Sub to make first dive to 90-year-old shipwreck today

Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A crew of about 12 launched a submarine from the Point Hudson Marina and towed it to Fort Worden State Park on Tuesday in preparation for today’s initial dive to explore the 90-year-old wreck of the SS Governor.

“We just launched the sub at the dock,” said Joel Perry, vice president of expeditions for OceanGate of Everett, at about 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The Antipodes, OceanGate’s 7-ton, 15-foot-long manned submersible, is scheduled to make numerous dives through Sunday to the hulk resting in silt 240 feet below the surface of Admiralty Inlet.

The submarine will be towed out each day to the site of the remains of the 417-foot steamship passenger liner that sank after being rammed by the freighter West Hartland just after midnight April 1, 1921.

Eight people died, according to City of Dreams: A Guide to Port Townsend, published in 1986.

It carried 172 passengers with a crew of 124, according to a New York Times story published the day after the wreck.

Perry said the expedition will do “low-key reconnaissance” on today’s first outing, then likely conduct two dives each of the following days.

The remains of the steamship have been visited by divers, but the Antipodes exploration will be more comprehensive than any look yet at the aging hulk.

The submarine, which will carry up to five crew members, is expected to produce three- and two-dimensional sonar images of the Governor.

A three-dimensional camera mounted in the sub will scan the ship in segments, and the sonar images will be digitally stitched together to produce a three-dimensional image.

Perry said this will be the first time such a camera — which has been used in scuba diving and ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) — has been used on a submarine.

Those aboard the Antipodes will see the wreck from the sub’s two 58-inch-diameter bubble windows made of 3-inch-thick acrylic.

The Pacific Mall Steamship Co. vessel was steaming toward Seattle on the last leg of a voyage from San Pedro, Calif., when it collided with the West Hartland, which was headed out to sea from Port Townsend.

The Governor’s last port of call had been Victoria, where some passengers disembarked.

The ship now lies on its starboard side, its bow ripped open, divers have said.

The weather deck is gone, allowing access to the hull, and ship pieces and other artifacts are strewn across the sea floor, they have said.

Perry said the company selected the vessel’s final resting place to prepare for a similar expedition to a tanker lying off California’s coast.

The OceanGate expedition will test the Antipodes and its three-dimensional camera in circumstances akin to what the submarine will encounter when it dives to the SS Montebello, an oil tanker torpedoed by the Japanese off the California coast in the early days of World War II.

The Montebello has a reported 70,000 barrels of oil aboard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has contracted OceanGate to survey the wrecked tanker to give the agency a better idea of whether anything can be done to remove the oil.

Surveying that wreck is even more daunting than examining the SS Governor because it is eight miles out at sea and 900 feet below the surface.

For more information about OceanGate, visit www.opentheoceans.com.

Last modified: June 22. 2011 12:12AM
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