The S.S. Aleutian sailed from Seattle in the spring of 1929 with 300 passengers. Her captain was John Gus Nord, a Swedish-American with an unblemished, 30‑year career sailing the North Pacific. During the night of May 27th, most of the passengers disembarked at one of the canneries where they would be working over the summer. The weather was calm and the visibility good as the ship continued deeper into Uyak Bay with the remaining 15 passengers and a 135-man crew on board.
At 5:30 a.m., just south of Amook Island, there was a violent tremor, followed by a horrifying noise coming from the hull. The flagship of the Alaska Steamship Company had struck a submerged rock. Captain Nord, who understood immediately what had happened, ordered full steam ahead, hoping to beach the ship, but she was too damaged. The rock had torn an enormous hole in the hull, and the ship quickly filled with water. With her propellers high in the air, she sank, just seven minutes after the collision. An eerie silence was all that remained after the ship went down, reported one of the crewmembers. Not even a ripple disturbed the surface of the water.
In what was later lauded as the most efficient act of live-saving at sea, the captain and his crew deployed the lifeboats and evacuated everyone on board, with one exception. Manuel Dorras, a young crewman, drowned when he left the lifeboat, returning to the sinking ship to rescue his lucky horseshoe.
Everyone was stunned by the tragedy and their narrow escape. Captain John Gus Nord never quite recovered from the shock. He mourned his ship as if it were his own child.
It was assumed that the S.S. Aleutian had sunk in very deep water, and no attempts were made to salvage her. In 2002, seventy-three years after the accident, Steve Lloyd, author and shipwreck historian from Anchorage, Alaska, found the ship resting just 220 feet below the surface.
Following the dive line into the inky darkness the first sight of the ship is the two masts, now covered in white anemones, rising out of the darkness like ethereal watchmen. The ship is still intact after all these years despite the powerful currents. Shipworms have devoured most of the wood fittings but the hull remains, and the Aleutian is now a living museum, deep below the surface of Uyak Bay.
(Excerpt from “Kodiak, Alaska – The Island of the Great Bear”. The book can be purchased from http://www.cameraq.com/eng/books.html )
Don’t miss our first ”Kodiak Scandinavian Film and Culture and Festival” on Kodiak, Alaska, November 6-12, 2017. See www.cameraq.com for more information.