The Janet Cowan Shipwreck on the West Coast TrailThe Robert Lewers was a 185 foot, four masted schooner of 732 tons, built in Port Blakely, Washington in 1889. She was wrecked just past kilometre 19 on the West Coast Trail, just half a kilometre from the Janet Cowen shipwreck, and less than two kilometres from the Valencia shipwreck. The Robert Lewers entered the Graveyard of the Pacific on the 11th of April, 1923. The ship was heading for Bellingham, Washington in ballast from Honolulu with a crew of 14.

 

The circumstances of how Robert Lewers became wrecked on this shore is a depressing tale of unfortunate mishaps. As she entered Juan de Fuca Strait she found little wind and was forced to wait for a tug boat. A tug boat finally arrived to tow her into port. While passing the hawser line from the tug, it became tangled in the masts and rigging, tearing away the Robert Lewers jib boom and head gear. Another attempt was made with hopeful success, until the tow rope snapped. In the confusion, the tug hit a rock and was forced to limp back to Seattle for repairs. Through this ordeal the ship creeped perilously close to shore so the port anchor was released. Moments later the stern of the ship was dragging along the bottom. As the situation became desperate a call was sent out for another tug. An hour and a half passed, waiting for rescue as the ship continued to grind on the reef. When the second tug arrived, it could not get in close enough to attach a line. The wind was picking up so the captain decided to pull the anchor and try to sail out. The wind was far too weak to pull the massive ship away from the rocks and she fell broadside on the beach. The crew abandoned ship and the Robert Lewers remained, battered by waves and in the next few hours, she broke in two and became a permanent part of the Graveyard of the Pacific just offshore of what would later become the West Coast Trail.

Robert Lewers Shipwreck Map

More Shipwrecks Near the Robert Lewers (KM20)

The Valencia Shipwreck Near KM18

Shipwreck Icon West Coast TrailThe Valencia is usually regarded as the worst shipwreck disaster in the Graveyard of the Pacific and the final impetus for the creation of the West Coast Trail. The SS Valencia was an iron-hulled, 1600 ton passenger steamer built in 1882. Originally built for service between Venezuela and New York City, she later became a coastal passenger liner on the west coast of the United States. In 1906 she was wrecked off Cape Beale, near Clo-oose, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The captain did not take into account the strong northerly current that caused ships to overrun Juan de Fuca Strait by a considerable distance. Blinded by the weather and battered with strong winds and currents, the captain turned the Valencia toward the coast for its run into the strait. Just before midnight on the 22nd of January, she collided with the reef near Pachena Point on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. The high number of fatalities are estimated to have been between about 140. Varying sources and speculation has resulted in a fair bit of uncertainty on those figures. According to the government report at the time, the official deaths numbered 136. Only 38 men survived the shipwreck and all the woman and children perished. The Canadian government rapidly began work on what would result in the West Coast Trail. A lighthouse was was constructed and regularly spaced shelters along the newly constructed trail. The Valencia shipwreck disaster happened in 1906, the Pachena Point Lighthouse was finished in 1908, and in 1911 the West Coast Trail was completed.  

Valencia shipwreck continued here...

The Janet Cowan Shipwreck Near KM19

Shipwreck Icon West Coast TrailThe Janet Cowan was named after the maiden name of the wife of the first owner. Unlike most other shipwrecks in the Graveyard of the Pacific, a good record of the ship as well as at least a couple photographs of her still exist. The Janet Cowan sailed from Cape Town on September 11th, 1895, bound for Royal Roads(near Victoria) on Vancouver Island. With 1100 tons of ballast and a crew of 29. The long voyage went very well until the evening of December 30th, 1895. Approaching Juan de Fuca Strait, under easy sail and with moderate weather, attempts were made to signal for a tug or pilot. They received no response. With daylight gone, she was sailing blind into the Graveyard of the Pacific. The captain decided to wait for daylight before sailing further. Just after 7pm the wind shifted suddenly and steadily increased into a gale. The Janet Cowan was brought around and attempted to run out for an offing to wait out the storm. At 845pm, Cape Flattery Lighthouse was spotted four or five miles away. The weather continued to worsen, with a violent gale blowing, heavy seas and thick snow falling, the Captain worried that their repeated wearing(a sailing technique of turning through the wind to shift the wind from one side of the boat to the other), would cause them to lose ground. This agonizing battle went on in brutal darkness as they charted their position based on their last sight of Cape Flattery and estimated speed. They pinpointed their position to be about seven miles off Vancouver Island, with the time now being well after midnight. Just before 1am, the second mate reported land on the starboard bow. The crew rushed to steer away, however the ship was caught in the trough of the sea and still inching towards the shore. At 130am the Janet Cowan was perilously inside the outside breakers and unable to escape. The ship was swung broadside on, with her head to the westward and the seas breaking over her fore and aft, she crashed into the shore.  

Janet Cowan shipwreck continued here...

The Woodside Shipwreck Near KM20

Shipwreck Icon West Coast TrailJust past the 20 kilometre mark of the West Coast Trail you will find an anchor of the Woodside on the beach. The Woodside, an 87 foot long steamer built in Sooke, BC in 1878. The Woodside provided regular service between Victoria, Port Renfrew, Barkley Sound and Alberni Inlet. On March 12th, 1888, the Woodside lost her rudder and drifted into the rock shelf in front of Trestle Creek. Just past the 20 kilometre mark on the West Coast Trail, the anchor of the Woodside still sits in the middle of the beach. The ship was a total loss, disintegrating over the years with little left but the hauntingly vivid reminder of the wreck, laying rusting on the beach. The improbably located anchor on the beach is a stunning representation of how cool the West Coast Trail is. Emerge from the deep forest and difficult trail, to a desolate feeling, rocky coastline with a huge anchor left here from a shipwreck that happened over a century ago. Extraordinary!

Woodside shipwreck continued here...

West Coast Trail Shipwrecks

The Skagit, a 3 masted barkentine of 506 tons was wrecked on the reef in front of Clo-oose on what ...
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The Daily Colonist newspaper on the 3rd of May, 1906 reported, “On Monday another body of a victim of the ...
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West Coast Trail A to Z

Darling Falls has to be the most overlooked and underrated feature of the West Coast Trail. It never even appeared in West Coast Trail guidebooks until recently and hardly any websites or blogs give it a mention. There are some good reasons for this. First, the ...
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Cape Flattery Lighthouse is located on the United States side of the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait. Began operation in 1857, the lighthouse tower is 20 metres tall and standing on a cliff the tower’s light stands 50 metres above the water. Cape Flattery ...
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There are quite a few books about West Coast Trail shipwrecks, though many of them are tough to find and written decades ago. Here is a list of the ones we have found with the best information on the often scarce history of many of the lesser known shipwrecks ...
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Juan de Fuca Strait is the 154km long and 16km to 32km wide stretch of ocean that separates Vancouver Island from the northwest corner of Washington State. The international boundary between Canada and the United State runs down the centre of the strait. It was named ...
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West Coast Trail Guide

There are 13 established campsites along the West Coast Trail. They are fairly well spaced out and all are located near fresh water creeks and rivers.  Amenities are kept to a minimum to keep the trail wild and beautiful, so you rarely see any signs or markers to ...
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There are lots of options to getting to the West Coast Trail. The trail is linear so you have to arrange to get to the trailhead as well as from your exit trailhead. Most West Coast Trail hikers drive to one trailhead then bus to the other and hike back to their car. ...
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West Coast Trail has a dizzying array of beautiful sights to see. Unfortunately due to the difficulty of the trail, weather, or just too much focus on finishing the trail, many amazing things are missed, or simply glossed over quickly. Darling Falls, for example, is a ...
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The West Coast Trail is a very tough hike. About one out of one hundred hikers don't make it, they need to be rescued. That's why there are so many fees. By the time you are done preparing and registering, you laugh at how hiking got so expensive. Isn't hiking usually ...
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Amazing Whistler Hiking Trails

Explore BC Hiking Destinations!

The West Coast Trail

The West Coast Trail was created after decades of brutal and costly shipwrecks occurred along the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  One shipwreck in particular was so horrific, tragic and unbelievable that it forced the creation of a trail along the coast, which ...
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Victoria Hiking Trails

Victoria has a seemingly endless number of amazing hiking trails.  Most take you to wild and beautiful Pacific Ocean views and others take you to tranquil lakes in beautiful BC Coastal Rainforest wilderness.  Regional Parks and Provincial Parks are everywhere you turn ...
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Whistler Hiking Trails

Whistler is an amazing place to hike. Looking at a map of Whistler you see an extraordinary spider web of hiking trails. Easy trails, moderate trails and challenging hiking trails are all available. Another marvellous thing about Whistler is that Garibaldi Provincial Park ...
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