Norm Hughes found parts of the ship on the floor of the harbor. (Abbey Collins)

Norm Hughes found parts of the ship on the floor of the harbor. (Abbey Collins)

It sounds like a hoax – a ghost ship found in the Haines Harbor on Halloween of all days. But a local diver says it’s all true, and the sunken ship is right at the harbor’s entrance.

“I like treasure hunting,” says local fisherman and diver Norm Hughes, “so I kind of found a ghost ship today on Halloween.”

He’s drying off after taking a swim near the entrance to the Portage Cove Harbor, between the fuel dock and the breakwater. His diving gear sits in the sun on the corner of the dock. Hughes was asked by the harbormaster to go underwater take a closer look at what they assumed to be a wrecked ship.

“It outlined in the map it said ‘wreckage.’ We’ve been anxious to dive on it since we got this thing,” says Assistant Harbormaster Gabe Thomas, talking about a sonar map that was created during studies for the Portage Cove Harbor Expansion. He says they’ve had a hunch something was down there, because of reports from tenders that come in and out of the harbor.

“They were complaining when the tide was low, when they backed out, that they almost hit something. For years everybody thought it was a high mound or a rock or mud or something,” says Thomas.

Now, they know what the culprit is. According to Hughes, while the vessel is not intact, there’s still a lot down there.

“It’s at least 36-feet long from the end of the propeller to the bow of the boat,” says Hughes. “No cabin, no deck. Looks like there’s a couple fuel tanks, a muffler maybe. And an engine, a drive shaft, and a propeller sticking up.”

Hydrographic survey of South Portage Cove Harbor (David Evans and Associates)

The hydrographic survey of South Portage Cove Harbor shows the outline of the wreckage near the breakwater. (Map by David Evans and Associates)

He thinks the wreckage is pretty old.

“Everything has a growth on it of 50 years or something,” says Hughes. “It’s like a marine park down there for animals.”

Because of its age, Hughes says there is likely not a lot left beyond the major equipment.

“I can’t imagine there’s any fuel or oil down there,” says Hughes. “It’s probably been down there over 50 years. There’s just not much left of it to raise other than that solid engine, it’s like half the size of a pickup truck.”

It’s not clear when the wreck happened, but Hughes and Thomas say the profile of the ship fits stories from around 50 years ago.

“From what I’ve talked to the old timers they said this boat’s probably from the 60s or 70s before we expanded the harbor the first time,” says Thomas. “They had a few vessels catch on fire and the old harbor master just grabbed them and started dragging them out. They probably left it there thinking it was out of the way of the harbor and didn’t expect us to ever grow that way.”

The question of whether the debris will need to be moved is still unclear. But could be important to figure out as the harbor expansion project progresses. Thomas says the Harbormaster’s office is talking about next steps.

“Trying to figure out what the next plan of action would be,” says Thomas. “Norm thinks if anything we should get the engine and stuff out of the way. Because it is metal and if somebody does hit it it’s going to do significant damage.”

Hughes says he might go back down as they work to make sure bigger boats aren’t bumping into it. He says he’s not into trick-or-treating, but seeing the wreckage of the old ship was his treat this Halloween.