Tuesday, February 05, 2008

 

Storms uncover mystery shipwreck

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The World Link
By Elise Hamner
February 05, 2008


Massive mystery“I’ve been coming out here since I was old enough to remember — about 6 years old,” said Hammar.

“I’ve never seen this up until this winter.”

But he’s only 47.

It’s south of the New Carissa chunk. Week after week, the foredune has slipped away.

“This thing is built on such a massive scale. It blows my mind,” Hammar said.

The ship’s sides protrude up from the sand below a towering foredune. They’re more than a foot thick. Vertical timbers that run through the walls are lined on both sides by planking. All are tied together with iron bars and pins. There appear to be square portholes cut through the sides every six feet or so.

Curved chair-sized ribs rise out of the sand on the insides anchored by more iron bars, but the top deck is gone. It was a two-deck vessel. A schooner at least for a time. But its use is unclear.

Local historians have no idea whose ship it was or when it ran aground — at least not yet.

The historians
“It seems to be from the late 1800s and early 1900s. There’s some evidence it was a sailing ship, but then there’s some evidence it was converted to a coastal barge,” said Steve Samuels, BLM’s cultural resource coordinator.

There’s a small pipe in one side that appears to be from a bilge pump. He estimated another 15 feet of the keel rests deep in the sand.

The archaeologists were beside the vessel first sign of low tide Monday afternoon — Samuels and Reg Pullen of BLM, also Oregon State Parks’ Calum Stevenson.

They say there are ways to guess a ship’s age.

It appears possibly to have been built with some Douglas fir, which would be indicative of the Pacific Northwest. There were ship building outfits small and large up and down the Oregon and California coasts, including at Coos Bay and North Bend.

Long rectangular metal chain plates run up the hull sides where lines would have been attached to hold the masts. While it’s wood, there are the iron bars bubbled with rust that run through the sidewalls. There also are hexagon spikes and even newer rounded nails in the vessel sides. The planking is grouted.

All wooden ships had some sort of caulking, Stevenson explained.

“Older ships had a cotton and then a kind of tar pitch liquid that was put in,” he said.

Later, shipbuilders employed a white leaded paste.

“It looks like a white lead paste kind of caulking on this ship, so that would probably date it to the 19th century,” Stevenson said.

The bow points bow west to the ocean, which is unusual for shipwrecks. It’s on a legally fuzzy dividing line between Oregon State Parks and U.S. Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction. There are no plans at this point to save it.

“Once it’s been exposed like it is, it’s going to deteriorate fairly rapidly,” Samuels said.

The records
Some have speculated the vessel is part of the Czarina that foundered on the Coos Bay Bar and drifted north toward Horsfall 98 years ago. But that ship was metal-hulled. Others have suggested it’s the lumber-carrying C.A. Smith, which ran aground and broke up at the North Jetty in 1923.

Dreamers would like to have it be the historically rich Captain Lincoln. In January 1852, that wood-hulled ship ran ashore at the Coos Bay estuary. There were no jetties protecting the treacherous bar then. The ship was bringing supplies to military outposts in the Oregon Territory. The crew spent four months camped on the spit trading with local Indians. But this shipwreck evidence doesn’t point that way.

And there may not be much time for on-the-sand research.

For a hundred years, or more, it’s been preserved in hard-packed sand and protected by the salt water. But now, exposed to the air, worms and other small critters will get at it, not to forget the waves that slam logs and debris daily into the splitting wood with the coming and going of the tide.

Come March 15, the end of the spit, the dry sand portion and upland will be closed for the six-month snowy plover breeding season. There won’t be special permits for archaeologists. Come September, they will have the short window before winter to learn all they can about the ship.

“We would appreciate any marine architects with historical knowledge to contact us. It might have been something that was built here, but we don’t know,” Samuels said.

And locals, too, are encouraged to share their historical knowledge and stories.

No money to save it
On Saturday, Hammar and his wife, Beth Burback, also brought along Lillas Bledsoe. The 82-year-old Hauser resident rode along to see if the shipwreck was one she remembered from years ago. Bledsoe was born and grew up in North Bend.

After the war, she recalled, her ex-husband “Babe” Johnson, and five other men took a mule team out on the spit. They towed a wagon to salvage lumber from a wrecked barge. That was maybe 1946 or 1947.

On Saturday, she calmly poked around the shipwreck. She sniffed at the splintered wood. “Sea rot,” she said.

“No, this isn’t the one,” she said of the shipwreck.

She said she might have recalled seeing it those many years ago covered with sand. Then again, maybe not.

There are no nameplates left. As yet, no identifying marks from craftsmen show. No historical accounts seem to refer to it. There aren’t pages of news stories chronicling it, as there are about the New Carissa stern shadowed by surf spray farther north up the beach.

Salvors plan to remove that steel-hulled wood chip ship that ran aground eight years ago yesterday. The state has $16 million to do it.

“If this were the Capt. Lincoln, we would be able to find the money to save it,” Samuels said.

That irony isn’t lost on the locals and the historians. They have been visiting this site day after day, trying to learn all they can about this mystery shipwreck that seems destined to fade away.


People with possible historical information about the shipwreck are encouraged to contact:


• Steve Samuels, district cultural resource coordinator with the local U.S. Bureau of Land Management Office, by calling 756-0100; or

• Calum Stevenson, Oregon Parks & Recreation Department coastal coordinator, at 888-3778.

• Anne Donnelly, executive director at the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum, at 756-6320.


Books, stories have chronicled other shipwrecks

The following is a listing of shipwrecks off Coos Bay.

• Jan. 23, 1852: The Captain Lincoln took on water and the captain ran it ashore north of the bay entrance. It had been sent up the coast to bring supplies to military outposts to what was then the Oregon Territory.

• Oct. 20, 1896: The 947-ton, 207-foot-long steamer Arago wrecked at the Coos Bay Bar, killing 13 of 37 people aboard. This was the second and final time. Originally, it was called the Emily and grounded at the bar in 1891. One person died. The vessel was a coal hauler built by Union Iron works of San Francisco in 1885. http://www.shipwreckregistry.com.

• 1907: The four-masted schooner Novelty ran aground in the “Southern Oregon Sand Dunes,” said Steve Priske, a shipwright, model shipbuilder and historian. It was the first bald-head schooner and was built in 1886. http://tallshipsofsanfrancisco.com.

• March 23, 1909: The Marconi, a 693-ton, four-masted schooner, was built by A. M. Simpson in North Bend and used for hauling lumber. While the Marconi was being towed out of Coos Bay, the line broke and the vessel drifted to the south where it eventually broke up in the surf.

• Jan. 12, 1910: The metal-hulled Czarina was swamped by breakers on the Coos Bay Bar. The steam ship drifted north toward Horsfall, hit a sandbar and was stranded in the breakers. Coast Guard rescuers were unable to reach it. Of the crew, 24 clung to the rigging and eventually drowned. One made it to shore but later died.

• Feb. 16, 1913: The wood-hulled Advent was stranded south of the Coos Bay Bar. Eight crewmen were rescued. The 431-ton vessel was built in 1901 for Simpson Lumber Co. at North Bend. At least one historic photo shows portholes in what remained of its stern. http://www.shipwreckregistry.com.

• Nov. 15, 1915: The 1,588-ton wooden-hulled steam ship Santa Clara ran into a shoal near the entrance to Coos Bay on Nov. 15, 1915, breaking a hole in the hull and flooding the engine room. The vessel eventually caught fire. Most of the people aboard made it to shore in lifeboats. There were 60 passengers and crewmen in all. Sixteen died.

• April 26, 1923: The 5,543-ton, 390-foot Brush, a steel steamer built by American International S.B. Corp. at Hog Island, Penn., in 1920, struck Simpson Reef. The captain, George S. Mitchell was 15 miles off course. That morning, Mitchell had turned over the wheel to his second mate, who had readjusted the course 10 degrees to the west. The Coast Guard rescued the crew and one passenger. The Brush broke up on the reef but people salvaged much of its cargo of lumber, some of which was used to rebuild the Simpsons’ Shore Acres fire-damaged house. Mitchell and the second mate had their licenses suspended.

• Dec. 16, 1923: The 275-foot, 1,878-ton C.A. Smith, built by Kruse and Banks in 1917, was carrying 1.5 million board feet of lumber when it ran aground on the North Jetty at Coos Bay. Of the 14-member crew, 10 were saved.

• Feb. 28, 1929: The 3,542-ton, 324-foot steel steamer Sujameco ran aground at Horsfall Beach. The vessel was once a charter voyaging from San Francisco. Its captain, J.F. Carlson, said he had overrun the distance from San Francisco to Coos Bay and he had turned around the ship to head back to the Coos River mouth when the Sujameco plowed at full speed into the sandy bottom. No lives were lost. Historical accounts say the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Redwing and two Coos Bay tugboats tried but couldn’t pull it from the beach.

The remains are visible at times in the winter and were the morning of Feb. 4, 1999, when the wood chip ship New Carissa ran aground.

• Sept. 7, 1932: The wood-hulled lumber schooner Fort Bragg ran aground south of the jetties. The captain of the 705-ton schooner became confused in thick fog, believing he was bringing the ship in safely between the jetties.

• 1940: The North Bend II sank at Guano Rock in Coos Bay in 1940. It was built at the Kruse & Banks Shipyard in what’s now North Bend, reportedly around 1920. http://tallshipsofsanfrancisco.com.

• March 17, 1945: The steel-hulled, lumber carrying Alvarado was stranded 8 miles North of Coos Bay in a gale. It broke in two, with the stern 100 yards offshore and forward section on beach. It was owned by The Moore Mill and Lumber Co. and built in 1914 by Craig Shipbuilding Co. of Long Beach, Calif. http://www.shipwreckregistry.com.

• Sept. 10, 1957: The Dredge Wm. T. Rossell capsized at Coos Bay after colliding with the Norwegian freighter M.S. Thorshall. Coos Bay Bar pilot S. A. Axelson, who was aboard the Thorshall, later reported to the state the freighter was headed to sea with assistance by the tug Cygnet. The tide was ebbing that day, but as the vessel passed the No. 4 buoy in the channel, the vessel came to the left toward the Rossell. The right rudder wouldn’t respond. Axelson reported that steering engine on the Thorshall was reported to have failed shortly before the collision.

• December 1962: The 2,444-ton steel-hull steamer Alaska Cedar was lost on the north jetty at Coos Bay.

• March 22, 1962: The pilot boat Cygnet, captained by George “Pat” Hampel, capsized on the Coos Bay Bar. Hampel was never found.

• Feb. 4, 1999: Captain Benjamin Morgado and the crew of the wood chip ship New Carissa steamed outside the entrance to Coos Bay overnight. They waited for the seas to calm, so a pilot could board the vessel and guide it into port. But the ship drifted north of the jetty into treacherous waters and ran aground about one mile north of the jetty in the surf off Horsfall Beach. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued the 23-person crew by helicopter the next day.

— Information compiled by City Editor Elise Hamner and Staff Writer Susan Chambers

Sources: The World archives, including references to three books: “Oregon Shipwrecks,” by Don Marshall, c. 1984 by Binford & Mort Publishing; “A Guide to Shipwreck Sites Along the Oregon Coast,” by Victor West with illustrations by R.E. Wells, c. 1984 by R.E. Wells and Victor C. West, North Bend; and “Shipwrecks and Rescues on the Northwest Coast,” by Bert and Margie Webber, c. 1996, Webb Research Group Publishers, Medford.


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