Category: Landmark Place
GPS Coordinates: 46.178361, -123.981003
Although it certainly wasn’t the largest or most destructive shipwreck along Oregon’s notorious Graveyard of the Pacific, the rusting iron skeleton of the Peter Iredale may be the state’s most famous. Yearly, thousands of people photograph or play on the beach near the twisted metal latticework still visible above the sand, all the remains today of the steel and iron barque that ran ashore here in 1906 during a heavy squall.
The crew of the Peter Iredale must’ve considered themselves very lucky. They all survived the grounding and the ship was intact, so they were optimistic that they’d be able to refloat the stranded vessel. As is often the case however, Oregon’s currents and weather had other plans. Salvage teams had to wait months for better weather conditions, and during that time the ship became so embedded in the sand that there was no possible way to free her. Eventually, the ship was declared a total loss and her metal plates and other valuable resources were stripped away before she sunk even deeper into the beach.
It’s hard to believe that the simple movement of sand suspended in water would be enough to keep the Peter Iredale forever trapped on the Oregon coast. But tides are one of the most powerful forces in the ocean. The movement of water over and against the land can destroy even the hardest rock, pulverizing it into smaller and smaller particles until it eventually forms sand. Now floating suspended in the water, the sand particles can be moved in huge volumes by a process known as sediment transport. (By the way, sediment transport is the same process that fills your bathing suit with sand every time you go to the beach!) So how did this process bury the Peter Iredale?
At first, the ship would have been sitting on the surface of the sandy beach. But as the daily tides rolled in, over, and around the wreck, the sand would’ve shifted dramatically. During the ebb tide, the water would’ve removed tons of sand the ship was sitting on, causing the Peter Iredale to sink lower into the beach. When much of that sand returned during the flood tide, gravity would’ve forced the sediment to settle around and over portions of the ship, anchoring it in place by its tremendous mass and weight. The sand would’ve become almost like wet cement. Over time, so much sand would’ve filled the ship’s hull that even the best excavation machines of the early twentieth century would’ve been powerless to free the Peter Iredale!
Photo Credit: Oregon Coast Historical Society, Newport.