Shipwrecks — remembered and forgotten

The Northcoast has proved unkind for seagoing vessels plying the waters west of Crescent City. A number of vessels were wrecked or stranded along the coast, including Amanda Alger, who went ashore at the Gold Bluffs in December 1871; Centennial, who stranded crossing the Klamath Bar in April 1877; and seven other craft, including California, Wall and Elvenia, who stranded near Crescent City during the three-year period beginning in 1878.

Seven more strandings were also reported to the Life-Saving Service between 1884 and 1905. Many of them, including Dauntless, were victims of Klamath Bar.

But on Oct. 21, 1907, the coast claimed a major victim: Queen Christina, one of the largest freighters working the Pacific coast at the time. She was built in 1901 at Newcastle, England, and displaced 4,268 tons of water.

She sailed from San Francisco on Oct. 19, 1907, with a cargo of wheat, bound for Portland, Ore. But two days later off Point St. George, she encountered heavy fog, fog likened to London’s famous pea soup variety.

Her captain, George R. Harris, believed he was holding a course seven miles offshore and eased his ship forward slowly. As the Queen made her way, those aboard heard a sound bound to horrify them – the hard crunch of iron against rock.

The ship was hard aground and taking water badly, according to the ship’s damage control personnel. Capt. Harris took the only action he could: He passed the order to abandon ship and got his crew ashore in two lifeboats.

Given the lore about Point St. George, Harris and his crew were lucky. The seas were calm and smooth, but storms were on target to hit the area from both the southeast and the southwest.

The prediction was that Queen Christina, only six years on the water, would be pounded to pieces on the rocks. Word of the wreck in Crescent City dispatched the steam schooner Navarrro, owned by local lumber giant Hobbs, Wall and Co. to head for the wreck site.

Her crew got a line aboard the stricken freighter but could not pull her off the rocks. Hearing the update, Capt. Harris employed the Hobbs, Wall and Co. vessel to help his crew salvage as much as they could from the wreck.

To Harris’ discredit, he tried to blame the crew manning St. George Reef Lighthouse, who he said were not sounding the facility’s fog horn. Most mariners backed the keepers’ claim they were using the fog horn by pointing out that it’s possible to be “right on top” of a fog horn but not able to hear it.

To her builders’ credit, the Queen held herself together until 1909. She withstood the winter of 1907-08, lasting with her lines in place.

Her epitaph was a 1909 story published by the Crescent City News that stated the “stranded steamer Queen Christina is a complete wreck … there is nothing visible of the ill-fated craft except a portion of the bridge … heavy seas roll over it … the masts have gone by the board.”

Although they are not some of the best-known shipwrecks, the foundering of the Magnolia and disappearance of the South Coast were big news in Del Norte County. Magnolia was a 49-ton coastal freighter, small when compared to the other vessels working their way along the Northcoast when the 20th century was young.

She ran into trouble as trying to cross Klamath River Bar on April 8, 1916. The seas were rough, and she was carrying a cargo of shakes as she attempted the crossing.

Caught in the breakers, Magnolia capsized, drowning her four-man crew. The vessel drifted out to sea, where the Coast Guard cutter Humboldt Bay found the stricken craft, put a line on her and towed her to Eureka.

An unidentified vessel was stranded at the same spot about eight years before Magnolia lost her battle with the breakers.

Between 1917 and 1929, two craft were lost off the coast along the coast of what later would become Redwood National Park. Named the Mandalay and the Sharp, the two vessels wrecked in 1918 and 1924, respectively.

Between them came the demise of a vessel owned by Hobbs, Wall & Co. The craft stranded on Point Arena on July 27, 1917.

Then came the South Coast, carrying lumber, 80 tons of high-grade chrome ore, tons of butter, seven passengers and her crew. A veteran steamer, the 301-ton vessel was built in 1887 and purchased by Hobbs, Wall in 1915.

She left Crescent City during calm weather in September 1930 with a track record of several charter trips between the city and Coos Bay, Ore. Capt. Stanley Sorenson commanded the vessel and her 18-man crew as she left Del Norte County heading north to Oregon.

She never made her destination.

That evening, residents of Gold Beach, Ore., saw a flash at sea, heard a loud noise described as a “dull boom.” The next day a crew aboard the General Petroleum Tanker Tejon spotted debris that included logs, lifeboats and a pilothouse about 40 miles south of Cape Blanco and 30 miles seaward.

Tejon’s captain radioed word to Hobbs, Wall and the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Humboldt Bay. Coast Guard cutter Cahokia headed to the scene.

Finding no survivors, the crew recovered the pilothouse and lifeboats and took them to Eureka. Examination of the debris found that the lifeboats were never lowered, rather they were ripped from their davits.

The pilothouse was battered from the deck. From that evidence, Cahokia’s captain determined the vessel had struck Rogue River Reef in a fog, which caused the cargo to shift and capsized her.

Seven years later, South Coast’s grave was located by a Department of Commerce-owned survey steamer, Guide, whose crew was taking soundings off Port Orford, Ore. The position she rested in confirmed her having hit Rogue River Reef.

During the 1940s, two vessels wrecked off the coast. Susan Olson stranded at Crescent City on Feb. 3, 1948, and the 69-ton Garrison went down in 128 fathoms of water off the north head of False Klamath Rock.

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