Monday, October 24, 2011

A Princess Lost At Sea

I want you to sit back and listen (or I should type read) my story. Tomorrow, October 25, 2011, will be the 93rd anniversary of the sinking of the Princess Sophia.
The Princess Sophia was built by Bow, McLachlan and Company of Paisley, Scotland in 1911 for the Canadian Pacific. She was 245 feet long, 44 feet wide and 2300 gt with a single screw triple expansion steam engine. She was launched on November 8, 1911 and did 14 knots on her sea trials. The Princess Sophia left Scotland on February 19, 1912 and arrived in Victoria three months later.

The Princess Sophia was built for the Alaskan run. She wasn't fancy but she did have comfortable accommodations for 375 passengers in first and second class. Her maiden voyage was on June 7, 1912.

The Sophia left Skagway, Alaska on Wednesday October 23, 1918 under the guidance of Captain Louis P. Locke. She carried 343 people, passengers and crew. The passengers were mainly Dawson people and Alaskans from the interior who were looking forward to getting out of the area for the winter. Four hours into her journey, around 3 am, she ran into a blinding snowstorm.

It is thought that the Princess Sophia got off her course slightly and piled up on Vanderbilt Reef in the Lynn Canal  midway between Skagway and Juneau. It was thought that she wasn't in any danger and that a high tide would dislodge her. The Sophia was hard and fast on the reef with her bottom badly damaged but she wasn't taking on any water. Lighthouse tenders and gasboats responded to the call for assistance and the Princess Alice departed from Vancouver to take the passengers. And the storm continued to rage.

The ship sat on the reef for over forty hours while the storm blocked any attempt at a rescue. The US lighthouse tender Cedar got within 400 yards of the Sophia but her anchors would not hold on the rocky sea bottom. The waves were so violent that life boats could not be used. Then the weather worsened - the wind increased and the air was filled with snow. Darkness fell and the Cedar picked up the last message sent from the Sophia. "Taking water and foundering. For GOD's sake come and save us." (that is according to one report I read)

The Sophia had been driven across the reef into deep water and her damaged bottom couldn't support the vessel any longer. She quickly filled with water and went down. The Cedar rushed to the vicinity but could see nothing of the other ship. Morning light revealed the Sophia's foremast visible above the water but there was no sign of life of the wreckage. Bodies that hadn't gone down with the ship were scattered. It was the inside passage's worst disaster.

66 victims from that tragedy are buried at Mountain View Cemetery.  Here are a few of them.

- Captain James Alexander was one of the owners of the Engineer Mine located on the east shore of the Taku Arm of Tagish Lake.
- John R. Young was the chief engineer of the British Yukon Navigation Company. He and his wife were both on the Sophia.

David Robinson was the wireless operator and he stuck to post right up to the end. This is another version of messages sent from the Sophia.
4:50 pm "Ship foundering on reef. Come at once."
5:20 pm "For God's sake hurry. The water is coming into my room.) (The wireless room was on the top deck of the ship next to the bridge.)
A wireless operator suggested Robinson only transmit if necessary to save his batter too which Robinson replied:
"All right, I will. You talk to me so I know you are coming." That was the last that was heard from the Sophia. Not as dramatic but still heart wrenching.
John and Rosabel Chisholm moved to Dawson City sooon after their marriage on January 31, 1912. John had been a noted pioneer Dawson wood contractor in partnership with his brother, Jim Chisholm.

John Zaccerellin had been born about 1880 in BC. He had a store in Dawson City which he opened around 1901. He sold everything from books to bananas.

A letter from John Maskell to his fiance found. He had written it while the ship was marooned along with a last will and testament.

So as you go about your day tomorrow perhaps you could take a moment and send a prayer for all those souls who perished in the icy waters in Alaska.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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