Story last updated at 2/6/2013 - 1:39 pm
The steam freighter "Edith" in 1915 headed to Southeast Alaska to begin the salvage on the steamer "Ramona" at the Spanish Islands, the "Olympia" in Prince William Sound, and possibly help with the salvage of the freighter "Delhi" on Straits Island. Before she was rigged to do such work, she started life as a yacht built in San Francisco in 1882. After that she changed hands so often that no one attempted to recall the owners. She was rebuilt so often she no longer resembled the palatial yacht.
A millionaire, H. F. Ralston, supposedly contracted the construction of the palatial pleasure boat and named it the "Bonanza." The name came from the Comstock Lode in California that made the family millions of dollars. One source attributes the construction to his father, William C. Ralston, who resurrected the Bank of California to make it a leading bank during that gold rush. One or the other poured money into yacht with the best construction, equipment and furnishings. She was rumored to cost $19,000, a great deal of money at that time.
During its years in San Francisco, she was often the scene of noteworthy social affairs. However, not all went well for either of the Ralstons and both lost their fortunes and both committed suicide. In 1875 the San Francisco newspapers reported the elder Ralston may have swum too far out toward the Golden Gate bridge on purpose after losing his fortune, but a few wanted to believe he was caught in a tidal current. His son killed himself for the same reason in 1888.
The "Bonanza" was sold to Puget Sound capitalists and began her commercial career as a passenger boat. Then she became a tramp steamer. By 1885, she was 120 feet long, with a 24 foot beam and had a 9-foot hold. There are discrepancies in whether she was still called the "Bonanza" or if the name had been changed to some other name or the "Edith."
The vessel made its first trip to Alaska in 1885, fitted out for a voyage to the placer mines at Golovin Bay in the Arctic southeast of Nome. The charter price was $1,000 a month, and she carried a $10,000 outfit, including 18 months of provisions for 10 white men and "a lot of Indians" to work in the mine. Also aboard were tools, horses and mules. Prior to that, expeditions to Golovin Bay had been disasters with at least two schooners lost during storms. This boat successfully made the trip.
From that time onward, she continued her career as a tramp freighter and fishing boat. Then she fell into the hands of Harry W. Crosby of the Washington Tug and Barge, a Seattle company. He planned to use her to salvage wrecked ships. Crosby had already been successful at salvage. In 1913, he, with Alaska Dredging and Salvage Company and the tug "Monitor," raised the steamship "Curacao" at Warm Chuck Inlet. She hit a rock off Hecata Island on the West Coast of Prince of Wales and the captain managed to run her on the beach at the cannery. With eight divers and proper equipment, the steamship was raised. Her hull was repaired, and she proceeded to Vancouver, B.C., under her own power after being renovated.
His opportunity to find a ship capable of bringing up valuable pieces of a sunken vessel came in 1914. After the "Olympia," of Alaska Steamship Company, went on Bligh Rock in Prince William Sound in 1912, Crosby purchased her at a marshal's sale for $700. During the remainder of that year and into 1915, Captain Crosby, with the help of Marcus & Neider (machinery dealers), refitted the "Edith" for salvage work. Did the invited friends and family know it would be a "working" cruise when they started on a six weeks Alaskan cruise in summer 1915?
The first stop was at the "Ramona" wreck at the Spanish Islands. This group of islands is between Cape Decision and Coronation Island near the mouth of Sumner Strait. While making her way through a thick fog, she hit a rock. The captain ran her as fast as she would go and was able to put her ashore on one of the islands. The crew was safely removed. She stayed high and dry on the rocks for several years. By the time Crosby arrived, the "Ramona" had broken in two and much of the hull was underwater.
Crosby and his partners had arranged to work on the wreck in conjunction with the marine insurance company. The "Edith's" booms were able to handle weights up to 15 tons so it did not have difficulty with the salvage work. The crew reportedly removed her machinery, equipment and copper lining. The purser's safe contained several hundred dollars. The scrap metal reportedly had a value of between $5,000 and $6,000. The diver, Henry Finch, literally struck gold, when he recovered $60,000 in gold from the submerged hull.
After that success, Crosby's "Edith" moved on to Straits Island. This is three miles from Prince of Wales Island's Point Baker and appears as a conspicuous island as one makes the almost right-hand turn that Sumner Strait takes to the Pacific Ocean. Here the freighter "Delhi" had run aground on Straits Island Reef on Jan. 18, 1915. She was on her way from Craig to Wrangell and stranded despite an acetylene navigational aid. Sometimes during a strong ebb tide, the light was obscured. The "Delhi's" captain faced the dark, a southeasterly wind and a light snow and could not see the light. She ended on the reef high and dry at low tide. After several diving attempts, hampered by strong currents, the underwriters gave notice to abandon her.
To a passing boat captain's surprise, on Feb. 5, 1916, she was no longer on the reef! She disappeared. Finally Carl Lancaster, John Laughlin and John Sayles found her dismasted, submerged with only two feet of hull and seven feet of the saloon deck above water. She was still in Sumner Strait between Conclusion Island and Point Barrie. Finally the men were able to tow her to Ketchikan and then Prince Rupert where they were told she was worthless because of the huge hole in her bottom.
Crosby related that he planned to stop to help Sayles and Lancaster in the wrecking of the "Delhi." I have found no mention of Crosby being involved with the "Delhi." The three men who took her to Prince Rupert possibly would have made more money and avoided litigation if they had let Crosby salvage the ship for scrap.
Crosby then went north to Prince William Sound, and that is when he salvaged the "Olympia." Her bunkers contained 15 tons of coal that he could use in the boiler of the "Edith." All her brass, copper, iron, and machinery were removed.
This may have been the only year that the "Edith" did salvage work in Alaska. Crosby went on to become involved in the salmon processing business on Kodiak Island and at Warm Chuck where he had salvaged the "Curacao."
After this time, the "Edith" continued as a tramp steamer and perhaps her name was changed again. I haven't found her demise in the literature or on the Web.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at email@example.com.