I have always been fascinated by shipwrecks and tales of the sea so when I was visiting Astoria, Oregon and I discovered that the wreck of the Peter Iredale was nearby I had to go and check it out. I drve out to Fort Stevens State Park and parked at the recommended point and walked toward the beach through the dunes as the sun was getting ready to set with the sound of the surf audible over the wind.
As I crested the last dune I was amazed to see the skeleton of a large ship leaning to the port side at the edge of the surf. My wife and I walked quickly across the wide beach to the wreck which even though in a skeletal state, seemed to have a personality all it's own.
Searching in the sand we found the stern of the ship and from that point to the stem was a good distance. The Peter Iredale must have been a good sized ship. I surprised how this ship came to be at this place so I did a little research. On October 25th, 1906, Captain H. Lawrence, piloting Peter Iredale was in the final stage of a voyage from Santa Cruz, Mexico to Portland, Oregon.
As he near the coast Captain Lawrence spotted Tillamook Rock lighthouse and decided to steer out to sea a bit to miss the obstacles around that point and then come back to the coast to find his way way through the Columbia River sand bars at the mouth of that great river and then on to Portland. There was a heavy mist upon the ocean and the ship ran aground on Clatsop Spit. Life boats were dispatched and all of the ships crew were rescued and taken to Fort Stevens for treatment.
Several attempts were made to right the ship and tow it out to sea but they were unsuccessful. Therefore, the owners of the ship sold it for scrap and nothing but the skeleton remains. Even so, this is one of the coolest shipwrecks I have ever seen and one of the most picturesque as well. There is a small parking area not far from the ship where there are some restrooms as well. The beach is quite wide here so it will take a few minutes to walk over the dunes and out to the waters edge where the Peter Iredale found it's final resting place.
The sand was wet and shiny when we were there and it almost reflected them sky. The ocean has been cruel to the remains of the ship, largely rusting the steel framework and dissolving holes through the bulwark. The iron of the ship has oxidized to various hues of purple and red. There is bright green moss adhering to the ship above the water line.
Sea birds were milling about the wreck and the sunset over the Pacific was brilliant but it welcomed with it a cold and stiff breeze. Battalions of waves advanced toward the shore to torment the wreck until the end of time it appeared. Various crustations were adhered to the hull and the surf had under the wreck creating a pool of water around a good portion of it. As I stood there I tried to imagine the ship as it once was.
A proud vessel with its sails catching wind and taking it to far corners of the globe. It may be only a wreck now but the vast majority of the ships of it's era are completely gone … either sold for scrap or sunk. The Peter Iredale however, in it's own way, lives on. If you are ever in Astoria or Cannon Beach, it is well worth the effort to take a detour and visit Fort Stevens State Park and the wreck of the Peter Iredale. For more information call (503) 861-1671 or (800) 551-6949.