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Boiler Bay and the J. Marhoffer Shipwreck: Oregon Coast History

Published 12/13/2018 at 3:09 AM PDT
By Andre' Hagestedt

Boiler Bay and the J. Marhoffer Shipwreck: Oregon Coast History

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(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – What’s in a name, when it comes to certain Oregon coast landmarks?

Sometimes there’s quite the tale to tell. In the case of Depoe Bay's Boiler Bay, it’s fairly common knowledge it's named after a boiler from a shipwreck that still sits in the tiny cove. But what really happened with this shipwreck?

This is part one of the story of the J. Marhoffer and Boiler Bay. See part two here: Survivors of Shipwreck on Central Oregon Coast: Part 2 of Boiler Bay History (Video)

On Wednesday, May 18, 1910, the steam schooner J. Marhoffer was en route to Astoria from San Francisco, passing by what would later become Depoe Bay (apparently still called Depot Bay then). About 3 p.m. (or 4 p.m., depending on the source), a fire broke out in the engine room, apparently caused by first assistant engineer James Kane and a gasoline soldering torch he was using.

What resulted was a major explosion which enveloped the engine room. There was not enough time to shut off the steam, according to a Newport newspaper at the time called the Yaquina Bay News, which meant the ship kept moving - fast. Miraculously, Kane wasn’t injured in the explosion. Some of the 20 crewmen rushed to scene with fire fighting equipment but to no avail. Captain Gustave Peterson ordered everyone into the lifeboats, realizing the entire ship was ready to explode.

The ship was still about four miles out to sea.

All 20 of the crew, plus the captain and his wife, raced to the aft of the ship to where the boats were, but quickly encountered a veritable furnace as well as suffocating smoke conditions. It was below this section that the fire was raging. To make things worse, the ship was out of control and racing ahead at full speed on its own. The largest of the two boats was lowered first, containing three men. It encountered a series of failures dropping into the ocean and was clipped by part of the vessel, causing it to capsize. The three were able to cling to the boat until they were rescued later on.

The second boat launched more successfully, containing the rest of the crew, the captain and his wife.

Her name is oddly left out of all the accounts Oregon Coast Beach Connection had access to, and she’s only referred to as Mrs. Peterson. A larger article by the newspaper at the time has a whole section devoted to her bravery and guidance during the ordeal. It says she “was the calmest and coolest person among the ships company: and the composure she exhibited with grim death staring her in the face – death by roasting alive, being blown up or drowning – her example stimulated, encouraged and moved every member of the crew and excited their admiration.”

The last man off the ship was the chief engineer, who scooped up the ship’s bulldog, which had been thrown overboard earlier.

After a time, the second boat managed to make it back to where the first one had capsized, and crews managed to right it. Survivors then divided themselves between the two boats and headed for shore, searching for a place to land. Twilight was hitting by the time they made it to Fogarty Beach, then simply known as Fogarty Creek or Big Cove.

One of the men rescued from the capsized boat was the cook, Frank Tiffney. He was suffering from exposure and exhaustion and later died onshore. Tiffney was the only casualty among the 22; or 23 crew members if you’re counting the dog.

Meanwhile, the abandoned steamer was still rushing shorewards and essentially went bonkers with no one to pilot it. Shortly before crashing, it did a full circle in the ocean extremely close to shore. Just then, its tanks exploded and threw burning oil onto the trees on the bluff above its future resting place (called Briggs Landing then). It was that close to land as it made its final manic circle. A few minutes later it finally plowed into the rocks.

A few minutes after that, its searing temperatures were so hot the J. Marhoffer broke in two. More explosions and fires happened, and as darkness fell the flames were reportedly seen from miles in either direction. The aft section stayed, thus leaving the boiler. The front end eventually drifted off, and photos of its resting place look like Nye Beach of old, or more likely Moolack or Beverly Beach.

See part two here: Survivors of Shipwreck on Central Oregon Coast: Part 2 of Boiler Bay History (Video)l. More historical photos below. Lodgings in Depoe Bay - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours



 

Historical photos courtesy Newport's Lincoln County Historical Society


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