Saturday, April 28, 2007


Shipwreck including hundres of beer bottles, grand pianos becomes BC park

By Keven Drews
April 28, 2007

TOFINO, B.C. - More than 107 years after fire ravaged her masts and deck, the Hera's hull and some of her cargo - including hundreds of bottles of Rainier beer - still remain intact.

Time has been kind to this sunken U.S. schooner, though the 11 grand pianos appear to be lost.

This weekend, the District of Tofino and a handful of volunteers will take action to protect the wreck for years to come.

Tofino will declare the wreck Canada's first municipal underwater heritage park, just as volunteer divers unveil an orange-and-white information buoy and mark the ship with bronze plaques.

"I guess the most important thing for me is the protection and preservation of our marine heritage in Clayoquot Sound," said David Griffiths, executive director of the Tonquin Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving marine heritage sites.

"She's basically intact from the deck down. Half the ship is totally buried."

Built in Boston, Mass., in 1869, the Hera, a three-mast schooner, spent her first 30 years sailing between San Francisco and Australia, San Francisco and Portland, and participating in the Bering Sea cod fishery.

She departed Seattle for Honolulu on Nov. 18, 1899, loaded with grain, the pianos, 1,800 barrels of lime, a knocked-down school house and 60,000 quart bottles of the Seattle Malting and Brewing Company's Rainier beer.

As the Hera crept past Cape Flattery, a southwester caught the ship and pushed her towards Vancouver Island.

The vessel took on water. The barrels, holding lime burst and the lime began to smolder.

About half a kilometer off what is now Tofino's First Street Dock, the crew abandoned ship and the Hera sank.

Tofino diver Rod Palm located the wreck in December 1974 after a crab fisherman complained that one of his traps got caught on the ocean's bottom. The trap, said the fisherman, was rust-stained once recovered.

Not long after, the Hera was declared B.C.'s first protected underwater heritage site.

Crab fishermen, however, continued to have their traps caught on the Hera.

In August 2005, members of the Tonquin Foundation retrieved 30 crab traps from the site. The foundation recommended marking the site with international orange-and-white information buoys.

This weekend, the Tonquin Foundation unveiled the information buoy and a bronze information plaque at the foot of the Hera's anchor, which rests on Tofino's waterfront.

Divers will also lay five bronze information plaques on the Hera.

"This is the culmination of about two years of work," said Griffiths.

The project cost about $5,000 and required the participation of Tofino, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Trust and the provincial government.

Jacques Marc, president of the Underwater Archaeology Society of British Columbia, said the site is unique because there's a "substantial chunk" of the vessel still preserved in the sand.

"We don't have too many turn-of-the-century wooden sailing ships you can see," he said.

Marking the site, said Marc, will remind fishermen of the wreck and hopefully prevent more gear from fouling on the site.

"It's another part of our heritage people find interest," said Mayor John Fraser.

Fraser said the foundation's work is good news for Tofino, and will provide another attraction for locals and tourists.

"I really hope it generates more visits from divers and consequently more of an economic boost," said Griffiths.

As for the quality of beer in the bottles, Griffiths, who opened a bottle many years ago, recommends divers leave it alone.

"It was horrible," he said. "It was pretty skunky."


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