Emerald Sea Photography
The S.L. Dowell is a forty five foot long, wood hulled, steam tug that was built in Friday Harbor in 1899. The boat was originally named the Griffin and worked most of its life hauling coal from the South end of Lake Washington to Mercer Island and Kirkland. In 1912, the owner (S.L. Dowell) re-powered the Griffin with a 50-horsepower Corliss steam engine and re-modeled the decks and wheelhouse before putting the tug back to work on the lake renamed the “S.L. Dowell”.
The tug worked hard, hauling long rafts of barges that were loaded with coal cars or gravel. In October of 1922, Captain George Wahl was at the wheel when the tug hit a snag off of Mercer Island and sank rapidly. The good captain and his engineer (William Holslar) were barely able to leap to the safety of the gravel scow they were towing and thus escaped drowning by a hair's breadth.
Today the S.L. Dowell rests in two hundred feet of cold, dark water about a mile south of the 520 bridge in Lake Washington. The tug sits upright on the bottom, in pristine condition, with the name of the vessel still easy to read across the stern and on the sideboards (on top of the roof). Salvagers have removed the wheel, propeller and lights, but most of the historic artifacts are still in place as they were the day this delightful wreck sank in 1922.
The Dowell is one of my favorite wrecks in Lake Washington, but the typical extremely low visibility of the cold lake water and the unforgiving depth may not make this dive everyone’s cup of team.