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Slow But Epic Oregon Coast Drama, Coos Bay's Sujameco Wreck Still Visible

Published 07/06/23 at 3:01 p.m. - Updated 07/07/23 at 1:01 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Coos Bay's Sujameco Wreck Still Visible, Then a Slow But Epic Oregon Coast Drama

(Coos Bay, Oregon) – Years before Coos Bay was actually a town that melded together a few different villages, one rather epic shipwreck wandered onto the beach several miles north of town and embarked on its path of becoming a south Oregon coast haunting of sorts. Yet it's done so in a quiet way, winding up not a particularly celebrated skeleton, but it's one that appears rather regularly. It's a spectacular sight, sometimes popping up out of the sands of Horsfall Beach with a rather intriguing outline – the full shape of a ransacked vessel stripped down to its essence, showing in all its minimalist, historical puzzle glory. (Above: the Sujameco as it looked in May 2023, courtesy Oregon's Adventure Coast)

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The wreck of the Sujameco is one heck of a riveting sight, for awhile each year coming out “in full bloom” as one local described it. Those pristine sands of Horsfall turn into a living museum that begins to compete with the vibe of the infamous wreck of the Peter Iredale. To this day, most Oregonians don't know this treasure lurks on the beaches near the burgh once called Marshfield (When Marshfield and Empire Became Coos Bay).

Directions To Wreck of the Sujameco. Directions to the wreck are essentially the same as to the main access of Horsfall Beach. It lies out in front of the wooden viewing platform at the end of Horsfall Beach Road. From Highway 101 and the McCullough Memorial Bridge over Coos Bay, take the Jordan Cove Road westward .08 miles; stay to the right .2 miles on Trans Pacific Lane. Turn right on Horsfall Beach Road and go 1.4 miles to the end.

The Sujameco's GPS coordinates are approximately 43.454500, -124.277458. You may not be able to see it or much more than a metal piece here or there during summer or fall months.

The Sujameco is a truly odd story for shipwrecks as well. There's some things that went on there that were very different from others in this graveyard of boats. The Coos Bay area of the south Oregon coast especially is known for a bundle of shipping mishaps, some quite tragic (South Oregon Coast Shipwrecks At A Glance: There Are Hundreds). Sujameco's story doesn't go there, but takes some wacky twists 'n turns after the ship hit ground.

Courtesy Coos History Museum

Constructed in 1920, the Sujameco was a steamship that became a regular part of the lumber trade with the Atlantic coastline. She was capable of hauling 2,600,000 feet of lumber. The steel-hulled vessel was at its demise owned by the Trans Marine company and burned oil to zip her along.

On March 1, 1929, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Captain JF Carlson was leading the Sujameco and its 35-man crew to Marshfield for the first time. It was to be at one of the docks in Coos Bay at 8 p.m. that night, to take in 1,800,000 feet of fir tree cuts bound for San Francisco.

Heavy fog hit. Carlson became confused about where he was, and he later admitted he miscalculated his position. Meanwhile, a warning about being too close to shore came from over the wireless from officials at Marshfield, but Carlson didn't receive it in time.

Courtesy Coos History Museum

The Sujameco grounded in the sand about 9:30 in the morning, local newspapers reported. Somewhere about 2:30 in the afternoon, he wired his position to authorities as being eight miles north of the south Oregon coast bay. He also informed them that the cutter Redwing from Astoria was speeding its way south, and the British steamer Kelvina was standing by, not to attempt to yank the ship out of the sand like the Redwing, but in case the crew needed help. The surf was a little wild about now, too.

By this time, the US Coast Guard had teams from Coos Bay standing by, as were teams from the Umpqua station at Bandon.

Courtesy Coos History Museum

At 3 p.m., Charleston lookouts noticed the seas had begun calming down, and authorities were hoping to attach a line and pull the Sujameco out. For reasons not entirely clear, that didn't happen, but it seems there just wasn't the right ship available.

On March 2, the Redwing arrives but the Sujameco had been pushed farther up the sands. Still, seas were calm, newspapers reported she was in 12 feet of water, and there were no possibilities she would break up. There was no danger to the 30-some onboard and the ship was on an even keel. However, because of big shoals right offshore no one could get close enough to do any tugging.

Courtesy Coos History Museum

Joining all these ships standing by offshore was a dredge now.

By March 4, according to The Oregonian, towing attempts had continued, but at 6 a.m. the only 12-inch cable anyone had broke in two. Called hawsers, these specialized kinds of cable were now a hot commodity. What was left wasn't long enough.

Courtesy Oregon's Adventure Coast

Then things really took a few steps back: the ship had taken two hours to move 20 degrees, but by nighttime on the 4th it was back in the same position. In fact, rough seas hit, and at times breakers came over the deck by this time. Later in the night, the ship was even further up the beach.

“Now, it was so far in-shore the crew could walk off it at low tide,” The Oregonian said in its coverage. The ship was settled into the sand a full seven feet. And though a tug from Astoria was bringing more hawser, this was apparently the last or nearly last attempt at pulling the ship out.

Whatever happened next was puzzling, but the decision was made not to unload the crew for another whole month. There's not much on this, unfortunately. They sat aboard, getting antsy and very homesick, living aboard a ship that was clearly going nowhere.

However, thousands of people over that month came out to check out the wreck, and some interacted with the crew. One poignant story covered by the local Coos Bay Times (later The World) talks of a group of boy scouts coming up and handing them newspapers and treats.

The Sujameco tale takes another distinctive turn here. Unlike most other shipwrecks along Oregon's coastline she was left alone and the ship lay intact for over ten years. Finally, in World War II, she was stripped to bare bones for what the military needed, and sand filled her up.

This past spring was a somewhat different year for the Sujameco, as normally it appears during low sand level events of winter and then gets covered up before summer. However, even in late May there was plenty of her showing, as seen in the photographs provided by the Coos Bay / Charleston / North Bend Visitors.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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