Sunken historic tug Parthia raised, returned to Olympia

Tug Parthia salvaged, pulled from the water and ready for restoration. Photo by Chuck Fowler.

When Parthia, one of Olympia’s longest working and oldest tugboats sank in Hood Canal in early August, 2017 several members of the nonprofit South Sound Maritime Heritage Association (SSMHA) swung into rescue and refloat action.  More than three months later, on November 16, after hundreds of hours of planning and volunteer, donated and contracted work, and two days of marine towing and then truck transport, the more than century-old Parthia was back in Washington’s Capital City at the Port of Olympia’s Swantown Boatworks. After restoration, she is scheduled to become a shore-side maritime history exhibit and public attraction on the city’s waterfront.

A perennial participant and winner of several Olympia Harbor Days tugboat races, the venerable tug had been sold to a new owner in 2016. After she sunk, he offered to donate the 45-foot long Parthia to anyone who would salvage her. Not wanting to lose an icon of the city’s working waterfront history, the SSMHA decided to take him up on his offer to acquire the tug. Chuck Fowler and Bob Peck, both SSMHA past presidents, were asked by current president Les Eldridge to lead the initial Parthia  rescue, return and restoration effort. Another of the nonprofit organization’s former presidents, Mark Johnson, has agreed to coordinate the on-going rehabilitation and exhibit project.

After her sinking in Hood Canal and decision to acquire Parthia, the SSMHA began her three and a half month-long salvage process. The effort involved hundreds of hours of volunteer, donated and paid work, that ended when the 111-year-old tug arrived by truck at the Port of Olympia’s boatyard on Nov. 16.

Originally, the plan was to have the owners of vintage tugs that had participated in past Harbor Days events use their retired workboats for the 100-mile long tow from Pleasant Harbor in Hood Canal to Olympia, however logistics and scheduling difficulties prevented it. However, after hearing about the problem however, Olympia businessman and former tugboat owner John Warjone proposed a solution.

Together with his retired business owner friend Rick Panowicz, and Rick’s nephew tug captain Rob (Chip) Panowicz, they would use Rick’s 47-foot trawler yacht Jean Marie to tow Parthia from the site of her sinking on Hood Canal north to Port Townsend for haul-out. Chip Panowicz, a licensed, experienced tug master with Sause Brothers Ocean Towing of Coos Bay, Oregon, was at the helm for the 36-mile-long tow.

The tug Partia is towed under the Hood Canal Bridge. Photo by Chuck Fowler.

As part of the overall tug rescue plan, Warjone contacted his boat hauling company owner friend, Mark Cohen of Associated Boat Transport of Marysville (WA), and arranged for donation of the 100-mile-long highway haul of the tug from Port Townsend to Olympia.    In all, under November high wind and sea conditions, and heavy rain, the well-planned boat tow and subsequent truck haul were seamless, and the whole operation was completed in ten hours over a two day period.

Parthia arrives in Olympia. Photo by Chuck Fowler.

Parthia has a long and significant workboat history. She was built in Winslow, Washington in 1906, by James Hall of the legendary Hall Brothers ship building family. From 1874 to 1908, the family-run company developed an outstanding reputation for their ship design and construction. At three successive shipyards, they built more than 100 coastal and offshore lumber schooners and other vessels, including a few tugboats, during the three decades of their widely-known Puget Sound company.

For almost 40 years, Parthia was a familiar sight on Olympia’s working waterfront. Beginning in 1934, she was first owned and operated by the Delta V. Smyth Tug and Barge Company of Olympia, and then in 1961 by the Foss Launch and Tugboat Company after it purchased the Smyth business and its tug fleet including Parthia.

After Foss ended its Olympia operation in 1975, the tug moved to north and central Puget Sound, passing through a series of commercial and private owners.   In the early 1990s, she began participating in many Olympia Harbor Days festivals and races under former owner Scott Bokland, and then George Hill, both from Vashon Island. With Hill at the wheel, Parthia won her race class during the 2016 races.

For more information about the Parthia  restoration project, contact SSMHA project co-chair Chuck Fowler, 360-943-2858.

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One Response to Sunken historic tug Parthia raised, returned to Olympia

  1. Shawn Munger November 29, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

    Unfortunately, being $55.000.000 in debt to the public, the Port of Olympia is not in a good position to fund the Parthia at this time.
    As a member of the community monitoring the Port, they have recently de funded their own Harbor Patrols request for a new engine for one of their boats, as well as other issues.
    I visited the Parthia in the Boatyard, and came away feeling that it is a project worth considering seriously.
    Needs work, oh yes, but she’s over 100yrs old.
    Perhaps, SSMHA has other donors as well, I’ve heard there is $10.000 to used as start up funds.
    Hope the Port Boatyard will comp. them the fees and lay days as a donation.
    Seems civil.

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