Photo of The Peter Iredale shipwreck, near Warrenton, Oregon

Weekly Gem #211 Settling down for the Long Haul

Published 9/21/2019

Location: This hidden gem is located where Peter Iredale Road meets the Pacific Ocean, about 4 miles NW of Warrenton, OR (see the Clue Me! Map). This is just south of where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean, along a stretch called the "Graveyard of the Pacific."

Thousands of ships that have visited Astoria and Portland first had to pass through one of the most treacherous harbor entrances on earth. Ironically, one of the first shipwrecks was a navy sloop, the Peacock, which was mapping the harbor entrance so ships could enter safely. The Peacock promptly wrecked on what is now called "Peacock Spit." Since then more than 2000 ships and hundreds of souls have ended up in the graveyard. One of them, the Peter Iredale, has been sitting on this beach for more than 100 years.

After the Peacock, captains relied on bar pilots to guide their ships through the shoals at the mouth of the river. The first known bar pilot was a one-eyed Chinook chief named Concomly. He would paddle out in his canoe and guide ships through the currents and sandbars in exchange for axes, fishhooks, and other useful items. Today, the bar pilots hired for this area are the cream of the ship-captains-crop. They all have an "unlimited master" license, which means they can captain any ship of any kind, anywhere in the world!

In the fall of 1906, the Peter Iredale sailed from Salina Cruz, Mexico to Portland, Oregon to pick up a load of wheat bound for the UK. After a journey of more than 4,000 miles and a month at sea, Captain Lawrence, his crew of 27 (and two stowaways) had finally reached the Columbia River. Here they slowed and waited for a pilot boat.

Before the pilot could arrive, a major storm hit, with accompanying heavy seas and high tides that lifted the Peter Iredale and deposited her onto the beach. This happened so quickly that the crew was unable to do much of anything except hang on. The ship hit the beach so hard that three of the masts snapped off. Luckily, the captain, crew (and the two stowaways) were all rescued by a lifesaving crew from Point Adams (the Coast Guard of the day). As they stood safely on the beach, Captain Lawrence saluted his ship and said, “May God bless you and may your bones bleach in these sands.” Then, holding a bottle of whisky, he turned to his crew and said, "Boys, have a drink." They still thought there might be a chance to save the Peter Iredale and tow her back out to sea, but by the time the storm was over, the ship had settled too deeply into the shifting sands. Here it has remained, less and less each year, bleaching in the sun.

And of course, people love to see a wreck. The day following - while the storm still raged - the ship had already become a tourist attraction, with gawkers flocking to check it out. In fact, it became so popular that a railroad planned on building a track that would take people to the wreck! The track never came to fruition, but the wreck of the Peter Iredale continues to be a sight that captivates imaginations.


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


It looks like it's too late for Rust-Oleum!


The Peter Iredale shipwreck

Why It's Interesting

The ship, Peter Iredale, ran ashore on October 25, 1906 because of wind and high seas. It's one of thousands of shipwrecks in a stretch of the Pacific Coast between Tillamook Bay and the Columbia River Bar called the "Graveyard of the Pacific."

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