Rowing in the lifeboats of the wrecked ship SS Valencia, the skeleton remains of the passengers that died are doomed to row the sea for eternity. 

The Valencia was headed out from San Francisco towards Seattle with clear weather with both seasoned crewmembers as well as passengers not necessarily used to the sea. The iron hulled passenger steamer was not a well liked ship to sail with along the Pacific Coast as it was too small and also, too open to the elements that made her difficult to handle in the winter. 

This was in January and the weather was cold. And soon it was going to become another tragedy in the area that is known as ‘The Graveyard of the Pacific’ where almost 70 ships have wrecked in these parts. 

The Wreckage of SS Valencia

When they reached Cape Mendocino outside of San Francisco on the 22. January in 1906, they encountered dense fog and had to slow the speed and sound the whistle as they battled against the fog with the danger of a wind that had turned on them. The ship got off course because of the wind, the current and the fog. Then they ran into rocks right before midnight on the 22 January and the disaster unfolded. 


The passengers of the ship panicked and rushed to the lifeboats that were so ill handled in all the chaos that few made it to the water and even fewer made it safely. Some of the lifeboats were smashed to the side of the ship, some were lowered too soon, or too late. Several of the lifeboats were never seen again.

They were so close to land, only around 50 meters from the shore, but they couldn’t reach it at all. Stranded at the railing on deck were hundred people with the captain and the remaining crew. 

“Screams of women and children mingled in an awful chorus with the shrieking of the wind, the dash of rain, and the roar of the breakers. As the passengers rushed on deck they were carried away in bunches by the huge waves that seemed as high as the ship’s mastheads. The ship began to break up almost at once and the women and children were lashed to the rigging above the reach of the sea. It was a pitiful sight to see frail women, wearing only night dresses, with bare feet on the freezing ratlines, trying to shield children in their arms from the icy wind and rain.”

Survivor Chief Freight Clerk Frank Lehn
The Tragedy: Wreck of the en:SS Valencia, seen from one of the rescuing ships on January 23, 1906. So close were they to salvation, both to shore and to the rescue ships, but they never made it home again. // Source: BC Archives

No Hope for Rescue

The remaining people hoped to get rescued, but when the rescue fleet finally arrived, they realized that it was too dangerous to get close to the impaled ship on the rocks with water flooding in the strong current and wind. 

The rest of the night, the ships Salvador, Queen and Topeka could only watch as the ship went down together with the rest of the people onboard. They all either drowned, were killed by getting hit by something on the ship or dying of hypothermia when they landed in the water. 

The Lifeboats: Not many were picked up from the waters that day. Since then, lifeboat manned by skeletons have been reported on from this area. Here are a pictures of the survivors from the SS Valencia being picked up by the SS City of Topeka on January 24, 1906.//Source: University of Washington Digital Collections

Of all the passengers and crew on board, only 37 men survived this tragedy with every woman and child onboard dying. The complete death toll varies, but at least 117 up to 181 people died and it is known to be one of the more tragic wreckage in maritim history. 

The Rowing Skeletons

The remains of the ship was never recovered, but left to its own devices. Some of the remains drifted to shore, finally, and the remains have been left mostly untouched. Outside of the Pachena Beach you can still see it, clinging to the coastline. Not long after the tragedy of the ship, the rumors, the tales and stories started to come from the wreckage. 

The Ghost Ship: Not only the lifeboats, but also the entire ship has been reported on being spotted, years after it sunk to the bottom of the sea. Here are SS Valencia, circa 1905. // Source: BC Archives

When they were transporting the few survivors they found from the wreckage to Seattle, the crew of the ship City of Topeka spotted something unexplained. They stopped to pass the news of Valencia to a passing vessel that came towards them. When it passed them by, they saw that it was in fact the Valencia, the ship that had just sunk to the bottom of the sea. 

The people that observed this, told that the crew were all skeletons and were heading towards the rocks as the Valencia had already hit and sunk on. When passing the City of Topeka, the Valencia signaled to it like it would have if they really met. After this, the Topeka continued back to Seattle without further incidents, but it was not the last one that were reported on. 

Six months after the sinking of the ship, a local Nuu-chah-nulth fisherman named Clanewah Tom spotted a lifeboat together with his wife in a nearby sea cane in Pachena Bay  at the southern end of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. But there was something deeply wrong with the lifeboat. In it sat not eight people, but eight skeletons. Although having survived the initial wreckage, it looked like they had starved to death. There was no way of recovering the lifeboat however and it was a mystery of even how it got into the cave. 

Since then local fishermen reported of lifeboats with skeletons rowing in the area. In 1910, the Seattle Times reported that sailors claimed to have seen the ship that looked eerily like the Valencia, near Pachena Point. What looked like human figures held onto the ship like it was about life or death as the waves washed over the ship. 

In 1933 they found one of the lifeboats drifting in Barkley Sound. The boat was in excellent condition and the paint looked almost fresh. No skeletons onboard this time, and perhaps never again?


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