The Wreck of the S.S. Valencia

SS Valencia
January 22, 1906
Near Pachena Point
117 people dead

A thick fog plagued the passage of the steamer Valencia on its journey from San Francisco to Victoria in January 1906. Captain O.M. Johnson was forced to navigate using a system of soundings and dead reckoning from Cape Mendocino northwards. Through miscalculation Johnson passed the entrance to the Juan de Fuca Strait and ended up in the treacherous waters off Cape Beale. The Valencia hit rock and began breaking up just thirty yards from shore below steep cliffs. A survivor Frank Lehm described the scene:

Screams of men, women and children mingled in awful chorus with the shriek of the wind, the dash of the rain, and the roar of the breakers. As passengers rushed on deck, they were carried away in bunches by the huge waves that seemed as high as the ship’s mastheads. The ship began to break up almost at once and the women and children were lashed to the rigging above the reach of the sea. It was a pitiful sight to see frail women, wear only night dresses, with bare feet on the frozen ratlines, trying to shield their children in their arms from the icy wind and rain.

As they lowered the lifeboats each was crushed, overturned or swept away. A handful of men managed to get to shore and tried to get help while others unsuccessfully tried to secure a line that could be used to escape the crippled ship. Three ships came close to the wreck but thinking there were no survivors left without further investigation. Having witnessed the earlier devastation the remaining women passengers refused to go as the final two lifeboats departed and instead stayed with Captain Johnson. As the ship entered its final death throes, the seventy or eighty on deck sang “Nearer My God to Thee” before a large wave broke the ship and washed away everyone after almost two days of waiting for rescue.

Of the 154 on board there were only 37 survivors. No women or children were among them.

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