PORT ANGELES — The red and black flag that flies above the iconic MV Coho ferry turns 200 this year, and Black Ball Ferry Line will celebrate the bicentennial at the Port Angeles Maritime Festival this weekend.
The Black Ball banner — a black ball set against a red background — is the oldest U.S. nautical flag in use today, company officials said.
“I think everyone at Black Ball is just very proud to be part of such a longstanding tradition,” Black Ball Vice President of Marketing Ryan Malane said Friday.
The history of the Black Ball company will be exhibited in the Coho ferry terminal in Port Angeles as during the inaugural maritime festival Saturday and Sunday.
Port Angeles Maritime Festival events will be targeted toward the east side of the waterfront, centered on City Pier on Saturday and on the west side, in the Port Angeles Boat Haven on Sunday.
For more about the festival, which includes the return of the tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain, click on www.MaritimeFestival.org.
“We want to see it become a great success,” Malane said of the festival.
Black Ball became the first shipping company to offer scheduled service when a previous iteration of the flag was hoisted for the first time in 1818, according to a news release.
It is the last privately-owned American company to offer international ferry service.
Black Ball ships were used to ferry fortune-seekers from the Puget Sound to Alaska during the Gold Rush in 1897.
One of the most famous vessels to fly the Black Ball flag was the Art Deco-inspired MV Kalakala, which plied the Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca from 1935 to 1967.
Much of the Black Ball fleet was sold to the state in 1951, the same year that Bing Crosby and The Andrew Sisters recorded the catchy “Black Ball Ferry Line.”
Sea shanty singers will perform old Black Ball tunes at the maritime festival, Malane said.
The venerable MV Coho, Black Ball’s only remaining vessel, was launched by then-owner Robert Acheson in 1959. He ran the company until his death in 1963 when his wife, Lois, took over. Lois Acheson, an Oregon State University alumnus, bequeathed the company to the school’s foundation for 10 years upon her death in 2004.
In 2012, the Oregon State University Foundation sold the company to Black Ball’s executives.
“We’re doing one route here, but we’re doing it with a lot of respect and pride,” Black Ball President and Chief Operating Officer Ryan Burles said in a Friday interview.
“We have a great history in our own little way.”
The 341-foot-long, 1,000-passenger Coho ferry makes multiple sailings daily between Port Angeles and Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
Burles said the 200-year-old Black Ball flag represents the lineage of the company and remains “part of what we are.”
“It’s about reliability,” Burles said. “We pride ourselves in trying to be reliable and affordable and running a good operation.”
The Coho has carried more than 23 million passengers and 7 million vehicles in its 59-year history. It spends several weeks in annual dry dock in the late winter or early spring for cleaning and maintenance.
Last year, the Coho had 450,000 passenger sailings and 127,000 vehicle sailings.
“Our numbers have been very good,” Malane said.
Malane said the Coho will likely be in operation for many years — if not decades — to come.
“We have long-term leases on both sides of our route,” Malane said.
“We plan on being here for a very long time.”
For information on the Black Ball Ferry Line, go to www.cohoferry.com.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].