The Princess May had electrical lighting installed and a Marconi wireless, but not an auxiliary battery. Under the name Cass she initially serviced the China coastal route between 1888 and 1901. During this time there was a mutiny and an attack by pirates. She was then sold to the Formosa Trading Company and represented one of two new steamers ordered by Taiwan - "shipping event of the year". The two steamers were part of an initiative to modernize Taiwan.
In 1901 the Princess May was purchased by the Canadian Pacific Railway Coast Service operating the busy route to south-eastern Alaska, between Vancouver and Skagway, Alaska, catering for the small mining, fishing and lumber settlements along the coastal route. 5 August, 1910, the Princess May departed Skagway bound for Vancouver under the command of Captain Macleod. She carried 80 passengers and 68 crew plus a consignment of gold on board. While steaming through Lynn Canal in heavy fog she ran aground on rocks at the north side of Sentinel Island, where there was in point of fact a lighthouse station. Due to high tide the steamer was lodged bow up on the rocks which became very apparent when the tide went out and resulted in the famous photograph, attached.
As the engine room flooded and the power went out negatively impacting on use of the Marconi wireless (no auxiliary battery). The wireless operator did not have enough time to send out a distress call before this occurred. However, the quick thinking operator managed to source power for the set by wading waist deep in the engine room to secure the telegraph battery. He was able to send the message:
"SS Princess May sinking Sentinel Island; send help"
Fortunately all crew and passengers were safely brought to shore, as was the consignment of gold (and mail). Passengers and crew were taken to Juneau aboard the Princess Ena. More than 120 plates were damaged on the hull which reminds us of the Waratah running aground off Kangaroo Island, and the type of damage that can be sustained. The engine room was flooded and as a result the Seattle-based salvage tug Santa Cruz was hired to get the Princess May off the rocks. A ship way was constructed and rocks blasted but initial attempts to remove her failed. It was only by 3 September 1910 that she was refloated and towed to port.
The total cost of salvage and repairs:
During the repairs the Princess May was converted from coal to oil-burning. Oil-fired burners were more efficient and required less out of service time compared with coal-fired equivalents. There was also a labour saving component as one man could do the work of 18 coal firemen and 9 trimmers. Re-fuelling was also faster and simpler.