Emerald Sea Photography
The Steamship Burton lies peacefully forgotten on the bottom of Gig Harbor, just West of the popular Tides Tavern dock. This 93 foot long wooden steamer was built in 1905 and served as a passenger and cargo ferry as part of the Mosquito Fleet serving Puget sound in the early 1900's. After 23 years of faithful service, she was retired and tied up to the "Peoples Wharf" that now services the Tides Tavern.
On the night of February 22nd, 1924, she was consumed by fire and was towed out to the center of the harbor so as not to endanger the other boats. There she sank, and still sits today, a fascinating journey into our local maritime history.
Diving the S.S. Burton today is very easy and shallow, only 40 fee deep in a very protected harbor. However, this site is best left for winter diving, as there is a lot of boat traffic in Gig Harbor, and the wreck lies right in main navigation channel, just off the end of the dock at the Gig Harbor Marina. Visit this site on a winter weekday, fly a dive flag, and keep someone on the surface to warn away other boaters.
The boiler and steam engine are easy to locate on a fish finder, and each of the boiler tubes now harbors grunt sculpins, decorated warbonnets and baby octopus. This is a great site for Macro Photography. There isn't much of the 97 ton wood hull left, but lots of the deck machinery, piping and the fire bricks that surrounded the boiler are now scattered about and covered with prolific marine life. The remaining structure now hides hundreds of fascinating critters for observant divers to enjoy.
The Burton is infamous for developing one of the biggest feuds in the history of the Mosquito Fleet. Paired off against the steamer Vashon, the two bitter rivals made three runs a day between Tacoma and Vashon Island, leaving the dock at the same moment and racing to see who could pick up the waiting passengers first. Side by side, nearly touching (and sometimes bumping) each other, they would steam, full speed, while hurling insults at the other boat.
The losing boat in the race would often board the winning vessel at the destination to engage in a fierce battle on the deck, while loading the now frightened passengers for the return trip! What a fascinating time in history and we as divers are privileged to be allowed observe it.