Monday, January 10, 2005


Exhuming the graveyard of the Pacific on the world wide web


Lookout Newspaper
Carmel Ecker

Race Rocks lighthouse has stood as a cautionary light at the eastern entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca for more than 140 years, warning ships of the perils of navigating through the islets.

The rocks, located 11 nautical miles from Victoria, earned their name from the Hudson Bay Company for their swirling tides that sweep the rocks and clash as they meet inland waters, often reaching speeds of eight knots. And 45 days out of the year, the islets are shrouded in fog.

Before the British Admiralty wised to the hazards of the area, many ships were lost, including a 385-ton tall ship Nanette.

Three days before the lighthouse was lit for the first time, the ship was pulled to the reefs by the relentless tide rips, and ran aground on the rocks, succumbing to the crushing tidal waves. The crew survived, the ship did not.

Nanette is one of hundreds of ships whose remains are scattered on the ocean floor, serving as a grave reminder of the perils of Vancouver Island’s rugged coastline. Nanette and other tantalizing tales of Island shipwrecks can now be found through a comprehensive website created by the Maritime Museum of B.C. Graveyard of the Pacific is a virtual museum, easily navigated by the click of a mouse.

Flash Player adds the virtual reality, but for those who don’t have this, the site is still a stimulating series of historical accounts. "Our main goal is to engage the public in the history of shipwrecks around Vancouver Island," says Greg Evans, Executive Director at the Maritime Museum of B.C.Although the tales told surround the fate of vessels, the focus of the website is also on people - the triumph over adversity and the loss of life, he says.

To heighten the drama of 10 shipwreck stories, the site has created "The Shipwreck News", a pseudo newspaper with grabbing headlines and stories written in the flavour of the era.

One such story was the loss of the three-masted wooden side-wheeler USS Saranac in 1875. It hit Ripple Rock, a large, submerged rock formation in the middle of Seymour Narrows, north of Campbell River, and pierced its hull.

The headline in the Shipwreck News reads: USS Saranac Sailor Tells All! Dramatic Survival at Sea! All Hands Saved But the Ship Goes Down! It goes on to read: The Shipwreck Times has scooped an exclusive on the wreck of the American naval frigate the USS Saranac! Charles Sadilek, seaman aboard the three-masted wooden side-wheeler, has generously provided us with excerpts from his own written recollections, reprinted here! Sadilek, a young seaman on board the vessel, wrote, "In the midst of the whirlpools the ship refused to answer her helm and was for a moment beaten about the angry waters.

All of a sudden there came a crash that shook the ship as if it had been fired into by a battery of guns. The mad currents had driven the Saranac on one of the rocks, which had crushed a hole in her side. Orders were given at once to fill the boats with provisions and [we] made ready to lower into the water. No time was to be lost for she was sinking under our feet.

"Ripple Rock lurked just below the water’s surface and claimed more than 120 vessels until 1958 when it was blasted out of the water in the largest non-atomic blast at the time.

With the aid of Flash, visitors of the site can download a map of the various wrecks scattered along the Island’s coastline.

It’s estimated that for every mile of coastline, a ship has perished. The site also outlines the various marine hazards that have, and continue to plague ships, including the sailors themselves. "Human error is a factor in almost every shipwreck situation. Even the decision to go on the voyage in the first place might put a vessel and its crew and passengers in danger," it says on the site.

Captain Finn Andersen, a professional mariner since 1965, with a Master’s Certificate for coastal voyages, offers seven tips on how to avoid a shipwreck, and if that doesn’t work, there’s information on surviving a wreck. For those who want more interactive activity, and a chance to virtually experience being the captain of a ship, there’s the Wrecks Game.

Players prepare for, and lead a sailing expedition. They start by choosing the vessel, crew, cargo and route. Just like a real captain, they need to be wary of changing weather that can send them aground before they pass Duncan.

The website augments the Maritime Museum’s static display located at Bastion Square.

It covers one wall and gives a brief history of five ships. "The website has allowed us to tell a bigger story because it doesn’t take up any physical room," says Evans. Plans are in the works to install a computer by the display so museum visitors can learn more in-depth knowledge of coastal wrecks.

Maritime Museum partnered with the Underwater Archaeological Society of B.C., the Vancouver Maritime Museum and The Museum at Campbell River for the website’s content.

The $85,000 to create and support the site came from the federal government’s Canadian Heritage Information Network’s Virtual Museum Investment Program, which hosts several other virtual museums. "This site is informative and interactive and it helps promote the incredibly rich maritime heritage on this coast. It’s also like an electronic calling card," says Evans.

To discover the rich maritime history of Vancouver Island and the ships that succumbed to the dangers below go to

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?