A cool breeze made its way down the coast and we shivered in the night air. The sun was setting and the soft sand squished between our toes as we ran down the sandy hill. The Wreck of the Peter Iredale was silhouetted against the darkening sky and waves lapped gently at her feet. We almost had the whole beach to ourselves, a phenonium that doesn’t happen during the height of the day. We stared at the shipwreck and wondered how it came to be abandoned on this Oregon beach.
A surprisingly uneventful wreck
I’ll be honest, I’ve always thought of shipwrecks as horrific accidents where lives are lost and cargo destroyed. While this might be true for most shipwrecks, it certainly isn’t how the Wreck of the Peter Iredale came to be. I love visiting the Peter Iredale, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing any movies about her fate.
The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel ship built in England in 1890. On September 26, 1906, she set sail from Salina Cruz, Mexico to Portland, Oregon where she was to pick up wheat for England. The ship encountered heavy fog during her journey but in the early morning of October 25, she safely reached the mouth of the Columbia River.
However, a strong wind suddenly blew in and before her crew could steer the Peter Iredale to safety, she ran aground on Clatsop Beach. Three of her masts snapped upon impact and left the crew stranded on board. They launched rockets for help and the nearly lifesaving station at Points Adams came to their aid. It was a dangerous operation but they were able to bring all crewmen and two stowaways safely to shore. Little did the crew know, had they waited a few hours they could have safely walked ashore at low tide.
Captain Lawrence is said to have saluted his beached ship and said: “May God bless you and may your bones bleach in these sands.” The British Naval Court launched an inquiry into the wreck and found that the sudden wind shift and strong currents were responsible for the shipwreck and the crew was absolved of all blame.
An immediate tourist attraction
The Wreck of the Peter Iredale became an immediate tourist attraction. Only a day after the ship ran ashore, local papers reported that the wreck “proved a strong attraction” and even in spite of the raging storm people flocked to the disaster. Children were even released early from school to see the shipwreck for themselves.
Today, despite being beaten by the wind, ocean, and sand over the years, the Wreck of the Peter Iredale is still a major tourist attraction is supposedly one of the most photographed shipwrecks in the world.
The Peter Iredale caused a local stir
Over the years there have been numerous squabbles over ownership of the Peter Iredale. Private owners have tried to claim ownership to sell it for salvage while local towns fought tooth-and-nail to prove it was within city limits to leave it be.
Since the wreck still stands in its original location today, it seems that the local towns have won the ownership battle. Hopefully, it will stay that way for future generations to enjoy!
The Wreck of the Peter Iredale even played a small part during WWII.
On June 21, 1942, a Japanese submarine fired on Fort Stevens, a nearby military fort. No one was injured but it caused a scare amongst the locals who feared further attacks. Barbed wire was lain along Clatsop Beach and through the deteriorating shipwreck to deter landings. A citizen’s patrol was also set up to patrol the coast.
Exploring the Wreck of the Peter Iredale today
The Wreck of the Peter Iredale has laid exposed on Oregon’s coast since 1906. For more than a hundred years it has drawn tourists and is one of the most accessible shipwrecks on the Oregon Coast. Its rusted steel skeleton stands proudly as a testament to the destructive power of nature.
Standing next to the impressive structure, it’s easy to wonder how it became stranded so far inland. It’s entirely open to the elements and every year it becomes further entrenched in Oregon’s history. With the strong tide and soft sand, it’s slowly eroding every day. Today, only the hull is still visible.
Where is the Wreck of the Peter Iredale?
The impressive Peter Iredale shipwreck is located in Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. A paved road leads to the parking lot that overlooks Clatsop Beach and the Wreck. A short walk down a sandy hill brings you up close and personal with the steel skeleton of the Peter Iredale.
Adventuring around the steel skeleton
Your experience at the shipwreck will differ greatly throughout the day due to the changing tides. The Wreck becomes very busy during the day, so try to visit it early in the morning or at dusk to enjoy a private beach. No matter the time of day, though, the beach is usually a few degrees cooler than inland. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a reprise from the heat! The sand is beautifully clean and very soft, so leave your shoes at the parking lot and stroll across the cool sand.
At low tide the Wreck of the Peter Iredale stands in the middle of the beach and is surrounded by a vast expanse of cool, wet sand; you can explore the rusted steel and barnacle covered hull up close and personal! If you’re feeling brave you can even try climbing it, although I’ve never done it. You can even find plenty of sand dollars about a mile up the beach.
At high tide the water swallows the Wreck and waves crash against the hull and spray cool water high into the air; this is the time to pack a picnic and enjoy the beautiful, roughly 15-mile long beach.
Information & location
The Wreck of the Peter Iredale is located within Fort Stevens State Park near Warrenton, Oregon. From Highway 101, turn onto East Harbor Street in Warrenton and turn left onto South Main Ave shortly after crossing the Skipanon River. Turn right onto SW 9th Street and turn right onto NW Ridge Road. Stay on NW Ridge Road until you see the KOA Resort. Turn left onto the Peter Iredale Road and follow the road until you come to the parking lot overlooking the beach.
|Distance||Less than 1km of walking|
|Notes||You’ll need to purchase a parking permit to enter Fort Stevens.
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