Mother Nature stalls Virginia V in Kingston

KINGSTON — Ring! Ring!

“One-third ahead! Stop her!” Pause. “Two-third back!”

Connie Buhl, the observing chief engineer for the Virginia V, was making the calls from the bell system on the engine deck of the vessel Saturday morning in the Port of Kingston.

The 122-foot historic Mosquito Fleet ship was stuck in the harbor.

The 10 a.m. cruise of the Virginia V had been delayed an hour already due to the heavy fog that had settled that morning. By 11 a.m., Captain Dale M. Pederson had announced that the vessel would be getting underway.

But that was before she ran aground in low tide in Appletree Cove.

Smaller steamboats that came in for the Northwest Steam Society Meet this weekend tried helping her — captains of Magic, Flyer and Fever tied their boats together and attempted to tug her out of her distressed state, but that didn’t work.

“Everyone needs to move to the front of the vessel!” a crewman yelled to the crowd, which had gathered at the Virginia V’s stern to watch the rescue mission. “We need a weight shift!”

So, everyone moved to the front of the boat. The small guys still couldn’t help her.

That’s when North Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s newest vessel, Marine 81 and the harbor boat for the Port of Kingston came to the rescue.

From the bow, passengers peered out the windows and around the balconies to watch the combined 495 horsepower engines from Marine 81 and the port boat pull Virginia off the beach and into safe waters.

Pederson later explained it was a tight squeeze for Virginia V in the harbor, where she was moored at the end of the Port’s breakwater wall. In order to get out of the dock, Pederson said he had to back her out of the harbor, clear the bow from the collapsed rocks at the end of the breakwater, while also trying not to get the boat stuck on the beach in the ongoing low tide.

That just didn’t work, mainly because of the delay caused by waiting for the fog to lift and the tide going out, he explained. And the fact that the vessel needed a clearance of at least seven feet of water — from the boat passengers could actually see the bottom of the cove through the shallow waters.

But after she was safely back in water, she was on her way out for the much-anticipated first cruise of the day.

Capt. Pederson wanted to make sure the fog had lifted completely before sailing so passengers could see the surrounding shores. He also wanted to have clear visibility for the smaller surrounding steamboats that zipped all over the place, with the “putt, putt, putt” of their pistons in the engine and their shrill steamboat whistles, only to be answered by Virginia’s deep tallstack whistle.

Several of those aboard had been on the 1922 boat when they were younger. Jack Brooke, 74, of Hansville remembered when he was about 13 and rode the vessel during the Great Depression. He said Saturday’s ride brought back a lot of memories of steam whistle days.

Everything was made out of wood back then, he said, and while Virginia was just a passenger boat, it didn’t feel like one.

“It was just fascinating to get on a steam boat. I didn’t think it as a steam boat,” Brooke explained, noting it was more like a cruise in the old days.

Pederson said he had been on the boat when he was five and remembered it fondly. The captain back then had been his brother’s godfather.

“He wore his hat just so,” Pederson reminiscenced. “You knew who was boss.”

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