Its the poor quality of this photo that makes it such a compelling document. As darkness set in on September 29, 1923, the 80-ton steamer “Rubaiyat” left Municipal dock with a heavy load below and canned goods stacked high on the decks. Just off the mouth of City Waterway (Foss Waterway) the vessel capsized and sank in less that a minute. It took the three men and a woman on board to their death in 35 fathoms of water. That winter a hard hat diver, Walter McCray, teamed with the Foss Launch & Tug Company in an extraordinary and very risky crusade to raise the Rubaiyat.
For weeks in October and into November McCray dove countless times into the 350 foot deep hole where the Rubaiyat rested on the murky bottom. He first explored the ship and then used logging chokers to attach heavy cables under the hull for a lift attempt. In late November he was in the water when the cables slipped and the attempt failed in a near disaster. He watched it all in near darkness 300 feet down through a 6 inch window in his helmet.
The following March McCray lowered himself over the side into the cold waters of Commencement Bay again. After weeks of work he single handedly removed 20 tons of plaster from the hold, reset the cable sling and on Friday morning of the 21st the stern of the Rubaiyat broke the surface.( the second photo captures the event). In the days that followed, the tragic steamer was beached, searched for the bodies that were never found and then salvaged by McCray and Fred Berg of the Foss Company. They were given the wreck for their efforts in accordance with maritime law. In the last photo McCray is on the far left standing next to Berg and others on the salvage crew that raised the Rubiayat. At the time it was the deepest shipwreck salvaging operation ever achieved on the Pacific Coast.