Wreck of the Skagway

The last few months I’ve been working toward becoming a certified science diver for NOAA. Later this year I am planning to take part in what is expected to be the first of a number of NOAA missions to document shipwrecks located within the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary. We heard recently mission planning for that trip is being centered around documenting the remains of the shipwreck Skagway.

Quoting directly from NOAA’s OCNMS website, history on the Skagway is as follows:

“The steam schooner Skagway, originally named the Stanley Dollar, was built in Seattle in 1908. Designed for the coastal trade, she was steel hulled, 240 feet long and capable of carrying 1,500,000 board feet of lumber.”

“In 1925 she was sold to the Alaska Steamship Company and renamed Skagway. On December 16, 1929, en route from San Francisco to Seattle with a cargo of glycerin, alcohol and paint, a fire broke out in the hold. As the crew worked to extinguish the flames, Captain Strandquist took the ship close to shore to avoid a strong east wind that was fanning the fire. She ran aground on the rocks just west of Cape Flattery. The Coast Guard cutter Snohomish rescued the captain and crew, but the ship and her cargo were a total loss. Afterward the captain and crewmembers exchanged bitter accusations of incompetence, drunkenness and misconduct.”

History of the Ferry Boat Dawn

In 1946, 33 years after the year she was built, the ferry boat Dawn was scuttled in the dark and cold waters of Lake Washington. Her 94ft predecessor, the Cyrene had served the people of Seattle and the Eastside for more than 20 years, but in 1914 she was showing her age and was ready to be replaced.

Captain John L. Anderson, the Cyrene’s owner, had owned and operated boats on Lake Washington since the late 1800’s. Purchased in 1907, Anderson also owned the Lake Washington Ship Yard in Houghton (present day Kirkland). His vessels became the best known and most well used boats operating on the lake.

In 1913 Captain Anderson was traveling in Europe and saw boats that were different than what was currently running on Lake Washington. He was intrigued by their design and felt he could build a similar boat that was capable of increasing ferry traffic on the lake. So on his return that same year, Anderson built the Dawn to replace the Cyrene, and its design was based on memories of those boats he saw while traveling abroad.

The Dawn’s purpose was to ferry passengers from Leschi Park to Mercer Island, including both commuters and students. The fair was 25cents round trip with a commuter 10 trip ticket priced at $1.00 – a 20 trip ticket for school children also sold for a $1.00.

The Dawn was 55 feet long, able to carry 250 passengers and weighed 75 tons. Her steeple compound steam engine was a small but very powerful, and she was able to operate with a crew of just one or two. Streamlining her short length and broad beam was nearly impossible, so she was built with a square stern – which gave rise to a false story that she was a sawed off section of a larger boat. In truth, she was designed for economy and effectiveness, not beauty.

Her insides were described for the Mercer Island Reporter in 1961 by Virginia Ogden Elliot; “Inside the Dawn was divided… into three parts. The inside cabin for the women, children, and transient travelers; the outside and upper decks for the teenagers and the engine room for the men. The engine room, which was on the way to the cabin, had benches around both sides of the engine, and behind the boxed-in warm boiler.” She said, “These seats were the men’s property and the smoking section – no woman was bold enough to smoke on the boat in those days.” “Behind the hooded boiler in the warmest spot crowded the teenagers, all giggles, scuffling, and chewing gum.”

Frank Gilbert, one of her builders, and then later her pilot and skipper of 22 years, knew her better than anyone and felt she was one of the most reliable and seaworthy boats of its time. In 1957 he was quoted in the Seattle Times as saying, “The old Dawn is rightfully called ‘Queen of the Lake,’ because in rough weather when Captain Anderson’s other ferries have had to tie up, the Dawn has just kept chugging along, going about her business as if the lake were calm as glass. She’s a seaworthy old girl.”

Despite her seaworthiness, on Christmas Eve 1924 under a reported 80 mile an hour gale, the Dawn broke her mooring lines and sunk. She was raised, repaired and put back to work for another 14 years before she was retired 1938. Two years later in July of 1940 the I-90 Bridge was complete. Able to carry thousands of drivers across the water and saving them close to an hour of commute time, the bridge put the ferries of Lake Washington out of a job. The Dawn lived her last days above water docked at Rainier Beach before she partially sunk again. Worried she posed a hazard to the community, in 1946 the Seattle City Council contracted to have her towed out to the middle of the lake and sunk.

(click to enlarge)

More Information on the LCVP (Landing Craft)

I heard from the president of an Amphibious Attack Boat Group – a group of guys who use to be LCVP operators in WWII.

I wrote them some time ago about the LCVP we found in the lake, and asked if they had any info on it. I communicated that our LCVP was identified as PA 52-22.

They indicate the PA52 designation means the LCVP we have was once a part of a ship named Sumter. In doing further research the Sumter carried 36 landing craft all of the PA 52 designation. Ours was Landing Craft # 22 on that ship.

YMS Penetration

In the last three weeks we’ve had a number of dive teams on the YMS doing initial exploration. The wreck has now been penetrated in a number of areas, but so far no designation numbers or other identifying marks have been found.

The primary points of entry have been in two areas: the pilot house and the main cabin below the pilot house – with both areas offering further pentration opportunity once inside.

In the case of the pilot house, there is a small room aft that appears to have been used as sleeping quarters. The space is very tight, with various debris making exploration difficult.

In the case of the main cabin, there is an additional door forward which has not yet been breached, and a small opening with ladder that leads staight down into the belly of the ship. This lower deck beneath the main cabin has now been explored, both forward and aft. We had hoped that there would be a path that lead from these rooms below the main cabin back to the engine room, with an exit opportunity through the hole in the stern deck where the engines were removed. Unfortunatley this is not the case. The path forward leads to a deadend as would be expected this close to the bow, and the path backward appears to lead to a solid wall – possibly a firewall separating the engine room from lower sleeping quarters.

The lake visibility has been particularly bad the last three weeks, but the interior visibility of this wreck has been completely horrible. We have divers talking of not being able to see their own 18W HID lights, rust and other particle matter continously falling from the ceiling, errant wires hanging about, it is just generally a nightmare in there. 100% of those that have entered the room below the main cabin have exited via touch contact with the cave line they established on the way in. Very dangerous.

JaWS Diver Scott Boyd (www.boydski.com), who is known for taking some of the best underwater wreck photos ever captured in Lake Washington, was on the wreck this past Sunday as my dive partner, but we’re all going to have to wait until the visibility clears up before we get to see any of his photos.

I include a photo below to show established & expected penetration paths. ‘X’ marks a known deadend and ‘?’ marks paths yet to be explorted.

(click to enlarge photo)

Underwater Photos of YMS

We put two teams of divers on the ‘new’ YMS the last day of 2007. It is a fantastic wreck; truly one of the best in the lake.

We spent 25 minutes at depth and left feeling like there was a significant amount left of the wreck to explore. As mentioned before the engines, weapons, pilot house controls and various brass components look to have been removed prior to sinking, but otherwise this wreck is intact. Plus there is a signifanct amount of debris throughout.

The Pilot House still holds a knocked over filing cabinet, the bathroom is complete with head and cabinetry and there are various other artifacts inside cabin rooms, on the stern deck – including two large generators, and on the bow.

One thing we have not yet found is any designation numbers indicating which YMS we might have. Determining whether numbers can be located will be the focus of future dives.

Some images, taken from video shot by SCRET diver WJ, included below (click to enlarge):






More reports on this one to follow. We’ll dive it fairly actively over the next few months.


US Navy Minesweeper Discovered in Lake Washington

This past Sunday, in a joint effort between JaWS Marine and Innerspace Exploration, we located a previously undocumented Navy Minesweeper in Lake Washington. This ship is 130ft in length, 24ft wide and is sitting in 200ft of water off Sand Point/Magnuson Park.

The YMS designation stands for Yard class Mine Sweeper. These ships were used during WWII for near shore mine sweeping as means to prepare for amphibious based assaults. More detailed history on the YMS located here and here.

Dive and ROV operations have not yet begun on this ship, so we do not yet know which of the 481 YMS ships built during WWII we have located. Based on experience with the relatively well known YMS-359 also located in Lake Washington, as well as other submerged minesweepers, we’re hoping the white designation numbers will still be visible on the bow.

Included below are a few sonar images from our work on Sunday, as well as some YMS 3D modeling images courtesy of Infusion Studio’s 3D.

A few things to look for when comparing our sonar images to the model photos: the narrow, but tall pilot house, fenders on stern deck (these reflect very brightly in the sonar image), opening in hold where ‘spool’ use to sit, opening in hold at engine compartment (meaning engines were removed prior to sinking), forward mount for guns.

More on this one as the story unfolds; I hope to post underwater images here before the end of the year.






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


Additional Sonar Image of Hauler

Additional image of the Hauler as recorded by the sonar crew today; great detail in the shadow of this image showing roof line, windows and open bow. 

If you look closely at the top down view of the wreck you can see a rectangular opening in the mid ship. I dropped into this hole on the dive mentioned in the first post about the Hauler but I was focused toward the bow.  Divers on the wreck today discovered that entrance leads to a lower room back toward the stern complete with sink and mirror.