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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.

16 September 2015

❖ The Good Ship TACOMA ❖

S. S. TACOMA
Built Seattle 1913.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
We can't call her a "regular" to San Juan County, but the Tacoma was seen in our waters when she brought 1,000 excursionists* to see the sights of San Juan Island in the summer of 1933. Here is a little of her days of old, as she goes down in the logbook of SJC maritime history.
Highwater Mark of Steamboating
text by Roland Carey
The steamer Tacoma was the fastest vessel of her class ever to turn a wheel in the waters of Puget Sound. Designed especially to speed passenger service between Seattle and Tacoma, the steel, express steamer logged more than 1,200,000 miles over that route in 18 years, making four round trips a day, as regular as clock work.      
      The long, low racy-appearing vessel was built at the old Seattle Construction and Dry Dock Co (SCDDC) in 1913, the fifth in a series of steel steamers built at that yard for the Inland Navigation Co (INC). A subsidiary of the Puget Sound Navigation Co (PSNC), headed by Joshua Green, controlled the largest fleet of steamers on Puget Sound. The Tacoma was intended to be the largest, finest, and fastest vessel in the fleet. Her designers succeeded to such an extent superlatives described the Tacoma from the days she was launched, until she made her last trip on the route in 1930.
      The speed of the vessel was guaranteed by a provision in the builder's contract. The contract provided for a test run, and the steamer was to cruise at 20 knots before she could be accepted. It is something of a tribute to C.H. Hinericks, chief draftsman of the SCDDC, that the job could be taken in those days, under such conditions.
      On 3 May 1913, the day of the launching, a group of 500  people arrived on the Indianapolis from the city for which the Tacoma was named. 
      The vessel was so nearly complete that she already had steam up, as the launching party took their places. A steady pounding could be heard beneath the craft, as workmen cleared away the last blocks. At 3:30 PM, the "all clear" signal was given. The pounding stopped, and only two turns of the jackscrew set the steamer in motion. At that moment, young sponsor, Florence Lister swung the red, white, and blue beribboned bottle of champagne. "I christen thee Tacoma," she said as the bottle shattered upon the steel bow.
      A clear, deep blast of the Tacoma's own whistle signaled the start of her trip down the ways. The whistles of tugs and steamers in the bay then joined in a long salute. Aerial bombs were shot (please click read more)

    skyward from a sand spit nearby, while cameras clicked, and even motion pictures recorded the event. 
      The Tacoma had been built under a construction shed, and she was launched stern first. As she took to the water, her slim, clean lines, visible for the first time, brought exclamations of delight fro the crowd on shore. When the wind caught her pennants and lifted wisps of black smoke from her two funnels, it seemed that she was backing out under her own power. The engines had not been set in motion, however, and tugs quickly brought her into the pier.
      Built at a cost of c. $200,000, the Tacoma was 215-ft L, 32-ft B, and 14-ft D of hold. Her four cylinder, triple-expansion steam engine, fed by two boilers, was designed to develop 3,500 HP. 
      The official speed trial was scheduled for 18 May 1913, and a short preliminary run was made around Elliott Bay on 17 May, to limber up her engines. All was in readiness on the appointed day, and the Tacoma pulled out of Seattle harbor in the forenoon, bound for the US Government's measured course on the east side of Vashon Island. Capt. W.T. McNally, of the SCDDC, was commanding the steamer. 
      When the steamer arrived at the site of the measured course, the distance markers could not be discerned. It was then decided that the test run would be made to Tacoma and back. By timing the vessel over the known distances between Pt. Robinson and Brown's Point, as well as between Pt. Robinson and Alki Point, it would be possible to calculate her speed. On the return trip, it was discovered that the Tacoma had been averaging 20.15 nautical miles per hour.
      Following the time trial, the ship was formally accepted by the PSNC. There were gleeful predictions that she would do 22 knots when fully limbered up and she was boldly advertised as the fastest single-screw steamer of her class in the world.
      The Tacoma went into regular service between Seattle and Tacoma on 22 June 1913, Capt. James Burns in command. 
      The vessel pulled out of Tacoma at 7:00 AM, and on her very first trip she set a record that no other steamer ever equalled. Her time from Tacoma to Seattle, dock to dock, was one hour and 17 minutes. One hour and 23 minutes after the steamer left Tacoma, all of her 400 passengers were ashore in Seattle.
S. S. Tacoma 
Ship passenger, James A. Turner, 
of Seattle, on the hurricane deck.
Known for his photographs of ships,
scenery and trains of the Northwest.Self portrait..
Original photo from the S.P.H.S.©
      On her return trip, the vessel carried 775 passengers from Seattle to Tacoma, and all through the day she carried record breaking crowds. She continued to carry crowds for many years.  
      Among those who succeeded Capt. Burns as master of the Tacoma was Capt. Gus Soderman, who had left home in Sweden at age of 14, to go to sea on a windjammer. He was only 16 when he entered the US at Port Blakely, in 1882. 
      
Captain Everett B. Coffin (1865-1950)
Master on the Tacoma on her last regular run.

He came out of retirement several times to run 
his beloved Tacoma on summer excursions.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
Capt. Everett B. Coffin is usually named, long-time master of the Tacoma, but there were others who served on her from time to time. Probably the strictest disciplinarian of the lot was Capt. Howard Penfield. He usually wore spotless white gloves, and as he moved about the vessel, he would run his hand fondly along her polished brass hand rails. If so much as a speck of un-removed brass polish soiled his glove, the guilty workman was soon brought to task. It was this craving for perfection, that gave the Tacoma an esprit de corps found on few other vessels. If you had been on the Tacoma, you had served with the best.
   
S.S. INDIANAPOLIS at Alki Point, WA.
Note on the back of the photo says she came around the
Horn to Puget Sound in 1911 to run on the
Seattle-Tacoma run until September 1931.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
During the 20s, business between Seattle and Tacoma began to fall off. Both the Tacoma and the Indianapolis began to feel the effect of competition with the auto. Young people no longer gathered around the nickelodeon. Travelers between Seattle and Tacoma drove their own automobiles. The day of the electric inter-urban and crack express steamers had come to an end. The PSNC once more bowed to the inevitable on 15 December 1930, when they removed both the ships from the route."
The S.S. Tacoma 
broadside view  ten years before her
excursion to Friday Harbor, WA, 1933.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
* "The S.S. Tacoma of the PSNC fleet, was in port Sunday afternoon with c. 1,000 Seattle people aboard, who enjoyed the afternoon in Friday harbor. This was one of the largest excursion parties to visit this summer. Courtesy cars were furnished and as many as possible of the visitors were taken to points of interest about the Island."
Above paragraph from the Friday Harbor Journal, 1933.

S.S. Tacoma
Two years later, not ready for the boneyard,
the Tacoma packed on a crowd for an excursion
from Seattle to the Coupeville Water Festival
and canoe events at Penn's Cove, Whidbey Island,
dated August 1935.

Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©

For a future post we'll read about Capt. Everett B. Coffin and the wailing whistles of farewell.


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