Valencia Tragedy

The West Coast Trail and the story of the S.S. Valencia

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The West Coast Trail and the story of the S.S. Valencia

On Saturday, January 20th, 1906, the Valencia left San Francisco bound for Victoria, B.C. and Seattle, Washington. The Final Report of Commission on the Valencia Disaster [April 14, 1906] shows that she carried 108 passengers, 9 officers and 65 crew. On Monday, January 22nd, the Valencia unknowingly missed the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca due to inclement weather. At approximately 11:50 pm the ship, facing strong winds and rain, struck the southwest coast of Vancouver Island near the northern end of the West Coast Trail.

The disabled ship was less than 10 m/30 yds from shore, but the surrounding sheer rock cliff made any escape by that means almost impossible. For over two days the passengers and crew were held prisoner by the sea while most of those who tried to leave the ship soon drowned or died of exposure. Other ships came to attempt a rescue but felt unable to get close enough. During the morning of Tuesday, January 23rd, the Valencia started to break apart. At 8:00 am Captain Johnson called for a volunteer crew to launch the last lifeboat #5. Manned by Boatswain Timothy J. McCarthy it was lowered down the side by ropes called falls.This was the only lifeboat that made it to safety eventually landing about 12:30 pm 8 miles northwest of the wreck.

On Wednesday January 24th, a rescue party from the Carmanah Light Station arrived at about 11:30 am at the site of the Valencia wreck just in time to observe a huge breaker causing the final destruction of the ship with the remaining victims on board.

The total number of lives lost on the Valencia was 136 including 7 officers, 33 crew and 96 passengers. All of the women and children aboard had perished. The 37 survivors included 2 officers, 23 crewman and 12 passengers. Although not responsible for the largest loss of life, the Valencia is regarded as one of the most horrific and tragic to have ever occurred on the Pacific Coast.

S.S. Valencia – The Unusual

– The cook, himself someone who survived four other shipwrecks, had an uneasy feeling that the voyage was doomed. He did not survive his fifth shipwreck – he is purported to have said, just before he disappeared below the water,  “I should have known all along that she was doomed!”

– People reported seeing a vessel resembling the Valencia years after the sinking. They claim that they could see humans clinging to the mast and rigging.

– The most unusual was the finding of  Valencia’s #5 lifeboat on the beach in Barkley Sound. It was in excellent condition, which would have been expected if it was in 1906. However, the lifeboat was found on shore in 1933, 27 years after the wreck!