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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

31 January 2013

✪ The Lost Ship That Came Home ✪

CURACAO, Capt. Brooks.
Three original photos from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society© 

"One of the unusual stories I wrote while marine editor of Seattle's evening newspaper concerned the steamship CURACAO, known as the lost ship that came home. The CURACAO was wrecked at Warm Chuck, AK, 21 June 1913, while laden with 800 t. of coal and 750 t. of cannery supplies. She sank in 78' of water at low tide. The vessel, insured for $110,000 was abandoned to the underwriters. Sixty days later, the wreck was purchased by the Vancouver Dredging & Salvage Co. for $4,000.   
      Capt. Harry W. Crosby, a pioneer of the Seattle waterfront, had a major role in the unusual salvage feat. He furnished the scows and tugs used in the operation and was on the job long hours in a diving suit. 'We salvaged the cargo in the fall and returned the next June to continue the work of raising the vessel. It required two months to complete the job, working on three tides. The CURACAO was down one year and eight months', Crosby said.
      After the general cargo and coal were salvaged, a channel was dredged ahead of the ship for a distance of 110'. Then a passage was flushed underneath the keel. Slings were passed under the hull and a cofferdam constructed around No. 1 hold. Six hundred empty gasoline drums with a total lifting capacity of 270 t, were placed in No. 2 hold. Scows were moored over the sunken ship to aid in lifting the vessel.
      Using a special gear on the scows, 6.5" cables, and powerful pumps, the CURACAO was lifted and dragged forward into the newly-dredged channel.
      The Pacific Steamship Co, the former owner, purchased the CURACAO from the salvors for approximately $90,000 and after extensive overhaul and repairs, returned her to service. Capt. Crosby, known on the waterfront as Seattle's mariner-capitalist, had a one-third interest in this strange salvage operation, which made it possible for a "lost" ship to return to service.
      After 56 years under the US flag, the CURACAO was sold to Greek interests who operated a fleet of ships out of Shanghai and transferred to Greek registry. The vessel's last service under the US flag was for the Alaska Steamship Co., which operated her from Cordova to Kodiak and Cook Inlet as a passenger and freight carrier.
      The unusual salvage operation that returned the wrecked CURACAO to service was only one of the strange dramas of the sea in which she had a stellar role.
      Carl Strout, one of the veterans of Seattle's waterfront, was purser of the CURACAO, his last seagoing job, while she operated out of San Francisco to Mexico and Central America. Strout was on his way to his room when the ship was in Mexican waters on one of her voyages in this service when he was attacked by two alien sailors. Both were drunk and had decided to avenge some fancied wrong.
      'Trow heem to the sharks,' one of the sailors said, as they seized Strout. Capt. Fred W. Brooks, a sea roamer of the old school, who was master of the CURACAO, heard the commotion and came out of his room with a pistol in his hand. The two sailors were overpowered, placed in irons and turned over to the federal authorities when the ship arrived back in the US.
      In those days, the Mexican-Central American run was a difficult one. In each of the ports, the majordomos would come out to the ship in their bare feet, carrying swords. The ship officers would hardly get acquainted with them, when there would be a revolution or a political change and they would have to deal with new majordomos, immigration, and post office agents, multiplying their troubles.
      The CURACAO was painted white and looked like a large steam yacht. During her Mexican and Central American service, the vessel was owned by the Pacific Steamship Co. She carried general merchandise south and coffee north.
      Captain Brooks, the CURACAO's skipper, a colorful seafarer, was known from the Galapagos Islands, where he was shipwrecked, to Nome; from Liverpool to Buenos Aires, and from Seattle to Hong Kong and other big ports in the Orient. He formerly was master of the freighter STUART DOLLAR and remained with that vessel during her long idleness in Lake Union. I visited Capt. Brooks several times aboard the STUART DOLLAR and talked over old times in shipping with him." 
Above text from High Tide, The Big Stories of Seattle's Waterfront
R. H. "Skipper" Calkins, Marine Digest, 1952
In her later years, according to Jim Gibbs in Disaster Log of Ships, she operated strictly as a freighter to Alaska. In 1940, she was purchased by Greek interests, renamed HELLENIC SKIPPER; while bound for the Orient, mysteriously exploded and foundered 125-miles NW of Grays Harbor, WA, 10 July 1940. Her crew escaped.

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