The Astoria Shipwrecks and Cemetery of the Pacific on the North Oregon Coast
Posted on 11/21/21 at 10:14 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff
(Astoria, Ore.) – They call it the Cemetery of the Pacific, and for good reason. The mouth of the Columbia River near the cities of Long Beach, Washington and Astoria, Oregon, is one of the most dangerous bodies of ocean water in the world. The “cemetery” itself stretches from the tip of the Washington coast to Tillamook Bay, with some 2,000 shipwrecks believed to have occurred here up to 1981 and some 1,500 lives lost. That’s a number that includes tiny private ships as well as explorers and commercial vessels, documented a few hundred years ago, but with the bulk dating back to around 1800. (Above: The Galena, courtesy OSU. She was wrecked near Gearhart on November 13, 1906. She still resides under the sands, and will likely never be seen again.)
The sandbars hiding under the mouth of the river and along this shoreline have been the culprit, but thanks to various dredging projects since the 1980s, bar pilots and modern technology, it has been less. a major killer. Of course, wild winds and chaotic seas also have a lot to do with the lethal formula.
Most of the ships were bound for Astoria or Portland as they headed inland for the past two centuries, but many never made it inside the mouth and were wrecked somewhere. well north or south of Astoria.
The USS Shark wreck on September 10, 1846 is one of the most famous on the Oregon coast, helping to name two cities with the nickname Cannon Beach, preventing another city from starving and creating the one of the most unique shipwreck memorials on the entire Oregon coast.
Under the command of Captain Schenck, the schooner was ordered to leave its fleet in Hawaii to survey the Pacific Northwest and map, among other things, the dangerous helm of the Columbia. Initially, the ship managed to enter the mouth of the Columbia with some difficulty, but it did. In the Astoria region, tensions were still high between the United States and the British over territorial boundaries, and settlers and local tribes viewed the shark as a stirring force. Thus, the tensions between the inhabitants and the crew were also high.
It didn’t help that many of the crew were away and left the ship after they were just fed up with being at sea for so long. The captain became anxious in such an environment and decided to abandon the mission quite suddenly, making the decision to leave on that fateful day.
On exiting, the Shark struck the bar, ran aground, and broke within one day under heavy waves from a typical Oregon Coast and Washington Coast storm. Parts of it floated to a place later known as the Arch Cape, where the cannon, capstan, and other ship items found helped name this place Cannon Beach. At the start of the 20th century it changed its name to Arch Cape and ten years later what we now know as Cannon Beach took on the name.
Meanwhile, in the 1850s, a group of starving settlers in the coastal forests of the future Tillamook County and began building a wooden ship to collect supplies in Astoria in the north. Yet at first they didn’t have metal bolts or other building necessities. Fortunately, the local tribes gave them their heads over the shark pieces that were in the Tillamook area, and they were able to use the materials to build such a ship, saving lives.
Some time after the sinking itself, a survivor carved all of the crew’s names on a rock in the Astoria area called Shark Rock, which is now on view at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
By far the most famous wreck on the Oregon coast is the Peter Iredale wreck near Warrenton in Fort Stevens State Park. He stayed here because of his hookup with the Columbia River Bar.
The British ship City of Dublin ran aground on the bar in 1878, after a reckless captain did not wait for a bar pilot. Even after dropping three anchors before skidding, the ship drifted and crashed into the spit, rapidly taking on water and then self-destructing under the onslaught of the waves. All the men made it out alive.
A little further up the Washington coast, at Grays Harbor, one of the most tragic incidents in maritime history took place on September 18, 1914. The SS Francis H. Leggett left port with some 67 passengers and a load of railway equipment. Some 60 miles later on the Oregon coast in the Oceanside region, it hit a huge storm and was eventually engulfed in waves after taking on water.
All on board are dead; only one body was found.
A sample of other wrecks:
1874 – the Sidi. A French brig which was then recovered and put back into service.
1875 – Architect. The boat wrecked on Clatsop Spit after the winds calmed down, causing it to land on the sand bar. The captain and crew spent the night hiding from the elements in the rigging, and eventually all were rescued by a lifeboat.
1947 – Two barges named PT&B 1684 and PT&B 1685. While being towed from Honolulu, heavy seas and high winds hit, forcing the tugs to cut the lines. The two crashed into the spit, and one was ultimately whipped against North Head. All the cargo was lost.
1960 – Bell buoy. The fishing boat built in 49 and based in Astoria took on water and sank far from Cape Disappointment.
1964 – George Olson. The 3,321-ton log barge detached from its tug crossing the bar on January 30, and even after Coast Guard vessels grabbed it, it began to sink due to damage from the bar. . To avoid this, the rescue ships stranded him somewhere on the north pier.