Submarine exploration of Admiralty Inlet shipwreck only the beginning
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An overturned sink at the 90-year-old wreck site of the SS Governor is shown under 240 feet of water in this image from OceanGate.
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OceanGate
Port Townsend City Council member George Randels takes a peek inside the Antipodes submarine during a break in the exploration of the SS Governor.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — The exploration of the wreckage of the SS Governor in Admiralty Inlet is not only of historical significance but also sets the tone for future oceanic research, says the spokesman for the exploration dive team.

“Our mission was to create a three-dimensional scan of some portions of the wreck,” Joel Perry, vice president of expeditions for OceanGate, told more than 200 people at the Northwest Maritime Center last week.

OceanGate sent a manned yellow submarine, the Antipodes, on several dives in late June to the 90-year-old wreck 240 feet beneath the surface of Admiralty Inlet.

“Conditions were favorable and we were successful in scanning the portions that we wanted,” Perry said.

The next stop for the team is off the coast of Monterey, Calif., where it will attempt examination of the SS Montebello, an oil tanker that was torpedoed on Christmas Day in 1941 by a Japanese submarine and sank within 25 minutes off the coast south of Monterey.

The 38-member crew survived, but 73,000 barrels of crude oil may yet be aboard the vessel.

OceanGate will survey the wreck to assess the potential environmental threat to the nearby Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and report its findings to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Our exploration of the Governor couldn’t have gone any better,” Perry said.

“It was the ideal place for a practice run before our work with the Montebello.”

A capacity crowd Thursday night listened to Perry and Jefferson County Library Associate Director Meredith Wagner to find out more about the history and exploration of the ship that sank off Point Wilson at about midnight April 1, 1921.

Eight of the 240 people aboard the Governor did not survive.

The 417-foot passenger steamship was heading from Vancouver, British Columbia, on its way to Seattle when it was rammed by the SS West Hartland, which was leaving Port Townsend, heading for Bombay, India.

Captain Harry Marden of the Governor mistook the red light on the port side of the West Hartland for the bright red light at the end of the Fort Flagler dock and could not stop in time to avoid the collision, Wagner said.

The bow of the West Hartland hit the starboard side of the Governor. The Hartland’s captain, John Alwen, intentionally kept the bow wedged into the Governor, allowing time for most of the liner’s passengers to abandon ship.

Marden was blamed for the collision and suspended for one year, Wagner said, but it was later decided that West Hartland captain shared blame because he waited too long to sound a warning blast.

Marden was suspended for one year. He died three months after the suspension.

Alwen was suspended for five years, Wagner said.

The Everett-based OceanGate company spent four days in June taking sonar and video images of the doomed liner from inside the 7-ton, 15-foot-long manned submarine.

Although the sub can carry five people, only three or four went on each dive.

“The sub can hold five people but gets really crowded, especially if you are spending all day down there,” Perry said.

Perry said that the small sub can do some things that individuals divers can’t, such as stay down for extended periods and keep reserachers immune to changes in pressure.

Perry said that some artifacts were recognizable, such as a sink and some dinner plates, and much of the wreck was recognizable as a ship.

“It was hard to determine what we were seeing, and there had been some activity down there since the ship sank,” he said.

“In some parts, it looked like the Eiffel Tower sideways, with all the girders crossing and anemones attached, or like a big, rusty Erector Set,” Perry said.

The crew never went inside the wreck, following the safety rule to never be anywhere without direct vertical access to the surface.

“We never saw the missing safe,” he said.

Those aboard the submarine also didn’t see the ship’s bell, which was found July 24 by Maritime Documentation Society divers.

The exploration of the Governor will directly affect the upcoming scanning of the Montebello, but there is an even wider impact, Perry said.

“Only about 5 percent of the oceans have been substantially explored, which leaves a tremendous amount that we haven’t seen,” he said.

“Our mission is to explore that remaining 95 percent and have them use real science for rational decision making.”

The free event was co-sponsored by the Jefferson County Library, the Northwest Maritime Center and the Jefferson County Historical Soceity.

The high turnout at the Northwest Maritime Center “represents the pinnacle of our existence,” said the center’s executive director, Jake Beattie.

He thanked both the Peninsula Daily News and The Port Townsend/Jefferson County Leader, a weekly, for covering the story in detail, saying “it is important to let people know what we are doing here and the local papers did a great job with this.”

He also thanked Port Townsend Deputy Mayor George Randels “who convinced me that we needed to take this on.”

Photos of the Governor and information about the submarine dives can be found at www.opentheoceans.com/governor.htm.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 07. 2011 11:00PM
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