The Hyak: Our magic carpet
The Hyak holds a special place in Poulsbo history. From 1911 to 1936, the wooden-hulled steamship Hyak operated in Puget Sound, running from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo, serving Port Madison, Suquamish, Seabold, Keyport, Lemolo, Scandia, and Pearson. The name Hyak means “fast” in Chinook Jargon.
As one of the fastest mosquito fleet ships, the Hyak was beloved by Poulsbo citizens. Two times a day (except for Saturday’s three runs), the Hyak made the trek from Liberty Bay to Seattle’s Pier 54, then called Pier 3. On weekdays, all of Poulsbo was wakened at 5:15 a.m. by three blasts of the Hyak’s steam whistle. At 5:30 a.m., two blasts sounded, followed by one blast at 5:40 a.m., five minutes before the ship departed. The full trip to Seattle took nearly two hours. The fare was forty cents.
Poulsbo native, Muriel Williams, called Hyak Poulsbo’s magic carpet. In her words “That wonderful little steamer was such an integral part of my childhood, it is impossible to imagine what life in Poulsbo would have been like without her. Her daily comings and goings not only brought the world to my doorstep, but conversely, it was also my doorstep to the world.”
Poulsbo was dependent on water transportation – not having a road to the outside world until 1930. Town kids could hop aboard the steamer on its morning run and spend the day exploring the wonders of Seattle. Parental permission may have been needed, along with pocket money for treats and fare, but adult supervision was not. The treasures of Rhode’s Department Store, Woolworths 5 & 10, the Pike Place Market, and the Liberty Theater were all in an area bounded by 1st and 2nd Avenues…easy access to the steamer dock.
The Hyak was considered the most beautiful of the “mosquito fleet” steamers. She was the premier vessel of the “White Collar Line” Kitsap Transportation Co. The term “White Collar” referred to the white metal band with its bright red K insignia that encircled the black smokestack. In her early years on the run, she was captained by Henry A. Hansen, who took pride in keeping her brass fittings and trim polished to a high glow. After Captain Hansen retired, she was under the command of Poulsbo’s Captain Alfred Hostmark. The engineer on the boat was also a Poulsbo man, Hostmark’s brother-in-law, Ole Hansen, who placed a golden eagle atop the pilothouse when he was aboard. Inside, the passenger deck was lined on each side with a double row of high-backed leather chairs. Near the back, where the deck narrowed, were rows of wooden benches. Here, the market women, with their crates and baskets, would gather on their way to the Saturday market in Seattle. The Hyak plied the waters of Puget Sound from 1909 until the “end of the age” in 1937.
Torger Birkeland, in writing of the takeover of K.C.T.C. by the Puget Sound Navigation Company, wrote the Hyak’s epitaph:
The down-sound traffic was now handled by ferries across from Ballard and Edmonds to Suquamish, Kingston, and Ludlow. The ferry Kitsap, on the Ballard-Suquamish run, made the Hyak unprofitable, so the ferries accomplished something that years of fighting and opposition had not been able to do, namely, drive the Hyak off the run she was built for and had served so faithfully for twenty-six years. This great little ship, without ceremony or fanfare, was towed up near the West Spokane Street bridge, dismantled and stripped to the hull, and there left to end her colorful career in quiet and peace. (TORGER BIRKELAND, Echoes of Puget Sound p.239)
Historic Hyak Replica Pilothouse
The Poulsbo Historical Society has made the Hyak the centerpiece of the Maritime Museum pier. From the captain’s wheel facing Front Street, it offers the only telephone-wire-free view of Liberty Bay from Front Street. This vantage point makes it easy to imagine being the pilot of the steamer as she leaves the port heading for Seattle.
Constructing the pilothouse was a long-time dream, but finding the expertise to replicate the needed curves and angles seemed out of reach. It was a serendipitous meeting with Gig Harbor BoatShop that made those dreams a reality. During a visit to the Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor, the board learned of the work of the Gig Harbor BoatShop. Within two hours they were talking seriously to experts like Jaime Storkman and Bill Isaacs – master shipwright – in their full-scale boat shop, complete with resident master boat-builders and a depth of experience restoring historic vessels. The BoatShop, a nonprofit community organization, agreed to create the Hyak’s pilothouse using locally milled wood: douglas fir, cedar, hemlock, and fine trim materials provided by PHS.
The finished pilothouse is approximately 7/8 of the size of the original Hyak. Scaling down was needed to fit it into the area of the PHS pier. Work on the pilothouse began in 2018. The pilothouse was installed at the head of the museum’s pier in April of 2019. A finishing crew from PHS, lead by craftsmen from the BoatShop, continued work on the pier throughout 2019. The pilot house is open to visitors seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (10 a.m. – 5 p.m. during summer) and is admission free.