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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.

05 December 2016

❖ MISFORTUNE IN THE MOSQUITO FLEET ❖ 1912

S. S. ALAMEDA
Alaska Steamship Co.
After she wrestled with the Colman Dock
and sunk the sternwheeler TELEGRAPH
25 April 1912, Seattle, WA.

Original photo by O.T. Frasch from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
"Throughout their history, the smaller steam vessels operating on the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest displayed a rare ability to engage in sometimes spectacular mishaps with little or no injury or loss of life to their patrons. The Northwest 'mosquito fleet' was the victim of a rash of such misfortunes in 1912, the Puget Sound Navigation Company's stern-wheel steamer TELEGRAPH becoming a casualty of one of the more alarming of these. 
      
Destruction left from the S. S. ALAMEDA
Colman Dock, Seattle, WA.

Photo by Evans P & A Shop, original from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
Click image to enlarge.

      The TELEGRAPH was almost cut in two and sunk at her Colman Dock berth in Seattle on the night of 25 April when a remarkable blunder in the engine room of the Alaska Steamship Co liner ALAMEDA sent the heavy iron steamship crashing through the dock, demolishing the tall clock tower and smashing the outer end of the dock to splinters. 
Colman Dock with the S.S. TELEGRAPH on the bottom
Original photo by O.T. Frasch from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      
Colman Dock splinters
Click to enlarge.
Photo by O.T. Frasch from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

      Capt. John Johnson, the regular master of the ALAMEDA was ashore at the time and Capt. John A. "Dynamite" O'Brien, acting as port pilot, was in charge. The vessel took on bunker oil at the Standard Oil Dock on the East Waterway, leaving at 9:45 PM and arriving off Pier 2 (now Pier 51) at 10:15. Capt. O'Brien planned to berth the steamer at the south slip and already had her moving under a dead slow bell toward that location when the man in charge on the dock shouted instructions to tie up on the north side. The ALAMEDA was then about 200 yards off the pier-head. The helm was put hard to starboard, but the vessel did not respond. Capt. O'Brien then rang for slow ahead and, as she began to swing, half speed astern and then full speed astern. Third Assistant Engineer Guy Van Winter was taking the signals from the bridge and relaying them verbally to Second Assistant Robert Bunton at the throttle. In some manner the last signal was misunderstood and the engine was set at full ahead rather than full astern. As he felt the powerful surge of the engines driving the steamer toward the busy passenger terminal, O'Brien shouted to the chief officer on the forecastle to get the anchors over. With the whistle cord tied down, the big ALAMEDA tore through the Colman Dock about 150-ft fro the outer end, emerging on the north side to smash into the TELEGRAPH amidships, driving the wooden stern-wheeler hard against the neighboring Grand Trunk Dock. Although the TELEGRAPH sank in less than 15 minutes, no lives were lost. John Frye, a fireman, was in the stern-wheeler's engine room working on a condensor when the bow of the ALAMEDA crashed through, grazing the spot where he was working. Water poured in like a flood, and although the engineer started the pumps, the TELEGRAPH was soon resting on the bottom in 40-ft of water. 
S.S. ALAMEDA lifeboat
 Standing by.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
Although three women were injured on the dock, and several persons were picked up from the water by the boats that were promptly lowered from the ALAMEDA, the entire affair transpired without loss of life. 
      The damage to the ALAMEDA was so slight that she sailed the next evening for Prince William Sound, only 12 hours behind schedule. The Colman Dock clock tower, a landmark on the Seattle waterfront, had rolled from the deck of the ALAMEDA and was found floating the next day in the harbor. It was taken in tow by the tug ATLAS and beached at West Seattle, the hands pointing to 10:23, apparently fixing the exact time of the accident. Maritime men were unanimous in their praise of the prompt action of Capt. O'Brien, particularly in regard to the quick lowering of the anchors, it having been found that the starboard anchor had caught and stopped the destructive course of the steamer after 125 fathoms of chain were out, undoubtedly preventing from continuing her rampage through the GT Dock.
      The recent loss of the White Star Liner TITANIC was still fresh in the public mind, and Capt. Howard Bullene, master of the steamer SANTA ANA used that tragedy as an example in commenting on Capt. O'Brien's action. 'If the navigator of the wrecked TITANIC had exhibited one half the presence of mind of Capt. O'Brien, the most frightful disaster in maritime history would have been averted. With the same promptness the TITANIC could have been turned bow-on to the ice berg when it was reported a quarter of a mile ahead, and her bulkheads would have saved her.'
      
S. S. TELEGRAPH
ON 200012
1903-1912
Blt by Portland Shipbuilding Co, Everett, WA.
She was placed in service between Everett and Seattle
along with the CITY OF EVERETT.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S©

      The TELEGRAPH had been thoroughly overhauled the previous year, including the installation of a new port engine, main steam pipe and crosshead, and on her trials in charge of Capt. Charles Brydsen had attained a speed of 20 miles an hour. The Puget Sound Navigation Co. turned her over to the underwriters following her sinking, asking damages of $55,000 from the Alaska Steamship Co. The US Commissioner conducting the hearing awarded damages of $45,000, the amount being reduced to $25,000 by the US Court of Appeals at San Francisco, that stated the market for stern-wheelers had suffered a slump since the TELEGRAPH was built and that to fix the value on a basis of depreciation from her original cost through wear was a wrong hypothesis. The steamer was subsequently raised and repaired by the underwriters and sold to the newly organized Independent Navigation Co., with Mitchell & Lonseth, Seattle shipwrights the principal owners. Her single-cylinder engines (28 1/2 x 72) were compounded to 15 1/2, 28 1/2 x 72 and she was renamed OLYMPIAN, being placed on a daily schedule between Seattle and Olympia via Vashon Island points and Tacoma. She was not successful, in this service and was subsequently transferred to the Columbia River."
Above text from: H. W. McCurdy's Marine History of the PNW. Editor, Newell, Gordon. Superior Publishing. Seattle. 1965.
     Gordon Newell in SOS North Pacific reminds us that the safety record, rather than the disaster toll "is the most remarkable thing about the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet." He writes:
      The little ships carried their millions of people to and from a hundred harbors along the shores of the inland sea. They carried them somewhat slower than the modern automobile, but they carried them safely. Puget Sound steamboats could probably boast of a lower death rate than any other transportation system in modern history, but this is an age of Progress and they are all gone now. Faber, Jim. Steamer's Wake.



      

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