Monday, December 15, 2008
NORTHWEST DIVING ADVENTURES
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND FLOUNDER POUNDERS
by Lyon McCandless 6/2/2006
The Bainbridge Island Historical Society has asked me to describe some of the activities of early skin divers on the Island, knowing that I was one of the organizers of the first diving club. Other members of the club were young adults and the two young Patrolmen who worked for the town. One objective of the club was to get a compressor capable of filling a SCUBA tank with good air, instead of going to Bremerton or Seattle, It soon became evident as the club grew, that adults did not have the staying power of the younger set. Adults were busy .with growing families, and tended to dive on vacations at warm water resorts. Young enthusiasts convinced us to lower the age limit to 18 and eventually to 14. The youths attended meetings very regularly, and that gives a clue why we settled on the club name:
Bainbridge Island Flounder Pounders
These stories cover a broad spectrum of diving activities that may be outside the usual diver’s experience. In general, they do not include stories of spear fishing, fish identification, specimen collecting, or sightseeing, although we did plenty of that, too.
MEMBERS OF THE FLOUNDER POUNDERS DIVING CLUB
1 A Swing to End All Swings
2 A Marvelous Anchor Lifting
3 The Wreck of the ANDALUSIA
4 A Tribute to the Battleship WEST VIRGINIA
5 Agate Beach
6 Diving on the Russian Freighter LAMUT
7 Flying Underwater
8 Going Over Bear Creek Falls
9 Beach Observations
10 Searching for Treasure
11 The End of the OLNEY
12 The Demise of the Ferryboat CHETZEMOKA
13 Anti-Submarine Warfare on Bainbridge Island
14 The Wreck of the GENERAL M. C. MEIGS
15 A Mystery under Pier 91
16 The Underwater Salvage Business
17 Cops and Robbers
18 Wonders of Cape Flattery
19 Hard Times
20 Mud in Lake Union
21 Raising the GRATITUDE
22 The Lure of Gold
1 A Swing to End All Swings
Shortly after moving to Bainbridge Island in 1961 some friends and I started a skin diving club. It was for adults, and consisted mostly of people who were SCUBA divers. However, we did some schnorkel diving too (I like the original German spelling), It was this activity that interested the younger people on the Island, primarily because they couldn’t afford SCUBA gear. They attended our open meetings regularly and asked good questions, so we lowered the age limit to 18, and later 14, and probably enjoyed diving all the more for including the youthful element.
I believe strongly that everyone interested in SCUBA diving in the Northwest should spend some months schnorkeling. It takes a while to get used to a rubber suit, the tunnel vision implicit with a face-mask, a lead weight belt, water currents, and breathing only through the mouth. A person can learn to be just at home with all their cold water gear as they are in a warm swimming pool in only a bathing suit. Knowing how to handle waves and currents and unusual conditions greatly improves a person’s survivability.
I let my imagination go wild when planning trips for the group. We did a lot of schnorkeling around Bainbridge, but we also dove in the straits of Juan de Fuca; we swam into mysterious sea caves; we inner-tubed down the white water of the Dosewallops River in the Olympics; we went over the falls at Bear Creek near Steven’s Pass; we observed trout and salmon in deep, icy mountain streams; and we surf boarded at Point Grenville on the Pacific coast. All of these activities added to everybodys’ self confidence in the water. Almost everybody, that is…
I remember well the time Bruce Gifford and I were SCUBA diving north of the old Country Club ferry landing. We’d been diving together for about a year, exploring nooks and crannies in rocky areas. We had investigated some interesting conglomerate cliffs and small caves, and gradually worked toward shallower water and the Country Club float. Looking for bottles on the bottom, I noticed that the light had suddenly dimmed and realized we were under the Country Club float. Then, all of a sudden there was a big cloud of mud, and Bruce was gone! I followed up to the surface not far away, and there was Bruce paddling for shore at high speed. When I get there his eyes were still wide open to the max and he was breathing very fast. He was in total panic! After some time his surprising story came out. He had never before realized that he was a claustrophobe. He couldn’t stand the idea of being trapped under anything. And now that the latent phobia had broken through, he couldn’t stand being underwater! Bruce had been a capable and enthusiastic explorer, but he sold his gear and never dived again.
The Flounder Pounders also spear-fished while drifting with the currents through Agate Pass. To make things more interesting at Agate Pass, I used to drop a long neoprene line down seventy feet from the bridge railing. At high tide we could go way up the bank and make a giant swing in a swooping 150 foot arc, and drop off into the icy water. It was great fun, and it was always difficult to announce the last turn, and take down the rope.
Years went by and we all grew up a little. The kids started doing things on their own. I heard that they had installed their own rope on the bridge, and had left it there permanently. I thought that this was not such a good idea, but didn’t object. However, I wanted to see the setup, so the next year, when Ron Laes invited me to try out the swing I was glad to accept. Ron had become an excellent diver.(He now works in Hawaii full time as a jeweler and has a fantasy life underwater in his off hours.) Ron had hung an old manila line from the bridge further out from shore. The takeoff was not from shore, but from the top of a concrete pier just under the bridge, about fifty feet over the water. We walked out on the bridge in our rubber suits, trying to be inconspicuous, and climbed down to the jumping point. Ron jumped into the air and dropped straight down with a yell and made several giant swoops to slow down before dropping off and swimming ashore. When my turn came I grabbed the rope, stepped off, and went not in a swing, but straight down, crashing into the water at full speed, flat on my face in a semi stretched-out position. Dazed, sinking down through all the foam, I really wished that I had back some of the air that had been knocked out of me and also the buoyancy that went with it. With great effort I kicked and clawed my way to the surface, only to hear Ron yell from the beach, “Why did you let go?” I couldn’t talk, but in response I held up the five feet of old rope that I still clutched somewhat desperately in my hands. I signaled that I needed help and Ron obligingly swam out and towed me to shore.
My face and my chest really stung, and my neck hurt like after football practice. I thanked God for giving me a strong neck, thanked Ron for pulling me out, and apologized for breaking his rotten rope. We figured that there can, indeed, be too much of a good thing, and it was probably illegal anyway. I didn’t actually jump off the bridge as some people say, but I survived a fall almost as high, and learned another lesson or two in the process.
2 The Marvelous Anchor Lifting
(Published in the Bainbridge Review and Northwest Diver)
Agate Passage is the steep-banked, narrow channel that separates Bainbridge Island from the Kitsap Peninsula. Tidal currents in the pass are strong, making the navigational buoys lean far over with a rippling wake. SCUBA divers who search for unique specimens for the Poulsbo Marine Science Center are attracted to Agate Passage because rocky areas with good currents spawn other-worldly gardens where the flowers are really animals. A moderate current gives the SCUBA diver an effortless sight-seeing tour over drifts of shell and fields of giant whale barnacles. He goes with the flow, up and over or around huge glacially transported boulders that the geologists call ‘erratics’. Almost every car-sized boulder is the vantage point for a giant sculpin or ling cod lying on top, hidden in its natural camouflage waiting for something edible to pass by.
The usual Agate Pasage dive starts at one end and ends an hour later a mile downstream. We always use a float with the international ‘Diver Down’ flag attached. I like to tie a lightweight grapnel (a small anchor with four or five flukes) on the float line so I can dig it into the gravel bottom when I want to stop for a while.
In 1973 I was enjoying the beautiful carpet of white sea anemones between boulders when I noticed an unnatural pattern in the gravel, a six inch long sort of question mark. With a quick flip of the grapnel I stopped drifting and started to dig around the strange mark. As I moved sand and gravel away the object grew into a spade shaped piece of iron. It resisted any attempt to lift it. The reason was clear after several minutes of digging.
It was the tip of a fluke of a large Navy-type anchor. The rest of the anchor lay hidden beneath the sand. I cleared enough sand and gravel to be able to estimate its size and weight: about five feet long and 500 plus pounds. This was a real find! So I re-anchored the grapnel firmly and made my way to the surface, forty feet overhead. I took some bearings at the surface so that I could come back to the same location later. One hundred yards away the bridge was a good reference. Satisfied, I retrieved my grapnel and buoy and excitedly told my diving buddy about the find. We had become separated when I stopped so suddenly.
At the next meeting of our diving club, the Bainbridge Flounder Pounders, my proposal to recover the anchor as a club project was met with enthusiasm. It would prove to be an interesting and educational dive, and a whole lot of fun.
We easily rounded up three used 55-gallon drums, and club member Bob Stone welded up a clamp that could hold the three drums together. A beautiful sun greeted us on the momentous day selected for its gentle outgoing tide change. A truckload of gear had to be taken down the steep trail to the shore under the bridge. As the incoming tide slackened I swam out to my memorized site, dove down and found the anchor, and tied a marker buoy to it. By this time the other divers had clamped the drums together. Swimming the three drums out to the buoy had to be done quickly to take advantage of the short slack period. But our team of eight strong teenagers and young adults rose to the challenge and pushed and pulled the unwieldy mass into position.
Sinking the drums was a little tricky since we didn’t want them to come down any distance from the anchor. As the drums filled with water we pulled on the line to the anchor, and maneuvered the three-drum assembly into position right beside the anchor. It took only a moment to chain the drums to the anchor stock. As this was being done another diver plugged up the top holes, and I began blowing air into the bottom holes of the drums, using a spare SCUBA tank with a short hose. It didn’t take long for the assembly to rise up to a vertical position. My job was to go from tank to tank with the air hose, maintaining an even air distribution and balance.
Like clockwork, everything went just as planned. The first thrill was to see the float assembly rise into position over the anchor. Visibility was really good because the current had started to run a little, and any disturbed sand and mud was neatly swept away. The next thrill was seeing the anchor stock come to the vertical. And best of all, to see the whole assembly start to rise majestically like a great stratosphere balloon, moving faster and faster each second as the air inside the drums expanded. The openings in the bottom of the drums were now jetting rusty water like a rocket. And we all moved back in a cheering, arm-waving circle. There was a chance something might break, and we had all agreed that we should not be under the anchor as it rose.
In a storm of bursting bubbles the float assembly beat us to the surface, but not by much. I wonder what residents along the shore thought when a bunch of yelling, cheering, whooping divers exploded out of the water. What a moment!
We still had some serious work to do: pushing the assembly across current toward shore. The current was taking us toward the main part of Puget Sound, and it would be embarrassing to continue that course. But by pushing just a little toward shore we hoped to get into the current that rounded the Suquamish headland. This proved fairly easy and allowed plenty of relaxing surface time for singing and telling each other what a wonderful day it had been. Rounding Suquamish head we were about 30 or 40 yards from our destination: the concrete boat-launching ramp where a friend was waiting with his tow truck, an easy swim. So we hooked up to the truck’s hoist and gave the anchor its first look at sunshine in thirty or forty years. The local crowd was duly impressed and full of questions. We could only guess that the anchor had been lost during the construction of the Agate Pass bridge, probably in 1949 or 1950. Later a Bainbridge historian suggested that it might have been used to anchor the anti-submarine net which had been in Agate Passage during the war.
The anchor was deposited in Hawley in the front yard of Stan Berg, one of the key workers in the salvage operation. It sat there for several years while the Flounder Pounders thought about what to do with it. Then Stan’s brother Carl Berg, vice-president of the American Marine Bank, decided that the anchor fit in with the bank’s marine theme. Carl offered a place of honor outside the lower level door of the bank and the club was happy to donate the bit of Island history. Few people realize that the important history behind the anchor is the story of how an enthusiastic bunch of youngsters worked as a team to achieve a difficult and unusual goal.
3 The Wreck of the ANDALUSIA
The Panamanian freighter ANDALUSIA was outbound in the Strait of Juan de Fuca one afternoon in 1949 with a heavy load of 5,000,000 feet of British Columbian lumber. When an uncontrollable fire broke out below decks the captain decided to run her aground on the nearest shore. Unfortunately, her deep draft and local topography conspired against her, and her stem struck a very solid rock reef one half mile from the beach. She stuck fast and settled in fifty feet of water.
Much of her above-water superstructure was removed by the Army Corps of Engineers. What remained was a hazard to navigation, and was blasted to provide clearance down to about thirty feet. The shallow wreck became a favorite destination for fishermen launching their boats from the Clear Creek resort. That is where Ron Taggart and I began a pleasant cruise in a rented kicker boat on a sunny day in the early seventies. Conditions were ideal.
A big kelp bed clearly announced the location of the wreck about twenty-five feet below. We anchored right in the middle. To a Bainbridge diver, the clear water of the outer strait is a heavenly treat. Hundreds of marine species enjoy the natural health drink delivered by the north Pacific: beautiful blue, clear, cold water full of nutrients and spiced with extra oxygen added by nearby breakers. In the outer straits every species seems to be a prize winner: the biggest anemones, starfish, octopus, mussels and sea-cucumbers; the fastest fish; the most colorful coral and sponge; the ugliest (and most friendly) wolf eels.
The forest of bull kelp fractured the strong sunlight into many shifting rays, highlighting the remains of the superstructure. It could have been an ugly jumble of broken steel plates. Instead, it was an Dali-esque pallet of many colors. It was a zoological garden cared for by schools of ever-moving fish weaving in and out of the forest of kelp risers, constantly inspecting every nook and cranny.
Ron and I explored, moving slowly, reluctant to leave any part of the garden. Scanning the environment continually in all directions as a good diver must, we detected a serious hazard on the main deck. It was crowded with lashed-down stacks of lumber about 12 feet high. Some of the water-logged planks were scattered about, but presented no real obstacle. That is, until we noticed that some stacks were swaying with the current! The tie-downs had finally yielded, and would soon free the boards to go in any direction.
In the forward section of the ship I found a hole leading to a short companionway. I went in about ten feet moving very carefully so as to not stir up the silt that covered everything in the quiet water inside. Going through a bulkhead I was amazed to find a small machine shop dimly illuminated by sunlight shining through a hole in the far wall. My jaw would have dropped if it hadn’t been clamped onto my mouthpiece. Here was an almost normal room. A peaceful scene amongst the chaotic jumble outside. There was a drill press and a six foot lathe against a wall. Both were still connected by belt drives to the pulleys of an overhead drive shaft. I touched the belt cautiously, and it did not crumble as I half expected. The leather must have been well tanned. The lathe was set up with a metal cutting bit in the tool post, and had a three-jawed chuck, but no work in progress. A single, unshaded light bulb on a cord hung down in front of the lathe. I looked closely, and sure enough, there was water inside the clear bulb! I would have loved to have that lathe in by hobby shop. It was not to be. But I found a more portable prize when I looked at the wall across from the lathe.
The wall supported a rack of rusted tools and raw stock. There were plain cylindrical billets of various kinds of metal to be used when remaking broken ship parts on the lathe. I was attracted to one billet with a familiar green patina. Picking it up, I saw immediately that it was brass or bronze. The underside shined like gold where it had been protected from corrosion by the ever-present anaerobic mud. I had to stir up a lot of mud getting the foot long, four inch diameter billet out because it weighed about 25 pounds.
Ron and I were used to diving alone, so I was not surprised when I didn’t see him as I emerged from the companionway. Since I was getting low on air, I decided to surface with my prize, and inflated my ‘Mae West’ life vest for added flotation. (We hadn’t graduated to the modern buoyancy compensator vest at the time.) The added flotation wasn’t quite enough to give positive buoyancy, but I had no trouble swimming to the surface with the heavy weight. There in the sunshine the green and gold billet looked prettier than ever.
Getting to the boat was quite a challenge. Normally, a 100 yard swim would be no problem. But swimming on my back with the prize on my stomach put the Mae West on top, making it useless, so my head would go under water. It was best to schnorkel clutching the billet to my stomach. But this way, only the tip of my schnorkel was above the surface, and only intermittently, too. I swallowed a lot of water rather than breathe it in. Of course, if I had really been in trouble I could have dropped either the billet or my weight belt, or both. But I didn’t want to loose either one. It turned into a mental exercise. How close can you come to drowning and not actually drown? Every few minutes I had to really exert myself in order to porpoise up and see if I was still on course. Time turned into molasses. An inner conflict raged between the naïve part of my mind that said “You can do it.” and the cynical part that said “You are not making any progress.” Ages passed before I finally reached the boat.
Getting the heavy slug into the boat seemed impossible. To get my head out of the water I had to tread water like crazy, and when I raised the billet up my head went under. I finally got one hand on a gunwale while holding the unwieldy billet to my chest with the other. In this position I could rest for a while and maybe wait for Ron. But Ron’s air always lasted twenty minutes longer than mine, so rather than wait, I tried and finally was able to muscle the prize up and over the gunwale with a great sigh of relief.
The billet was a perfect artifact of the dive. The deep green corrosion was hard as enamel, and covered one half of the billet. There was a narrow, dark red stripe between the green and the underside gold. And the gold had a shiny crystalline finish due to the selective leaching of the tin in the bronze in an anaerobic environment. Ron was very impressed.
4 A Tribute to The Battleship USS WEST VIRGINIA (BB-48)
A battleship in Eagle Harbor seems highly unlikely today. Yet for a few months in the late 1960s the WEST VIRGINIA was tied up at the Washington state ferry maintenance yard in Winslow, Bainbridge Island. The famous vessel certainly made a big impression on the natives of our island. She had been prominent in much of the action in the Pacific during the later phases of WW II. Even blinded and de-fanged as she was by the mothballing process, she still dominated everything in the harbor
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the WEST VIRGINIA was moored in Pearl Harbor with 40 feet of water beneath her keel. Her crew was engaged in routine peacetime duties, not expecting to be one of the prime targets of a surprise attack. Japanese planes, flying from a six-carrier task force, commenced their well-planned attack just before 0800 hours local time. The WEST VIRGINIA took seven 18-inch aircraft torpedoes in her port side and two hits by armor-piercing bombs. Severely damaged and aflame, the WEST VIRGINIA settled to the harbor bottom on an even keel. Surprisingly, she was re-floated and departed Pearl Harbor for a complete rebuilding at the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton. Subsequently she engaged in extensive actions at sea and at Leyte, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The WEST VIRGINIA was decommissioned on January 7, 1947 and placed in reserve, as part of the Pacific Reserve Fleet.. In 1959, she was sold for scrap and later was moved out of the busy Bremerton port. And for a while, the was tied up Eagle Harbor. Too bad that we could not have kept her here as a museum, but we were not a city then.
The WEST VIRGINIA was guarded intermittently, but not enough to keep local pirates from sneaking aboard under cover of darkness and hoisting a skull and crossbones up her topmast. It was probably their way of acknowledging her superiority. I also wanted to experience this magnificent giant somehow. So one day I donned SCUBA gear and swam over to the bow quietly and actually touched her. Sinking down slowly I left behind the possibility of detection and interference. Nobody would see me again for an hour.
I drifted down to her bottom, 30 feet bellow, just five feet from the mud. The straight, vertical stem was rounded, not sharp, but looked strong enough to cut through many enemy ships. A few barnacles decorated the bulb on the bottom of the stem. The two-foot diameter bulb was unlike the huge protuberances of most modern ships. Turning over, I started down the keel slowly, swimming on my back, looking up at the keel, scanning with my flashlight. My primal instincts sent a shiver down the length of my own keel as a reminder of the many tons of metal hanging above me. As the ship bulged out to its full 94 foot beam all light from the surface disappeared. A good underwater flashlight was essential for keeping on course. Time had no meaning in the black, silent world.. No protuberances, no vents, no heat exchangers were visible at any point in the entire 624 foot length of the keel. It seemed an eternity, and I wondered if my air would hold out. But a diver on his own in the dark learns to follow the plan, to stay on course…..or suffer the consequences.
At last the steel sky overhead started to change character as the flat bottom began to re-shape itself into a proper stern. A huge rudder was flanked by two drive struts on each side. I was disappointed to find bare propeller shafts protruding from the struts. The propellers had been removed to facilitate towing.
All in all, it was a dive like no other, and an awesome experience
5 Agate Beach
The Flounder Pounders, the original Bainbridge Island diving club, often dove at Agate Beach on the straits of Juan De Fuca. Agate Beach is a dozen miles past Port Angeles, just beyond Crescent Beach and an abandoned coastal defense fort that is now Salt Creek State Park. Agate Beach and two miles of shoreline was owned by a kindly old fellow that wanted to keep it open to the public forever. We camped at Agate Beach many times.
A hundred species of marine fish and invertebrates inhabit the rocky point just east of Agate beach. A shelf with crevices is dry at low tide, presenting teeming tide pools. An underwater drop off of fifteen feet leads down to a rock-strewn slope and kelp forest. It used to have many many long-spined purple sea urchins. Commercial harvesters were thrilled to find this bonanza of delicacies so favored in the orient.
One fascinating feature is a water-level cave in the cliff at Agate Beach. It is at the end of a crevice in the shelf. When a wave runs up the crevice into the cave, the cave spouts back quite vigorously at all tides above medium, even with moderate waves. The spout lasts an appreciable time, and goes out twenty feet or so. At the edge of the shelf drop-off, the crevice is about eight feet wide and it narrows to about three feet when it goes into the cliff. At the cliff the water is 6 or 8 feet deep. You can stand just outside and see a wave go into the cave, and four or five seconds later, hear a distant BOOM as it hits the end.
The elderly owner liked to watch us dive. He said that the only person who had ever swum into the cave was an Indian, and he had come out crazy…..So, of course, we couldn’t wait to schnorkel in.. After a short way the cave opens up to a room about 20 feet in diameter with a domed ceiling six feet above the water, and a nice pebble beach at the end. Fun to sit there in the dim light coming up through the water and see the waves coming in, maybe almost scraping the ceiling of the entrance. At high tides it can make your ears pop!
On one memorable weekend, several families were enjoying a beautiful day at Agate Beach exploring, looking for agates and diving. In our wetsuits. Brian Waterman and I tried enthusiastically to describe to the landlubbers the rich life lining the sides of the channel leading to the cave in the cliff. On shore Jim Billingsley, who had recently moved to Seattle from central Texas, was utterly fascinated. He really wanted to see for himself. We explained that the water was too cold for swimming without a rubber suit. But Jim was a real sport, and felt that a suit of woolen long johns would be enough protection. With a borrowed mask Jim jumped four feet down into the channel to the cheers of the other picnickers. In seconds Jim came up with eyes bulging and mouth wide open making funny Ugh Ugh Ugh noises. He was pawing the water ineffectively, making a big splash. Hurriedly, we pulled him to the side, fearing a possible heart attack. Friends ashore quickly pulled him out onto dry land. Our concern abated somewhat when he started to breathe again, very fast at first. After a few minutes Jim was able to breathe regularly and appeared to be recovered. He explained, “Criminee that’s cold! I just couldn’t breathe.”
A little east of the cave crevice there is another smaller, underwater crevice in the shelf, wide on the bottom, but very narrow on top. There is only one place where the top opening is wide enough to schnorkel through, and it is hidden by the plentiful sea grass. I used to have fun with the kids at high tide challenging them to follow me. I’d dive down eight feet or so and disappear vertically into the grass. Then I would swim out 25 feet to the face of the drop-off and come up, well away from the entrance. It’s best to try it first the other direction, of course, but some of the young Flounder Pounders had skill enough and the nerve to follow me. You have to know exactly where to go.
As always in the Northwest, tides are important. At Agate Beach incoming tidal currents try to sweep you around the point between Agate and Crescent beaches. There is a narrow, funnel-shaped channel between some rocks of the point. If you schnorkel in the vicinity of the broad western end in mild currents, you will be sucked in, and will pick up speed as you go east until finally you are spit out through the narrow exit. The currents are strong around the point, too, so there is no hope of swimming back. It is a long walk back to Agate Beach on shore carrying all your SCUBA gear and a weight belt.
The water at both Agate Beach and Salt Creek Park seems unusually clear and healthy. The abundance of many kinds of large marine animals is awesome. And the bright, almost iridescent colors of plants and invertebrates is a memory to treasure on gloomier days.
6 The Wreck of the Russian Freighter LAMUT
James Gibbs, a noted author, editor and marine historian was of great assistance in pinpointing sunken shipwrecks. His extensive research stripped away many misleading myths and provided me with good landmarks and bearings. Jim was a world-class expert in the history of ships that had met with disaster in the Northwest and the precise circumstances of their tragic demise. Strangely, he was uninterested in the current condition of the corpses. But he helped me locate several ships lost in the infamous “Pacific Graveyard”, ( the title of one of his books.) He pointed out that the wreck of the LAMUT was not where a popular wreck book said it was, and gave me the real location.
In 1946 the Vladivostok-bound Russian freighter LAMUT had a serious fire in stormy weather some distance off the coast near La Push, Washington. In desperation, the captain turned toward shore, hoping to find the mouth of the Quillayute river. Unfortunately, the land that finally emerged from the mist and rain was Teahwhit head, a jumble of rock cliffs and islands. To the captain, an opening between two walls of rock appeared to be a channel to safety, but it was not so. Once in the false channel, the LAMUT ran head-on into another rock wall and suffered severe damage to its hull. Water flooded into the hold causing the ship to heel over on its port beam. The Russians were able to scramble ashore to a rock ledge on the cliff face except for one female crew member who died when she was tossed into the sea as the crew attempted to launch a lifeboat. Responding to an S.O.S., Coast Guard rescuers hacked a trail two miles to the cliff top and lowered a line made of shoelaces. The Russians attached a heavier line which was used to bring the surviving crew to safety. The LAMUT was a total loss.
Photo by Lyon McCandless
The tip of the arrow in the photograph above shows the rocky entrance through which the desperate captain hoped to get to a soft beach. Unfortunately he ran straight into the head wall of the solid rock box which soon became the LAMUT’s coffin.
On a beautiful day in the nineteen seventies, Ron Taggart and I rented a kicker boat at LaPush and headed south for Teahwhit head. We knew exactly where to go because we had seen aerial Coast Guard photos of the sinking ship trapped in its dead-end channel, and I had scouted the site by air. We were now happily living every wreck diver’s favorite dream: a virgin wreck that no other divers had ever visited!
As we entered the unlucky channel we were enveloped by a sense of foreboding. We soon realized that the beautiful ocean water had lost its spirit. It had turned brown. Not the muddy brown of a river delta, but a dismal coffee brown. When we dropped the grapnel anchor it was obvious. Just two feet down the anchor disappeared from view. The only good news was that the anchor landed on a solid bottom fifteen feet down. I jumped in to ‘set the hook’ with an easy dive to fifteen feet. Lifting the mouthpiece of my ‘Mae west’ style buoyancy compensator, I released air to get rid of my positive buoyancy. I watched the boat disappear as I descended into darkness expecting to feel the ship at any moment. But there was no bottom and no light from the surface. Bringing my luminous depth gage up close to check, I received a jolt. I was fifty feet down and dropping fast! I quickly added some air to the buoyancy compensator to halt my descent. Obviously, I was in some kind of hole in the wreck, and in serious danger of drifting sideways under some totally unknown part of the wreck. So, moving as little as possible, I added buoyancy and followed my bubbles to the surface.
It was a miserable dive. After my mistake we followed the anchor line down with lights. At the bottom, even with lights the visibility was only four feet. We gradually explored and memorized the wreck in an area no more than 40 feet from the anchor. The superstructure where we first landed had a brass railing, now in many pieces. It was brittle as a dried stick due to the corrosion of the zinc by salt water. Ron found a corroded steel portlight still mounted in a small section of crumbly plywood wall. From Coast Guard aerial photographs we later determined that it had been part of a small radio shack mounted aft of the pilot house. It was a jury-rigged addition to the ship, made in wartime with cheap materials.
Ron made a wonderful discovery lying on the bottom near the stern. It was a taffrail log designed to be mounted on the after railing when needed by the navigator. A beautiful little bronze device, it had held a mechanism to count the number of revolutions of the log line clipped to a coupling on its back. The log line trailed the ship some distance and had a spinner on the end. The navigator could determine the ship’s speed by counting the revolutions over a given time. The counter mechanism was now a puddle of gray flakes, but the bronze housing was uncorroded except for a rich sea-green patina.
A deck cargo of copper rods caught my attention because of their color. Since copper was then at an all-time high price, I brought up as many of the eight foot rods as I could until my air ran out. It was several hundred dollars worth, and I left another 100 pounds on the top deck of the freighter. Both Ron and I welcomed the sunshine and were glad when our air tanks ran low and brought an end to the ordeal.
It had been a dive into a nightmare. There are undoubtedly many more interesting things to discover on that wreck, but not by us. We guessed that the horrible coffee-colored murk was caused by the constant pulverizing of spruce and cedar logs in the dead-end channel. The beach in that area is littered with hundreds of tree trunks and other wooden debris. In that false channel the logs constantly grind against the rough cliffs, keeping company with the ghosts of the Russian freighter and her lost woman crewperson.
7 Flying Underwater
A “sea-sled ” is a low-tech device used to carry a SCUBA diver underwater over a moderate distance much faster than he can propel himself. When searching a large area, the sea-sled is towed on the end of a line attached to a sturdy surface boat. The length of the line must be at least three times the maximum depth to be reached. The towing boat sets the search pattern. The diver controls the cruising depth and has only very limited lateral control. One more very important control the diver has is a quick release for the towline. This is operated in case of trouble, or when an object of interest is spotted and the diver decides to stop.
Notice: Sea-sleds are very dangerous and can get a diver into trouble fast. They are NOT recommended.
My sea-sled was a thing of beauty: an underwater airplane with stubby diving vanes and a shapely vertical stabilizer. It was small, only about seven feet long. The thing that contributed most significantly to the attractiveness of the sled was a beautiful ojive-shaped clear plastic canopy that sheltered the diver’s head and shoulders as he lay outstretched face down on the sled. It was salvaged from an airborne searchlight housing. In each hand the diver held a control stick linked directly to the short diving planes that looked much like small wings. A push forward and the sea-sled would head rapidly for the depths. Left hand forward and the right back would initiate a roll to the left. The diving vanes were dynamically balanced, so the sled would respond nicely to a moderate pressure on the controls.
You could fly upside down or do slow rolls quite nicely. The diver was not fastened in. Behind the shelter of the canopy, just holding the control sticks gave him a pretty good purchase on the vehicle, and for added security his legs straddled the vertical fin and tucked easily under a thick rod protruding from both sides of the tail fin.
When the quick release was pulled, a weight on a line was dropped, and the positively buoyant sea-sled would rise to the surface with a red aluminum pennant displaying on the tail-mounted staff. The diver could then easily leave the vehicle in order to inspect his find, and secure a line to it if needed. The sea-sled attracted a lot of attention sitting in its cradle on top of my station wagon. It was good for business.
Searching for the wreck of the DIAMOND KNOT in the straight of Juan De Fuca near Port Angeles led to an incident that I remember so well. I was cruising along nicely about 70 feet down with about 50-foot visibility. The bottom ten feet below was fairly regular with occasional boulders of non-threatening size. All went well until suddenly I saw something off to the left just at the limit of visibility. In my excitement I leaned back and raised my head for a better look, forgetting where I was. I was underwater! The force of the water rushing past the canopy was like a fire hose. It tore off my mask, tore out my two-hose mouthpiece, and sent a big slug of salt water down my throat. Ducking my head back inside the sled, I started to pull the control sticks back, but realized that was a bad idea, since the sea sled could ascend much faster than my body could adjust. So I concentrated on recovering my mouthpiece while staying in blurry visual contact with the bottom. Getting the mouthpiece in place was easy, but I had to swallow an awful lot of water to clear the mouthpiece and my throat before I could breathe. Having faith that air would be coming soon helped me to endure the extreme discomfort of choking. And when I finally had air I could enjoy to the fullest a lovely fit of coughing. After that, finding the mask behind my head, getting it back in place, and clearing it was easy.
The rest of the dive was uneventful, but we did not find the DIAMOND KNOT on that trip. The DIAMOND KNOT is indeed a fabulous wreck, but that is another story…..
Frank Foley and the author with a second-generation sea sled which he designed and built. It was constructed on Mercer Island, driven to California, Florida and Massachusetts where it was sold. Note cockpits for two divers sitting upright.
8 Going Over Bear Creek FallsIn the Northwest, a good rubber suit not only makes swimming more pleasant, it allows entrance to a multi-dimensioned realm of possibilities. New worlds of adventure and exploration that are otherwise invisible and inaccessible to naked mammals without thick fur. The Bainbridge Island Flounder Pounders was a diverse group that shared an enthusiasm for water activities including sunken wreck exploration, cave diving, river running, spear fishing, shell fishing, recovery of sunken objects, antique bottle collecting, sight seeing, running currents on the bottom, octopus wrestling, jumping from giant rope swings, and body surfing. The variety of activities helped each student diver develop a great water sense and self confidence.
The Flounder Pounders ran a number of rivers without the benefit of kayaks in winter and in summer. We used small and large inner tubes, or even no float at all except the buoyancy inherent in a good foam rubber suit. Northwest rivers are friendlier than some, with water-worn rocks and fewer sharp points. We drifted with the flow on the Dosewallops, Sultan, Green, and Skykomish rivers, and at Bear Creek, near Index. We used topographic maps and scouted the terrain ahead of time, sometimes by air from my little Aeronca Champion. There were no serious accidents except for the time a wave bounced me just as I was passing under a tree across the Dosewallops river, and I broke my nose. That was pretty serious for a few minutes, but only for me.
We loved diving into the deep river pools to observe cutthroat trout and salmon taking a break from their serious business. Amongst our treasured memories Bear Creek Falls is a jewel, a sea of glittering diamonds and pearls. The water of Bear Creek flows through a small smooth canyon in granite bed-rock, leaps over a lip, and plunges five feet into a crystal clear pool. twenty feet deep and fifty feet in diameter. Underwater, a fantastic inverted thunderstorm of bright silver bubbles is accompanied by a steady muted thunder.
Small trout dart about in mid-water, and larger salmonids hug the bottom, swimming against the current, all pointed at the falls as if they were dedicated spectators. Many of them have obviously damaged noses. We see them try the jump and sometimes succeed, but very rarely.
After thoroughly scouting for obstructions, we water lovers had to see what it would be like to be a bubble in the joyous celebration. We posted rescue divers in the pool to make sure that no one got caught in a strange vortex, and then, one by one we all went over the falls. Launching into the smoothly flowing water in the six foot wide upper canyon, it is strange to see the falls going over the lip from the inside. No turning back, now.
A real visual alert! And then ooops
wn ………… , joining the bubbles in the softest feather bed imaginable. And the mother of all a pillow fights, pushing your body this way and that and turning around, and which way is up, please? Amazing how strong the currents are. But they eventually deliver everything downstream to shallow waters.
Nobody ever had to be rescued. Flounder Pounders went over the falls again and again all afternoon. Others jumped from the canyon walls. We played tricks on each other, hiding behind the waterfall curtain. Some took movies above and below water. We went over with SCUBA gear and without, wearing a rubber suit or just bathing suit. (Only in late August is the glacial melt-water warm enough for that.) A lovely spot for a picnic, and a great place for total immersion in an awesome environment.
Because it is a natural trap, the stream within 200 yards of Bear Creek falls is posted and closed to fishermen, but somehow we always found a few shiny lures caught on the bottom rocks.
9 Beach ObservationsIn the Northwest we don’t have just sandy beaches. We have rocky promontories encrusted with exotic life forms. We have sand flats where hidden squirters express their enthusiasm with two foot fountains; sloughs where each cup of mud contains a hundred living things; winding estuaries spawning myriads of newborn creatures that crawl, burrow, swim, or fly on to their greater destinies. Inquisitive persons often celebrates the low tides of summer with family expeditions to local beaches where experienced marine biologists often help budding scientists understand the life around them. Nothing is needed except curiosity and a spare pair of dry socks.
Rocky beaches to the west of Port Angeles abound with crystal clear tide pools and beautiful, other-worldly marine life. The goal of a good observer is to learn without harming any living thing. So we look, take notes and pictures, and sometimes look under rocks in the inter-tidal zone, being careful to replace them as they were originally. It is always interesting to see how an animal protects itself from predators or from the air and sun at low tide. Mussels and barnacles shut their doors tight and survive in the hot sun for hours. Small fish flee from a shadow to safety under a rock. Feather duster worms retract in a flash into their tube homes when they detect a disturbance in the water. Caught out of water by the receding tide, sea stars stop moving and hunker down in their tough skins close to the rocks to conserve their water. They casually flaunt their bright colors because land animals don’t like their taste. Their primary enemy is another starfish, the sunstar. You may see the many-legged sunstars lurking just outside the low tide level. These omnivorous ogres are too bulky and soft to survive for long out of water, so they rarely venture into the shallows.
A biologist will tell you that starfish belong to the echinoderm family, and that there are other members, too. Echinoderm means spiny skin. A good observer will note that most sea stars have five arms with many tiny legs on the underside. Each leg has a tiny sucker on the end that holds things and tastes them at the same time. These are called tube-feet. Submerged sea stars seem to glide over the bottom, with hundreds of tube-feet somehow working together to get the star to its destination. The suckers enable the star to hold its place even when the waves are very forceful. Only a few stars get caught in high waves without a firm grip on an anchoring rock. Their dried bodies are sometimes found entangled with driftwood and other flotsam above the high tide mark.
Where are the other echinoderms? Look for tube-feet in unlikely places. Such as under a red or green sea urchin or under a dark red sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers are easier to pick up than sea urchins, and their tube-feet are obvious. There are big red sea cucumbers and small white ones out in the open, and red ones that live under rocks with only their feathery feeding plumes showing. Quite different in appearance and behavior, but all belong to the sea cucumber family. If you also discover that both the sea urchin and the sea cucumber have five segments, like the sea star, then you may be confident that you have discovered more members of this interesting family of invertebrates. Echinoderms are important to the health of Puget Sound because they spend their lives cleaning up organic debris. Sand dollars are also in this family, but are less likely to be found on rocky beaches.
Where waves and currents are strong, rocks provide an essential anchor. Various species invent unique ways to hold their places. Barnacles and rock scallops use a permanent water-proof cement to stake their claim. Mussels use an amazingly strong glue and many small, tough organic threads that can be replaced if broken. Slow moving limpets, snails, chitons and abalone (yes we have abalone here) rely on a strong foot for suction to hold them in place.
Other shellfish abound. Cockles, scallops and various clams are found in sandy areas between the rocks. Surprisingly, fossils of some of these shellfish may be found in the nearby sandstone cliffs. There is nothing like the thrill of cracking a rock with a hammer and chisel and finding a perfect scallop shell inside! Grey, rounded fossil nodules are common. Many nodules are formed around a piece of organic material: a leaf, a crab claw, a crinoid stem, or a shell. As the soft organic material decomposes in the mud it gives off chemicals that harden the mud around it, eventually forming the rock nodule.
Fossil Crab in Natural Rock Nodule – Photo by Lyon McCandless
Many beach rocks have interesting stories to tell. Look for a fist-sized dark gray or black rock with white spots. You may be able to see wood grain or tree rings on the end, indicating that it is probably a piece of petrified wood. The white spots are actually the burrows of Toredo worms, now filled with a white mineral. You can be sure that this rock has had some interesting adventures.
It was once part of a living tree growing on dry land, breathing air and drinking fresh water. The fact that the rock exhibits wood-like grain and tree rings indicates that it was once a part of a deciduous tree. (Probably of the Cenozoic Era rather than the older Paleozoic or Mesozoic Eras which were dominated by giant ferns.) Except for sub-tropical salt water mangroves, most deciduous trees depend on fresh water in the atmosphere and ground. The fossil’s closely spaced tree rings indicate relatively slow growth in a climate with seasonal changes and an atmospheric makeup similar to the current one. A warmer atmosphere with higher CO2 content would result in wider growth rings.
The tree probably grew quite close to the ocean because eventually a fairly large piece of it was submerged in salt water. It may have been transported by a land slide. It must have stayed in salt water less than 100 feet deep for at least six months to become so infested with boring Toredo worms. Toredos, sometimes called the bane of wooden ships, look like a worm, but are a type of mollusk that burrows into wood instead of sand. What would be a shell in other mollusks has moved to the end of the Toredo and changed into jaws that gnaw into the wood.
The tree eventually sank to the sea bottom where it joined clamshells and crabs that were slowly being covered with mud and sand. And as the years went by it was buried so deep that the surrounding sand and clay became cemented together in a form of sandstone. Hot, mineralized water replaced all the wood fibers with stone, and filled the worm holes with calcite crystals.
10 Searching for Treasure
Lost treasure stories all seem to have some common elements: a tragic loss, conflicting legends, accidental rediscovery, and frustrated attempts to recover. My story is no exception. It started in 1959 when a scruffy character straight out of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stephenson knocked on the front door of my Mercer Island home. A bearded, elderly man in old surplus army clothes asked for me by name. Disturbed by his appearance, my wife told him to come back later and hurriedly closed the door.
The next Saturday I was home when he knocked again. It turned out that he had walked from downtown Seattle, again! Gradually he unfolded an interesting tale. He had seen a picture of my sea-sled in the Seattle newspaper and noted my name. He figured that the sea-sled was just the thing to find a lost treasure ship out in Neah bay.
His best friend, a diver named Bill Benjamin, had found it about 25 years ago. Benjamin had been contacted by some native Americans who claimed they could see a ship’s cannon on the bottom in water about 60 feet deep, the very limit of visibility. So eventually Benjamin put on his full hard-hat diver outfit, dropped into the water, and found a cannon. His curiosity aroused, Benjamin trudged into deeper water to find the source of the cannon. He was in luck. At a depth of about eighty feet, invisible to the natives, he found a ship’s hull, apparently burned to the waterline. Not much remained, but inside he could see many sealed oak casks. That got Benjamin to thinking, and he did not mention his find to the Indians when he came up.
So Benjamin and his son did some research and eventually concluded that the hulk was that of the UNA, the victim of a massacre and firing by hostile Indians in the 18th century. A beautiful coat of arms hinting at European origin was molded into the canon near the touch hole. The Benjamins did considerable research on the emblem, but could find no match. There were various myths about Indians and wrecks, but the Benjamins favored the one that said the UNA carried gold ore concentrates in oak barrels, and was lost near Neah bay. Benjamin planned to make a private return visit, but as in all treasure stories, he died before he could do it.
I was entranced by the old fellow’s story, and explained that I really couldn’t get away for a weekend, but I’d be glad to drive him back to Seattle. And then I made an expensive mistake. I said “What happened to the cannon?” He replied, “His son still has it. He was offered $5,000 for it, but wouldn’t take it.” Woops!
Instead of driving him to his flop house in Seattle, we high-tailed it right then to West Seattle where we met with Bill Benjamin Jr. Bill Jr. took us to his garage where he pulled back a very dusty canvas to reveal the beautiful ancient bronze cannon about six feet long. Probably a ‘salute’ cannon. What a heart thumper! So we sat down and had a long chat. Bill Jr. had a marine chart on which his father had located the wreck with good bearings from a nearby point and from Wada Island. He had tried to follow his father’s bootsteps, but had developed an incapacitating lung problem. Being of like mind, the three of us agreed to be partners in a venture to re-locate the UNA. We quickly drafted and signed an agreement for a three-way split of the treasure.
James Gibbs, the Marine historian, later identified the coat of arms as belonging to Massachusetts, and the ship as the Ellen Foster, lost in 1867.
Our team attracted a lot of attention when we drove into the town of Neah Bay with the yellow sea-sled on top of my cream colored station wagon. It worked for us. I had no trouble lining up an idle fishing boat captain to take us out at a reasonable rate.
The search went like clockwork, but was uneventful. I used up two full air tanks searching a grid centered over the secret spot, and saw nothing more interesting than a big octopus sprawled on the sandy bottom. The visibility was excellent, about 70 feet. The boat captain started gradually, giving me time to push both control handles forward and ‘fly’ to the bottom. We proceeded at about eight knots in a westerly direction. At the end of the course the captain stopped and I used the positive buoyancy of the sled to float up to report. Then we moved over 100 feet and repeated the process in the other direction. The location was right, but the depth was wrong: only forty or fifty feet, when it should have been eighty. All through the grid the water was too shallow. Dreams of wealth for the three partners were lost along with the wreck. Myself, I would have been deliriously happy just to find another cannon.
For twenty years I searched there again whenever I could. I finally came to the conclusion that things had changed in the 25 years since Benjamin Sr. had discovered the wreck. A long breakwater had been built connecting the Olympic Peninsula headland with Wada island, thus turning Neah Bay into a well-protected harbor. The breakwater stopped the currents that had previously scoured the channel free of sand. Now it is a settling basin. I’m sure that the treasure wreck is still there, entomb
11 The End of the OLNEY
Typical LCVP (Photo)
Background - In the mid sixties I spotted a half-sunken Landing Craft, Vehicle/ Personnel (LCVP) in the Duwamish tidal flats across from the Boeing building where I worked. After it remained immobile for six months I went over and talked to the adjacent property owner. He said that it had been abandoned for more than a year, and he wanted to get rid of it. Bruce Gifford and I saw it as an ideal salvage boat when fitted out with an A-frame hoist, and spent several days cleaning mud out, patching holes, and tying on floats. We used the tides to get it free of the mud and towed it with a small outboard motorboat down the Duwamish and hours later, into Eagle Harbor. We moored it near the south shore.
The motorless 36 foot long LCVP was essentially a barge with high sides, giving it quite a sail area. To our dismay it broke loose twice in several months. Once we caught it drifting in the harbor, and another time it dragged anchor and stopped near what is now the Winslow waterfront park Feeling very lucky that it had not smashed into any other boats, we decided that our wild monster would serve better as a fish hotel, an artificial reef. So we sank it in front of my Ferncliff residence at a high tide depth of about thirty feet, ideal for training schnorkel divers. Bruce and I put on our SCUBA gear and opened the sea cock to the cheers of nearby kids in rowboats. Taking the plunge was a unique experience with a fantastic froth of shining bubbles surrounding us and continuing for many minutes. It was totally satisfactory.
For several years the LCVP sheltered many fish of various kinds, to the delight of our schnorkel divers. Unfortunately our pet ecosystem naturally included Toredo worms which completely destroyed the wood in a little over three years. We found that car bodies lasted for only two years, so we longed for something more permanent.
The OLNEY - The opportunity came when Russell Trask took on the job of remodeling the 173 foot long submarine chaser (PC-1172) renamed OLNEY after decommissioning in 1955. I had been doing diving work for Russ in 1970 when I noticed that he was cutting about 15 feet off the stern of the OLNEY. The center part of the ship eventually became the 120 foot M/V Gleaner and went to service in Alaska. The cut-off end was three-sixteenth steel and included a watertight bulkhead, the rudder steering quadrant and a sea cock. The scrap value was low, so Russ gave our diving club, the Bainbridge Flounder Pounders, a good deal: We traded work hours for the whole stern section, separating many bronze fixtures from steel scrap using hand tools.
USS OLNEY PC-1172 Commissioned October 1943
We closed small holes in the stern section with whittled plugs and a plywood hatch in the bulkhead. We also scrubbed out all traces of lubricants and removed anything that wasn’t iron. When Russ Trask hoisted the end compartment up with his giant crane and placed it on the water and it actually floated, it was a tremendously satisfying event. Then came a slow four mile tow behind a borrowed trawler around Wing Point to Ferncliff where kids and families on shore and in small boats awaited the christening of the new fish hotel. After positioning the ‘end’, Bruce and I cleared the top hatch away, entered the stern section and opened the sea cock. We planned to ride it down in our wet suits as usual. But as it slowly went down it became unstable. Bruce and I scrambled when it rolled upside down and thrashed around like a dying whale. The similarity was enhanced when the sea-cock was above water, spouting air and spray a good six feet high, making a great whooshing sound. And then came the foam and great bubbles as it finally went down, boiling for ten minutes.
As the great finale came to a close there was much yelling and cheering, and we suddenly realized that some nearby children were yelling “It’s sinking! Its sinking!” And we said, “Yes, we know, it’s supposed to sink.” And the urgent reply came from five children crowded into a small row boat, “No no. We mean our boat. It’s sinking.” So we dashed over and verified that the swamped rowboat was indeed headed to join the in a very short time. Only one tin can for bailing. Bruce and I grabbed on and used our oversize swim fins to push toward shore for dear life as hard as we could. People on shore were still yelling or cheering. What a sight as all the kids either rowed, splashed water out, or paddled with their hands, and Bruce and I made as much wake as we could. It was a long fifty long yards until the water was shallow enough for us to touch bottom and hold the gunwales above water. Exhausted, but safe and happy.
We went underwater again to remove the temporary plywood door from the bulkhead opening. With the top hatch open too there were two ways to get in and out. It was a really cool clubhouse. All the Flounder Pounders agreed not to spear any fish there, so it soon housed many big rockfish, perch and even an octopus underneath. The sea anemones found it quickly. It was really fun to schnorkel into the dark chamber and see tame big fish silhouetted against the bright hatchways.
Twenty years later the end of the OLNEY was still there on the bottom, a little worse for wear, but still a great clubhouse and fish hotel.
ed under thirty feet of sand.
In later years I did things the easy way. When searching visually for an underwater object, I descend from a drifting boat on a line carrying a light grapnel-type anchor, and let the ever-present currents take me for a comfortable ride. I never found treasure, but many searches led to other interesting adventures.
12 The Demise of the CHETZEMOKA
Long ago, someone told me that the waterfront was full of busted dreams. Succeeding years have reminded me of this phrase all too often, but never more so than when, in the spring of 1977 I read this article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
“The venerable Puget Sound ferry CHETZEMOKA sank at 8:53 yesterday morning as she was towed down the coast to a planned new career in San Francisco. The 240-foot wooden, diesel-electric boat went down nine miles northwest of La Push, on the Washington coast, after an all-night struggle with the seas by crewmen of the tug Express. “
I felt involved because I had put several temporary patches on her hull a while ago. I had told the owner that she must be repaired before undertaking his planned tow to San Francisco for conversion into a waterfront restaurant.
It began when I got a call asking if I could patch a hole right now. The ferry CHETZEMOKA had been docked at Eagle harbor for many months, kept afloat by a bilge pump. It had recently started taking on water faster than the bilge pump and two other pumps could handle. I affirmed my availability, since I made a practice of always having at least two SCUBA diving tanks on hand fulled to capacity.
The owner met me at the ship and conducted me down into the engine room The hull was double planked with an inner planking on the inside of the ribs. They knew approximately where the leak originated, because they could hear the water trickling down between the two hulls. They were frustrated because there was no direct access and the hole was obviously in the outer planking.
In the water, it was quite clear what had happened. The CHETZEMOKA’s anti-fouling paint had been severely abraded on each side of both bows where the hull flares out. Probably by minor floating objects such as pieces of wood. The Toredo damage was severe, and I could feel the current of salt water rushing into a slot that I could put four fingers into. I touched the hull and a finger sized piece broke off, sending a chill down my spine. This area was fragile, and could collapse at any moment! I had visions of being either sucked into the space between the ribs, or being held against the hull by water pressure for a long time. So I treated the venerable lady with more respect thereafter.
The owner was not surprised when I made a full report to him. He had the necessary supplies, and I agreed to patch up the two worst leaks, one on either end. I first cut a piece of one-eighth inch sheet rubber to fit over a broad area and tacked it in place. Next I used lots of longer nails to secure a 2’ x 4’piece of quarter-inch plywood over the rubber. This was a standard emergency fix that I’d used before, and it worked well to stop the leaks.
The old CHETZEMOKA continued to sit in Eagle Harbor for months. Too many months, in my opinion. Relief came when she was moved to Seattle, supposedly for some hull work. Unfortunately, the owner had decided to dry-dock her only once, and that was to be in San Francisco where she would be converted into a restaurant. Instead of the much-needed hull work, the local shipyard prepared her for towing by closing up the forward car deck opening with some sort of temporary barricade. There was no trouble leaving the Sound, but when the CHETZEMOKA rounded Cape Flattery under tow she ran into unseasonably high waves and winds. The car-deck barricade gave way and all hell broke loose. In the words of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
“Monday night the tug Express turned about off the coast when the ferryboat's seams opened and she started taking water. Tugboat skipper Tom Kent hoped to make it back into the protection of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But at 5:30 yesterday morning the Express radioed the Coast Guard for help. The Coast Guard delivered three pumps to the CHETZEMOKA, and two tug crewmen boarded the ferry to try to keep her afloat. They were Larry Frank, 48, of Everett and Tom McGuirk, 27, of Seattle. Frank and McGuirk couldn't keep up with the flooding, though. A Coast Guard 42-footer picked them off, and the CHETZEMOKA sank.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Wed. June 1977.
And in this way, the classic, wooden-hulled CHETZEMOKA joined the hundreds of ships already sunken in the Washington coast area known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. The Coast Guard summarized the cause simply as: “unseaworthy”.
13 Anti-Submarine Warfare on Bainbridge Island
If you know where to look at the former site of Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island, you can still find huge concrete gun emplacements overlooking Rich Passage. The Fort was designed to protect the Bremerton naval shipyard from attack by sea. Large caliper guns took care of surface ships, and an anti-submarine net and sonar sensors prevented underwater attacks. Guns and nets are gone now, but anchors for the submarine net are still there, an interesting, but invisible remnant of the defense system. They were, of course, designed to be unmovable.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, an anti-submarine net was made of heavy steel cable fastened together like chicken-wire with six-foot holes. It was suspended from two floating booms: one was anchored at Bean’s Point on Bainbridge; and the other at Orchard Point across Rich passage. There were provisions for opening the net and swinging it aside using two tugboats to allow the passage of warships and other ships critical to defense. On each shore cables from the boom were coupled to buried concrete anchors. On the beach the cables were supported by two rock-filled wooden cribs just visible at high tide, but dry at low tide. Seeing these cribs on the shore, I knew that there must be something more to anchor the net further out on the bottom.
The beach at the eastern-most gun emplacement, Battery Warner, provided good access to the water. Swimming straight in line with the rock cribs I found a thick growth of kelp about fifty yards out. This was the key to one of the most interesting dive sites anywhere near the Island. Marine life always thrives where there is a good foothold and a strong current. At moderate depths you can count on a wide variety of species and plants in those conditions.
The anchor was immense, designed to hold back even a large submarine. It consisted of three blocks of concrete linked together by steel beams. The reinforced blocks were about ten feet by ten feet by eight feet high:
Schools of small perch watched from the penthouse garden of kelp on top of each block. Well camouflaged giant sculpin resting in sea lettuce looked for unwary strays. Striped greenling were busy catching shrimp among the bottom rocks, melting into the brown algae so beautifully.. And big ling cod, the kings of all, resting here and there watching everything, but ready to rise up on fin tips and dash away if approached by something as large as a diver. There were many varieties of sea stars, sea cucumbers, and nudibranchs. Plumose anemones took residence anywhere there was a solid, spare inch. In the darkness of octopus dens under the concrete blocks, a diver could often see large suction cups arrayed to make the usual defensive portcullis. And varieties of crabs.
Many spider crabs. It was unsettling to approach one of the big blocks from the up-current direction and see a hundred spider crabs jammed together on its face in a living wall. Each with arms outstretched toward you with wide open white-tipped claws. Hard not to take it personally. Though so alien in appearance, the slow moving crabs were harmless, of course, and could be handled gently. They were always on the upstream side, waiting for food to be delivered by the current. Four times a day when the current died they would climb up and over the big concrete block to take up a position on the other side. I missed a chance for a good experiment. It would be interesting to put a spot of paint on several and see if they came back to the same location.
After many searches I found that there were four of the large anchor assemblies in a line across Rich passage, two on each side. Going straight toward Manchester from the first one, I found another about sixty feet down at low tide. It supported a smaller number of residents and no algae. The arrangement was mirrored on the other side of the passage. Following the line to a depth of ninety feet produced no new discoveries except giant ling cod, always facing into the current.
I spent many happy hours at the site observing with friends and occasionally collecting specimens for the Poulsbo Marine Center. I was watching a beautiful red six-foot octopus some distance from the first anchor one day. I stayed about eight feet away quietly admiring the way he use his graceful arms to investigate nooks and crannies on the rocky bottom. After five minutes the octopus seemed to become aware that I was observing him and started walking purposely, with increasing speed, in the direction of the concrete anchors. When I followed along he shifted into high gear and turned on the jet, zipping along just about as fast as I cold swim. He was headed straight for the nearest anchor and the safety of the large hole at its bottom. I watched him zoom in at high speed, thinking the show was over. But in a few seconds, out of the hole came a big cloud of sand and a dozen madly writhing tentacles, many of them white. The commotion didn’t last long. The hole soon spat out a pure white octopus, my old friend, I think. He blurped out a cloud of ink, shot past me and then settled down, slowly moving away, still all white. I am sure he was reminding himself: “Never, never go into the old man’s den without knocking first.”
The Wreck of the GENERAL M. C. MEIGS
The troop transport ship GENERAL M. C. MEIGS (AP-116) made nineteen trips across the Pacific after World War II. A good sized vessel, she was 622 feet long and had a beam of 75 feet. She carried thousands of troops to ports in Japan and South Korea before going into layup in the Reserve Fleet at Olympia, Washington in 1958. Subsequently it was decided to transfer the Meigs to the remaining West Coast reserve Fleet near San Francisco.
Early one morning in January 1972 the San Francisco tug Gear departed the strait of Juan De Fuca towing the unmanned GENERAL M. C. MEIGS in spite of gale warnings. The Meigs carried valuable cargo bound for the reserve fleet, including two steel harbor tugs lashed to her deck. Shortly after she rounded Tatoosh island, the MEIGS was torn loose from her tow by high winds and seas. She was driven ashore at Shi-Shi beach seven miles south of Cape Flattery, and was broken in half on a needle-like spire.
Laura and Brian McCandless and the General M. C. Meigs
Navy personnel spent many months guarding the wreck and cleaning up the spilled bunker oil. One of the two tugs had broken loose and was salvaged. The ship lay in limbo for more than a year as the Navy debated on the next step. It was not refloatable, and there was no easy access by either land or sea.
When the Navy stopped guarding the MEIGS, Makah Indians moved in and salvaged everything they could in partial, unofficial payment for damage to their traditional clamming and fishing grounds. It was very strenuous and somewhat dangerous work. After a year the ship was pretty well stripped.
One calm weekend in January of 1974 we visited the tribal chief’s representative and got permission to visit the MEIGS and look for souvenirs. Three of my children and I lugged our schnorkel gear two miles down a very muddy coastal watch road left over from WW II. As we progressed through the dense spruce forest the boom of distant breakers lured us on. Emerging suddenly from the dark forest to a cliff edge we were hit with a Cinerama spectacular with 3D sound turned up high. Ocean swells boomed as they hit the two pieces of the MEIGS and spouted foam sixty feet into the air. Rocky spires, islets and an archetypical smuggler’s cave made it an adventurer’s dream.
The two sections of the MEIGS, separated by several hundred yards, acted as a breakwater, calming the near-shore water, and making for a pleasant schnorkel. As we boarded, we could feel the shudders that ran through the ghost ship as big swells pounded the hull. The bridge had been stripped by Makah salvagers, and most of the portholes were gone too. My son Douglas was intrigued by the harbor tug still lashed to the foredeck, claming that it wouldn’t be hard to get it off if we had the right tools. Its wheel and navigation instruments were gone, but it was still a beautiful vessel. Tempting, but not practical. Seeing many bunks below decks reminded us of the thousands of troops who had once slept there in tight quarters. Son Brian proposed that we sleep there too overnight instead of camping on shore. It was a thrilling idea, but the bunks were too slanted to use and we couldn’t get them loose.
The once great MEIGS was being torn to pieces by the incredible force of North Pacific Waves. Reinforced steel bottom plates six inches thick were torn and twisted like paper. Like a beautiful statue attacked by barbarians, she would soon return to the elements from which she was born.
When I returned two years later the MEIGS was barely a ripple off-shore. The steel tugboat had been ripped from the deck and was now wedged between some rocks underwater, crumpled like an old tin can. Its bent bronze eight-foot diameter propeller was still attached. Twisted pieces of porthole frames lay green in the rock crevices. The MEIGS had been torn apart as she moved over the solid rock sea-floor like cheese on a grater.
Porthole frames are mounted from the inside. Almost all ports were gone except for ones near the waterline that could be accessed only from underwater. We were able to schnorkel down about 15 feet and come up inside the wreck to get to these compartments. Easily said, but dangerous and difficult to do. Going down and getting under the wreck was simple, but we had to find a clear path up to the surface inside the ship. The diver scout had to be prepared to run into a dead end and retrace his path to the outside at any moment. Once inside, one of the team could loosen the twelve nuts holding a porthole frame while another person outside held a bolt head firm. We were each able to save one porthole and a few other interesting things from certain destruction. Free-diving through the wreckage underwater to the outside with the heavy ports was tricky. And then we lashed them to driftwood logs for a last trip ashore.
Hauling the fifty pound portholes and all the tools up the cliff and down the two-mile mud road deserved a special Olympic medal. I was proud of daughter Laurie who cheerfully packed out her own porthole and gear. Douglas had scored two portholes, and staggered down the road with them both on one backpack. We kidded him about being too lazy to make two trips.
Today the area is part of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and such activities are not permitted. My three children who were on the MEIGS expedition eventually sold their beautiful 18” diameter bronze portholes when their youthful needs shifted to the more ephemeral. I installed my own porthole in a five-hinged door between my workshop and a playroom at home in Port Madison. It remained there for twenty-five years until son Brian heard that we were considering selling the house. He then flew over from Albany, New York, replaced the holey door, and shipped the porthole to his home. A true romantic.
15 A Mystery Under Pier 91
We arrived at the Pier 91 security office with great excitement. I was carrying a letter of permission signed by the head of the Seattle Port Authority giving me clearance to SCUBA dive and retrieve objects from the waters surrounding piers 91 and 92 in Seattle harbor. The significant fact was that the U.S. Navy had just closed the Pier 91 Naval base and had turned the area over to the Seattle Port Authority, and it was currently not in use. The Navy had not allowed recreational divers anywhere near for many many years. Working with the chief of the Port Authority, I had written up a liability release, insurance and authorization papers, and was now going to be the first civilian to explore this terra incognita. Experience back East had taught me that there is a wealth of interesting lost objects around shipyards, but I had never before dived at a Navy facility.
After registering with the security office, my son Brian and I carried my diving equipment down the deserted pier. It was a long pier, long enough for two cruisers to tie up end to end on one side. This was to be a scouting expedition, just to get some feel for the possibilities. I had no idea of what lay beneath.
Several hundred yards down the pier I suited up in a sheltered spot near a ladder fastened to the side of the pier. Brian would stay on top paying out a quarter inch line that I could fasten to any significant discovery. Going into the water was not encouraging. It was murky, spoiled by muddy fresh water coming from Queen Anne hill. But my spirits rose as I descended deeper into the gloom. The warm, muddy layer was only a few feet thick. I emerged into fairly clear cold water like an airplane breaking out of a cloud layer. Twenty foot visibility. Good, but not enough to see the bottom fifty feet below. As always, it was spooky going down alone into blackness, watching the anemone-covered pilings of the pier sliding by slowly. Then suddenly the ghostly bottom jumped out of the darkness. A strange visual surprise after peering down into utter blackness for minutes, seeing the soft blue-green light reflected from the rolling velvety landscape criss-crossed with innumerable crab trails.
Mud. Mud and gravel. Some upright coils of wire rope. I hoped that there wasn’t much more of that. I’d have to be on the lookout. Then, my flashlight centered on something interesting: a rigger’s hook. A sharp steel hook coming from the middle of a short wooden handle, making a “T”. It was the handy tool that longshoremen often carried on their belts for moving boxes and bales. Just like the one used in the scary fight scene in Marlon Brando’s movie “On the Waterfront”. A nice souvenir. I picked it up and continued the search. Ahead, a pile of clothes emerged from the gloom as I moved closer. No, a clothes model? A crash dummy? No! And a new chill went down my already cold spine as I saw the exposed ankles. Regular shoes, and fleshy legs except where the crabs had eaten them down to the bone. Thank goodness he was face down. What had I gotten into? I’d gone maybe fifty feet along the bottom and found a body. My God, these piers are more than 300 yards long! If there’s a body every fifty feet….? Pulse racing, I backed off and concentrated on making a controlled ascent.
As I came up the ladder I felt that hidden eyes were watching me. Brian was full of questions, but I wouldn’t talk until I was close enough to whisper, “I found a body. Let’s get out of here.” What was going on, I wondered? Gang warfare? Smuggling? The pier seemed totally deserted, but I nervously scanned all sides as we hurried to the Security Office. I still had the lethal-looking rigger’s hook in my hand. I wondered. “Are the police in on it?”
The security people seemed friendly enough, though, and called the Seattle Police Department. A squad car came in a few minutes, and a police diver team arrived in an hour, anxious to go. My pulse calmed as we got into the routine of registering and reporting. The officers were experienced and were not surprised. I did not tell them the result of my mental calculation. If there was a body every 50 feet along the 300 yard pier, and four sides of the piers… The police divers found the body easily without my further help, and took over from there. Brian and I were glad to be released in a short time. But I didn’t feel really comfortable until we were on the ferry for Bainbridge Island.
Two days later the Seattle police called to let me know that the body was that of a ‘hippie’ who had disappeared one night several weeks before. Three hippies had gone out for a private row from Queen Anne, about a mile west of Pier 91. Two had come back and had no idea of where the other had walked off to. The police were not unduly concerned, and wouldn’t need any further help from Brian and me. Apparently the body had drifted along the bottom until it was stopped by the Pier 91 pilings acting like a sort of sieve.
For more than three years afterward, my children, other partners and I dove at Pier 91, surprisingly without competition. Up and down both sides of both piers. We recovered many boatloads of copper, brass, tools, a bicycle, lots of long brass shell casings for a three-inch cannon, a hundred fire hose nozzles of various types, many heavy bronze steam valves and a lovely chrome-plated six-inch diameter armor-piercing shell about 30 inches long, but never again a body. I sold a box of 5 or 6 corroded antique fire hose nozzles to each of about a dozen antique and junk dealers in Seattle. Some were big, two-man nozzles with leather handles, others had valves, some were fog nozzles. some big, some small. I was worried that they would be mad when they heard about the glut of fire hose nozzles. But when I came back a year later with some other junk they all asked hopefully if I had more nozzles. I learned from a sailor that ships returning from a two-year cruise in the Pacific Theater had to pass an inspection. Anything not on the inventory had to be returned to the supply officer with proper paperwork. It was much faster to just ‘deep six’ an extra item.
I often think that the gods of chance must have chuckled to themselves when they dropped me, unerringly, on the one place on that long, long pier where I would have the most excitement.
16 The Underwater Salvage Business
Ken Chausee and I arrived at Neah Bay with lots of full air tanks, looking for salvage jobs and adventure in this wild place so far from the tame hills of Seattle. Unfortunately, the first person we talked with turned out to be a local diver. He said he lived there and had done some underwater jobs, and there was nothing else to do. So we were left to walking around, looking for long-shots, asking about wrecks. We were temporarily excited when one old timer said that there had been a wreck in the big southerly storm a few years back. A large barge had broken its mooring chain and had fetched up on the breakwater rocks across the bay. But we lost interest when he added that the barge had been salvaged, so we continued walking.
At an ice house on one dock the owner said that his big, expensive 12-inch diameter ice hose had disappeared one night a week ago. He said it might have been stolen, but might just be on the bottom. So I dropped in, found the big ice hose and had a line on it in twenty minutes. The owner was happy to give us $50.
Thinking about the wrecked barge, we figured that before it broke its chain, it must have stretched the chain out in a northerly direction. We rented a kicker boat and began a search. I went to the bottom a bit west of the middle of the harbor, about thirty feet deep, holding my five-pronged grapnel hook attached to a 100 foot line to the kicker boat. Ken towed me straight east, and in ten minutes I saw a very big chain and dug in the grapnel. We found three good small anchors hooked into the big chain, which was about 200 feet long. Inflating a lift bag tied to each anchor made getting them up to the surface quite easy. The lines to the fouled anchors had all been cut by their undoubtedly disgusted owners. As we hoped, on the south end, the big chain terminated in a HUGE old Navy-style fluked anchor with a cross-piece. The shank of the seven hundred pounder was over six feet long!
A crowd of questioners gathered when we unloaded the kicker boat at the guest dock. We told the whole story and asked if anybody wanted an anchor? Right away we sold two of the anchors for $50. I kept the third, a nice Danforth that I used for years afterwards. Then a big fellow came forward and wanted to know more about the huge anchor. We described its size and how it was covered with marine growths, including many anemones. The fellow said that he owned a large commercial fishing boat and was looking for a new mooring anchor. He offered to pay $100 for the anchor as it was, on the bottom, if we would cut off the chain and fasten a line to the anchor. We didn’t take long to shake hands on the deal.
The skipper’s big boat had a good winch and boom for hauling the monster up. So we went out once more and I tied a stout line to the anchor and then spent half an hour hack-sawing through one of the huge chain links underwater since the captain did not want the chain. Up on the deck again, we all watched the hoist and boom strain against the load. And when he saw the anchor emerge, all encrusted with sea life, the captain was both delighted and aghast. He said, “I didn’t realize it was going to be that big!”
The author and the Nah Bay Anchor
Ken and I felt good about making $200 in one day, so we decided to do a sport dive the next day. I recommended revisiting the nearby wreck of the Andalusia. (See previous story “The Wreck of the Andalusia”) Since the Andalusia was just about a half mile out from Clear Creek resort, we rented a rowboat there instead of a kicker boat. It was a relatively calm day with no wind, so we had no problem rowing out to the wreck. The wreck was marked by a sort of ventilator shaft that stuck out of the water at low tide, so we tied up to that. It had changed considerably in the few years since I had visited her. The tremendous load of lumber that had been lashed to her deck was gone. The ship was a hazard to navigation, and had been blasted up by the Army Engineers. We spent a while prowling around the deeper end underwater and looking at the big fish swarming all about. The ship was broken into unrecognizable pieces, but was a beautiful sight in the clear water, coated with bright yellow and orange sponge and sea anemones. On a planned ascent, we worked our way towards the shallower end. And then I turned a corner and was surprised to see a wrecked boat on the bottom. A rowboat missing its stern. There was still a line tied to its bow, leading upward. Suddenly I realized that it was our boat! Talk about a revolting development!
When we went to the surface we deduced what had happened. The current had shifted, and there was now quite a wake behind the stack we had used for a mooring. The boat had swamped and the strong current had ripped out the stern. There were no fishermen around, so we had to swim for shore. It was not a big problem, but it took almost a hour to swim the half mile wearing full SCUBA gear. It would have been easier underwater, but we were out of air. Of course, you never fight the current. So we ended up about a half mile down the shore and had to walk back to the resort carrying the gear.
The Clear Creek resort manager was a little shaken up to see us walk up sweating, without his rowboat. He didn’t think it was funny. After a little discussion about the obvious age of the rowboat he agreed to sell it to us for $150 and not charge for the rental. So what had been a triumphant weekend ended up being educational rather than profitable.
Epilogue: The fishing boat captain soon found the anchor too large for practical purposes, and sold it to a Neah Bay motel operator. It sat in front of his motel in Neah Bay for many years. But finally the motel operator went broke when the fishing industry turned bad and sold the anchor to a Clallam bay commercial boat operator. The boat operator lost the anchor in Clallam bay and moved on. The big anchor was then re-discovered underwater by local divers from a new dive shop there. It was picked up and moved temporarily to a place just off the highway as a sort of advertisement. It was still there five years later, about 1995, just another roadside attraction. It still has the two links of heavy chain that I left on for no good reason.
17 Cops and Robbers
The water’s surface hides many things from the view of most people. The tendency to think of the underwater world as something separate from ours has caused many problems. Some people even dump refuse or contraband into the water and believe that it is gone forever.
The Agate Passage bridge has been used for dumping for many years. We divers know, because the passage is an attractive place to dive. Large rocks jumbled around the pier footings are like a fortress with secret corridors for timid fish. In the middle of the passage, scattered car-sized boulders, probably glacial erratics, make good footholds and cover for invertebrates, schools of fish and predators. There are areas where white plumose anemones are a dazzling wall-to-wall carpet (self-cleaning, too!). But under the bridge there is some junk. Broken things, stolen lawn ornaments, et cetera. Over the years my diving partners and I have recovered three guns. A totally rusted revolver. An almost unrecognizable shotgun….and a machine-gun.
It appeared to be a standard M-16 army issue not available then on the open market. Several years previously, as a civilian guest/observer in an Air Force training program, I had actually fired such a gun. The M-16 has an automatic fire mode that spits out 10 rounds a second. Even though it was covered with rust and mud my son Brian was fascinated with it and happily brought it ashore. About eight hours later, after a bath and good dinner, I asked Brian, “Whatever happened to the machine gun?” And he said, “Come on...” we went down to the workshop where Brian unwrapped a beautiful, cleaned and oiled gun. It looked like new! He had spent hours taking it apart, removing the very light coat of rust, oiling and re-assembling it. He said “Watch.” as he inserted a long dowel into the barrel. With a grin Brian pulled the trigger and the dowel jumped an inch. The firing pin worked! The internal carriage worked. The rifling was shiny. The serial numbers were very clear. I sighed, “Oh, Brian, it’s in operating condition!”
In those days it was against the law to have a machine gun without a license. Brian had visions of being the only kid in the block to have a real machine gun on his bedroom wall instead of a BB gun. I felt that we had to turn it in to the county sheriff, (There was no Bainbridge Police Department in those days.) since it might have been used in a robbery. I really lost points with my son when I called the sheriff.
The deputy to whom I spoke was mildly interested, and said that they would send a car to pick up the machine gun in a couple of days. So we were a little surprised when a sheriff’s car pulled up ten minutes later. A polite deputy thanked us for our help and said they would check out the gun and let us know the results.
A few weeks later the sheriff called to say that the gun had been stolen from a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, but didn’t appear to have been used in any robberies. I asked if they could disable the machine gun with a spiked or welded barrel and give it back to us. But the sheriff said that he was sorry, they couldn’t do that. And that was the last time we played cops and robbers underwater.
18 The Wonders of Cape Flattery
One of the seven wonders of my private world is Cape Flattery, Washington. The easily accessible rock promontory defines the very tip of this northwest corner of the state of Washington. On the right the broad Strait of Juan de Fuca is a natural east-west boundary between Washington and Vancouver Island. On the left the never-ending waves of the Pacific Ocean crash against vertical cliffs. The view is a sensational reward for making the half-mile hike from the parking area down through old growth cedars, wind-twisted spruce trees, through narrow trails, and finally out onto the flat top of the promontory forty feet above the waves,
Even on quiet days waves striking the rocks send glistening spray high into the air, while other waves rush headlong into the sea caves, finally booming like distant thunder. The natural beauty seems timeless, just as it might have been ten thousand years ago. There is no sign of man except for a sturdy lighthouse built into the rock ramparts of Tatoosh Island, one half mile offshore. If ever a lighthouse was needed, it is here. Ship-cracking reefs lurking beneath the waves match the obvious dangers of plummeting cliffs and whorling currents. Yet it is here that hundreds of ships each year must round the northwestern corner of the United States, often in thick fog, to enter the quiet safety of Puget Sound.
From atop the cliffs it is easy to see an abundance of marine life. Close-packed colonies of gooseneck barnacles and mussels clearly thrive on the oceanic nutrients and clean, oxygen-saturated water brought by Pacific waves. Deeper down, starfish and huge sea anemones flaunt vivid colors in full view, apparently surviving because of their unpalatable taste. Purple sea urchins, enough for an army of sea otters, scrape out pockets of safety in the rock. Mysterious caves and misshapen rock pinnacles are on either side.
There are a few calm days each year when it is possible for a SCUBA diver to enter the seas of Cape Flattery in safety. Twenty feet down in the crystal clear water the diver enters the kind of peace and serenity usually reserved for cathedrals. It is hard to imagine that only a few months earlier, these seas would have meant sure and sudden death. Now the shore surge and gentle currents are but a small reminder of the furious forces that once reigned.
Schnorkel-equipped swimmers can explore the cliffs and caverns as no-one else can, but there is one unusual problem. As you rise and fall with the swells you can look down as see long strands of algae and reef grass surging back and forth with other-world grace. Almost hypnotic. After fifteen minutes of this, my 14 year old son Brian threw up into his schnorkel. But he recovered quickly and we went on to explore the depths of a water-filled sea cave. It was pretty dark inside about 150 feet but the fully recovered Brian wanted to continue. Finally he said, “Dad, I can see light!” And we turned a corner and found a watery passage to another sea cave connecting to the other side of the point. It would provide a convenient return path instead of fighting the high currents around the point
. Photo by Lyon McCandless
On the shoreline there are rocks rich with fossil shells and even fossil wood. Wormholes in the petrified wood are now filled with clear calcite crystals. A sure sign that crustal movements have caused some ancient seabed to rise. Down at eighty feet we see caves and pillars very similar to the formations found at today’s shoreline. These testify that the sea level was once at least one hundred feet lower. A sea lion, busy investigating the caves seems to nod his head and then goes about his ways. Divers and sea lions don’t threaten each other. There are no enemies here. The environment is not hostile, just alien.
The vertical cliffs yield an occasional access to land, a place where the surge is up and down, not sideways.. Timing is everything. We stand off a few feet treading water studying the rhythmic crash of surf against rock, and then dash in as the flood reaches its peak, clawing for a temporary anchor as the receding water tries to reclaim us. We must scramble higher before the next wave snatches us back.
We relax on a lower shelf and look across a water-filled chasm to sightseers exploring the flat top of the Cape Flattery promontory. The visitors are peering cautiously at the churning water far below. We remember the beauty beneath and smile, and wonder what these gentle visitors would think if they knew of the labyrinths beneath their feet, of the high vaults echoing with muted thunder.... if they knew that coastal carving, while temporarily slowed, is still continuing.
After scouting the area, we make a plan to fit the conditions, and don SCUBA gear. The clear water is like champagne. Thirty feet down we thrill to a fantastic rock massive rock garden with house-sized boulders. We flit like lazy butterflies from one dazzling display to another. Red, yellow and purple sponge. Strange plants waving in the ‘air’. Colonies of white, green and variegated anemones. Clouds of silver fingerlings following like sparrows looking for dropped crumbs. Dense baseball sized sponges seem to have shrunken until hard enough to survive. Bare-blasted rock clearly defines corridors of fury, while a sheltered valley nearby is floored with flour sand and a sprinkling of fragile sea urchin skeletons. A huge brown carpet floats close to the bottom, slowly undulating toward the depths, flowing up and over rocks and sponges, through defiles. Blurry edges reveal the truth: myriads of tiny brown shrimp are traveling very close together at a constant one-inch off the bottom. Momentarily disturbed shrimp quickly re-join the immense throng. Who guides this wondrous blanket?
All too soon we must yield to the tyranny of our air gages. Rising slowly from the depths, we proceed along the bottom of a sloping canyon, using the surges, yielding to them when they go shoreward, then quickly grasping a bottom rock to keep from being swept backward. The simpler cave life gives way to anemones, sea urchins, beacon-bright purple fronds of seaweed, and finally the zone where the rock is completely covered with some form of sea life. Even the smallest area reveals a miniature world in which strange struggles rage silently; sometimes for food, sometimes for light, sometimes for water, and perhaps the most important here, for a foothold. Soon we too are looking for a foothold.
The bright sun in the above-water world makes us squint. In just a moment, it seems, our black foam rubber suits are unbearably hot. Gasping, hearts pounding, we climb higher on strangely nude rock to a level spot where we can complete our metamorphosis. Ears pop, circulatory systems readjust, old rhythms re-establish themselves, and we are home again, landlubbers. Sounds and the sweet pungent smells of the shoreline return to our sensory world. Gliding underwater, our perceptions were usually directed to the scenery below. Now, stuck fast to the ground, our perceptions rise up and out.
The air is suddenly filled with alarm cries! All around us seagulls are swooping, diving with high pitched screams of danger. We are surprised and confused until we see the clear pattern. The Herring Gulls are diving, not at us, but at a nearby tree. Then, a shock of awareness... an eagle is sitting on a low branch less than thirty feet away! His dark mass is almost invisible against the thick spruce tree on the edge of the gorge. He is utterly impassive. Disdainful and aloof both to the near-miss swoops of the gulls and to the presence of man. Dark beak and absence of light colored head feathers indicate that he is an immature bald eagle. Even so, he is a very large bird.
The seagulls derive courage from the uneven odds. Each one puts on a show of bravery by swooping past the eagle at high speed, screaming. The worst offenders dive straight at the great bird and veer off at the last instant. But, aware of the danger, they never come within reach, and never slow down their approach. Why do they pester this noble creature? Perhaps an old contention over a choice fish? Perhaps an attack in flight, with the eagle skillfully intercepting a dropped fish, soaring swiftly to his aerie? The eagle remains undisturbed, giving no hint of his plan until the moment for action comes. Suddenly the eagle turns around on the branch. In the next instant he has launched out over the cliff, and has become a winged blur aimed at the other side of the gorge. The seagulls, like leaves scattered by a sudden gust, are left far behind. The objective of his swift flight seems to be an abandoned nest on a small rock outcropping. With an impressive spread of wings the eagle brakes to a landing and composes himself. He examines the area around the nest, heedless of the panic-stricken gulls flying about him. Deliberately, he pecks at a crevice running horizontally from the outcropping. He moves along the crevice slowly, head held sideways so that he can thrust his beak into the narrow crack. Occasionally his talons slip from the near-sheer rock face, and a quick wing beat is necessary to restore equilibrium. He reaches the end of the crevice and suddenly stops. Then, with a great thrust of body and wings, he pulls a reluctant denizen from its refuge! In a moment he is repositioned for flight. A taloned claw now grasps the victim. The exposed outcropping is not of the eagle's choosing now. He flieses to the shelter of a nearby overhang. It is a sanctuary safe from the frantic seagulls. Their cries and dives are to no avail. Because of the overhang they cannot dive from overhead at high speed. They dare not approach directly in level flight. The eagle straightens up and again becomes the magnificent conqueror of the skies. And conqueror he truly is, for a young pigeon-sized seagull flaps helplessly upside down in his talons.
And now we realize the true significance of the features we had admired in this bird of prey. This way of life is just as much a part of him as are his great wings. He is blameless, and yet our sympathy lies with the gulls. Only once is the attention of the seagulls diverted. Shortly after the capture, a second young gull toddles out of the crevice, bewildered. What had happened to his nest mate? Should he follow? The answer comes quickly as his parents swoop back with an alarm cry. In seconds the youngster has toddled back deep into the crevice, and moments later his parents are back screaming at the eagle's perch.
It is obvious now that they are his parents. After the capture, the other gulls soon left, having resigned themselves to the loss. Only two birds continue to dive and cry, resting very briefly on high ledges, only to dive again in less than a minute. It seems that their high pitched voices are becoming lower, hoarser after half an hour. But our judgment is biased. Gulls rounding the point occasionally join in for one or two half-hearted swoops, then wing on, perhaps headed back to the rookery.
Soon we too must leave without participating in this affair. And we wonder why this pair of gulls had chosen such an isolated spot for a nest. Sail Rock, a few minutes flight away, is covered with nesting gulls. Surely even an eagle would hesitate to attack the home grounds. Had overcrowding forced this pair to abandon the favored way for one more perilous?
19 Hard Times in New York
With our fiftieth wedding anniversary gone a few years now, it is amusing to think back and relive the early days, and remember the fragility of our relationship to the material world. Patricia and I were engaged shortly after I got a new job that raised my Associate Engineer’s pay from $50 per week to $70 per week And with regularly scheduled overtime my paycheck was $90 per week before deductions. We spent most of our wedding present money on our Saint Croix diving honeymoon, and returned reluctantly and only slightly in debt (since we did not have the advantage of credit cards) and living in an expensive $100 per month apartment in the Bronx.
Things went well for several years until union negotiations failed, and my employer, Arma Corporation, closed the doors to all employees for what was to be a seven-week strike. It soon became clear that Arma had a tacit understanding with all other similar engineering companies in the New York area not to hire Arma engineers. Tough! It was a tight labor market, too, and my old friends in the Concrete Workers Union could not take me back, either.
As fate would have it, I had recently put aside my home-made diving helmet and had purchased a genuine Aqualung directly from Cousteau’s factory in France. Having read a shelf full of books on the subject, I was prepared to make underwater salvage the source of income for my poor, hungry family, so I ditched the picket line after two days.
I prowled the by-ways of City Island, home to many boatyards and yacht clubs. My father-in-law Frank Foley kept his cruiser, the Westward Ho there at the famous Harlem Yacht club. I tacked up and otherwise distributed a hundred brand new UNDERWATER SALVAGE cards with great hopes. My first commission, to retrieve an outboard motor dropped from the stern of a moored yacht proved rewarding in about 15 minutes. The wind was just as it had been the day before when the motor was dropped, and it was about five feet aft of the stern. I agreed to search for it the next afternoon. When I found the motor in the very murky water, it was covered with mud and sea anemones. As previously agreed, I left it hanging underwater on a line tied to a cleat on the yacht so the air would not get to it before it was properly cleaned. That evening, when I came to collect my fee, I was surprised to have the owners disclaim any knowledge of the motor. Besides, it was badly corroded. We all came to the same conclusion, so I dove in again at the same spot and came up with an identical, but shinier motor. It seems there are always surprises underwater.
I cleaned up various things around City Island, and finally exhausted the potential with a really tough day’s work that paid eighty dollars, which was very welcome, as it was about the fourth week of the strike. So I had all the money changed into single dollar bills. As I climbed the steps to my in-law’s front door I stuffed bills part way into my shirt front, into my sleeves, every pocket, and put quite a few under my beat-up old hat, then rang the doorbell. When Trish answered, I said “Hi honey”, lifting my hat so dollar bills blew all over the place. After her initial shock we both laughed as we chased the treasure trove around the door stoop, and things looked a little brighter.
An engineer friend, Henry Blazek was also a SCUBA diver. He needed money too, so I told him how much fun it was to retrieve anchors, moorings, and such, and so we joined forces. I had been diving alone, usually without a tender, so this was a good partnership. Hank knew where there were a lot of boatyards on the south side of Brooklyn. They rented out hundreds of small ‘kicker’ boats to local fishermen. Alas the boatyard owners said that they hadn’t lost anything….except that the boat renters kept losing many small anchors on which there was a $5.00 deposit. If we could get any back, the owners would pay us two or three dollars, depending on their condition. I had a chart of the area, and noticed that there were four or five submarine telephone cables stretching between Brooklyn and Coney Island right in the area popular with the fishermen.
Full of great expectations, Henry and I rented a boat and motored out to the most likely area. We set up a course perpendicular to the orientation of the cable and tossed a grapnel over the side. After ten minutes of dragging the grapnel was hung up fast. The theory seemed to have worked, so over the side I went, and down about forty feet. Sure enough, it was a cable, and there was an anchor! And another! And another! There were anchors about every three feet! It soon became clear that some had been there for many years and were not worth salvaging. Almost every anchor had a ball of tangled fishing line about a foot in diameter around the shank, some with living fish still attached! We developed a theory and later saw it in action: When a fish is hooked, it heads for the nearest obstruction and dashes around it as many times as it can. Thus, many fishermen who loose their gear ‘snagged on the bottom’ in reality have been purposely tangled up by a fish! Each anchor had to be disentangled and brought to the surface for further cleaning. This took some time, but we were able to retrieve and sell about 25 anchors that first day.
We worked out a scheme to reduce the time spent going from the bottom to the surface and back down. We took down bags of little bottles wound with 50 feet of stout cord. We could both work underwater, selecting and untangling the anchors, and tying on a bottle to each, setting it to one side of the cable, free and clear. This worked well. We went down the line and prepared about thirty anchors, each with a line attached and a float topside. When we were out of air we went back to our kicker boat and prepared to haul up a boatload of anchors. But the tide had started to run, and was so strong that all of the floats were dragged underwater! We couldn’t come back right away, so three days later at slack tide we returned and searched and searched, but never found a bottle. I hate to admit it, but we did the same thing again, this time using a foot long piece of two by four for the floats. We went in at slack, fixed up twenty or so anchors, and came up to find the wooden floats underwater. First lesson on the strength of currents…We were too tired to wait around six hours for the evening slack, so we decided to return the next day.
I have learned one truth about New York: there are lots of people there. Messing around, into everything, anything. When we came back the next day we found only two of our floats. It was easy to imagine some curious flotsam picker hauling up a funny piece of wood, and then noticing a line of similar floats stretching off into the distance….
And con artists…. One day, going down a cable, we came to an end! It was an electric power cable, with an inch and a half core of copper wires. Interesting, so we turned around and eventually found the other end several hundred yards away. Wow! At $1.00 a pound, there was a fortune in copper there. We figured that it must have been discarded when they put in one of the major lines. So the next day we came back with hacksaws, pulled up an end, and started to saw off a fifteen foot long piece, wondering how many we could do in a day. We had just started when two men in a small boat came over and asked what we were doing. We explained that we had found some salvage, (not telling its true nature). The men said that they worked for the power company, and had stored a cable there, never expecting anybody to find it, and to please put it back. They were very serious, never quite threatening, so we felt lucky that they hadn’t called the police. We left, and never went back But thinking about it later, we decided that it was not like the power company to do that. It was more likely that the two men worked for the power company and had taken the traditional New York ‘cut’ of anything passing through their hands. There was indeed a fortune there, but it belonged to some New York con artists.
We had worked the area of Flushing pretty hard, and had never again found an ‘anchor graveyard’ quite as rich as that first day. So we decided to explore a new area, the jetty at the end of Coney Island.
The rocks of the jetty spilled over into the sea and onto the sea floor, making a good environment for interesting marine life including lobsters and many fish. There were some anchors, too, mostly old, and each with a tremendous ball of fishing line, hooks and weights around the shank to accommodate all the fishermen on the jetty who preferred shore casting to boat fishing. We were happily exploring along the jetty, attempting to stay in the safe zone between the jetty fishermen and the trolling boats. It was sort of funny. The fishermen were trying hard, using their best gear, to cast far out from the jetty. But the bottom was flat and uninteresting there! All the fish were around the rocks of the jetty, or the ones spilled out a little way. And the big balls of fishing line on snagged anchors were all around the rocks. Did we find any good anchors? You bet we did: culminating in a 600-pound monster with a six-foot shank, classic folding cross-bar and a short length of broken chain. We were ecstatic, and hurried home to make plans for retrieving the beast.
We scrounged up a surplus hand-cranked hoist of adequate capacity and mounted it on a platform that we could tow with a ‘kicker’ boat. The platform was an old WW II surplus balsa wood 20-man life raft that we decked over with salvaged planks. It was loosely tied together, but the hoist was securely mounted in the center and was ready for action. Henry’s brother Tom had volunteered to help us at no charge, and we were glad to have a third hand. As luck turned out, he was one of those people with no water sense. He was totally useless running the kicker boat, or steering or keeping things lashed together. Still, we crossed several miles of the bay and anchored over the big anchor without too much trouble. We soon were chained to the monster and took up the slack by operating the winch. Taking turns on the winch, we started the slow process of lifting the anchor clear of the bottom. It was tough work, and we could have used more mechanical advantage. When it came Tom’s turn to crank, disaster struck. To change places, Tom somehow stepped on the side of the platform that was already almost under water due to a rising current.. The other side started up, and the current caught under the raft and it was well on its way to completely capsizing and losing the winch and the platform. Henry and I hung on to the edge that was rising up and yelled to Tom to “Get off, GET OFF!” Finally Tom jumped off and we manage to restore stability once more. And there was Tom, speeding away in the current that drains the East River and the New York harbor. The current was too strong to swim against, as Tom was busy proving. Luckily there were a couple of fishermen anchored a hundred yards farther towards the open ocean. We yelled to Tom: “Grab onto the boat”, only to see Tom turn around and politely ask “May I hang on to your boat?” And by the time they said “What?” he was already gone downstream. Hank and I were scared.
By the time it would take to cut loose the kicker boat, start the motor and reach Tom he would be out in the big waves headed for Europe. It would be hard to even find him. But one more small boat was anchored between Tom and the horizon. We yelled and yelled, “GRAB IT, GRAB IT!” And Tom, finally sensing something wrong, grabbed first and asked later. Turned out it was a nice couple, who shortly delivered Tom back to us. The rescuers became good spectators, asking questions and enjoying the action while we got the big anchor free and clear of the bottom and started up our now inadequate outboard motor. It was a long trip back against the current with that high-drag load, but we were very happy with the day’s work. We finally beached our big haul on a boat ramp where we were able to winch it up into my Willys Jeep station wagon for a severe test of the rear springs. Part of the anchor stuck out the back, and the leverage was so great that the front wheels just barely touched the road. My headlights, even on dim, were pointed up, causing oncoming motorists to curse and turn their brights on me.
During the next three days we went all over City Island posting cards and offering the big anchor at a bargain $150. We had established that new ones cost about $500. One captain offered $100, but we wouldn’t accept it. But at the end of three days we decided that $100 was enough, so we went back to the man who had offered it. He said “Too bad, I just bought a big $100 mushroom anchor for my mooring instead.”
I had to get the aromatic, barnacled behemoth out of my car, so we unloaded it at an out of the way spot in the boat storage yard of my father-in-law’s yacht club. The boatyard was patrolled, and we felt that it would be safe there.
The strike soon ended, and Hank and I went back to being engineers. We put up a few cards advertising the anchor for $100 and had no responses. A year went by, and then another. Winter yielded to Spring, and Memorial Day came with its opening day ceremonies at the yacht club. And much to my surprise, there, in front of the clubhouse, in a position of honor, was the refurbished anchor, now a beautiful silver color. I half jokingly suggested the club might pay me for it, and they jokingly said they might charge me for storing it for a year and a half. And that’s the way it is, in New York.
20 MUD IN LAKE UNION
In the late fifties Rick Higlin and I had a small diving business on the side, complete with a converted LCVP ( Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel) tugboat, (the GULL HAVEN), a shallow water diving helmet and pump, and our SCUBA gear. We went from marina to marina in lake Washington picking up dropped gear, small sunken boats and motors. There was very little competition in those days. We did a little advertising and distributed our company cards to businesses all around the waterways. Of course, it was mainly a way to convince our wives that diving was not really just an expensive hobby.
One day I received a desperate call from an elderly man who lived in a houseboat on Lake union. A 26-foot cabin cruiser which had been tied up to his houseboat had sunk while he was gone for three days. He said that he needed a diver to put a sling around the cruiser so that a friend with a fishing boat and a hoist could pull it up. Speed was important since sunken boats become waterlogged very quickly. Well, Rick wasn’t available and I was, so I agreed to meet the distressed boat owner. Sure enough, there were mooring lines under tension going straight down from his houseboat. He had 200 feet of 2-inch hawser for the sling. I dove down and surveyed the sunken boat sitting upright 30 feet down. I was very careful not to disturb the mud, since I knew well the diving conditions in Lake union. Ever since installation of the locks many years ago, silt has been settling out of the slow moving water. You could touch the bottom and reach down through the mud the whole length of your arm and hardly feel any resistance. So I swam around the 24-foot boat not touching anything, memorizing the layout carefully, because I knew that I would soon be working in total darkness.
I had to use the old man as a diver’s tender for managing the two-inch rope. I instructed him to feed me the line “on demand”, and started down with a knotted end of the heavy hawser. The plan was to dig tunnels down from each side of the boat and pass the line under and around the boat. Once near the stern and once near the bow. Simple enough. I needed no special tools, just my hands. Underwater lights would be useless. Working in the blackness I easily dig the first hole down to the keel and passed the large knot through to the other side. Needing more slack, I pulled on the rope as I stood head down in the hole. I felt the rope go slack and then start coming down. And coming down. And coming down. I could feel it piling up on my feet, on my legs, all around! “STOP! STOP!’ I thought, “Please stop,” to no avail. I realized that all 200 feet of the heavy rope was now in a very big pile on top of the hole, on top of me.
After the first automatic panic reaction I quickly stopped trying to get out of the hole. I thought: “I have 45 minutes of air left. But if my regulator jams with mud it will free flow for maybe 10 minutes. Plenty of time to dig out.” So I just went sideways, digging like a very focussed underwater mole through the thick mud soup. It was not hard at all. The big problem was figuring out which way was up. I came up out of the mud about six feet away from my first hole, I think, still in total blackness, and felt liquid water around me with relief.
Drifting slowly up through the cloud of silt was like being born again. The faint light became brighter with each second, until finally there was air and sunshine. I hauled myself out onto the deck of the houseboat and sat there breathing deeply, content just to be back again in the fresh air. And the old man came over and said, “Are you finished yet?” And after a pause I said with a sigh, “No, not yet.”
21 Raising the GRATITUDE
Under cover of darkness some things go BUMP in the night, and other things go BLURP. Bilge pumps fail, power goes out, seams suddenly open up, or enemies open the drains of a boat floating high in the water, and another boat goes blurp. I have re-floated eight boats that suffered such humiliating disasters. They are never the owner’s fault. Just like it is never the captain’s fault when a line gets firmly wrapped around a propeller drive shaft. It is always the wife who didn’t take in the slack. (Manilla lines can get really tight, but the new nylon lines are ten times as bad. While the skipper is gunning the throttle the nylon lines are busy melting into a glob that turns rock hard when cool. A diver has to use a hack saw and chisel to get rid of the mess.)
CHIEF NOOKSAK was a sad sight one morning in the early 90’s, with only her mast and funnel visible at her dock space in Eagle Harbor. Her owner was sure that some enemies had done her in. The picture below shows her after Greg Hyatt and I had re-floated her by tying seven water-filled 55 gallon oil drums to her. When we inflated them with air she came to the surface once more in a slightly less than stately manner. Her cabin was clear at that point, but inside was a horrible sight with all her radios and navigation equipment dripping sea water. The picture below shows the CHIEF NOOKSAK after we beached her at high tide, and after the tide had run out. It was easy for the owner to pump her out after that.
Photograph by Lyon McCandless
But the job that was the most fun was the raising of the GRATITUDE, an ancient seventy foot cargo carrying motor-sailer. Like the CHIEF NOOKSAK, she had sunk overnight when the automatic bilge pump stopped. It was fun because it involved a whole community of people.
The first crisis was caused by the leakage of many gallons of diesel fuel oil from her large fuel tank. I followed the underwater trail of oil globules to their source, a one inch pipe coming out of the deck with a U-shaped ending. It was the air vent which allows for fast filling of the oil tank. It was now leaking oil globules out as water went in. We quickly whittled a tapered plug and I hammered it in. No more leak, but the water surface, dock and nearby boats were a mess.
An emergency response team of friends was organized to collar the large pool of oil and soak it up with absorbent batting. Disposal of oil-soaked flotsam was also a problem. True conservationists and animal lovers including Jolynn Merriam and Diana McCandless spent all day wringing out almost 100 gallons of oil into buckets. It was an awesomely dirty, but very important job. Eagle Harbor had to be saved!
The hulk was upright, somewhat down at the stern. At low tide both stern and forward hatches were out of the water for about an hour. If we could close all holes and pump very fast, there was a chance we could bring her up. Russ Trask called everyone he knew and was able to recruit eight friends with two-inch gasoline driven high capacity pumps. It was up to Greg and me to close all the holes we could find. In GRATITUDE, we dove down to close all port holes; we plugged some through-hull openings; and we nailed a temporary hatch cover over the after hatch. We inserted the intake hoses into the forward hatch in preparation for the big race against the tide.
As low tide approached the team of eight pump handlers stood chomping at the bit, ready to start their engines. As soon as the forward hatch broke the surface an engine started up and accelerated to full throttle. Then another, and another until all eight gasoline engines were going at full blast. What a noise! You couldn’t even hear the nearby environmentalists cheering. Fortunately, Greg and I were underwater most of the time positioning the intakes. The water level inside the GRATITUDE was going down at a satisfying rate. After half an hour it was down four feet, leaving another three feet to go. But the hull did not rise at all. And she was still stuck in the mud when the forward compartment was empty. Just a few feet of water in the after hold. And then all the water was gone and still the GRATITUDE did not float!.
The tide had reversed, the boat was empty, and she was still stuck. All eyes were riveted on the water as the incoming tide crept over the stern, over the sealed after hatch, and towards the forward hatch. If it got to the forward hatch it would refill the holds, undoing all our work. But there was still some hope because as more of the boat went underwater there was more buoyancy. Suddenly someone yelled, pointing. The creeping threat had stopped in its tracks! And then EVERYBODY was cheering and yelling and jumping up and down and congratulating their neighbors. The water slowly reversed, and then went back faster and faster as the GRATITUDE broke free of her muddy tomb. And there she was, smiling in the sunshine, high and dry on top of the water. Hip hip hooray! What a team!
It was a memorable occasion, every bit as thrilling as the great balloon launches we used to have on the Fourth of July before downtown Winslow got so crowded.
The GRATITUDE’s owner sealed the leaks, completed a very nice conversion and lived aboard the ship in Eagle Harbor for many years afterwards.
22 The Lure of Gold
The ‘horseshoe’ bend of the upper Sultan river was a favorite place for family adventure. We used to park in a clearing at the ‘neck’ of the horseshoe, use diving tanks to inflate big inner tubes, and roll them 200 feet to the start of some nice rapids. After a bouncy half-mile ride through the scenic canyon loop we could beach just 200 feet downhill from the car, climb back up, and do it again. We did it without inner tubes, too, in the springtime when the water was high.
The horseshoe was famous for being a rich source of placer gold in the early 20th century. A mining company used Chinese laborers to divert the river across the neck of the horseshoe so they could clean gold from the bedrock in the loop. The river flow at the beginning of the horseshoe was diverted by a dam and a five foot deep channel cut into the bedrock. The channel led the river to a vertical shaft which connected to a horizontal tunnel that dumped water back into the lower river. We were able to follow the dry channel, climb down the shaft and exit through the tunnel. Floating down the river we could see large areas where a ‘monitor’ nozzle and hose had been used to wash a big placer deposit into a series of sluice boxes. It must have been quite a sight in its hey-day with hundreds of coolies cleaning up the river bed. But they didn’t get it all. Some gold still washes down from the hills and collects in strange places.
We usually took gold pans. Almost every pan full of gravel yielded two or three very small grains of gold which we picked up with tweezers or an eye-dropper. The gold looked bigger In the small bottle of water we each carried on a thong around our necks. We tried scraping the bottom of deep pools, but bedrock was now covered with boulders, making collection impractical.
Arvid Natwick, a geologist-engineer friend at Boeing thought that panning was kid stuff. But I finally convinced him to come along one weekend. He enjoyed the scenery, but grumbled about the poor prospects. He liked to dig into the many potholes in spite of my reminder that the books said that they were unproductive sucker bait. One time, as we were packing up he was just finishing the hard job of cleaning rocks and gravel out of the bottom of a deep, two foot wide pothole. He carefully put all the fine-grained remainder in a pan and went down to the water. A few minutes later we heard a yell and went to investigate. Arvid tilted the pan and swirled the water around to reveal half of the pan bottom shining all golden like the sun! It made the day for all of us.
I couldn’t go back the next weekend, so Arvid went by himself. And again the next weekend, and the next weekend. His wife complained, but he really had the bug. For the next four months he re-visited the site whenever he could, but never again got a pan half covered in gold.
A favorite childhood fantasy of mine involved finding a deep pool under a waterfall, just paved with gold. A pool, totally inaccessible by ordinary prospectors. A pool waiting for me… So every chance I had, I actually dove under waterfalls in the Cascade Mountains, sampling the bottom sand and gravel under a dozen waterfalls over many years. But it was hard to get down to bedrock. All good placer miners know that is where the gold goes.
A good chance came when I was driving across the USA alone. I knew something of the geology and mining history of the West, and traveled a broken route visiting some of the many old ghost towns. There had been gold mines up river from Libby, Montana, and the Kootenai Falls were a little down stream. So there was a chance that gold had gone over the falls. The falls were in two steps. First a small plunge of five feet over bedrock, then a hundred feet of swift current to an angry series of rapids and falls. Holes under the upper falls should be the first to catch anything especially dense.
I needed an assistant for safety, so I signed up a local stakeholder as partner pro tem. His job was to manage a rope tied to my waist so I didn’t go over the very turbulent and much more dangerous falls downstream. Everything worked according to plan. Using SCUBA gear I swam underwater towards midstream hugging the face of the rock wall behind the falls in order to avoid the current. My partner kept a slight tension on the safety line. Smooth exposed bedrock was just what I wanted, but I needed a hole of some sort to collect the gold. At a depth of about ten feet I found just the thing: A natural two feet by ten feet trap a foot deep. My adrenaline surged as I saw that mixed in with small boulders were nails, bolts, and odd pieces of iron. My theory worked! It took me almost an hour of to clean out the debris. Then I was down to sorting small stones from the black sand. (Black sand is a heavy iron oxide and is always found with placer gold). Then I carefully swept all the sand and remaining gravel into a container I had brought.
My slightly concerned partner was glad to see me finally emerge from the stream after an hour. Not even waiting to take off my rubber suit, I dumped my spoils into a gold pan and started the slow, regular swirling that uses water to separate sand and gravel from heavier things. As I carefully spilled out the light material I could feel that there was something dense rolling on the bottom of the pan. And finally I could see the unusual particles. I swirled the black sand aside, and there they were: thirteen little, roundish gray nodules on the bottom of the pan. They were bullet slugs from rifles and pistols, and fishing weights! Not a single glimmer of gold. The gods were probably chuckling again.
At least the theory had worked. If there had been any gold nuggets around, I would have had them, too. I thanked Sancho Panza sincerely for his significant assistance and set off to find an alchemist, carrying the lead treasure close to my heart.