Heroic Clayoquots rescue seamen, part 1

‘Marine Disaster – Total Loss of the Bark General Cobb’ -Colonist headline for Feb. 3, 1880.

Once again, Victorians read of a ship lost off Vancouver Island’s treacherous west coast. This time, however, the so-called Graveyard of the Pacific had been cheated of its human prey.

After a terrifying, days-long ordeal, the General Cobb’s crew had escaped when she pounded to pieces near Portland Point, between Long Beach and Clayoquot Sound, Jan. 15, 1880. But it wasn’t until almost three weeks later that the Colonist learned details of the American sailors’ miraculous rescue…

Capt. J.L. Oliver had cleared San Francisco Jan. 2, bound for Puget Sound in ballast. Rough weather hammered his 24-year-old command without pause and it took all of 12 days to reach Cape Flattery. When the winds shifted to the south-southwest, the 648-ton General Cobb found herself beset by thick fog and rain.

Now unsure of his exact position, Capt. Oliver struggled on, keenly aware that the gale was rapidly beating him northward, towards the dangerous shores of Vancouver Island. His lookout perched in the lofty crow’s nest and the deck watch strained against the gloom enshrouding their ship. Then it was night and a starless sky further reduced their vision.

When the main topgallant sail was carried away, two seamen scrambled up the slippery mast to replace it.

About 8 o’clock, the lookout discerned a thin white line in the murk ahead and hailed the deck, "Breakers on the starb’rd bow!" Frantically, Oliver tried to wear his ship about. But the winds pushed the empty Cobb’s hull ever closer inshore. Now the whole crew could see the surf breaking against the rocks. Minutes later, the ship’s keel splintered against a shelving reef and she wedged tight. She’d been breached, "bilged and filled" for the length of her hull, only the rocky shelf keeping her afloat. If the waves plucked her free, she’d plunge to the bottom like a stone, taking all with her.

To hold her in position, Capt. Oliver dropped both anchors and had his men chop down her tallest masts. Then all sought refuge in what was left of the rigging.

They knew that their situation couldn’t last, that, at any moment, the General Cobb could slide into deep water and sink. Yet it was "utterly out of the question to launch a boat".

Knowing that their only chance lay in making their way through the wild surf to shore, Oliver barked orders for his men to wrestle a spar over the side, to the rocks hemming the ship on either beam. He then called for a volunteer to tie a line about his waist, clamber down the spar to the rocks, make his way to shore and secure the hawser to the beach.

A seaman whose name was unrecorded, alas, mounted the pole with a rope right about his middle and slid downward as the breakers swept over him. With almost superhuman effort he made it to the rocks. But he couldn’t find a hold and, as he turned back towards the ship, he was carried away by the waves. Only the heavy line saved him, to be hauled aboard, half-drowned, by his comrades.

With that failed attempt, they were stranded on a ship that was breaking up beneath them. They could only hope that the gale moderated by daylight. When dawn finally did come, it brought them little cheer. The storm continued to rage unabated and the dying General Cobb continued to lurch from side to side, her timbers cracking and splitting beneath them.

(To be continued)

www.twpaterson.com

Just Posted

Masters teams pumped for all-Cowichan soccer clash

The local derby between the Cowichan 49ers and Cowichan Steelheads this Saturday… Continue reading

Rockin’ with Ballet Victoria is the name of the game Oct. 24

Four fine choreographers combine their efforts for a special evening from Ballet Victoria

Single-vehicle accident in Duncan sends 2 to hospital

Accident ties up traffic on the TCH for about an hour Tuesday afternoon

Final scores not the whole story in Cowichan Valley Capitals’ defeats

The Cowichan Valley Capitals were beaten twice by four-goal margins on the… Continue reading

Coming up in Cowichan: Wild Fins, coat drive

Donate warm coats for those in need The Duncan Daybreak Rotary Coat… Continue reading

Scheer says Canada more divided than ever, as NDP and Bloc hold cards close

While Liberals were shut out of two key prairie provinces, they took two-thirds of the seats in Ontario

Horvat’s hat trick lifts Canucks to 5-2 win over Red Wings

First career three-goal game for Vancouver captain

Runners brave wet, windy weather for Ucluelet’s 20th Edge to Edge

“The spirit of the runners I have nothing but compliments.”

Saanich Gulf-Islands’s Elizabeth May coy about leadership plans

The federal Green party leader talks possibility of running as MP without being leader

Estheticians can’t be forced to wax male genitals, B.C. tribunal rules

Langley transgender woman Jessica Yaniv was ordered to pay three salon owners $2,000 each

Two youth arrested in UBC carjacking at gunpoint, after being spotted in stolen Kia

‘A great deal of credit is due the alert person who called us,’ said North Vancouver Sgt. Peter DeVries

People’s Party of Canada’s anti-immigration views ‘didn’t resonate’ with voters: prof

Party was formed on anti-immigration, climate denying views in 2018

Windstorm knocks out power for 10,000 in north and central B.C.

Power slowly being restored, BC Hydro says

Investor alert: ‘Split games’ pyramid scheme circulating in B.C.

British Columbia Securities Commission issues warning about scheme selling virtual shares

Most Read