***This story has been updated to include cost of the disposal, towing and other expenses, condition of the boat and the court date for the ship’s owner, 8:30 a.m. April 17.
The historic tugboat Chickamauga is no more.
Likely doomed by its poor condition and the prohibitive costs needed to restore it, neither individuals nor organizations could be found to rescue the troubled tug from being scrapped after it was towed 38 miles from Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor to a Port Townsend marina Jan. 31.
America’s first full diesel-powered tugboat when it was built in 1915, the Chickamauga was disposed of the week of March 24 in Port Townsend, said Toni Weyman Droscher, the communications manager for the Aquatics Program of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. The contract for disposal was for $20,000, plus tax, said Melissa Ferris, the director of the state’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program.
Daily pumping, checking on the vessel, towing, escort through the haul-out process, decontamination of the boom, etc. was $25,435.35, Ferris said. Haul-out and storage at the Port of Port Townsend was $2,674.80, she added.
DNR took control of the derelict boat Jan. 16 under the state’s Derelict Vessels Act, which gives it the authority to take custody of a vessel when an owner allows it to become derelict or abandoned. Absent Chickamauga owner Anthony R. Smith did this when he failed to pay moorage and utility fees for nearly a year to Eagle Harbor Marina, totaling $8,560.30.
In addition to what he owes the marina and in legal fees, Smith also owes the Coast Guard for its expenses in responding to the Chickamauga’s October sinking, which total $140,000, and the Department of Ecology’s expenses for coordinating the spill cleanup with the Coast Guard, which total $2,000.
Smith was charged Jan. 15 with three criminal counts from the state attorney general’s office. His trial is set to begin in June 23 in Kitsap County Superior Court.
The Chickamauga sank Oct. 2, leaked about 400 gallons of petroleum and 10 gallons of lube oil in the waters of Eagle Harbor and was lifted by a crane Oct. 10.
“The 70-foot hull (of the Chickamauga) was deconstructed with an excavator,” Droscher said. “All recyclable items were separated. Debris was placed in a 30-yard container and handled by the local waste contractor, DM Disposal.”
The boat’s helm and throttle controls were saved and delivered by DNR to the Foss Waterway Seaport Museum in Tacoma this week to be restored and eventually put on display. The historical significance of the boat that Smith purchased for $1,000 in 2009 was important to retain for Joseph Govednik, the museum’s curator of collections and volunteer manager.
“It is important to preserve this, and all historic vessels, as they are subjected to less than ideal conditions being exposed to the elements of nature,” Govednik said. “Ultimately, all wood boats turn to dust, it’s a matter of time, so it is very important to preserve, protect and maintain these boats.
“I hope this can be a lesson and reminder, that these vessels require constant care and monitoring,” Govednik added. “Although the vessel is lost, we are very fortunate to take possession of the throttle controls and helm.”
Govednik said the museum doesn’t have immediate plans to display the Chickamauga artifacts, but hopes to use them in a future exhibition on tugboats to support stories of the region’s working waterfront past.
In addition to the throttle controls and helm, the silohette of the shell and ship’s log were likely some of the few original things remaining on the Chickamauga by the time the state took possession of the vessel. In fact, DNR had its marine archeologist and others inspect the ship and found the engines weren’t the original ones and that because there had been “so much retrofitting and renovation that it was really a shadow of its original self,” Droscher said.
“The engines were 671s, which were designed specifically for the landing craft for Normandy in World War II and they don’t have any historical value since they were stamped out (for mass production),” Eagle Harbor Marina Harbormaster Doug Crow said. “They weren’t maintaining it for historical value, their interest was in keeping the boat moving and working with it. There was very little to that boat that had significant value and they got the two items that were easily retrievable and it would’ve given them something to put in the museum and write about its history.”
The demise of the Chickamauga was taken hard by well-known Poulsbo watercolor artists Michael and Sarah Yaeger, who preserved the boat by painting it for their 2015 calendar. The couple were holding out hope the boat would be saved.
“We are both angry!” Michael said. “This boat was on the Historic Register and is the first diesel powered tug in the USA – surely this DNR group could’ve tried harder in the saving of her. This whole saga smacks of ‘raw raw expediency’ over our cultural responsibility for our heritage.
“The DNR bylaws should be looked at for any violation that may have occurred in this sordid mess,” Michael continued. “What’s next – the demolition of the Arthur Foss and the Virginia V? The Chickamauga played a more crucial – or at least equal – role in our maritime history.”