THE YUKON RIVER STEAMBOAT SURVEY (2005-2009)
In 2005 a multi-year project was initiated to locate and document a fleet of undocumented and historic shipwrecks from the Klondike Gold Rush . This project became part of the program of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in 2007 and to date it has catalogued 22 vessels in the Yukon Territory. All of the survey’s work has been conducted by avocational and professional volunteers. In June 2009 PROMARE, the National Geographical Society / Waitt Institute of Discovery, and the INA funded two separate projects at West Dawson and Lake Laberge, Yukon Territory.
The PROMARE phase continued work on the world’s largest known collection of intact 19th century sternwheelers. While the Survey routinely conducts “wet” dive and search operations, West Dawson is a unique opportunity to study seven large sternwheelers, abandoned on dry land at an old shipyard. These vessels lie side-by-side in two groups with their partially-collapsed superstructures line atop intact hulls. Many of the mechanical components of these vessels are in situ, and the “boneyard” fleet is an ideal location to examine the different ship designs used used on the northern rivers. As the West Dawson ships are intact and above water, dive operations, conservation treatments, and reconstruction programs are not required, and field work concentrates on mapping ship architecture. A week on this site can be as productive as a year on an underwater site.
In June 2009 the Survey’s Phase 2 team prepared detailed hull plans and cross-sections, on the Seattle No. 3, a wooden-hulled, 47.3 m sternwheeler prefabricated by the Moran Bros. Shipyard in Seattle and assembled in 1898 at Dutch Harbour in the Aleutian Islands. This vessel is jammed between the Julia B. and the Schwatka in the downstream group of four vessels. It is heavily built with seven keelsons/longitudinal girders, two complex bilge keelsons, and five massive transverse timbers or carriers, two of which support kingposts. Decking, deck beams and the wooden hull are intact and complete except at the bow. A single, long boiler and stack with breeching located aft, are intact, but the sternwheel is absent. This vessel contains an unusual and incomplete four-tiller and roller- steering system with the tiller arms riding slightly above the freight deck. Iron-sheathed wooden semi-circles for tiller bearings are affixed to the freight deck, but the tillers, rudders and rudder posts are missing.