On a snowy morning in January 1910, the Alaska Steamship Company liner
Farallon ran aground in lower Cook Inlet, Alaska. Thirty-eight men escaped
in the ship's lifeboats and reached the barren, ice-strewn shore of
Iliamna Bay where they huddled under make-shift tents constructed from
the Farallon's sails. The ship had no wireless communication, and the
men were stranded on a desolate, wilderness coastline in the full grip
of winter with meager provisions, inadequate clothing, and little hope
Six of the men took to the open sea in a 12-foot lifeboat in a daring
attempt to reach far-distant Kodiak Island and arrange for a rescue.
They set out into vast Shelikof Strait - one of the most dangerous bodies
of water in the North Pacific. These brave mariners, given up for lost,
were finally rescued more than two months later.
The Farallon incident is particularly unique in that a compelling photographic
record of the wreck and the stranded party's trevails were made at the
time. John E. Thwaites, and amateur photographer and the ship's mail
clerk, took more than 50 high-quality images of the steamship shrouded
in ice, the frostbitten men with burlap wrapped around their feet, and
the barren, treeless lagoon. These stark pictures vividly illustrate
the desperation felt by the stranded passengers and crew during their
ordeal when temperatures dropped as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. After
29 days, they were rescued by the steamship Victoria.
On January 27, 1902, the steam schooner S.S. Farallon became the fourth
ship of the Alaska Steamship Company fleet. The ship was named for the
Farallon Islands 26 miles off San Francisco, which in turn were named
after the Spanish word farallones, meaning a rock or cliff in the sea.
Measuring 171 feet long overall with a beam of nearly 34 feet, the steamship
had been constructed with a cargo hold more than 10 feet deep, allowing
her to take on lumber cargoes of 400,000 board-feet of Pacific Coast
fir, pine, cedar, and redwood.
Seen here shrouded in ice after a howling Cook Inlet blizzard, the
Farallon ran aground on Black Reef the morning of January 5, 1910. Scattered
wreckage can still be found along the desolate shoreline.
Twenty-two years before the Farallon disaster, Captain James Hunter
was in command of the 250-foot-long iron steamer George W. Elder. At
about 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 19, 1888 the Elder was steaming through
thick fog near Point Wilson, on an approach for Port Townsend. Amazingly,
through the fog Hunter mistook some trees on a headlands bluff for the
"I then saw my mistake," Hunter said later, "and began
backing, but as the Elder backed to starboard she swung in towards the
shore." The hull of the iron ship scraped aground, the spinning
propeller struck a submerged rock, and the huge brass blades were snapped
neatly off. At the mercy of the strong ebb tide, the Elder struck amidships
and became stuck hard aground.
In the early morning hours of September 29, 1896, bound from Victoria,
British Columbia at full speed under Captain Hunter's command, the Umatilla's
passage was shrouded in fog. The moonless night further limited visibility.
The captain and his pilot heard the shrill blast of a small tow boat
off their starboard beam, invisible in the fog somewhere between the
shore and the 3,069-ton liner. A few minutes later, the mist-shrouded
lights of a ship passed close by their port side, and the resonant blast
of the unidentified vessel's foghorn was clearly heard on the Umatilla's
The impact ruptured a huge gash in the liner's iron hull, and water
poured through the opening so quickly that the Umatilla's bow began
to settle almost at once. Moments later, the ship's bow struck the beach
within sight of the Point Wilson lighthouse, and the vessel settled
onto the sandy bottom.
Once the lookout raised the alarm, Captain "Dynamite" Johnny
O'Brien sounded the steam whistle to signal the survivors that they
had been spotted. Cautiously, he swung the S.S. Victoria around and
headed again toward shore. Drawing over 20 feet of water, the big liner's
speed was cut and she drifted to a stop about three miles from shore.
The captain kept the ship's propeller churning slowly, holding the Victoria's
position against the current that swept out from Iliamna and Iniskin
bays at a speed of four or five knots.
The survivors who had gathered on the shore whooped and hollered, jumping
up and down in their sack-covered boots and clapping each other on the
back in an emotional outpouring of relief. On the twenty-ninth day of
their frozen, soul-sapping encampment on the rock-strewn coast of Iliamna
Bay, rescue was finally at hand. A boat was lowered from the Victoria
and fresh, strong men at the oars raced through the floating ice toward
Clustered on the beach with his exuberant shipmates, Jack Thwaites
helped push off the Farallon's five remaining lifeboats, each loaded
with bearded, gaunt-faced crewmen who must have felt they were being
given a second chance at life.
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