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A spiritual dive on the wreck of the Princess Sophia

June 30, 2009 Written by

Location: Wreck of the Princess Sophia, Lynn Canal, Juneau, southeast Alaska

The wreck of the Princess Sophia is one of the great tragedies of this area. The ship was a beautiful small liner belonging to the Canadian Pacific Railroad and sank in 1918 on t Vanderbilt reef with the tragic loss of all hands. What made it especially tragic was that the Princess Sophia sat high and dry on top of the reef for two days in heavy seas and nobody was taken off the ship. The winds then increased to 70 or 80 kn in the middle of the night and the ship around her keel off, rotated around on the rock and slid off with the loss of 366 people and  40 horses. It is a beautiful scuba dive. The wreck is covered in large puffy looking white plumose anemones and is teeming with rockfish. It’s very pretty but I always get a funny feeling diving on the wreck given the history behind it. One of the strangest things of all is that everything on this ship is black and white. There is no color whatsoever which adds to the eeriness of experience. So we anchored on site and put tagline down to the ship and launched our divers. The top 15 feet  was current swept with a surface runoff and murky vis but as soon as we got below that the visibility opened up and was stupendous with absolutely no current. I splashed on my Evolution closed-circuit rebreather, met up with the film crew and led them to the back of the 245 foot ship. Close to the stern I spotted the biggest Alaskan King crab t I have ever seen and pointed it out to the cameraman. In fact upon closer examination, this big huge fella was holding a much smaller king crab in his grasp. Or perhaps it was the other way around and the big huge guy was a mama. It was very interesting and great footage for the film crew. I estimate the crab at 3 feet across from outstretched legs outstretched leg. At that point, film crew had to head for the shallow bow to avoid a decompression obligation. But as I was on the rebreather Iwas able to continue on a little bit deeper. I was very curious to see if there were more Alaskan King crab’s around the wreck. I had visions of an army of them marching in the mud off the back of the ship and ended up swimming about 40 feet down hill from the transom and to 144 feet of  depth. I turned around and was blown away by the site in front of me. The ship was clearly visible — the vis was that good — and backlit by beautiful green water with fish circling over the stern all the way up the water column. I knelt on the  sand bottom and just took it all in. It was a very spiritual moment – I was on my knees, by myself, at 144 feet, looking up at this vision in front of me (no I was not narked [nitrogen narcosis], I was on trimix and my head was completely clear ] and spent six minutes just taking it all in. I wish I could have stayed longer but I want to stay out of deco and it was time to head for the shallow bow of the ship. This was an experience that I will  remember for a long time. I’m sure I’ll be dreaming about it tonight. Captain Mike.

Surface Conditions: Overcast, temperature in the low 60s, 15 kn of wind is, one foot chop.

Underwater Conditions: Murky vis in the shallows but excellent below 15 feet. Water temperature 46°



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1 Comment

  • Jessica Palmer says:

    Dear sir,

    I am writing a novel that deals with underwater life in the Lynn Canal near Skagway, AL. I am looking for any description about the average visibility, water depth, and what the floor of the canal looks like. Are there any kelp beds there? I would greatly appreciate any information you could provide.

    Thank you!
    Jessica Palmer

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