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The Wreck of the


Rarely do the skeletal remains of a ship languish indefinitely in a shallow grave to form a pattern in the passing parade of time. The Peter Iredale, a huge creation of a sailing vessel, 278 feet from stem to stern, fashioned of steel plates on iron frames, was such a vessel. Though it saw but a decade and a half of service, it has remained on the sands of Clatsop Beach, half buried, for more than a half-century. Anybody familiar with the Oregon coast has doubtless seen the remains of the Peter Iredale.

This old wreck has become a tourist attraction, lying above most stages of the tide for the curious to examine. Each year it presents a different sight, sometimes nearly covered with sand, and again unearthed. Red with rust, succumbing bit by bit to the ravages of time, the Peter Iredale finishes out her days as a last reminder of the era of sail.

How did she get there? It was October 25, 1906, Captain H. Lawrence, master, picked up Tillamook Rock Light at 2 a. m., and called all hands.

They would stand off the Columbia to await a Pilot. A heavy southwest wind was in the making and sail was shortened. Before the faint glow of dawn the befuddled skipper found his ship amid a surging mass of breakers. Crunching over the bottom, the shock sent the mizzen top hamper crashing to the deck. The men scattered like frightened mice. The bark struck again. More sections of the masts, rigging, blocks and tackle, thundered to the deck. Again the crew scattered.

Captain Lawrence summoned all hands aft. The deck became a welter of wreckage.

The Point Adams Lifesaving crew, assisted by volunteers from Fort Stevens, hastened to the wreck. All of the survivors were landed safely, though shaky from their experiences.

The Peter Iredale, 28 days out from Salina Cruz, Mexico, was under charter to Balfour, Guthrie and Company, and was to have loaded wheat on the river. She was owned by Peter Iredale and Porter, large shipowners of Liverpool.

The vessel's hull was little damaged from stranding and an air of optimism brought high hopes of salvage. It was planned to tow the ship, stern first, through the breakers into deep water. Nature was, however, the superior force and finally the underwriters had to admit defeat. They paid the ship's full insurance value.

For a few more weeks the shipmaster stood by, hoping against hope for a miracle, but all salvage operations were soon abandoned and the ship, now on a severe starboard list and half imbedded in the sands, was deserted.

During World War II, the only enemy shells to strike Oregon soil landed near the Peter Iredale. They were shot by night from a Japanese submarine and soared directly over the wreck and into empty fields at Fort Stevens. No damage was done. The very next day the Army strung rolls of barbed-wire from Point Adams south, to thwart a would-be enemy invasion, The old Peter Iredale was entwined in it and remained so throughout the war.

Lying on a famous clam digger's beach, the old wreck has many visitors even today. They dig about her bones to unearth juicy bivalves.

Men have come and gone, lighthouses have been built and abandoned, military posts manned and closed down, wars fought and won, but still the wreck of the Peter Iredale lives on.

Source: Shipwrecks of the Pacific Coast by James A. Gibbs

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