They say that the sea is a cruel mistress, and it seems as if the saying is rightfully so. Already images of the Titanic, Bermuda Triangle, and perhaps even Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 floated into your head from even mentioning the proverbial raging waters. With depths up to 12,000 feet and 80 percent of seawaters being unexplored, let’s just say there are a lot of places things can go missing when they’re lost out in the ocean.
Waters along our Pacific Northwest shoreline are no different from the rest. Here, potentially rugged shorelines and narrow canals make for common places for ships to either sink and wash ashore later or run aground. A collection of shipwrecks now line the shores of the Snohomish community’s Everett waterfront and others, resulting in the accumulation of numerous hauntingly beautiful and quite historic ship graveyards along our coastal region.
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
The first sign of these once smooth sailing but are now dead in the water ships can be found first at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. This shipyard has permanent sites in Bremerton, Bangor, and Everett, spanning 179 acres. It has gone uninterrupted in use since its establishment in 1891 when it was initially established as a Naval Station. The shipyard in Bremerton has become the Pacific Northwest’s largest Naval shore facility and one of Washington’s largest industrial installations.
All hands were on deck at the shipyard during World War I when this Navy Yard was used to construct ships, including 25 sub chasers, seven submarines, two minesweepers, seven seagoing tugs, and two ammunition ships, along with 1,700 other small boats. During WWII, the shipyard was primarily used to repair ships damaged in the battle for those among the U.S. fleet and its allies.
These days the shipyard provides our Navy with high-quality, on-time maintenance, modernization, recycling and support that helps keep U.S. waters safe and secure. It was officially designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1992, which consists of 22 contributing buildings and 42 contributing structures, some of which are ships from the days of yore. Currently, inactive ships and subs here include former USS Navy ships, the Ex-Kitty Hawk, Ex-Rainier, and Ex-Dubuque.
Dark, fresh waters and thick overgrowth truly make Everett’s Steamboat Slough look and feel like a marine graveyard. This tidal channel connecting the Snohomish River to Puget Sound harbors countless boats that slowly return to nature as they sit and decay, with sizes ranging from commercial yachts to tiny sailboats. Regrettably, many of these former mighty vessels had been dumped and left abandoned by uninterested owners over the years.
Of course, the channel wasn’t always full of seemingly haunted ships that had been left to nature’s will. Originally steamboats used the channel to make regular trips after it was cleared in the spring of 1864. This was all thanks to logging company owner E.D. Smith who needed the channel cleared as it was the most direct route into the harbor. He had trouble getting log booms down the Snohomish River because of fallen timber blocking the channel. Once cleared, steamboats like the Zephyrand the Nellie began making regular trips to settlements upriver via the channel. It has been used in such a manner ever since, growing in popularity, and more and more people have moved to the region.
To improve waterways along the Steamboat Slough a few years ago, the city of Everett became part of the Derelict Vessel Removal Program. The program has removed several abandoned ships over the years throughout Everett waterways, not just the Steamboat Slough. It’s since been a massive success in not only protecting local habitats that may be affected by spills and pollution from these vessels, but it has also made the waters much safer for boaters, kayakers, and more aquanauts in our Snohomish community.
Wooden Ship Breakwater
Not all ships along our Everett coastline are just sitting, waiting for rescue like those abandoned in Steamboat Slough. Some have been purposefully placed to create a breakwater along the shoreline to protect against tides, currents, waves, and storm surges.
Such is the case with Everett’s Wooden Ship Breakwater. These ships along the shoreline were initially sunk in the 1930s at the mouth of the Snohomish River and have been a pillar of the city’s seas ever since. Each vessel holds its own remarkable history, but none as remarkable as the find of the historic yacht, the Equator, that was discovered and rescued from the group a few years ago.
Now this large, old wooden ship sits underneath a canopy at the Port of Everett Boat Launch. This historic schooner has been all around the world and has a storied history in our fair city. It once carried the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson on South Pacific voyages when he boarded the ship for the first time in 1889 to set sail from Honolulu to the Gilbert Islands. The ship had only been built a year prior by boat builder Matthew Turner, who had a reputation for designing massive wooden ships, having built over 200 such vessels in his lifetime.
It is believed that Stevenson’s adventures aboard the ship influenced him to write his books “Treasure Island” and “The Wrecker.” The legend goes that the ship is also haunted due to his travels after his time spent in Hawaii. During this time, Stevenson befriended the resident King Kalakaua, and it is now rumored that the King’s ghost follows the ship.
Eventually, the Equator ran aground in 1923 on the Quillayute Bar, after which it was converted into a Puget Sound tug, where the ship operated until the mid-1950s. The vessel was finally docked as part of the breakwater in 1956, remaining there until 1967, when it was finally recognized and rescued from its fate by local dentist Eldon Schalka. Soon after, the Equator Foundation was formed. The ship was later placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, making it the first Everett property to receive this designation.
These days the historic schooner resides under a protective structure at the Port of Everett Boat Launch, where it showcases a landmark part of Everett’s seaside history, as does the region’s other hauntingly beautiful ship graveyards that all seem to tell seaside tales from days at sea past. Even today, they still make waves despite their captain’s abandoning ship long ago.