Emerald Sea Photography
Descending into the shallow waters outside of Jones Bay,
divers are rewarded as they cross fields of broken china by
the sight of an immense boiler that looms like a dark shadow out of the emerald
water. Swim around the boiler and you'll find the steam engine and gearing from the wreck of the
steamer Ferndale. The 110 foot, 150 ton steam ship was hauling a load
of china and lime from the old Lime Kiln on San Juan Island to Port
Townsend in December of 1890 when the weather blew up.
She had been brought up from San
Francisco for the Island trade, but her career in the waters
of Puget Sound was very brief. Large waves, blowing out of the Straits, forced the Ferndale to turn back, but the heavy swell broke the guy wires to the smoke stack,
which then tore off and went adrift and the once proud steamer caught fire and foundered
on the rocks in Mackaye Harbor. All twenty-one persons on board narrowly escaped death, but
all were saved and the vessel was abandoned
and was left to sink, where she still sits today. Her cargo of five hundred barrels of Lime has long since
The boiler today is an immense object, but is completely covered with Turkish Towel kelp. Unobservant divers will swim right by the boiler thinking it is a big rock. Lift aside the kelp fronds and youíll be rewarded with a virtual critter hotel. Every one of the boiler tubes in now the home for some cute critter, including grunt sculpins, gunnels, shrimp and crabs. Clouds of krill engulf the boiler ,steam engine, reduction gear and other propulsion machinery.
Careful observation of the bottom around the wreck site will also reveal that in several locations, what looks at first glance to be a bottom littered with broken clam shells is in fact broken china from the cargo of the Ferndale when she sank. I donít think there are any whole pieces left after more than century of pounding by storms in shallow water, but you never know.
Lots of nudibranchs, rockfish, lings and many different species of invertebrates now make their home in the wreck of the Ferndale. The wood hull is now long gone, but for wreck divers the immense boiler, stream engine, winches and gearing make for a very interesting dive at the south end of Lopez Island in the San Juans. The site of the wreck is pretty well protected and makes a nice dive for those days when the wind is really howling and the more exposed sites just arenít safe to dive.
For specific location and dive information about diving the Ferndale, please see Northwest Wreck Dives.