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Originally published Friday, September 13, 2013 at 10:13 AM

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Down to (and under) the sea in ships, ca. 1913

Seattleites witnessed the launch of a new Navy sub in 1913, but the ships floating nearby had longer — and arguably more interesting — histories.

Special to The Seattle Times

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AT 5 O’CLOCK on the afternoon of July 4, 1913, Miss Helen McEwan christened the bow of the H-3, then the Navy’s “new underwater fighting machine.” The Seattle Times’ sensitive reporter saw it “slide gracefully into the waters of Elliott Bay.” In the next day’s Times, a hopeful editor added, “May the new vessel sink as successfully as she floats!”

And the H-3 did both sink and swim, but not always in order. In 1916 the H-3 — in a fog — ran aground on a sand spit at Humboldt Bay in Northern California. A year earlier in California waters farther south, the H-3 ran on the rocks at Point Sur. It was saved by a high tide and then patched at the Navy yard in Vallejo. On leaving the yard, the sub managed to first graze the cruiser Cleveland and then run afoul of a dike at the Vallejo lighthouse. In 1930 the H-3 was, perhaps mercifully, decommissioned.

Two vessels float behind the H-3. Built in Ballard in 1902, the four-masted schooner Willis A Holden is held for overhaul in one of Seattle Construction and Drydock Company’s three floating dry docks after a punishing 63-day sail north from Iquique, Chile.

Half-hidden behind the flags on the sub is the sporty steam tug Tempest. As described in “The H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest,” the tug’s productive last years in warmer waters were a gift of the Great Depression and a bottle of spirits. With the 65-foot-long tug in debt and under guard, its captain “provided a bottle for the Tempest’s watchman.” Then, the tug slipped “quietly from her moorings and out to sea,” and was seen “heading south down the coast under a full head of steam.” The Tempest reached San Blas, Mexico, safely and ended its days as a shrimp trawler.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.

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