"The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down." A. Whitney Brown.

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San Juan Archipelago, 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 700, 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.

15 December 2011


Story takes place July 1959.
Essay from author to web admin in 1997.
Published in Water Work, Hockett, L. W. (Trafford) 2005.
Smith Island Light Station, June 1949.
In 1858 the station was 200-ft from the cliff edge.
In 1949 sand & clay banks had crept to within 40-ft.
The two buildings at left center are the keeper's homes.
Further left are the power house & control buildings,
water tower, and wartime barracks.
Photograph by the US Coast Guard.
Original in the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society.©

"Smith Island is at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The lighthouse stone work, materials, cast-iron lantern- house, lens, and auxiliary equipment were shipped from the east coast around Cape Horn. The structure was built in 1857; the lamp lit 18 October 1858.
      After a century of wasting waves at the confluence of currents, a recorded Haida attack, and numerous earthquakes, the Coast Guard replaced the lighthouse with an unmanned airway-type light on a steel tower set farther east. The solid stone block house was about thirty-feet from the edge of the bluff at the time.
      Jim Gibbs, former editor of the Marine Digest and former Coast Guard lighthouse keeper had acquired the lighthouse and asked me to remove the lantern from the tower, set it up on his property on the bluff above Skunk Bay, several miles northwest of Point No Point.
      While raising the F.V. MIDWAY, in June 1959 near Partridge Bank, I had the tug AMAK take me to Smith Island to check it out. On 4 July 1959, we left Ballard with my 88-foot crane barge, the MV- 41. Jim Gibbs was aboard with Bob Butts and Ralph Mote.
      Arriving at the island we anchored in four-fathoms near the bight on the south side of the Island. That night a southeast blow caused us to weigh anchor and shift into deeper water; we returned inshore in the morning to work.
      Jim went ashore to look over the tower and lantern with me; he did not want the floor plate or railings. I radioed Bob Monroe to send a float plane for Jim. When the plane arrived in the afternoon he wished us well and departed.
      The brick light tower was approximately forty-feet high. On top was the ten-sided lantern housing from which the window glass, lens, and auxiliary equipment had been removed. It was made of cast iron segments bolted at their bottom to a circular cast iron floor, eight-feet in diameter and 1.8-inches thick. Inside, a square hatch opening was cast at the side of the floor with a hinged cover at the top of the spiral iron stairway.
       The lower part was made of solid panels with ventilators in the center of every other one. On the outside of the panel, at the ventilator openings, was an integrally cast box open on the bottom. Inside was a radial disk damper that could be adjusted from open to closed to accommodate the original oil lamp. On top of each intersection of the panels was a mullion that supported the conical top and framed the window glass. The top was made of ten triangular shaped castings that, when bolted together, formed a conical roof of approximately half-pitch that was fitted with a finial ventilator.
       Around the outside of the lantern was a brick walkway with eight forged-iron railing stanchions, equally spaced and mortared in. They supported three one-inch round iron railing rods that penetrated the stanchions. These rods were joined by tubes slipped over the ends and riveted. We had rigged an "A"-frame to hang over the side with a block and a manila line to lower the lantern parts. They had been assembled with 5/8-inch bolts, with pump rod threads and cast iron square-nuts on each end. Disassembling the structure was as easy as if it had been installed the previous month.
      Having lowered the thirty-one components of the lantern we cut the railing rods, dug the stanchions out of the brickwork, and threw them down. We dug the floor casting loose from the brickwork, pried it up, blocked it, then tied a line on a toggle through the hatch hole and prevailed upon the Coast Guard to yank it off of the tower with their Jeep.
      The back porch was of three granite steps, 7.5" x 11.5" x 48". The Coast Guard obligingly transported the pieces to the water's edge where we loaded them with my crane at high tide in about one-fathom of water and right in the kelp.
      Loaded, we moved to the ferry dock at Kingston. Arriving on 7 July 1959 at 0530, we off-loaded onto my crane truck then delivered the load to Jim's site above Skunk Bay. There we assembled the lantern of the floor plate on the ground.
      The granite back porch and steps were sandblasted of what appeared to be a yearly coat of hard, coast-guard-gray paint and are now on the patio in our back yard forming a solid and child-proof table.
      The lantern has been installed on a wood frame small scale lighthouse. It is named Skunk Bay Memorial Lighthouse, privately maintained, and showing a continuous, low-power, red light in the USCG Light List. The lens is part of the collection at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. The house and tower are rubble at the bottom of the bluff on the west side of Smith Island".
Business card from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society.
Below Text:
James A. Gibbs
West Coast Lighthouses
Superior Pub., 1974
Official since 1965.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
"Skunk Bay Lighthouse is the only official privately-owned lighthouse on Puget Sound. It is a navigational aid by accident. It was an oversight one night that caused the writer [Gibbs] to leave the light blinking in his 'retreat' lighthouse on the shores of Skunk Bay off Admiralty Inlet.
      The structure was built in 1959 and fitted with the lamphouse from the abandoned Smith Island Lighthouse. But the idea of it being a permanent light was only a lark. When the flashing lighting apparatus was accidentally left on one night calls poured into the Coast Guard headquarters from confused navigators and from air pilots at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Fearing nefarious schemes to lure vessels astray, high ranking officers appeared next day to reprimand the culprit. After inspecting the structure, they labeled it as good a lighthouse as any in the district, and gave strict orders to either keep it lit or to keep it off. The former course was followed, it became official in the Light List, and a red light has been displayed every night since from a lamphouse that dates back to 1858.
      The unit was sold to the Skunk Bay Lighthouse Association in 1971, a group of several owners."

The autobiography of Seattle's Captain Hockett's sixty years of boatbuilding, commercial hart hat diving, marine surveying and related endeavors.
This book is out of print.
Book search here

11 December 2011

✪ ✪ ✪ STUBBY OLD BEAVER ✪ ✪ ✪ The First Steamer to Ply North Pacific Waters

The BEAVER, London register No. 154 of the year 1835.
Location, date, and photographer unknown.
Original from the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©
" The first steamer in North Pacific coast waters rounded the Horn and came chugging into Puget Sound in December 1836 [175 years ago]. She was a sturdy, stubby, little craft named the BEAVER, only 101-feet with a beam of 20-feet and of only 100-tonnage.
      She was built on the Thames and from the day when her keel was laid until she was launched and set out for her remote destination she was an object of keen interest and speculation. When she was launched King William IV, and 150,000 persons of all classes were present and it was a gala event indeed. Almost nothing was known of steam navigation at that period and still less of the faraway coast of the North Pacific. It seemed an heroic and almost daredevil venture for so small a craft to set out for an almost unknown land on the other side of the world.
      She was, of course, a wood burner and, as sufficient fuel could not be carried for the voyage, her side wheels were not attached and she was fitted with sails and rigged as a brig under the command of one Captain Horne. The bark COLUMBIA sailed as a consort, but the BEAVER out-stripped her by nearly a month and arrived at the mouth of the Columbia, via the Hawaiian Islands 10-days from London.
      Her arrival at Fort Vancouver was announced with a broadside from her batteries, which raised echoes from the surrounding forest and brought everyone at the fort rushing to the waterside. Carpenters set to work putting her side wheels into place and soon her paddles were resounding down the river on a trial run.
      Almost at once the BEAVER went into the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, which then controlled virtually all of the Pacific Northwest country. She left outward bound, never to re-enter the Columbia. For years she ran up the coast as far as Sitka and in and out of virtually every bay, river, and inlet between Sitka and Fort Nisaqually. Men were kept busy chopping wood for fuel.
      Her paddle wheels were small and set far forward. She carried a crew of 30 men (one wonders how they found quarters in such a little craft), had an armament of four six-pounders, and was liberally supplied with small arms. Her decks were protected by boarding nettings to prevent access by the natives except by the gang planks. More than 30 natives were never allowed on board at one time unless they were accompanied by their wives and children as an evidence of their peaceful intentions.
      After paying for herself several times over, she was considered too small and too slow for the company's increasing business, so the OTTER, a propeller craft, was brought out in 1851; the BEAVER was used as a supplemental vessel, cruising up and down the coast, carrying men and supplies to the various posts and collecting gold and furs.
      In 1852 she was seized on a charge of violating United States revenue laws. When the watchman was ashore the BEAVER got up steam and made haste to get out of American waters. The trouble ended there. During the Indian War both the BEAVER and the OTTER were placed at the disposal of the American authorities.
      When the Hudson's  Bay Company's charter expired the BEAVER passed into the hands of the Imperial Hydrographic Office and for years was in that service, exploring coasts and sounding harbors. With the coming of more modern craft, she degenerated into a tramp, doing odd jobs up and down the coast.
      In 1874 she was refitted as a tugboat and sold to a private firm. She served as a tug for 14 years and then was given a license as a passenger boat and went into service on Burrard Inlet. Finally, after 53-years of faithful and valiant service, she went on the rocks at the entrance to Vancouver Harbour in a fog and there she lay for years, with rags of rigging swaying mute appeal for help. At long last in a storm the sturdy old BEAVER broke up and so ended her days. Her boiler is preserved in the Washington State Historical Museum in Tacoma".
Just Cogitating column
Text by C. T. Conover (1863-1961)
The Seattle Times, 29 March 1951

06 December 2011

❖ SALVAGE OF DIAMOND KNOT'S CARGO ❖❖ by R. H. "Skipper" Calkins

Moored Seattle, WA.
Undated, original photo #3061-9 
signed by Joe. D. Williamson
From the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society.©
"During the many years I covered the Seattle waterfront, I wrote numerous shipwreck and cargo-salvage stories but none equaled the dramatic recovery of much of the valuable cargo of the Alaska freighter DIAMOND KNOT which sank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, half a mile from the protected shores of Crescent Bay, 13 August 1947.
      It was men against the sea, victory over baffling handicaps in one of the most hazardous and difficult salvage operations in the annals of shipping.
      On her ill-fated voyage, the DIAMOND KNOT, a motorship owned by the US Maritime Commission, was en route from Bristol Bay, Alaska, to Seattle. The 5,525-ton freighter made her way through choppy waters of the Straits of Juan de Fuca with her valuable cargo of choice red, chum, king, and coho salmon. En route to sea from Seattle was the 10,681-ton freighter FENN VICTORY. This vessel had only 200-tons of freight and her bow was high in the water as she steamed for Cape Flattery and the open sea.
      In the early morning darkness, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca covered with a shroud of fog, the two ships collided at a point about three miles off Race Rocks.
      The bow of the FENN VICTORY cut into the DIAMOND KNOT a distance of more than 14-ft on the ship's starboard side between No. 1 and No. 2 holds. It was evident that the FENN VICTORY had struck a fatal blow. The decks of the DIAMOND KNOT were awash. The bow of the FENN VICTORY, riding high in the water, had become entangled with the heavy crosstree on the main mast and rigging of the DIAMOND KNOT and the two ships were held in a death grip as they drifted down the strait with the fast-ebbing tide. On the rescue tug SALVAGE CHIEFTAIN, which had answered the distress calls of the two ships, was burning equipment. It was taken aboard the DIAMOND KNOT and the two ships finally were cut free.
      The MATHILDA FOSS and FOSS 21, the first tugs to find the distressed ships in the early morning darkness, placed lines on the DIAMOND KNOT and began towing her, stern first, toward the protected waters of Crescent Bay, Olympic Peninsula. It was planned to beach the DIAMOND KNOT and save her precious cargo. However, water rushed into her No. 2 and No. 3 holds, posing a serious problem.
      There was further trouble ahead for the rescue tugs. The strongest currents in the Strait of Juan de Fuca are at the entrance to Crescent Bay and off Tongue Point, which forms a gateway to the east of the entrance. Of almost equal strength are the currents that run their course off Crescent Reef, guarding the entrance to the west.
      Caught in these vicious waters, the mortally wounded ship rolled over on her side and disappeared in 135 feet of water, only half a mile from the shores of Crescent Bay, at 8:55 a.m. On that 13th day of August 1947, the tired and anxious crews of the MATHILDA FOSS and FOSS 21 watched the sturdy freighter go to her death.
      The sinking of the DIAMOND KNOT resulted in the largest collision cargo loss in the waters of the Pacific Coast.
      News of the ship tragedy immediately was sent to the Seattle branch office of the Fireman's Fund Insurance Co, one of the principal underwriters, where machinery instantly was set in motion to indemnify those assureds who had sustained economic loss of staggering proportions. The initial Insurance Co. work led to the prompt payment of a claim to one cargo owner in an amount totaling $982,258.55. This payment was made jointly by the Fireman's Fund Insurance Co and the Sea Insurance Co, who with their reinsurers, share this business of the shipper. In quick succession, a second check was issued through the Seattle office of Fireman's Fund in the amount of $2,053,365.68. Four days later, a third principal assured made claim to Fireman's Fund and promptly was paid in the amount of $369,767.10. Under a separate cargo policy, Fireman's Fund provided indemnity to the owners of the fish boat RUTH B. which was lost from the deck of the DIAMOND KNOT. The claim, an amount exceeding $16,000 was paid for the RUTH B, and miscellaneous under-deck shipments. Under a second seaman's form of policy, Fireman's Fund also paid claims totaling $12,000 for the personal effects of the crew of the DIAMOND KNOT.
      Fireman's Fund then turned to the possibility of recovering and restoring the lost cargo of much-needed food to the world's critically depleted markets. For this task, a salvage team had to be selected.
      Walter L. Martignoni, of Pillsbury & Martignoni, was hired to direct salvage operations. Next assignment, as prime salvage contractors to supply equipment and personnel required for the operation, went to the Foss Launch & Tug Co.
      Extraordinary daring of 16 deep-sea divers under the direction of Walter A McCray of Seattle, stocky, dynamic, adventurer, who was in charge of all undersea work; and the unexcelled skill of Walter L. Martignoni of San Francisco, who contrived two giant siphon pipelines, which literally sucked canned salmon cargo from the holds of the DIAMOND KNOT, were responsible for this spectacular salvage feat.
      Martignoni's underwater vacuum cleaner brought up from a 135-ft depth where the DIAMOND KNOT was lying on her side, 5,744,496 cans of the 7,407,168-can cargo of the vessel, valued at $3,500,000. Total gross salvage recovery of salmon exceeded $2,100.000 in value.
      Walter McCray, a fearless, capable worker below the waters, is known throughout the entire Pacific Northwest for his daring, and there have been few underwater salvage undertakings in the history of maritime disasters in this area in which McCray's ability does not loom high. Fred Devine, a master diver of the Columbia River district, was appointed to assist McCray in the undersea operations.
      It was admitted that defeat or victory in the battle against the seas covering the DIAMOND KNOT and her valuable cargo was to be determined by these carefully selected captains of the salvage team.
      Martignoni decided that cutting out the ship's side and removing the cargo into barges by lifting with magnets was impractical, due to the small amount of tin in the cans. Removing the cargo by stevedoring methods also was impractical because of the vicious tidal conditions and the depth of the water at the scene, which would allow divers to work for only limited periods.
      There was only one method remaining for the salvage of the cargo--to build two 12-inch siphon pipelines which would suck the sought-after treasure of canned salmon from the holds of the DIAMOND KNOT. Siphons had been used in removing water, gravel, and small lumps of coal and coin from limited depths, but there was no record to show that such a method would raise one-pound cans of salmon from a water depth of 135-ft.
      The siphon plan required the creation of tremendous volumes of air to be forced into the siphons at great depth. To accomplish this, large air compressors were necessary to free the cans of salmon from their cartons. Powerful Navy fire-fighting jet pumps were obtained for this purpose. Two large caterpillar tractor-crane hoists, secured on a barge, were used to lower the cumbersome siphon pipelines into holes cut in the ship's side.
      McCray sent urgent calls to port cities from Canada to Mexico, bringing the most skillful divers to the scene*.
Lead diving boots once used
by Al Abrahamsen.
Artifact from the S.P.H.S.
Much equipment had to be provided, including decompression chambers, diver's suits, helmets, lead belts & shoes, and miles of air and communication lines.
      Finally, expert divers, including skilled burners from the Puget Sound Navy Yard, went over the side of the salvage-equipment barge and began the work of cutting the ship's skin with the latest development in underwater burning equipment. These tools consisted of a hollow carbon rod through which the diver released a mixture of oxygen passing through the carbon rod, created terrific heat, and burned away the ship's skin.
      The ingenious cargo-siphoning plan worked as divers below guided the ends of the pipelines within a few feet of the cartons containing the salmon. Out of the twisting pipes came partially disintegrated cartons and cans--golden one-pound containers of salmon--that glistened in the sun as they fell on the receiving barge.
Canned salmon salvage from the wreck of
the DIAMOND KNOT, 1947.
Original photo from the archives of
the Saltwater People Hist. Society©
      However, it was far from a one-sided battle. The crews on 12-hour shifts fought the fury of winds and rains that rushed in from the open sea. Lines were snapped and the siphons were bent and buckled by the force of the waves. Many times, divers were forced to the surface by vicious currents that strained on their lifelines and tore at their suits as they clung to the ship's skin. These barrel-chested men would be pulled up in haste, without time to decompress and were it not for the mechanical aid of decompression chambers, their fate would have been the dreaded afflictions resulting from the bends. There were serious cases of this disease before the operation was completed.
      When tide and current conditions were at their best, divers remained below to feed the siphons sucking their way into the cargo. Under favorable conditions, each siphon sucked an estimated 1,000 gallons of water per minute and deposited c. 800 cans of salmon on the receiving barge.
      More than 90% of the port side of the DIAMOND KNOT eventually was cut away and the two underwater vacuum cleaners were lowered from hold to hold to suck at the canned salmon cargo.
      The victorious salvage operation continued until 29 October when air and water leading into the siphon pipeline manifolds were shut off and the work brought to an end. Only 10,000 cases of canned salmon remained in inaccessible sections of the DIAMOND KNOT. One of the most dramatic salvage projects in the history of the maritime industry had been brought to a successful conclusion."
R.H. Calkins, High Tide. The Marine Digest Publishing Company, Inc. 1952.

*Al Abrahamsen (1909-1979) born and
raised at Doe Bay, Orcas Island, WA.,
was one of the divers chosen for the deep-sea work
on the DIAMOND KNOT. He was the last diver to man
the business end of a siphon hose below.
Al revisited the wreck site the following year to
attempt more salvage. He succeeded in laying claim
to the RUTH-B, renamed the SUSAN A for his wife,
and which he used for the next 15 years in his private
diving business, often with his brother Harry.
Above photo clip from the Seattle P-I, 30 October 1947.

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