Sunday, January 20, 2008

Iredale Redux

Someone told me that the big storm in early December unearthed more of the Peter Iredale Shipwreck in Warrenton, which has been quietly sinking into oblivion in the sand since running aground in 1906.

I am totally fascinated by the Iredale, and have been since I first heard about it several years ago, before moving up here. Even though it doesn’t have a dramatic history, and isn’t a victim of the “graveyard of the Pacific,” the Columbia River bar, it is still compelling.

So, I got out of work early today, grabbed the significant other and the dog, and off we went to go check it out and take some photos. I went into Fort Stevens Park the way I usually do, by way of the entrance nearest the Hammond Marina, and found that the road to the shipwreck is still blocked – as it has been since the storm. Totally forgetting about the other entrance to the park across from the KOA, I drove to Lot A, figuring we could walk to the Iredale on the beach.

We climbed the hill overlooking the beach, and way, way off in the distance I could see the Iredale’s prow sticking out of the sand. We looked at each other, sighed, and walked down the steep hill to the sand, which was littered with huge chunks of driftwood that had been tossed up by the big storm.

The driftwood lay at the bottom of the small bluff that runs along the edge of the beach. It was obvious that the tide during the storm had run exceedingly high, all the way to the bluff, and had eaten away a good chunk of it. It appeared that the sand level on the beach had dropped by five or six feet.

We started walking closer to the water, where the damage was less obvious. The Iredale seemed a light year away. But the dog was having a grand old time just loping along, and my partner in crime, who was not raised near the ocean, was having fun doing a little shell-collecting and enjoying the sea air and walk.

Way up on the beach we saw a very strange little critter, not familiar to my East Coast eyes. It was about the size and shape of a walnut, i.e. a rounded oval carapace, with the head at a narrow end. But it was grey, and it had six legs, but no claws. I know that butterfly or umbrella crabs washed up dead after the storm, but this didn't look like photos of either one of those, and it was very much alive.

It reminded me a bit of a horseshoe crab, minus the tail, but the shell was more fragile than that of a horseshoe crab. It seemed to be stranded, whatever it was, so I took it down near the waterline. Once there, it started to happily dig itself in. If anyone knows what it is, I'd sure like to know.

Once we finally got to the Iredale, I was surprised at how much more was showing, but it certainly did prove that the sand level on the beach truly had dropped at least five feet. Now you can see the whole outline of the ship, two mast heads, and even one of the masts, which has broken off and is lying on the sand on the ocean side of the wreck.

One of the guys who was there said that this much of the Iredale has not been visible for at least ten years. Some of the ship’s original wood is still attached, strangely enough. A guy who climbed on top of the bow said there’s about an inch of cement up there, as well as some old wood. And now you can actually make out the shape of the rudder, too.

On the long trudge back, we walked closer to the bluff, and that’s where you can really see the damage from the storm, aside from the obvious chunks of driftwood stumps, loose limbs, and even whole trees, minus limbs. What was really depressing was all the crab carapaces. Hundreds of small crabs were killed in the storm just in that stretch of beach. I can’t help but wonder how many thousands must have been killed along the North Coast.

We also noticed the corpse of a sea lion, which we hadn’t noticed on the walk the other way. The entire skull was showing, but otherwise it was mainly intact. I imagine, by the fact that it had decomposed to that point, that it was a victim of the storm, too.

Just as we (finally) got back to the steep sandy walk up the bluff to go back towards the car, we noticed one more thing we didn’t see on the walk out … someone had built a little hut out of driftwood near the base of the trail.

Since it turned out I wasn’t wearing proper shoes for this little hike (my feet started killing me by the time we got to the shipwreck), I was very tempted to crawl in and take a snooze. Fortunately, the dog kindly hauled me up the steep trail to the ridge, and we trundled off home. Feet notworthstanding, it was one of the best walks I’ve ever taken.

Click here to see Elleda's photography at the Astoria Photografpix web site


Coach said...

Great views of the coast. When I was a kid the sight of the Peter Iredale brought images of pirates and stormy seas. 30-40 years ago, the majority of the hull was above the sand. I hate to see it sinking - but that is life.

The driftwood shelter photo is another blast from the past. I used to build those all the time at Cape Lookout State Park and shelter myself from the rain and the wind. Just me and my dog!

nootka said...

Great pics! I so wanted to go to the beach, today...hubby says the wreck was looking very exposed.
I have some pics from '98 when it was really visible.
This is very timely for me as I am pretty excited that Bill's shipwreck chart has finally made it to availability.
I have one of the lithographs, and plan on one of the framed versions.
Here's a sneak peek:
Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard
Loved your blog about the trip to the beach, it's renewed my desire to go, as well.
The pics really make it, though. I used to build forts like that when I was little, growing up over on the Peninsula.

Elleda said...

Dear Coach ...

I wish I could have seen it personally "back in the day," but at least there are still photos of it. I know it sounds silly, but I do wish there were a way to unearth the Iredale again.

As I was looking at the driftwood shelter I was thinking of how much fun that would be for a kid. Back east, on Long Island Sound, we don't get enough driftwood to build anything like that.

Elleda said...

Dear nootka,

Do go to the beach soon - it's really beautiful and stark right now.

That map looks very cool, even tho I can't see any detail. Is this Bill someone who sells at the Sunday Market, by any chance?

Anonymous said...

The crab is a Pacific Mole Crab