. A board member on the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, she has reached out to the state’s tourism agency Travel Oregon and said the group has shown interest in supporting the development of the ferry as a sustainable tourist attraction.
“One of the challenges that local people and even visitors in this area have is the ability to get on the Columbia River,” Quinn said. “And that really defines us. We’re a river town.”