Divers say they found SS Dix

A team of divers say they found a Bainbridge-bound ferry that sunk 104 years ago, claiming an estimated 39 lives.

The sinking of the SS Dix is considered the worst maritime disaster in Puget Sound, and stunned the small Bainbridge community of Port Blakely, a mill town where many of the Dix’s occupants lived.

Underwater videographer Laura James has been looking for the Dix’s wreckage for 20 years. This year, she teamed with wreck diver Scott Boyd and OceanGate, an Everett submarine exploration company, to conduct several dives that they say all but confirms that the wreck they found is the Dix.

“The deep wreck is clearly a wood-hulled passenger steamer from the Mosquito Fleet era and is in a location consistent with the last sighting of the Dix,” James said.

Propeller of the wreckage. Scott Boyd photo

On Nov. 18, 1906, the Dix and its 77 passengers and crew members had disembarked Seattle for Port Blakely.

About a mile north of Alki Point, the Dix struck the Jeanie, a three-masted schooner that had slowed almost to a stop to avoid hitting the smaller vessel. For unknown reasons, the Dix’s first officer suddenly turned toward the Jeanie, striking near its bow.

The collision tipped the Dix, allowing water to spill into its hull. The Dix vanished within minutes. Passengers on the upper deck escaped but those below perished, and are likely still entombed 500 feet below the waves.

When word of the sinking reached Port Blakely, the mill company immediately dispatched the steamer Florence K to bring home survivors.

Port Blakely’s mill and schools closed to allow community members to mourn.

Estimates for the number of lives lost range from 39 to 45.

There was an effort to raise the Dix after life insurance companies refused to pay out policies unless bodies were recovered.

The depth proved too daunting for salvage divers, and a later drag-line operation turned up nothing.

In late March of this year, a remotely-operated diving vehicle took the first video images of the wreckage believed to be the Dix.

OceanGate conducted three submarine dives to gather more information in April.

The divers say photos, video, personal observations and sonar images provide strong evidence they found what they were looking for.

The pilothouse, much of the upper deck cabin and the propeller (see photo) remain intact, the divers say. The wreck is pointing toward Port Blakely and rests almost directly below the intersecting courses of the Jeanie and the Dix.

Additional dives are planned for later this month and possibly early June.

We’ll have a feature on the Dix in the coming weeks.