For 36 hours, without food, water or shelter, they huddled on the rocks as the waves crashed over them.
Again, Oliver’s men struggled with the spar, creating a slender bridge to the rocks below and alongside their dying ship. Slowly, carefully, each man pulled himself along the pole, all reaching the reef safely.
There, they found themselves to be trapped. They couldn’t make it to shore nor could they return to the General Cobb which, rocked by the raging surf, seemed as if she must crash down on them. The hours dragged by, without food or water or shelter. It was night again. Then the following morning, afternoon and darkness once more.
Thirty-six agonizing hours of being drenched by every wave; 36 hours of unrelieved terror.
They huddled against each other to steal what warmth from the storm they could, holding tight to the rocks as their hope began to fade and a sense of helplessness and inevitable doom took its place.
They couldn’t have known that their rescue was already underway…
Three passing natives had spotted them and hurried to Clayoquot with the news. That evening, a giant war canoe fought its way through the storm to the wreck. Its 14 occupants were the most welcome sight the Americans had ever seen; they’d have cheered had they the strength.
The rescuers manoeuvred alongside the reef and with extraordinary skill, courage and good luck, pulled the sailors into their canoe then paddled desperately for the shore. Taken to the natives’ nearby summer homes, they were tenderly cared for for two days while they began to recuperate. When ready to travel, they were canoed to Clayoquot where Robert Turnbull, in charge of Capt. James Warren’s trading post, gave them "every hospitality."
It had been the Clayoquots’ idea that the seamen stay at the trading post for their own comfort, Turnbull, who acted as interpreter, informed them. Upon Capt. Oliver’s accepting the offer to rest at the store, the Clayoquots, said the Colonist, "insisted on presenting him and his crew with blankets, mats and provisions. One of the chiefs, a son of Cedar Canim, not wishing to be outdone in generosity by the head chief, Schewish, gave the captain and some crew money, which they received with reluctance, but were forced to take by the Indians who wished to give evidence of their good feeling."
After 19 days at Clayoquot, the sailors hired two canoes, manned by 21 paddlers, to take them to Barkley Sound. There, Capt. Oliver hired Capt. Peter Francis’s schooner Albert to take them to Victoria. His first mate and steward remained at Clayoquot for the time being, still suffering from their ordeal.
Within days of their rescue, the General Cobb had vanished without a trace.
In Victoria, the U.S. Consul, informed of the Clayoquots’ heroism and generosity, recommended that their "humane services be properly recognized" by his government as, "had it not been for [them], all hands would doubtless have perished".
The wreck of the General Cobb is not the only instance of coastal tribes aiding shipwrecked seamen. In fact, such instances occurred frequently.
To cite but one, the American auxiliary schooner Puritan which stranded on Bonilla Point under similar circumstances to those of the General Cobb, 16 years later: A native fisherman stood for hours in a raging surf, casting his fishing line until he finally was able to snag a rope from the ship. With this, the seamen were able to make it to the beach without loss of life.
His was one more example of heroism and self-sacrifice in the age when "wooden ships and iron men" braved the Graveyard of the Pacific.