More details on the history (and the sinking) of the MT6

I learned more of the history of the MT6, which is sunk in Elliot Bay, from the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.

Rather than try and retell it’s life story I capture some quotes from that organizations monthly journal here: 

Formally the Tacoma, it was “a ferry that took trains across the Columbia River 100 years ago.”  “She was the reliable workhorse that the Northern Pacific Railway Company needed to complete its transcontinental service from Duluth, Minnesota, to Puget Sound.”  “The massive railroad ferry became an icon for [the town of] Kalama, her home port.”  “A product of the industrial revolution that crossed the Atlantic, Tacoma brought a mammoth representation of 19th century mechanical engineering to a fledging corner of North America.” 

“The Northern Pacific Railway Company contracted with Harlan and Hollingsworth Company of Wilmington, Delaware, to build an ‘Iron Steam Transfer Boat’ for the staggering price of $400,000.”  “The vessel was completed in the summer of 1883.”  At the time, she was, “the second largest ferry in the world.”  

“February 1884: The ferry package in labeled boxes, arrives in Portland, in 57,179 pieces.”
“October 1884: The ferry carries its first freight cars”

1903: “President Theodore Roosevelt’s tour of the west, which included… a whistle stop in Kalama on May 22, undoubtedly entailed ferrying the presidential train across the Columbia River on Tacoma.”  

“In 1908, after 24 years of service” supporting the booming rail transportation industry, “the iron transfer boat was no longer needed.  The railroad bridge across the Columbia River at Vancouver, WA, was completed… and the Tacoma made her last run on December 25th

“In 1909 she was [re]assigned to transport rock to build the North Jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River” 

“Milwaukee Railroad purchased the vessel in 1917 and towed her to Puget Sound, where she was stripped down, renamed Barge No. 6, and used to transport railroad cars across the Sound.”

“In Seattle’s Elliot Bay, on the morning of January 1st, 1950, the 6000 ton freighter Fairland was trying to avoid a tow of logs.  She collided with the Milwaukee Barge No. 6 (formerly Tacoma) that sank in 20 minutes.  Her crew of four were rescued by the tug Sandra Foss.  There were 19 railcars aboard her – of which 15 were loaded with lumber.  Six of these broke loose and floated ashore where they could be recovered.  They were lifted aboard another rail-barge by cranes from the Foss Company who had the salvage contract.”  

Credit: The Sea Chest.  Journal of the PSMHS.  Dec 2007


Multi-Beam Imaging of Elliot Bay

After the February 2001 earthquake in Seattle, NOAA and the USGS teamed up in a project to map the underwater geology of the Duwamish River delta (Elliot Bay, Seattle), the Puyallup River Delta (Commencement Bay, Tacoma) and the Nisqually River delta.  The multi-beam images they created are really interesting. 

The one I will attach with this entry is of Elliot Bay, but I modified the file a bit to highlight points of interest:

The dotted line across the image is the major fault line that runs under the bay and then up through downtown Seattle.  The sharp ridges you see on the west side of the dotted line are very pronounced faults – I have seen them with my own eyes on prior dives in this area.  But until this image was created I had never known where they connected on the other side of the bay.  Turns out they line up pretty well with Pike and Pine streets in downtown Seattle.  When the ‘big one’ happens, it is going to be devastating. 

Two of the circles on the north end of the image highlight some pretty big shipwrecks, both of which are in more than 300 feet of water.  Date of sinking, names of the ships, etc all unknown.  I’ve also circled a crater which looks very large.  It seems it was likely caused by a significant amount of ordinance – maybe during WWII.  I also circled in the NW corder of the bay what appears to be an unexplored wreck in shallow water.

The circles on the south end of the image are of three wrecks I have written about on this website, the MT6, the AJ Fuller & the Astorian.

(click to enlarge)

MT 6

Plans changed a bit for our dive on the AJ Fuller.  We had Coast Guard clearance to be diving in the area, and we were in contact with them through the vessel traffic system (VTS), but when we got out near the target site there was an 800 foot long container ship anchored right over our planned area of operation.  We sat and waited for an hour or so for the ship to move out of our way and into its berth at Todds Shipyard – but then in an updated radio communication with VTS we learned we would need to wait for the container ship to move out of the way, and then wait for another to come & go before we could “commence our operation.”

So we bailed on the AJ Fuller and moved from the East Channel entrance to the West Channel entrance for a dive on the M.T. No 6.  We don’t know a lot about the MT6, other than it was a train ferry converted to a barge and that it sunk on December 31st, 1949.  NOAA took a side scan of this one some years ago and the target location is visible on most NOAA maps of Elliot Bay.  It is also visible in the multi-beam image of Elliot Bay that I have posted on this website.

The depth of the wreck and our dive was 220ft.  We spent 25 minutes on the bottom, about 10 minutes getting up to our first gas switch and then 50 minutes in a stepped decompression to the surface.  Because of a tidal flow that occurs at depth on this wreck we brought scooters – and because of the depth and the time we would spend on the bottom we brought both 50% oxygen and pure oxygen for decompression gas.   

There was lots of life on the wreck, saw one ling cod that must have weighed 60 lbs.  We tied in to our drop line with a reel of cave line, and then ran a full loop around the wreck which turned out to be around 400ft (wreck is 150ft long by 50ft wide).  It’s a big wreck to see and by the end of our 25 minute dive we felt like we had just scratched the surface of it.