|Owner:||Seattle and Alki Point Transportation Company|
|Builder:||shipyard of Crawford and Reid Tacoma|
|Out of service:||1906|
|Fate:||Sunk by collision with steam schooner Jeanie, November 16, 1906, with between 40–54 people drowned|
|Type:||inland passenger dayboat|
|Length:||102.5 ft (31 m)|
|Beam:||20.5 ft (6 m)|
|Installed power:||steam engine|
The steamboat Dix operated from 1904 to 1906 as part of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. She was sunk in a collision which remains one of the most serious transportation accidents in the state of Washington to this day.
Dix was built in 1904 at the Tacoma yard of Crawford and Reid.. Dix was 102.5 ft (31.2 m) long, 20.5 ft (6.2 m) on the beam, 7.5 ft (2.3 m) depth of hold, and rated at 130 tons. Later, given her tragic end, it was recalled, perhaps superstitiously, that the launching of Dix was a failure. The vessel had simply refused to move down the ways at Crawford and Reid, and had to be hauled into the water the next day by Captain Sutter in command of Tacoma Tug and Barge’s Fairfield.
Dix was purpose-built for one route only, the run across Elliott Bay from Seattle to Alki Point, then the main recreation area for Seattle. Her owners were A.B.C. Dennison and W.L. Dudley, doing business as the Seattle and Alki Point Transportation Company. She was lightly built, and apparently top-heavy, as the steamboat inspectors twice refused to issue her a seaworthiness certificate, only relenting when her builders installed 7 tons[vague] of gravel ballast in her hull and 5 tons[vague] of iron weights bolted to her keel. Even so, she was said to be difficult to handle.
Dennison and Dudley put Dix on the intended Seattle-Alki route. In summer service with their other steamer Manette the two boats made nineteen trips daily. During the legislative session in early 1905, Dix was placed on the Olympia-Tacoma route. The fast sternwheeler Greyhound was already on that run and there wasn’t much business left over, so in January 1905 Dix was returned to the Alki run.
Sinking of the Dix
On November 18, 1906, Dix was not on her customary Alki route, but was acting as a relief boat for the Monticello on the Seattle-Port Blakeley run. She left Seattle with about 77 passengers. Her captain, Percy Lermond, tasked with collecting fares, was absent from the pilot house, leaving the mate Charles Dennison in charge. Theoretically fare collection was a job for the purser, but on the smaller vessels, it was customary for the master to perform this function.
The evening was calm and somewhat clear, and as the vessel steamed west past Alki Point into the open Sound, Captain Lermond went to his quarters behind the pilot house to tally the fares. Off Duwamish Head, Dix approached near the Alaska Coast Company steamer Jeanie and then mate Dennison (who it turns out was unlicensed) inexplicably turned the vessel directly into Jeanie ‘s path. Jeanie was ten times the size of Dix and loaded with iron ore. Even though Jeanie had already reversed her engines, and was barely under steerage way, the impact was sufficient, given the much greater weight of the Jeanie, to cause Dix to heel sharply over on her port side. She quickly filled with water, rolled over, and sank in 103 fathoms (188 m). Captain Lermond described the terrifying scene:
|“||The sight fascinated me by its horror. Lights were still burning and I could see people inside of the cabin. The expressions on the faces were of indescribable despair. ... There were cries, prayers, and groans from men and women, and the wail of a child and the shouts of those who were fighting desperately to gain the deck.||”|
Impact of sinking
The first vessel on the scene was Florence K., whose master, Capt. Cyprian T. Wyatt (1877-1952) and chief engineer, E.L. Franks, picked up the first survivors and took them to Port Blakeley. The shock of the survivors was great, as a newspaper account of the time showed:
|“||"Tottering and shaking with tearless sobs ... (Adeline) Byler was led from the steamboat unable to walk unassisted," the Daily Times reported. " 'Have you seen my boys? Oh, my boys!' was the consoless question that Mrs. Byler put to every man. As nothing definite was heard, nor either of them put in an appearance, Mrs. Byler collapsed."||”|
Reports of the number of passengers lost vary; The New York Times, having received a dispatch from Portland, Oregon about the sinking, reported the number lost as 40; Years later, in a 1913 story about Jeanie's loss off Calvert Island, the Times reported the number of passengers lost by the sinking of the Dix as 54. A 2011 Seattle Times article said the number was "as many as 45", when another source has it as over 45 people, including Charles Dennison. Mrs. Byler’s sons, Charles and Christian, and their sister, Lillian, were all trapped below deck and taken down when the ship sank.
The chief engineer, George F. Parks also drowned. The wreck was sunk so deep that salvage operations were impossible. No bodies were ever recovered; the people were trapped inside and went down with her. Most of the Dix victims were from Port Blakeley, and the place was hit hard, that night in the little town being described as "running of a gauntlet of shrieks and moans of grief-stricken wives and mothers ..." Work stopped briefly at the huge Port Blakely Lumber Mill for the first time in the mill’s history.
Captain Lermond was one of the survivors, indeed he died only in 1959, at the age of 90 years. Following the Dix sinking, his master’s license was revoked. Although it was reinstated a year later, Captain Lermond served in command of tugs only for the rest of his career until 1933, never again commanding a passenger vessel.
Up until then, with the significant exception of the Clallam, the steamboats had enjoyed a good reputation for safety, at least by the standards of the time. The horrible circumstances of the loss of the Dix were all the more shocking to the people on the Sound, who depended on the steamboats for their basic transportation.
- "Puget Sound’s worst maritime disaster discovered after 104 years". OceanGate. Retrieved 2011-05-18.
- "Herrell, Debera Carlton, "Ceremony to mark worst maritime disaster in Puget Sound history", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 16, 2006". November 15, 2006.
- Gilmore, Susan (May 18, 2011). "1906 ferry wreckage likely discovered off Seattle's Alki Point". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2011-05-18.
- Newell, Gordon R., Ships of the Inland Sea, at 142-43, Binford and Mort, Portland, OR (2nd Ed. 1960)
- Newell, Gordon R., ed., H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, at 105, Superior Publishing, Seattle, WA 1966
- McCurdy at 105 states that the inspectors required 30 long tons (30 t) of permanent ballast be installed. This higher figure may be erroneous given the size of the vessel and the more detailed breakdown supplied by Newell
- Newell, Ships of the Inland Sea, at 143
- McCurdy, at 105
- McCurdy, at 124.
- "An Unlucky Ship Lost — The Jeanie, Which Caused a Sea Tragedy, Is Destroyed on Rocks". The New York Times. December 21, 1913. Retrieved 2011-05-18. "The Jeanie, a wooden ship of 1,072 gross tons, was built at Bath, Me. in 1883. On the night of Nov. 18, 1906, she rammed the steamboat Dix just outside Seattle Harbor, and the Dix sank with fifty-four of her passengers. Their bodies were never recovered."
- "Gilmore, Susan, "Disaster aboard the Dix remains unforgettable", Seattle Times, November 17, 2006".[dead link]
- Faber, Jim, Steamer’s Wake – Voyaging down the marine highways of Puget Sound, British Columbia, and the Columbia River, at 191, Enetai Press, Seattle, WA 1985 ISBN 0-9615811-0-7
- McCurdy, at 593
- "Forty Reported Drowned". The New York Times. November 19, 1906. Retrieved 2011-05-18.
- McCurdy, at 124
- Newell, Ships of the Inland Sea, at 144
- Prichett, Rachel (November 17, 2006). "Centennial of Dix Disaster Saturday". Kitsap County Sun. Retrieved 2008-02-24.
- McCurdy, at 643
- "Wreck of the Mosquito Fleet Steamer Dix discovered in Elliott Bay"
- "Explorers Find Historic SS Dix Shipwreck In Seattle's Elliott Bay; 'An Important Piece Of Local History'"
- “The SS Dix collides and sinks off Alki Point, with a loss of 39 lives, on November 18, 1906", HistoryLink.org (accessed 2/25/2008)