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Hiyu’s Transformation

by Eva Seelye

Last February marked the beginning of a new and vibrant life for the retired Washington State Ferry, Hiyu, as an array of Seattleites cheered the beloved vessel while it made its way from the Eagle Harbor shipyard, through the Ballard Locks, and onto Lake Union. For over 50 years, this 165’ vessel ferried passengers across Washington’s waters. Carrying a modest 34 vehicles, the little Hiyu was the leading lady for the Point Defiance-Tahlequah, Vashon Island route back in the day. With an increase in traffic and a speed limit of only two knots, she couldn’t quite keep up with the demand. She was reassigned to the San Juan Islands inter-island route and eventually, to retirement at Eagle Harbor shipyard in 2015.

“Cute” and “baby” are just a couple of the many names this little ferry has acquired over the years, ironic as “hiyu” actually means “big” or “plenty.” Other than a few claims to fame in 1999 in a Seahawks commercial and a couple forgettable films, the ferry remained in the floating shipyard with the other broken and forgotten vessels; that is, until Jeff Wilson, president of Menagerie Inc., purchased Washington State Ferries’ smallest ever vessel made with the promise of a vibrant and exciting second life. Turns out, this retired old lady has future in the entertainment business ahead of her.

“It all just sort of fell into place, much like a lot of other things in my life,” explains Wilson. After spending over 37 years in the tile business in Los Angeles and working in entertainment on the side, his longtime dream of owning his own entertainment center was nearing reach. However, he never imagined it afloat until a boat-owning friend of Wilson’s mentioned the Hiyu’s failure to sell in an auction. Five weeks later, Jeff purchased the Hiyu for a mere $150,000, less than most new 30’ yachts. Since the sale, Jeff and his team have been hard at work re-vamping the Seattle ferry into a floating entertainment center complete with a new paint job, circus-style entertainment tent, and three bars–the Tiki Bar, the Pacific Northwest-themed Salish Room Bar, and a trailer bar on the main deck.

On The Hiyu

Left: The Hiyu arrives in Lake Union sporting fresh paint. Right: Acrobats, aerialists, and other performers will be hallmarks of the Hiyu‘s menagerie.


With a few additional minor renovations here and there, Wilson’s long-dreamt vision is slowly coming to life despite the unanticipated maritime concept of “boating time” (the phenomenon of permanently extended deadlines) that keeps mixing things up.

The Hiyu’s on-deck flagship show, Menagerie, should be one-of-a-kind. Think Cirque du Soleil with a burlesque twist. The goal is to create an immersive circus-inspired cabaret experience, where you can expect to walk at your leisure past performers of various skills and techniques in a show that combines aerialists, burlesque, music, and risqué comedy.

The floating venue is also available to rent for weddings, corporate events, outdoor movies, concerts, dances, fundraisers, banquets, swap meets, and art shows. Menagerie Inc. will also host a few special events throughout the year including New Year’s Eve, “Scary Ferry” Hollow’s Eve, Mardi Gras, and Pride. “There’s nothing on the lake like this,” Wilson boasts.

If you’re interested in reserving the new Hiyu, visit onthehiyu.com for additional information.

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