Tug Martha Foss had an Outstanding Record Before its Unfortunate Demise in a 1946 Mishap

by Hans | August 22nd, 2009

The 88-foot Martha Foss, originally built as the steam powered fish packer Dolphin in 1886, was purchasesd by Foss in January 1926. It spent the next seven months at Ballard Marine Ways being transformed into a modern up-to-date tugboat, including a new 240 horsepower Ingersoll-Rand diesel engine. Between August of 1926 and April of 1943 the Martha Foss worked out of the Seattle office, towing gravel barges and oil barges on established runs throughout Puget Sound. During the summer months, the Martha was assigned to towing the steelhulled 6,000-barrel oil barge Foss-100 between Edmonds and Ketchikan, Alaska, for Union Oil Company. In 1943 the Martha was transferred to the Foss division in Port Angeles for log towing assignments in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and between British Columbia ports and Tacoma, Olympia, and Shelton. Capt. Warren Waterman commanded the vessel for most of its time working out of Port Angeles. The tows out of Crofton, B.C., were the heaviest and required the longest towing time. A typical 40 section log tow between Crofton and the St. Regis paper mill in Tacoma would average14 days, with seven days actually towing and seven days waiting on weather and tides. The Martha had an outstanding record in log towing as shown during the period of May 1945 through April 1946. It delivered 30 log tows comprising 775 sections, approaching 25 million board feet, a remarkable achievement for a 240 horsepower tug, nearing 60 years of age. The Martha came to a sudden and unfortunate end with the loss of one life. While running little in zero visibility fog from Port Angeles to Washington Harbor to pick up a log tow the tug was rammed on the starboard side by the fast-steaming Puget Sound freight ship, Iroquois. The bow of the Iroquois nearly cut the tug in half. Six of the seven crewmembers had just enough time to jump into the water and swim away before the Martha rolled over and sank. Unfortunately, the seventh man, Engineer Nelson Gillette, was trapped in the engine room. The Martha Foss had been named in honor of Andrew Foss’ mother, and was only the second tug in the growing Foss fleet to be named after a family member, the first being the original Andrew Foss.

In this 1930s photo, the Martha Foss has a white hull, identifying it as part of the Seattle fleet.

 Source :
* Foss Towbits December 2008
* By Mike Skalley
* Editor’s Note: Mike Skalley is Foss’Manager of Customer Service in the  Pacific Northwest, the company’s historian, and the author of “Foss — 90 Years of Towboating.”

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