The skeleton arose out of the mist as we walked along the beach. It was not frightening, but rather melancholy – the remains of a ship that had come to a sorry end on the Oregon coast.
We had come to the beach at Clatsop Spit, within Fort Stevens state park on the northwest tip of Oregon. While it was sunny and clear inland, when we arrived at the beach a strong fog was rolling in off the ocean, obscuring the view and adding to the misty mood.
Approaching the wreck we began to see more detail. Much of the bow’s superstructure remained, with the beams of its iron frame providing the skeleton’s ribs. Most of the rest of the ship had faired less well. It was the Peter Iredale.
The Peter Iredale was a barque style sailing ship, originally built in 1890. Although the hull was of iron and steel it was still powered by sail, which helped contribute to its demise in 1906.
Late on the night of September 26 the Peter Iredale was heading north along the Pacific coast, en route to Portland, Oregon. After sighting the lighthouse at Tillamook Rock it altered its course northeast, heading for the Columbia River which it could follow into Portland. They’d sighted the distant lights from a lightship at the mouth of the river, but encountered a thick mist and lost sight of it. It was nasty that night, along with the poor visibility there was a squall out of the northwest. By the time they saw land it was too late to overcome the howling westerly winds pushing them ashore, and they grounded on the sands of Clatsop Spit.
The Peter Iredale, after grounding and in better days.
Images from iredale.de
The 27 crewmen were rescued without loss of life. Although the sands were kind to the hull and there were thoughts of refloating it, the tides did not cooperate and it was sold for scrap.
These days, 110 years later, what remains is a draw for tourists and campers at the state park. Every year, a bit less of the wreck survives the stormy season, and the ghost moves a bit closer to its final home.
Moving away from the wreck, other relics could be found. These too showed signs of age, but in a different way.
Some enterprising souls rescued a collection of driftwood from those who would mistake its rustic ambiance for firewood and built a little hut. Who knows how long it has been there: the timbers don’t tell, and they have longer stories anyway.
Other bits of flotsam have their own character.
The last resting place for what looks like a moose’s head stands guard on the beach, keeping sentry against those who would leave their litter.
The remains of gnarled old stumps lay on the beach, looking like fallen soldiers from an ancient battleground. The Ents versus the Sea. Whorls, knobs, and textures that would make a lizard jealous adorn their skin.
And so we returned to the ocean. In the quiet mood and the mists, I took a breath of sea air. How do you describe a smell? How does a blind man describe a color? The fragrance was subtle, and changed when a small breeze came along. It was soft and warm and moist, with just a hint of salt and iodine. It fit the grey somehow, and made me wonder – is this the smell of ghosts?