How a sunken tugboat could become a waterfront attraction for Olympia

The Parthia near Percival Landing en route to a Harbor Days race in 2016.
The Parthia near Percival Landing en route to a Harbor Days race in 2016. Olympian file photo

The Parthia’s story could have ended this summer.

The 111-year-old tugboat sank in Hood Canal in early August. But when its owner offered to donate Parthia to anyone who would salvage it, members of the South Sound Maritime Heritage Association saw an opportunity.

The Olympia-based nonprofit decided to raise and restore the tugboat with the hopes of turning it into a maritime historical exhibit and public attraction on Olympia’s waterfront.

The plan is to permanently display Parthia out of the water, similar to exhibits in Anacortes and Coos Bay, Oregon.

“We think that this is the perfect project. The sinking just happened, it dropped in our laps, and we’re taking advantage of it,” said Chuck Fowler, who is helping lead the project. “We’re not going to let this maritime icon for Olympia and Puget Sound go.”

Parthia was built in Winslow in 1906 and was part of Olympia’s working waterfront for nearly 40 years before passing through a series of commercial and private owners. The 45-foot-long tugboat was a fixture at Olympia’s annual Harbor Days starting in the 1990s and last won its race class in 2016.

You might think a sunken tugboat would be in rough shape.

“I would have guessed the same thing,” said Les Eldridge, president of the South Sound Maritime Heritage Association. “She’s in remarkably good shape, particularly for a boat built in 1906.”

Eldridge said his group has wanted to open a maritime museum for more than 40 years. It has set aside $10,000 for the Parthia project, though the total cost could be upwards of $50,000.

As for a location, Fowler said the group is in talks with the City of Olympia and the Port of Olympia about a property just north of West Bay Park that the port owns. The city is working on a master plan for that area.

Just getting Parthia to Olympia took some work. Under high winds and heavy rain, a trawler yacht towed it 36 miles from Pleasant Harbor, where it sank, to Port Townsend. From there, a boat transport company hauled it 100 miles to Olympia, arriving at the Port of Olympia’s Swantown Marina & Boatworks on Nov. 16.

The salvage and tows to Port Townsend and then to Olympia would have been more than $25,000 at commercial rates. But much of the work was donated, so the cost for the group was just over $1,200, Fowler said.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869, @AbbySpegman