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Exploring history beneath the waves
by Reneé Mizar
Communications Coordinator, Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley
More than 90 years after sinking near the shores of Port Townsend in a maritime disaster that claimed eight lives, the S.S. Governor is the focus of a history program presented by the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
Representatives of the Maritime Documentation Society present “The Wreck of the SS Governor: A Requiem,” at 10 a.m. Friday, March 15, at the historical Dungeness Schoolhouse, 2781 Towne Road in Sequim. Admission is $5 and payable at the door.
The image- and video-filled program recounts the Pacific Northwest-based society’s ongoing efforts to document the wreckage of the 417-foot passenger liner, which was Seattle bound with more than 200 passengers when it was rammed by the S.S. West Hartland and sank near Point Wilson in April 1921. In documenting what remains of the wreckage, the society’s exploration divers discovered the ship’s bell buried in silt some 240 feet below the surface in Admiralty Inlet.
“Just being able to swim through the hallways, through floor levels and along the top deck where hundreds of panicked passengers scrambled for their very lives is a feeling that cannot be illustrated through words or captured on video,” Maritime Documentation Society vice president Dan Warter said.
“When our team found the bell two years ago, it was like the Governor giving our team a gift of thanks for all the years we showed respect and gratitude toward her dying hulk.”
Warter said shipwreck diving conditions around Port Townsend have been quite tricky, likening currents in that area to “a constant underwater hurricane with the vortex difficulty over the wreck,” which has limited dives to the S.S. Governor to about three to five days per year.
A nonprofit organization founded in 2011, the all-volunteer Maritime Documentation Society is committed to the exploration and chronicling of existing, undiscovered and natural historical shipwrecks in the region via underwater photography, videos and written documentation. The group has conducted diving expeditions throughout the Olympic Peninsula and Puget Sound regions, including at Lake Crescent and Lake Washington.
The society was awarded a 2012 State Historic Preservation Officer’s Special Achievement Award for its work with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to explore and document the remains of sunken vessels in Seattle’s Lake Union. As part of the project, the society mapped and documented more than 40 sunken vessels and objects in the lake, while taking care to maintain the integrity of the sites by leaving them undisturbed.
“I think what drives me is being able to put a story with these piles of rubbish we dive on,” Warter said. “Without a story, they are just that, trash. But with a story connected, they can be monuments to moments in time when we see our fragility.”
For more information about the Maritime Documentation Society, visit www.maritimedocumentation.org.
This program marks the third of four MAC-sponsored local history programs this season. The final program, “The Manis Mastodon Archaeological Site” with Clare Manis Hatler, is Friday, April 19. Visit www.macsequim.org for details.