The SS Valencia in 1904
|Owner:|| Red D Line
Pacific Steam Whaling Company
Pacific Coast Steamship Company
|Operator:|| Red D Line
Red D Line
Pacific Steam Whaling Company
United States Army
Pacific Steam Whaling Company
Pacific Coast Steamship Company
|Port of registry:||San Francisco, California, United States|
|Route:||New York City to Caracas via Laguayra and Puerto Cabello (in 1882)
San Francisco, California to Alaska (Normal route)
San Francisco, California to Seattle, Washington via Victoria, British Columbia(At the time of sinking)
|Builder:||William Cramp & Sons (Philadelphia, PA)|
|Maiden voyage:||May 1882|
|Out of service:||22 January 1906|
|Fate:||Wrecked on 22 January 1906|
|Notes:||Ran aground near Pachena Point on Vancouver Island|
|Type:||Ocean liner/Coastal passenger liner|
|Tonnage:||1,598 Tons (originally 1,200 Tons)|
|Length:||252 ft (77 m)|
|Beam:||34 ft (10 m)|
|Notes:||Carried six lifeboats, one workboat, four life rafts and one dual purpose workboat. Also equipped with a lyle gun. A 100 ft (30 m) long bow gave the Valencia the false appearance of a fast vessel. It also reduced visibility during fog, as the ship was originally designed for east coast service. She was the sister ship to the Caracas.|
The SS Valencia was an iron-hulled passenger steamer built as a minor ocean liner for the Red D Line for service between Venezuela and New York City. She was built in 1882 by William Cramp and Sons, one year after the construction of her sister ship Caracas. She was a 1,598 ton vessel (originally 1,200 tons), 252 feet (77 m) in length. In 1897, the Valencia was deliberately attacked by the Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes off Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The next year, she became a coastal passenger liner on the U.S. West Coast and served periodically in the Spanish American War as a troopship to the Philippines. Valencia was wrecked off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in 1906. Since her sinking killed 100 people (including all of the women and children aboard), some classify the wreck of the Valencia as the worst maritime disaster in the "Graveyard of the Pacific" --a famously treacherous area of the southwest coast of Vancouver Island.
The Red D Line had been operating a well established sailing ship service to Venezuela since 1839. This service continued un-interrupted for almost 40 years. By the summer of 1879 however, the company decided to modernize its service with steamships. Three German vessels were leased to begin this service, but it soon became clear that a permanent fleet would need to be provided. Resulting from this decision, two steamships were ordered from William Cramp & Sons in Philadelphia. Both ships were to carry a combination of passengers, cargo and mail, sail under American Registration and be manned by American crews. In 1881, the first of this duo, the 1,200 ton Caracas, was completed and began service in July 1881 between New York City and Caracas via Laguayra and Puerto Cabello.
In 1882, the sister ship of the Caracas was completed. The new steamer, Valencia, was shorter in length than her older sister by 5 ft (2 m) and began her maiden voyage in May 1882. An extension service for the Valencia and Caracas was provided by the small wooden steamship Maracaibo to the port of the wooden steamer's namesake. Unlike Valencia and Caracas, Maracaibo was registered under the British flag, as she did not operate into the United States. A voyage on Valencia and Caracas was scheduled twice a month and lasted around 26 days. In 1888, the Caracas was sold to Thomas Egenton Hogg of the Oregon Pacific Railroad Company and renamed Yaquina Bay. Valencia however, continued operations with the Red D Line. In later years, Valencia operated from New York City to Laguayra, via Puerto Cabello and the island of Curaçao.
In 1897, the liner Niagara of the Ward Line was laid up to undergo repairs. The Valencia was subsequently chartered from the Red D Line to temporarily take Niagara's place. Despite the charter, Valencia was still manned by her Red D Line crew. On May 29, 1897, the Valencia was purposely attacked by the Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes. The cruiser fired two shots at the Valencia off Guantánamo Bay. One of the shots missed the Valencia's stern by 240 ft (73 m) Immediately, the American flag was raised on Valencia's stern, preventing the Reina Mercedes from firing any further shots. It was later revealed that the shots were fired by the Reina Mercedes in order to intimidate the Valencia into raising her colors. The crew of the Reina Mercedes was otherwise well aware of the Valencia's identity. Despite not being able to see the cruiser's flag, the Valencia's captain was able to identify the Reina Mercedes, as both ships were together in Santiago de Cuba only days before. A Spanish official claimed the Reina Mercedes had every right to fire upon the Valencia for not displaying her American flag, which violated maritime courtesy. In response an American official stated the Reina Mercedes did not display her colors while attacking the Valencia, making the attack unjustified.
In 1898, the Valencia was sold to the Pacific Steam Whaling Company, which brought her around Cape Horn to the west coast. From here, she served between San Francisco, California and Alaska. On June 19 of that year, Valencia was chartered by the United States Army for use as a troopship in the Spanish-American War. In this configuration, the Valencia could carry 606 troops and 29 officers. She was used to transport the 1st North Dakota Volunteer Infantry, 1st Washington Volunteer Infantry (Companies F, G, I and L), and the California Heavy Artillery (Batteries A and D) between San Francisco and the Philippines. The Army paid Valencia's owners $650 a day for her lease.
After returning to civil service, Valencia did not adapt well to her new surroundings. Her design made her difficult to handle during winter months. Valencia's large 100 ft (30 m) bow reduced visibility from her bridge. The very audible noise of the waves crashing along her bow often interfered with communication between her crew members. In 1901, Valencia's purser was arrested for overpricing tickets and embezzling the additional money. The purser claimed the rest of Valencia's crew was involved in this scam. In the same event, the Valencia was discovered to have been carrying more passengers than she was permitted to, causing her owners to be fined $9,000.
Following her fiasco, the Valencia was sold to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company. While returning from Valdez, Alaska in 1902, the Valencia collided with the steamer Georgia in Elliott Bay off Seattle, Washington. One of Valencia's hull plates was punctured above the water line. It was later discovered that had Valencia been damaged underwater by the collision, she would have foundered.
The Valencia was not a well liked ship among Pacific Coast passengers. She was regarded as being too small and too open towards the elements, causing her to be classified as a second class vessel. Furthermore, her average speed was only 11 knots. During the winter season, Valencia spent most of her time sitting at her dock in San Francisco, only seeing use as a backup vessel. The Valencia was not equipped with a double bottom and, like other early iron steamers, her hull compartmentalization was primitive. In January 1906, however, she was temporarily diverted to the San Francisco–Seattle route to take over from the SS City of Puebla, which was undergoing repairs in San Francisco. The weather in San Francisco was clear, and the Valencia set off on January 20 at 11:20 AM with nine officers, 56 crew members and at least 108 passengers aboard. As she passed by Cape Mendocino in the early morning hours of January 21, the weather took a turn for the worse. Visibility was low and a strong wind started to blow from the southeast.
Unable to make celestial observations, the ship's crew was forced to rely on dead reckoning to determine their position. Out of sight of land, and with strong winds and currents, the Valencia overshot the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca by more than 20 miles (30 km). Shortly before midnight on January 22, she struck a reef near Pachena Point on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island.
Collision and disaster
Immediately after the collision, the captain ordered her engines reversed. As soon as she was clear of the rocks, crew members reported a large gash in the hull into which water was pouring rapidly. To prevent her from sinking, the captain ordered her run aground, and she was driven into the rocks again. She was left stranded in sight of the shore, separated from it by 50 metres of heavy surf.
In the ensuing confusion, six of the ship's seven lifeboats were lowered into the water against the captain's orders, all of them improperly manned. Three flipped while being lowered, spilling their occupants into the ocean; of the three that were successfully launched, two capsized and one disappeared. The scene at the wreck was horrific, as one of the few survivors, Chief Freight Clerk Frank Lehn recounted:
|“||Screams of women and children mingled in an awful chorus with the shrieking of the wind, the dash of rain, and the roar of the breakers. As the passengers rushed on deck they were carried away in bunches by the huge waves that seemed as high as the ship's mastheads. The ship began to break up almost at once and the women and children were lashed to the rigging above the reach of the sea. It was a pitiful sight to see frail women, wearing only night dresses, with bare feet on the freezing ratlines, trying to shield children in their arms from the icy wind and rain.||”|
Only 12 men made it to shore, and of those, three were washed away by the waves after landing. The remaining nine men scaled the cliffs and found a telegraph line strung between the trees. They followed the line through thick forest until they came upon a lineman's cabin, from which they were able to summon help. These nine men, who became known as the 'Bunker' Party, after the survivor Frank Bunker, eventually received much criticism for not attempting to reach the top of the nearby cliff, where they might have received and made fast, the cable fired from the Lyle gun on board the Valencia.
Meanwhile, the ship's boatswain and a crew of volunteers had been lowered in the last remaining lifeboat with instructions to find a safe landing place and return to the cliffs to receive a lifeline from the ship. Upon landing, they discovered a trail and a sign reading "Three miles to Cape Beale." Abandoning the original plan, they decided to head toward the lighthouse on the cape, where they arrived after 2 ½ hours of hiking. The lighthouse keeper phoned Bamfield to report the wreck, but the news had already arrived and been passed on to Victoria. This last group of survivors was "well-nigh crazed" by their last sight of the remaining stranded passengers
|“||the brave faces looking at them over the broken rail of a wreck and of the echo of that great hymn sung by the women who, looking death smilingly in the face, were able in the fog and mist and flying spray to remember: Nearer, My God, to Thee.||”|
Once word of the disaster reached Victoria, three ships were dispatched to rescue the survivors. The largest was the passenger liner SS Queen; accompanying her were the salvage steamer Salvor and the tug Czar. Another steamship, the SS City of Topeka, was later sent from Seattle with a doctor, nurses, medical supplies, members of the press, and a group of experienced seamen. On the morning of January 24, the Queen arrived at the site of the wreck, but was unable to approach due to the severity of the weather and lack of depth charts. Seeing that it would not be possible to approach the wreck from the sea, the Salvor and Czar set off to Bamfield to arrange for an overland rescue party.
Upon seeing the Queen, the Valencia's crew launched the ship's two remaining life rafts, but the majority of the passengers decided to remain on the ship, presumably believing that a rescue party would soon arrive. Approximately one hour later, the City of Topeka arrived and, like the Queen, was unable to approach the wreck. The Topeka cruised the waters off the coast for several hours searching for survivors, and eventually came upon one of the life rafts carrying 18 men. No other survivors were found, and at dark the captain of the Topeka called off the search. The second life raft eventually drifted ashore on an island in Barkley Sound, where the four survivors were found by the island's First Nations and taken to a village near Ucluelet.
When the overland party arrived at the cliffs above the site of the wreck, they found dozens of passengers clinging to the rigging and the few unsubmerged parts of the Valencia's hull. Not long afterwards, the ship's lone funnel collapsed. With the funnel being the last full means of protection to anyone onboard, the waves were now able to completely wash over Valencia's deck, leaving all at the mercy of the waves. Without any remaining lifelines, however, they could do nothing to help the survivors, and within hours a large wave washed the wreckage off the rocks and into the ocean. Every remaining passenger drowned.
Investigation and aftermath
Within days of the disaster, the US Marine Inspection Service launched an investigation into the incident. A second investigation was launched by President Theodore Roosevelt. Its purpose was twofold: one, to determine the causes of the disaster, and two, to recommend how to avoid such loss of life in the future.
The investigation ran from February 14 to March 1, 1906, and the final report was published on April 14, 1906. The reports agreed on the causes of the disaster – navigational mistakes and poor weather. Safety equipment was, for the most part, in working order, but lifeboat drills had not been carried out. According to the report, the crew of the rescuing vessels did as much to help the Valencia as could be expected under the circumstances.
The loss of life was attributed to a series of unfortunate coincidences, aggravated by a lack of lifesaving infrastructure along Vancouver Island's coast. The federal report called for the construction of a lighthouse between Cape Beale and Carmanah Point, and the creation of a coastal lifesaving trail with regularly spaced shelters for shipwrecked sailors. It also recommended that surfboats be stationed at Tofino and Ucluelet and that a well-equipped steamboat be stationed at Bamfield. The Canadian government immediately set to work building a lighthouse and trail; in 1908, the Pachena Point Lighthouse was lit, and in 1911 work on the trail – later known as the West Coast Trail – was completed.
How many people died in the sinking is estimated by different people; some sources list that 117 people were killed, while others claim that the number of fatalities was as high as 181. According to the federal report, the official death toll was 136 persons. Only 37 men survived, and every woman and child on the Valencia died in the disaster.
In 1933, 27 years after the disaster, the Valencia's lifeboat #5 was found floating in Barkley Sound. Remarkably, it was in good condition, with much of the original paint remaining. The boat's nameplate is now on display in the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.
Coincidentally, the Valencia's sister ship Caracas, was also wrecked. On December 9, 1888, shortly after arriving on the west coast as the Yaquina Bay, she broke free from her tugboat and ran aground at the bay of her namesake and was declared a total loss.
Myths and legends surrounding the Valencia
The Valencia's dramatic end has made it the subject of several local rumors and ghost stories. Six months after the incident, local Indians claimed to have seen a lifeboat with eight skeletons in a nearby sea cave at the shoreline of Pachena Bay. The mouth of the cave was obstructed by a large boulder and the cave was reported to be around 200 ft (61 m) deep. There was no definite explanation for the lifeboat's presence in the cave, but it was believed that high tide and had lifted the boat into the cave's mouth. Due to the dangerous seas outside the cave's mouth, the lifeboat along with its human remains were unable to be recovered. Local fisherman similarly reported lifeboats being rowed by skeletons of the Valencia's victims.
When transporting the survivors of the Valencia to Seattle, the City of Topeka stopped in the water to relay the news of Valencia's foundering to a passing vessel. Some observers onboard claimed they could make out the shape of Valencia within the black exhaust emanating from the City of Topeka's funnel. In 1910, the Seattle Times reported that sailors claimed to have seen a phantom ship resembling the Valencia near Pachena Point. The sailors observed waves washing over the phantom steamer as human figures held on to the ship's rigging for dear life. Similar apparitions were reported for years following the disaster.
- SS Caracas (1881) - Sister ship of the Valencia.
- Clallam (steamboat)
- SS Columbia (1880)
- Princess Sophia (steamer)
- Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
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- McCurdy, at 124
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- Atlantic and Caribbean Steam Navigation Co. / Red "D" Line - TheShipsList - Webpage explaining the fleet details of the Red D Line as well as some of its background history.
- Atlantic and Caribbean Steam Navigation Co. / Red "D" Line - Historia y Arqueología Marítima (In Spanish) - Webpage explaining a detailed history about the Red D Line and the SS Caracas.
- Valencia, SS, the Wreck of (1906) - HistoryLink.org - A historical essay about the Valencia disaster and the tragedy surrounding her wreck.
- Sinking of the Valencia: Tragedy and Beyond - VirtualMuseum.ca - A webpage explaining and displaying several pieces of Valencia's tragic demise. Her 1882 blueprints are included.