What anyone finds aboard a sunken barge in Lutak Inlet, they can keep, Tom Paddock, Jr. said this week.
“They can have it. I’m retired. I don’t even want to think about it,” Paddock, a former contractor, said in a phone interview from his home in Juneau.
Paddock said the vessel spotted with sonar imaging last week near the Haines Borough’s Lutak Dock is likely the 200-foot “fill” barge that sank while his company was dredging near there in 1976. At that time, Paddock was vice-president of T.O. Paddock Co. of Juneau, a firm that built docks and bridges throughout the region.
In Haines the company was dredging in advance of the new barge ramp there and had just knocked off for the Fourth of July holiday when a storm blew up. The barge, loaded with fill material, was one of two at the site. It was secured to another smaller barge that held a crane that had been dredging the sea floor.
Paddock said he believed that as the two vessels banged together, water filled the larger one, causing it to flip over. In doing so, it also turned over the smaller barge and toppled its crane into the water. The action tore a stanchion cap off the smaller barge, filling several compartments with water and causing it to partially submerge. The larger vessel went to the bottom.
As the Lutak Dock had been used for loading logs, the sea floor there was thick with woody debris, reducing visibility and complicating salvage efforts, Paddock said. “There was so much bark there at the time, everything got buried in that. That’s why it took two weeks to get that crane out of there.”
Divers who located the crane’s 100-foot boom were unable to find the 200-foot barge, said Paddock, who expressed surprise this week that the vessel was found so close to the shore. “We thought she went down in deep, deep water.” Ron Martin of Haines, who was working on the project, flew a plane trying to spot it from the air. “He flew up and down the canal looking for it.” Martin couldn’t be reached for comment this week.
The company eventually refloated the 140-foot crane barge after pulling it near the beach using bulldozers on the shore. Resident Patricia Peters, who submitted photos of the operation to the CVN this week, said she remembers watching salvage efforts unfold. “There was no TV then. That was our entertainment.”
Paddock said the lost barge was one of the company’s biggest for shipping materials around Southeast and was worth a “couple hundred thousand dollars” when it went down. It was insured, he said.
In addition to fill and the lost barge, equipment lost in the wreck included some diesel-powered welders and a generator, Paddock said. Most of the company’s tools were on the crane barge, he said.
The sunken crane wasn’t structurally damaged in the wreck and was returned to use. T.O. Paddock was partnering with Anchorage-based Construction Rigging on the job, Paddock said.