Little yellow submarine fights tide, currents to wreck of of old steamship
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OceanGate oceanographer Erika Bergman sits atop the Antipodes as the submersible is pulled out for maintenance Thursday at Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend. -- Photo by Philip L. Watness/for Peninsula Daily News

By Philip L. Watness
For Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The tricky currents of Admiralty Inlet proved as devious as Coyote of Indian legend Thursday as the Antipodes made its second dive to the SS Governor.

Crew members timed the voyage right before slack tide, allowing them to reach the wreck of the passenger liner with little difficulty.

On Wednesday, they had fought the tide to reach the 417-foot long hulk.

Their plan for today’s dive is to split the difference between the two previous departure times to make the most of the slack water.

Both dives so far have produced two-dimensional sonar scans as well as high-definition videography of the ship that went down after midnight April 1, 1921, after being rammed by the freighter SS West Hartland.

Today’s dive should produce stunning three-dimensional sonar scans that the expedition organizer, the OceanGate company of Everett, plans to share with Port Townsend the evening of Thursday, Aug. 4, at the Northwest Maritime Center.

“Our intent is to share the results of what we did and what we found,” said Joel Perry, vice president for expeditions for OceanGate.

He said several local organizations are likely to participate with the company during the presentation, but details are still being worked out.

OceanGate co-founder Guillermo Sohnlein said Thursday’s expedition proved productive despite the submarine being “blown off the wreck” by a strong tide a few hours into its voyage.

“One big challenge are the currents and the timing,” he said. “We spent two hours fighting the tides [Wednesday]. That’s why we flipped the schedule [Thursday]. We’d rather get the work done.”

Sohnlein said the crew aboard the Antipodes on Thursday were able to capture sonar and video looking down on the remains of the Governor.

“I think what hit us is the lives lost at the impact point,” he said.

“You can really see the impact point, and you can imagine the other ship, and you think, ‘People were in that cabin.’”

Erika Bergman, who serves as the company’s oceanographer and chemist, thought of the tragic story of Lucy Washburn.

Washburn returned to the ship after being safely rescued because her two young daughters, Sadie, 8, and Oline, 10, were trapped below deck.

They were three of the eight casualties of the dramatic accident.

“You feel something heart-wrenching,” Bergman said after Thursday’s dive.

“At least the other captain had the good sense to keep the power on and the boats together, so most of the people could abandon ship.”

The captain of the West Hartland — known only by his surname, Alwen — had the presence of mind to keep his ship hard against the doomed passenger liner for as long as he could, dramatically reducing the loss of life.

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

Two other elements of the dive fascinated Bergman.

She said she loved seeing a steamship up close, even one as deteriorated as the Governor, and she said the sea life on the ocean floor was remarkable.

“People tend to think of the Puget Sound almost as desert-like,” she said.

“It’s teeming with life. There’s so much to look at,” she added.

“It’s a really dynamic eco-system.”

The Antipodes was pulled from the water in the late afternoon Thursday so the crew could pump in oxygen for breathing and air for hydraulics, as well as charge its batteries.

It will be put back in at Point Hudson Marina at around 7 a.m. today and likely remain out to sea through Sunday, Perry said.

The lift out of the 7-ton, 15-foot-long manned submersible provided an unexpected thrill for a family visiting Port Townsend from Fort Polk, La.

Anastasia Stipe and her children, Sam Brocato, 9, and Taliesen Brocato, 5, were seeing the sites with Anastasia’s mom, Judy Stipe of Sequim.

They had read about the submarine expedition and hoped for a glimpse of it but were surprised when they and the submarine both showed up at the same time at the Point Hudson Marina, where workers with Sea Marine used the company’s haulout rig to bring the craft out of the water.

“I was really excited,” Sam Brocato said. “I was thrilled to meet the sub lady and to see the submarine. It’s a special thing.”

Brocato asked Bergman a few questions after watching the sub get pulled out.

“I asked how big it was and what it was like to be in it,” Brocato said.

“The whole sub is designed to be safe,” Bergman told Brocato.

“It’s a very cozy space, almost like being in bed.”

________

Philip L. Watness is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend. He can be reached at whatnews@olypen.com.

Last modified: June 23. 2011 11:47PM
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