Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

 
 

Mystery ship found on sea floor at Lutak

 


The origin of an apparent sunken ship recently discovered just offshore of Lutak Dock puzzled Haines Borough officials and local history buffs this week.

Hydrographer Ben Hocker, who last week took sonar images of the sea floor near the dock, said preliminary data shows what appears to be a 180-foot long, 30-foot wide barge overturned and partially buried in the sea floor just north of the dock’s barge ramp.

“Generally speaking, the shape is indicative of a vessel hull. There are what would appear to be guide rudders on the end of the hull and a pointy bow,” Hocker said.

The raw data indicates the boat is resting on a slope about 200 feet offshore, with the bow sitting at about 35 feet under water and the stern about 100 feet down. The measurements are preliminary and subject to change, he said.

Hocker said the sonar technology revealed the majority of the vessel’s exposed surface is smooth and flat, leading him to believe the boat is overturned. If it were right-side up, the imaging would likely show some sort of superstructure or hold, he said.

The smooth surface also suggests the hull is made of steel, as wooden hulls tend to deteriorate and appear potholed and uneven on imaging software.

Because the imaging doesn’t reveal any material spilled out alongside the vessel, Hocker said the ship likely sank empty or full of cargo that floated away. “I wouldn’t be sitting back here if it was full of gold, let’s just put it that way,” he said.

Hocker couldn’t estimate how long the boat has been on the sea floor, but said its partial burial in the sediment indicates it didn’t likely sink in the last several years.

Hocker, under contract with PND Engineers, came to Haines last week to perform bathymetric studies of the small boat harbor for the borough. Manager Mark Earnest said he had Hocker and his colleague do the additional studies around Lutak Dock while they were in town.

Longtime residents and borough officials alike were left clueless on the identity of the ship and when or why it might have sunk. John Schnabel, who operated a sawmill for decades near the wreck site, said he hadn’t “the slightest idea what it would be or where it came from.”

Earnest, Sheldon Museum director Jerrie Clarke, Alaska Marine Lines employee Michael Ganey, and several longtime residents were all scratching their heads Wednesday after learning of the wreck.

Phil Sellick, a professional diver who operates Juneau’s scuba shop, said it’s unusual for sunken vessels so large to go unnoticed. “You’d think you’d have heard something about it at some point… Chances are it’s only a piece of rusted metal. If a boat sank with any kind of value or anything worth anything on it, you’d hear about it. But it’s kind of cool to find something new.”

Sellick and others speculated the vessel may have been scuttled there. “People go out and sink stuff so they don’t have to dispose of it any other way.”

Harbormaster Phil Benner said even Coast Guard officials were stumped on where the boat might have come from. Benner, though, thinks the boat has been down there for “a long, long time.”

“I have a feeling it will be a mystery until (local diver) Norm Hughes goes down there and dives on it,” Benner said.

Earnest said he sent out a slew of emails Wednesday requesting any information residents might have about the ship.

Hocker said he will continue processing the data and hopes to have “a much better look at what this thing is” by the end of this week.

“We have a lot of fun thinking about this sort of stuff. You put together this whole story in your head about what this thing could be and sort of fantasize about the scenario of how it got down there. And then, of course, you find out the real story and it’s never as exciting as you thought,” Hocker said.