The Janet Cowan Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailAt the 37 kilometre mark on the West Coast Trail you will pass the Santa Rita, a 100 year old shipwreck hidden under the waves. The Santa Rita was a steel steam schooner, built in San Francisco in 1913. On February 15th, 1923 at 520am, this 235 foot long, 1600 ton ship collided head on with the the small island reef just a few hundred metres from the beach.

 

The Santa Rita was sailing in from San Pedro, California, in ballast for a port in the Puget Sound. In stormy weather and blindly navigating in poor visibility, the Carmanah light was mistaken for the Cape Flattery Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island. The Carmanah Lighthouse is along the West Coast Trail and the Cape Flattery Lighthouse is across the Juan de Fuca Strait in the United States! The crew turned into what they thought was the Juan de Fuca Strait and keeping the Cape Flattery Lighthouse on their right. Unfortunately they were about 20 kilometres north of what they thought, and were in fact keeping the Carmanah Lighthouse to their right and sailing directly at Vancouver Island.

At 520am on February 15th, 1923 the Santa Rita collided head on into a small offshore reef just a few hundred metres from the West Coast Trail. The large ship, must have been sailing at quite a speed owing to the crew's reckoning that they were entering the Juan de Fuca Strait. The sudden impact must have been horrific, loud, and completely unwarned. In the next few hours the entire crew of 30 escaped the wreck via breeches buoy. A breeches buoy is a rope based rescue system where a line runs from the ship to the shore and survivors ride in a flotation ring and leg harness.

Raita to Dare Shipwrecks on the West Coast Trail

More Shipwrecks Near the Santa Rita

The Janet Cowan Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailThere are a couple more shipwrecks relatively near the Santa Rita on the West Coast Trail. The Skagit lays just a couple kilometres north, at the next point off of Clo-oose. She was a huge, 3 masted barkentine that sailed headlong into the rocks on October 25, 1906. The crew ran into a storm and massively misread her position. The crew sighted the light at Cape Flattery and believed it to be the light from the Umatilla lighthouse. The storm drove her on to the reef at 4am on October 25th, 1906. The impact of the ship hitting the rocks was so powerful that it killed the captain and cook. The remaining 8 crew members escaped by scrambling over the bow at daybreak and clawing their way to shore. They found help and shelter at Clo-oose and later brought down to Victoria. In the shallows, just below the tide you can spot some remnants of this shipwreck. On the shelf, opposite where the ship struck the shore and broke up you can more easily see the ship's anchor. It sits, unmoved for over a century.

The Dare Shipwreck - West Coast Trail Graveyard of the PacificYou will pass the Dare shipwreck at the 39 kilometre mark of the West Coast Trail. The Graveyard of the Pacific claimed this 3 masted, 269 ton schooner on December 23rd, 1890. The Dare sailed out of San Francisco in ballast for Tacoma to take on a load of lumber.  In the middle of the winter, stormy season along this coast, the Dare was caught in a typically brutal storm. The crew fought the high winds and tumultuous seas driving them towards the unforgiving shore of Vancouver Island. The Dare was smashed on the rock shore just three kilometres west of Carmanah Point. The crew, unhurt from the impact of the ship was able to get ashore relatively easily. Luckily for the crew they were soon met by Indians who resided just down the beach. The good folks that ferry West Coast Trail hikers across Nitinaht Narrows are descendants of the rescuers of the crew of the Dare. They were transported to Victoria by canoe by the natives. Their ship was left smashed on the rocks and what could be salvaged or looted was taken away. Today there are no visible remnants of the Dare shipwreck except one marvellous reminder of this brutal coastline, the ship's anchor. The ship crashed onto the rocks quite a distance from the present location of the anchor. However with no other shipwreck contenders in the area, the anchor West Coast Trail hikers stumble pas here is almost certainly the anchor from the Dare. You will see it just past the 38 kilometre mark of the trail laying on the rocks in plain view. Dare Point begins just as you pass the anchor(if hiking from the Pachena trailhead). Further along you will come to Dare Beach, a nice, though narrow patch of beach in an area almost entirely rocky, unforgiving coastline.

  Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailRaita at 33k Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailSkagit at 34.2k Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailSanta Rita at 37k Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailDare at 39k Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailLizzie Marshall at 47k

West Coast Trail Campsites Near the Santa Rita

Tsusiat Falls Campsite Rating - West Coast TrailThere are no West Coast Trail campsites very close to the Santa Rita shipwreck at 37k. At the 25 kilometre mark of the trail you have an excellent campsite option at Tsusiat Falls. This campsite is a lovely jumble of driftwood logs along a wide and quite long, sandy beach. Season to season the water channel from the falls to the ocean changes dramatically. Often you find it in a pronounced L-shape, then the following year it will be an L-shape in the other direction. Crossing this torrent of water is often challenging owing to how deep it cuts into the beach and the volume of water. Crossing it is necessary for most as most of the good areas along the beach to camp are in that direction. Fortunately there seems to always be a large tree laying over the chasm to get across. Many just walk through the shallow water near the mouth of the channel as it meets the ocean.

Tsusiat Falls on the West Coast Trail

Cribs Creek Campsite Rating - West Coast TrailThe next campsite in the other direction(south), can be found at Cribs Creek at 42.5k. This campsite is usually very crowded and the beach is not terribly pretty or interesting. As West Coast Trail campsites go, Cribs is pretty poor. Still it has a sandy beach, lots of driftwood for a fire, a good source of water and fairly regularly, beautiful sunsets. Cribs Creek is a nice, clean, and surprisingly emerald coloured creek that flows through the beach campsites. That's about the only nice part about the campsite. The beach is not great, it smells of ageing seaweed, the sandy beach has patches of grass and bushes that give it a messy feel. Unlike many other beaches on the West Coast Trail where you have long sandy beaches carved out by the ocean in giant arcs. At Cribs Creek, you find an irregular and not very attractive beach setting. Still, a nice atmosphere can be created. A lively campfire and a West Coast Trail sunset turns this mediocre beach into decent place to get some rest. 

Cribs Creek Campsite - West Coast Trail

 Tsusiat Falls at 25k Cribs Creek at 42k Carmanah Creek at 46k Bonilla Creek at 48k

 

West Coast Trail Shipwrecks

The Alaskan was a small, wooden hulled steamship of 150 tons built in Oregon in 1886. She was ...
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The Soquel shipwreck, which lies just past Seabird Rocks, was a much larger ship than the ...
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Built in 1864 the 1376 ton, 3 masted ship, Becherdass-Ambiadass was wrecked on the rocky shore ...
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The Uzbekistan was a steel steamship of 2569 tons. Built in 1937 in France and became a ...
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The Varsity was a fishing boat of 90 tons, returning to Puget Sound from California on February ...
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The Janet Cowan was a steel sailing vessel, four-masted, bark rigged, of 2498 tons built at ...
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The Robert Lewers was a 185 foot, four masted schooner of 732 tons, built in Port Blakely, ...
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The Uncle John was a 138 foot, three masted barkentine of 314 tons. Built in Eureka, California ...
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The Raita shipwreck is located off the reefs at about the 33 kilometre mark of the West Coast ...
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The Skagit, a 3 masted barkentine of 506 tons was wrecked on the reef in front of Clo-oose on ...
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The Puritan was a 4 masted schooner of 614 tons sailing inbound from San Francisco in ballast. ...
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The Duchess of Argyle shipwreck lays at the bottom of the sea at the mouth of Cullite Cove near the ...
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The John Marshall shipwreck is located under the waves just outside the mouth of Camper Bay at ...
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