13 Days of Halloween: The Ghost Ship Valencia
Just before midnight on January 22 the Valencia struck a submerged reef at Pachena Bay. The ship hung up on the reef and slowly began to fill with water. Because the ship was wedged among rocks close to shore, rescue ships could not approach her. High seas made rescue efforts almost impossible. The foundering ship slowly was beaten apart by the sea. Rescuers could only watch from shore as the terrible tragedy played out before their eyes.
Survivors climbed into the rigging and clung there for two days until the last vestiges of the ship were dragged underwater and they too were washed away. Of the 154 aboard only 37 were rescued. The City of Topeka carried some of the survivors toward Seattle. En route she met another ship and stopped to relay the tragic news of the Valencia’s demise. The thick black smoke from the City of Topeka stack settled over the windless waters as she hove to to speak to the approaching ship. Suddenly a shape formed in the black smoke cloud. It was the ghostly shape of the Valencia.
For years after the wreck the form of the phantom ship would appear to seamen sailing the western coast of Vancouver Island. They would see waves washing over the foundering ship while passengers and crew clung for their lives, the death throes of the Valencia replayed over and over.
Fishermen along the coast reported sighting lifeboats moving among the open waters, manned by skeletons—doomed survivors of the Valencia wreck. Six months after the Valencia tragedy several Indians exploring caves in Pachena Bay not far from where the wreck had occurred discovered a lifeboat floating in one of the caves. Peering into the abandoned boat, they were shocked to see eight skeletons. The cave was large, around 200 feet deep, with its entrance blocked by a large rock. The lifeboat would have had to be lifted over that rock to enter the cave. How it came to be there was a mystery. Perhaps a very high tide had enabled the boat to wash into the cave. Once there it was trapped, never to escape. Because of the dangerous waters at the cave’s opening, the lifeboat and its grisly passengers were never recovered.
(Source: Breakers Away: A History of Shipwrecks in the Graveyard of the Pacific by R. Bruce Scott.)