Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ghost Ship: SS Valencia

Vancouver Island

The S.S. Valencia was a small passenger steamer.

With ninety-four passengers and a sixty-member crew, it was on a return voyage from San Francisco, it was headed for Seattle via Victoria, British Columba. 

With high winds and strong currents, it missed the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This set off a series of tragic events.

Minutes before midnight on January 20, 1906, Valencia struck a submerged reef off Vancouver Island in Pachena Bay. The ship then became wedged between rocks--this plus high seas prevented rescue boats from drawing near the steamer. 

These rescuers watched helplessly as the powerful waves tore Valencia apart. They also watched as countless people were swept into the sea and drowned. 

A few passengers and crew managed to climb high into the ship’s rigging --some hung on for two days before the sea claimed them as well.

One witness to this tragedy was one of the few survivors--Chief Freight Clerk Frank Lehn later recounted:

“Screams of women and children mingled in an awful chorus with the shrieking of the wind, the dash of rain, and the roar of the breakers. As the 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, wearing only nightdresses, with bare feet on the freezing ratlines, trying to shield children in their arms from the icy wind and rain.”

In the end, the ship SS City of Topeka picked up only 37 people of the 157 people that had boarded Valencia. Over 100 people were drowned--including all the women and children. Almost immediately Valencia became a phantom ship. 

As the City of Topeka headed toward Seattle, they met an outward-bound ship. They slowed to tell this ship the sad news of the wreck. Black smoke from the Topeka’s stacks settled over the water in a dense cloud. As this cloud broke up, the people on the Topeka were horrified to see a familiar shape of a steamship--it was the Valencia.

Survivors in a lifeboat being picked
up by the SS City of Topeka

Ever since the wreck, seamen sailing past the west coast of Vancouver Island where Valencia broke apart have reported seeing the form of a ghost ship. They describe seeing waves wash over the floundering ship with human forms clinging desperately to its rigging. 

Indians that have explored the caves in Pachena Bay report that they found a lifeboat with eight skeletons in it in a large cave. It remains a mystery how this boat got in the cave for a considerable boulder blocks its entrance. This and the fact that there are dangerous waters at the cave’s entrance have prevented the removal of this boat. 

One legend states for years fishermen in the area have reported seeing lifeboats moving across the water manned by skeletons.

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