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Maritime Image of the Day: “Wreck of the Glenesslin”

PortandTerminal.com, December 26, 2019

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – On a clear October day, 107 years ago, astonished onlookers watched a big square-rigged sailing ship simply turn and sail straight into the rocky shore. That ship was the Glenesslin and its grounding remains a mystery to this day.

What happened?

Old black and white photograph of the ship Glenesslin stranded on the rocks at the base of a mountain. The ship is under full sail.
View of the Glenesslin from the ocean

Approaching the Columbia River for a cargo of wheat, 176 days from Santos, she was sighted under full sail on a calm sea and in perfect visibility.

With no apparent effort to change course, the vessel crashed head-on into the rocks at the base of 1,600-foot-high Mt. Neahkahnie, 4 miles south of Cape Falcon, Oregon. The dramatic spectacle of a great full-rigged ship, all sails set and apparently attempting to climb a precipitous mountain, has been preserved in countless photographs, paintings and drawings.

READ: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: The legend lives on 44 years later

A line was taken from the ship by people on shore and all hands left the ship safely, but none of them seemed able to satisfactorily explain what had happened. Once safely on shore, Captain Owen Williams and his officers refused to tell anyone what had happened.

The grounding of the Glenesslin remains one of the most controversial shipwrecks in Northwest maritime history.

Why did happen? Most speculate that it was either insurance fraud on the part of the ship’s owners or drunkenness by the ship’s captain and crew.

One thing that is known for sure though is that after the shipwreck the ruined vessel, which in its heyday held sailing speed records, was sold for salvage.

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