Stay Eat Events Weather Beaches

Coos Bay's Czarina Shipwreck a Heart-wrenching Oregon Coast Tale

Published 08/07/20 at 6:24 AM PDT - Updated 08/07/20 at 7:24 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Coos Bay's Czarina Shipwreck a Heartwrenching Oregon Coast Tale

Latest Coastal Lodging News Alerts
In Seaside:
Includes exclusive listings; some specials in winter
In Cannon Beach:
Includes rentals not listed anywhere else
In Manzanita, Wheeler, Rockaway Beach:
Some specials for winter
In Pacific City, Oceanside:
Some specials for winter
In Lincoln City:
Some specials for winter
In Depoe Bay, Gleneden Beach:
Some specials for winter
In Newport:
Look for some specials
In Waldport
Some specials for winter
In Yachats, Florence
Some specials for winter

(Coos Bay, Oregon) - On January 12 of 1910, it didn’t appear to be a bad day on the southern Oregon coast, in the little town of Marshfield (later to become Coos Bay). It was windy along the beaches but still somewhat sunny between a few clouds. The waves were crazier than they looked from shore, but to the average beach-goer it probably would’ve been a typical semi-stormy day on this coast. (Above: the Czarina on the day after it wrecked)

However, if you were heading out to sea, as the locally-owned steamship Czarina was doing, this was a recipe for disaster. Add to that a series of bad decisions and ineptitude and you have an irretrievably catastrophic situation that wound up one of the saddest shipwreck tales of the Oregon coast.

History and the East Oregonian reporting the scene the next day (the January 13 edition) tell of this 216-foot vessel leaving the bay and heading out through the bar under what were apparently tumultuous seas and perilous conditions. Exactly why the tugboat Astoria that was watching them or other mariners didn’t stop the Czarina isn’t clear, but later investigations determined Captain Duggan simply made a series of bad decisions right off the bat.

The Czarina made it through the bar and almost past the jetties when it began to falter, getting hit with the first massive wave (there were some reports seas were at 60-some feet out there). It slowly sputtered its way just beyond the jetties only to start moving in mysterious, random directions, including backwards at one point. Now getting knocked around by waves enough to not be in charge of its own steering, it slid aground onto a sand spit near the jetty.

She sounded off her distress signal at this moment.

During all this, Capt. Magee of the Lifesavers Station was watching some four miles away in a tower at Empire City (now part of Coos Bay). He decided not to even attempt the stormy bar. He was to later play a particularly distressing part in the disaster.

Apparently, the Czarina was shaken loose from the southern spit and began drifting towards the northern side. At one point, seas were so overwhelming the crewman had climbed up the riggings to keep out of the water (see the photo below). According to the Eastern Oregonian, seas finally cleared a little, and with the vessel heading towards rocks Capt. Duggan called for an anchor to be dropped. It didn’t hold.

Look closely at the lines (riggings) coming off the masts: those are people clinging for life there

The second anchor that dropped worked, however it was in a bad spot by this time, some 1,800 feet from the beach. The Czarina was now stuck in breakers that were even worse. Darker still: that distance from shore made it just a bit too far for rescuers to reach from the sands.

Meanwhile, people had started to gather to watch the disturbing drama, including many of the wives of the men onboard. It must’ve been heart-wrenching to see only six men make it to those riggings, knowing that all the others had already or were about to perish. Some reports show the wives and others watching as various crewmembers fell to their demise before those six made it up there.

The Eastern Oregonian recounts one firsthand tragic witness, a local businessman.

“A pitiful incident in connection with the loss of the Czarina was the presence of C.J. Mills, father of Harold Mills, on the beach. Early apprised of the accident the father ran to the beach, only to see the vessel drift onto the rocks with his son aboard. The stricken father paced anxiously up and down the beach scanning the water and trying to devise some way of reaching his son…..”

Magee had pinned his hopes on a ship nearby called the Nan Smith to rescue the Czarina crew, as likely the only way to reach that vessel was via a ship already out there. The bar was simply too treacherous. The Nan made one attempt, but with so much lumber tied to its exterior deck it had to turn back.

Magee did try to fire a line from a high-powered gun from shore, but gave up after two tries. Later, public outrage over the whole tragedy caused a sizable investigation, and it was determined Magee gave up too soon. He eventually resigned his position in disgrace.

As darkness fell, only four men now remained visible. Periodically they were seen flashing their lights overnight, which the East Oregonian documented. It notes that eventually those four – which included Duggan – slowly dropped off into the ocean.

The article notes that overnight came the only survivor, first engineer Harry Kentzel, who clung tightly to a chunk of lumber which delivered him onto the beach in a semi-conscious state. Kentzel later maintained that if the tugboat Astoria had only tried to make it over the bar it could’ve rescued the ship from ever having to beach even the first time.

24 died in this wreck, making it among the deadliest on the coastline.

The East Oregonian had filed its report later on the 13th, showing how conditions had worsened substantially. Still, history records some lifesaving station crew were sent out to the ship that day to keep away looters. However, two of that crew were later charged with the very crime they were sent to prevent.

Oregon Coast Hotels - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours

More About Oregon Coast hotels, lodging.....

More About Oregon Coast Restaurants, Dining.....


Oregon Coast event or adventure you can't miss


Coastal Spotlight

LATEST Related Oregon Coast Articles

N. Oregon Coast's Hug Point Has Its Ancient, Millions-of-Years-Old Secrets
Just a few short miles of Cannon Beach you'll bump into Hug Point. Geology, marine sciences, history
Sci-Fi Connections to Oregon Coast Includes Star Trek, LOST, Stargate, 65
A varied and surprising list from Brookings to Astoria. Sciences
Leech Lane Access and Beyond the Arch at N. Oregon Coast's Arch Cape
Near Cannon Beach there's the arch, remnants of other arches and danger
Southern Resident Orcas Off Oregon Coast Designated as Endangered Under State...
Only 76 of this type of killer whale left in the region. Marine sciences
Dune Novels, Movies Began with Frank Herbert's Visit to Oregon Coast Dunes, F...
Dune: Part Two has roots in Frank Herbert's research in the National Dunes Rec Area
N. Oregon Coast's UnWined Event is Tasty Preview to Astoria's Crab, Seafood a...
UnWined takes place on March 16 at Astoria's Liberty Theater. Astoria events
Quiet Yet Hot Little U.S. Travel Destination: Rockaway Beach on N. Oregon Coast
Now, it's still seven miles of captivating beaches, often full of solitude
What Not to Do on Oregon Coast: Small Beaches During Big Tides, Video
Just about every year it happens somewhere along Oregon's coast. Weather, beach safety

Back to Oregon Coast

Contact Advertise on
All Content, unless otherwise attributed, copyright Unauthorized use or publication is not permitted

Oregon Coast Lodging


Events Calendar

Oregon Coast Weather

Travel News

Search for Oregon Coast Subjects, Articles

Virtual Tours, Maps
Deep Details