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Wreck of Strathblane on Washington Coast A Deadly, Haunting Yet Forgotten Tale

Published 03/05/22 at 8:52 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Wreck of Strathblane on Washington Coast A Deadly, Haunting Yet Forgotten Tale

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(Long Beach, Washington) - On November 3, 1891, one of the worst shipwrecks of the Oregon coast and Washington coast in that century happened along the northern peninsula, just north of Long Beach. The Strathblane proved a major disaster that began and disappeared rather quickly, yet little to nothing is written about it. Though it's a dramatic, tense and taught tale that seems ripe for Hollywood's picking, it has apparently disappeared into history. (Long Beach in mid century, courtesy City of Long Beach)

According to The Oregonian and other Oregon newspapers at the time, the Strathblane was an iron clipper weighing about 1900 tons, and was built in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1860s. She was running trade routes from the U.S. to Australia, but on this run she was with no cargo, en route from Honolulu, Hawaii to Portland. This time around, she was carrying only two passengers and a crew of about 30.

The Strathblane had been to Astoria the year before, so officials believed the crew knew the area and were puzzled by this severe shipwreck.

Reportedly, Captain Thomas Cuthill was disoriented by a thick fog, and could not see any familiar town lights nor the North Head Lighthouse. As the Strathblane was heading towards the Columbia River, one of the biggest storms of the season hit, and by this time Cuthill was thoroughly lost and unknowingly the ship had drifted too close to shore. The massive waves pushed the ship ashore, and with each new surge it was shoved farther and farther up the beach.

Painting of the Strathblane

However, to his credit, Cuthill hoisted the sails and was able to get the ship off the shore, but the vessel was still too close and got jammed on a neighboring reef, about nine miles north of Ilwaco, Washington. This was its final resting place – but there was nothing restful about it. Now at 5 a.m. it was nearing daybreak, and the full force of the new storm had come to bear on the Strathblane. It was taking one hell of a beating by now.

Up and down the peninsula, the telegraph lines had been knocked down by the gale force winds, said to be about 60 mph at times. So no one would know of the ship's predicament for at least another three hours.

The ship was smashed by one wave after another. Within a couple hours the rigging was over the side and drifting in the surf. The deck itself was bulging for a time and eventually burst open, leaving the frame even more vulnerable and slowly tearing the ship apart, piece by piece. Every few minutes saw something leaving the vessel.

Finally, about 8 a.m. the lifesaving crew at Fort Canby on the south Washington coast received word, and by about 9:15 a.m. a variety of professionals and volunteers arrived, some by a boat that had a Lyle gun on it – a gun that fires a line and attaches it to the boat so people can be rescued. For an hour they tried to shoot the line over the deck, but conditions didn't allow it. So, in spite of 60-mile-per-hour winds, they launched a life boat into the chaotic surf, also an endeavor doomed to failure.

Twice the small craft was swamped over by heavy seas, and finally as it was cresting one enormous wave it kicked the life boat over and all aboard were dumped into the sea. All made it back to shore, but thus ended any real efforts by lifesaving crews to rescue the men onboard the Strathblane. At this point, rescuers were forced to give up.

Meanwhile, eight people had made if off the ship by getting into a life boat, leaving 22 others still aboard. About here, the rest had donned life preservers and were slowly dropping into the surf, with most managing to get ashore. Rescuers watched from shore as all this happened, but also witnessed in horror as some were blocked by debris from the ship, then going under and disappearing.

A 12-year-old boy was among the first to reach the shore, and when rescuers came to his aid, β€œhe pluckily exclaimed: 'Never mind me; help those others following,' β€œ The Oregonian reports the following day.

Those reaching shore were often bloodied and bruised by the waves, and then taken off to local residents' homes for further care. As the last man reached the shore, the ship was almost completely underwater: the tides were unusually high, and in combination with the storm proved a quick death to the ship. By the time all this was over, the ship was in pieces, flattened by the sea. Absoloutely nothing was left after a day or so.

Among the dead were Captain Cuthill, whose body lay on the beach thoroughly battered by waves and the objects in them.

There is nothing left of the wreck now on the southern Washington coast.

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Photo of Long Beach, Washington courtesy Eli Duke / Flickr

Cape Disappointment and Lighthouse, courtesy Kris Hurl / Washington King Tides

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