SEATTLE - Every family has a holiday tradition and on Lake Union, aboard the Hiyu, boat owner Jeff Wilson decided to take on a boatload after buying a historical Washington State ferry and turning it into an entertainment venue.
“The Hiyu stands for “plenty” in Salish jargon. It was built in 1967 and it’s 50 years old. I bought it last February. It used to hold 34 cars and 200 people,” said Wilson.
The Hiyu went into service in the summer of 1967. Wilson says the state of Washington was looking to replace the aging wooden ferry Skansonia, which had been working the Point Defiance-Tahlequah, Vashon Island route since the state took over ferry operations in 1951. He says for close to 20 years the Hiyu sailed the Puget Sound, then took on inter-island duty in the San Juan Islands.
“I had lost my mind for a second, I decided I should own a big rust bucket and that’s what I did,” said Wilson with a laugh.
He says he revamped the sound system, added new lighting, paint and renovated the vessel for months.
“I’m a nuts and bolts, car kind of guy, mechanical. It’s been fun to take it on,” said Wilson.
He kept some historical touches like the original ferry benches and freshened them with new paint for patrons to sit and enjoy a drink in the newly created Salish Lounge on the second-floor deck next to a whiskey, bourbon bar he built.
Sunday night, drinks were served to guests aboard the festive ferry.
“We’re gonna go on the lake with all our lights on,” said Wilson.
The Hiyu took its maiden voyage joining the iconic Christmas Ships, a holiday tradition on Lake Union since 1949 as dozens of decorated boats parade on the lake with the grand finale Sunday December 23rd.
“This is something I never ever thought I would be a part of, it wasn’t on my bucket list. These things all just miraculously happened. It has been magic the whole way,” said Wilson.