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Elwha On the Rocks: A Cocktail of Disaster

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Is it  possible that the Costa Concordia was taken close in to the rocks to impress the girlfriend of the captain?  Of course it is.  Is it possible that a similar thing happened in the state of Washington on the sunny waters of Puget Sound on October 2, 1983?  Well, absolutely.  Here is the sordid tale of that infamous date.

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The Washington State ferry Elwha first set sail in 1967 and was one of only two Super Ferries in the Washington ferry system.  Super is capable of going out on the ocean and could sail into international and other nation’s waters.  Her normal route is from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands.  She  also makes  run to Sidney in British Columbia, Canada.  She can handle 2,500 passengers and 144 vehicles.  The only other Super ferry in the WSOT system is the Chelan


It was a beautiful fall day when she set sail on her fateful cruise.  At the wheel was her captain, Billy Frittro.  He had made the run many times and saw nothing ahead but blue skies and getting laid.  That was where the trouble began.  Beside him that day in the wheelhouse was the winsome Peggy Warrack.  She owned a house on the shore of Grindstone Harbor.  Suave Cap’n Billy said “How about pointing to where your house is and I’ll take us by for a look.”  Exactly what he was looking at as he said this I am not sure of, but I would guess it was part of Ms. Warrack’s winsome anatomy and not out toward any navigational hazards.  It wasn’t very long after that the the Ferry Elwha struck a submerged rock and ran aground.  There is no official record of what this did to to the little romance Billy had in mind.  There is official record that Captain Billy eventually resigned as the truth eventually emerged from murky depths. His boss Capt. Nick Tracy was later fired for trying to cover up the embarrassing mess.

All passengers and crew escaped death in this debacle. I wish that was the same with the Costa Concordia.


That was not the end of the story.  Shortly after that the Island City Jazz Band released their one and only hit record “Elwha On The Rocks.”  The band consisted of trumpter Tom Skoog, Don Anderson on trombone, Bill Bassen on clarinet,  Skip McDaniel on banjo, Tom Bassen on piano, Vern Conrad on drums, and Gary Provonsha on tuba.  George Burns, no not that George Burns, did the singing.

In 1989 the submerged rock was formally named Elwha Rock by the Washington State Board on Geographic Names.  That was in response to efforts made by Seattle used book deal Greg Lange.

You’d think that Captain Charles Peterson would have learned from the event.  Nope, he took the Elhwa fifteen miles off course in 1996 and scraped  bottom but escaped grounding.  He was summarily fired.  I wonder if his wife was pleased that he tested positive for marijuana after that crash. Wouldn’t  that be better than being distracted by another woman?


When I get time my next blog post will be the even more sordid tale of the Freighter Chavez and the ill fated captain Rolf Neslund.





14 responses to “Elwha On the Rocks: A Cocktail of Disaster”

  1. Judy says:

    My sister, Victoria, and I had a good laugh over your description of the Elwha on the rocks. Great job!! At the time, the “winsome” Peggy Warrack was our 63-year-old mother who, following the infamous grounding, was dubbed “The Siren of the San Juans”. Peggy passed away last month, and we celebrated her life by having a party in her honor. Of course we paid tribute to the Elwha at this event. I came across your blog while looking for writings from 1983 about the original incident. Today we fondly recall the story which has mellowed and gotten better over the years. Thank you for adding one more story to our family’s legacy.

    Sincerely, Judy and Victoria

  2. Dennis Nyback says:

    Dear Judy and Victoria,

    Thanks for the kind words. Please accept my condolences on the passing of your mother.

    Best Wishes


  3. […] when Peggy passed away on the 22nd last month (here’s a full obituary) and here’s a “full story” of the wreck by Dennis […]

  4. Seamon says:

    WOOPIE! Your tales of wonder about the M.V. ELWAH of WSF are really FUN! We would believe there are more!

  5. Rich Kambak says:

    There were a handful of people who risked their lives saving the M.V. Elwah from sinking while docked at the Orcas Island ferry dock. These consisted of Ocras Island volunteer firefighters and rescue divers. As one of the first responders who coordinated the salvage effort to pump out the shaft well before gushing water hit the running generator (with minutes to spare) that would have caused a tremendous explosion, it’s hard to “fondly” recall this incident. Personally, I recall the M.V. Elwah abandoning ship while I remained in the shaft well, directing fire engine pumper trucks hoses in reverse flow to manage to keep the ferry from sinking, while divers plugged the ships steel plate hull with wooden wedges. One crewman told me as he fled, “…she’s going to blow. You’re going to die if you stay down here.” The Coast Guard showed up with one one and half inch hose pump.

  6. Steve Rodgers says:

    There are Four Supers in the system, Elwha, Yakima, Kaleetan, Hyak. Only one can travel internationally and that is the Elwha. Ships must be licensed as SOLIS equipped to carry passengers internationally.
    The Chelan, which can also travel internationally, is an Issaqauh class.
    Steve Rodgers
    Director, Marine Operations

  7. John Leyde says:

    My wife and I attended high school with two of Captain Billy’s children. They were nice kids. This is our distant connection to M.V. Elwah, which I bring up every time we travel on it to Friday Harbor.

  8. You are a price of shit!

  9. You don’t even have your facts. To start with I am Bill & dorothy Fittro’s only child. The two the man said he went to school with are not Bill’s blood. He adopted Dorothy’s children from a previous marriage. And that’s just one so allied fact you printed that is not true. A simple fact you didn’t have right. Go back to school . Your worthless.

  10. Martin says:

    I was on the Elwha in 1983 when it hit the rocks. I can tell you that we definitely knew it hit something. Some people were jolted out of their seats. Yet there were no announcements telling us what happened – no instructions as to what passengers should do. The Elwha limped into Orcas and yes, we discovered later that it was taking on water while we were still on it.

  11. Jex Jax says:

    Wow, Terry I. Fittro, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. You’re just as nasty and unprincipled as your true blood related father.

  12. Jex Jax says:

    Martin: The captain of the Elwha, Billy Fittro, was required by maritime law to report the accident to the passengers. He did not. For this and other gross negligence on his part, he resigned rather than be fired. His boss, Nick Tracy, was fired for trying to cover it all up.

  13. joe millewr says:

    get your facts straight !! Capt. Bill was the fall guy for the state ferry system .. due to a faulty refit on that ferry boat & the state payed a lot of huss money for him to be quit about it ..

  14. joe millewr says:

    get your facts straight !! state ferry system paid a lot of huss money for the capt. to be the fall guy ..

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