Wreck of the Peter Iredale
and the
Graveyard of the Pacific

The skeleton of the Peter Iredale

The Columbia River Bar is where the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River meet. Rough waters, thick fog, strong winds, and deadly rocks have sunk approximately 2,000 ships since 1792. Over 700 people have lost their lives in the shipwrecks, which is why it’s become known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”

A lot of work was done to make the Columbia River Bar safer for mariners. The United States added the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in 1856, and later added more lights to Cape Flattery and Shoalwater Bay on the Washington side of the Bar. While this gave seamen points of reference, ships were still running afoul.

In the early 1880’s businessmen from Portland petitioned Congress to do more to help the situation. Congress approved funds for a jetty to be built out from the Clatsop Spit on the south side of the mouth of the Columbia, near Fort Stevens. By 1894 the jetty was five miles long, helping keep the sand from building up in the channel. A north jetty, on the Washington side of the mouth, was completed in 1925 and helped even more to stabilize the bar. However, even to this day the channel has to be dredged to accommodate larger ships.

The most famous victim of the Graveyard of the Pacific was the Peter Iredale.

Photo: Columbia River Maritime Museum

The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel sailing ship that was built in England in 1890. In September of 1906, the Iredale left Salina Cruz, Mexico for Portland, Oregon. They reached the mouth of the Columbia River safely, despite heavy fog. But early in the morning of October 25, 1906, heavy winds hit, followed by strong currents causing the ship to be caught in the large breaking waves. The Iredale ran aground on Clatsop Beach, hitting the shore so hard that three of her four masts snapped.

She was abandoned on Clatsop Spit near Fort Stevens, about four miles south of the Columbia River channel.

History remains

The Peter Iredale has rested on Clatsop Beach for 114 years.

A haunting beach

For More Information 

Columbia River Maritime Museum

HistoryLink.org

Hammond, Oregon Tide Tables