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.Impatient captains wishing to save money orPage 175time often took chances piloting their own shipsthen regretted doing so.In 1849, for example, four ships were wrecked on the bar: the Aurora, the Morning Star, the Sylvia de Grasse, and the Josephine.In 1852, five ships were wrecked: the Dolphin, the General Warren, the Machigone, the Marie, and the Potomac.After Captain George Flavel established his bar pilot association in 1850 and the State of Oregon began issuing licenses to Columbia River pilots, wrecks became less frequent.But recently, Captain Steffanson said, a surprising number of sailing ships that had seen their day and no longer were able to compete with steam-propelled craft were attempting to enter the river without going to the expense of employing a pilotand coming to grief.Part of this could be ascribed to the fact that the sailing ships were being staffed by inexperienced or over-the-hill officers and crews.A more important cause for the wrecks may have been the fact that, if a master wanted to ground his ship for the insurance money, the sand spit guarding the south entrance to the Columbia River was an ideal place to do it.''Dis is de only coast vhere a captain and his crew can walk ashore from a shipwreck,'' Captain Steffanson said cynically."Dese days, a lot of dem do."As aids to navigation, a lighthouse had been built in 1856 atop Cape Disappointment 220 feet above the sea on the north side of the river, shooting its 700,000 candlepower on the white flash and 160,000 candlepower on the red twenty-one miles out to sea.On the south side, the Point Adams Lighthouse with similar beams had been built in 1875.As a further aid to navigation beginning in 1892, a lightship equipped with a foghorn would go on station five miles at sea outside the entrance to the Columbia, where it would be manned year-round by a Coast Guard crew.Since the vessel stationed there would be out of touch with land and must endure all extremes of wind and weather, the sailors forced to live aboard for six-week stints without relief would suffer the worst kind of sea duty imaginable.But whatever price must be paid in boredom and discomfort by men tendering warnings to oceangoing craft, it paled to insignificance when compared to the terrible loss of life by those who made their living going to sea in small boats.Legendary among the disasters that had occurred between Tillamook Head to the south and Willapa Bay to the north was the unexpected storm that struck on May 4, 1880.On that bright, sunny, mild spring morning, Captain SteffansonPage 176told Tommy and Lars, virtually every boat in the area was at sea trolling for salmon or dragging for bottom fish.Unknown to the fishermen in the 250 vessels working offshore, a phenomenal freak of weather was in the making.A local historian later wrote:Without forewarning, a powerful wind of hurricane force suddenly came out of nowhere, changing the peaceful ocean waves into massive, seething billows.Showing no mercy, winds of more than one hundred miles per hour contorted the sea's face and made playthings of the small fishboats.Pummeled, tossed, turned, capsized, and swamped, one by one they disappeared from view, the terrified fishermen thinking the end of the world had come.Thrown into the mass of liquid fury to fend for themselves, death to most came quickly.The uncommon local squall, which roared in from the northwest, lasted only thirty minutes.By the time it ended, more than 240 vessels had been destroyed and over three hundred lives were lost.A year earlier, a spectacular wreck of a large steamship with many lives at risk took place just inside the mouth of the river in perfectly calm weather.With a licensed, experienced pilot aboard, the Great Republic grounded the night of April 18, 1879.Built in 1866 at Greenport, Long Island, New York, she had served in the China trade for several years, then in the late 1870s began carrying freight and passengers between San Francisco and Portland.A big side-wheeler measuring 378 feet in length, she was registered at 4,750 tons.She was also fast, once making the hundred-mile run from Portland to Astoria in five hours and fifteen minutes.Departing San Francisco in the spring of 1879, she was carrying 896 passengers and over a hundred crew members when she arrived at the mouth of the Columbia at midnight on April 8.The pilot boat was waiting for her, Captain Steffanson said, and pulled alongside to put Pilot Thomas Doig aboard."He vas a goot man," Captain Steffanson said, "and not one to make mistakes.But dot night, according to de Court of Inquiry vhich vas held later, he made a bad vun."There was not a ripple on the water, (Captain James Carroll, the ship's master, told the Court of Inquiry), and we came over the bar under a slow bell all the way, crossing safely and reaching the insidePage 177buoy.The first and third officers were on the lookout with me.I had a pair of glasses and was the first to discover Sand Island, and found the bearings all right.I reported to the pilot, who had not yet seen it.We ran along probably two minutes, and I then told the pilot I thought we were getting too close to the island and that he had better haul her up.He replied, "I do not think we are in far enough." A minute later I said, "Port your helm and put it hard over, as I think you are getting too near the island." He made no reply, but ran along for about five minutes and then put the helm hard aport, and the vessel swung up, heading toward Astoria.But the ebb tide caught her on the starboard bow, and being so near the island sent her on the spit.Grounding so lightly that few of the people aboard knew she had struck, the Great Republic found herself stranded, for the tide was ebbing and she had no chance to get off the sandbar that night.Aware of the fact that the barometer was falling, indicating an impending storm, Captain Carroll appealed to Fort Canby for assistance.The tugs Benham and Canby soon arrived, followed by the Shubrick and the Columbia.With the aid of these and a number of small boats, the passengers were taken off the ship and transported to Astoria, while the crew remained onboard to off-load cargo and coal in an attempt to lighten ship and float her off the sandbar on the next high tide.At 8 P.M.a southwest gale started in, (Captain Carroll told the Court of Inquiry), making a heavy sea, chopping to the southeast about midnight.Up to this time the ship was lying easy and taking no water, but the heavy sea prevented the tugs from rendering assistance and also drove her higher on the spit, and shortly after midnight she began to work, breaking the steampipes and disabling the engines.A few remaining passengers were put ashore on Sand Island at 6 A.M.on Sunday and were followed by the crew, the ship beginning to break up so that it was dangerous to remain aboard.The last boat left the ship at 10:30 A.M., and in getting away, the steering oar broke and the boat capsized, drowning eleven of the fourteen men it contained.At about this time a heavy sea boarded the ship and carried away the staterooms on the starboard side, gutted the dining room, broke up the floor of the social hall, and carried away the piano.Several seas afterward boarded her forward and carried away the starboard guard, officers' room and steerage deck, also a number of horses.I remained aboard until 5:00 P.M., when the pilot and I lowered a lifeboat and came ashore.Despite the efforts to save her, Captain Steffanson said, the Great Republic was destined never to get off the bar intact [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]