Wreckage resurfaces in Rockaway

An artist’s rendition of the Emily Reed in her full glory.


By Brian Cameron

The famous wreck of Rockaway Beach has resurfaced once again, and along with the draw of interest to the beautiful beach the wreck of the Emily Reed brings a litany of history with her in tow.

On a cold and windy night on Valentine’s Day in the year 1908, the Emily Reed made her way with a load of coal originating in New South Wales toward the inlet of the Columbia River with the intent of going on toward the docks of Portland along the Willamette.

Captain William Kessell who had taken over the ship a few years prior had become disoriented in the midst of the seasonal winter storm and had failed to realize the Emily Reed’s chronometer was faulty and without warning the Emily Reed ran aground shortly before midnight, leaving the clipper at the mercy of the high tide waves pounding the broken hull of the 200-foot-long vessel.

During the confusion, the Captain later reported 11 men lost in the tragic incident, days later a few survivors were found in a lifeboat that had drifted 200 miles away and was rescued by another ship.  By morning’s light they had realized the Emily Reed had ran aground right off of Rockaway Beach.  Every now and then to this day the little remnants of the ship that still lay under the sands peek out when winter storms wash the sands away.

Don Best, local unofficial historian of the Emily Reed and longtime Rockaway Beach resident, has offered his experiences regarding the wreck to other publications in the past and there are few who know more about it than he.

“The first time I remember seeing it I was about eight or nine years old, it was 1953,” Best said. “Right around then I found a small air pocket that was just underneath one of the exposed beams, it was so narrow I had to turn my head just to fit inside but when I finally did I realized I was physically inside the Emily Reed shipwreck.”

Best’s grandfather was actually there at the time of the wreck and remembers Kessel staying nearby in Bay City for months in hopes of searching for a number of crewmen who were considered lost at sea as a result of the incident.  Subsequently his grandfather at the time gathered and salvaged most of the copper sheeting he could find at the site of the wreck as well as collected the stereotypical copper nails that were used in clipper-ship style construction at the time.

After the initial wreck, the Emily Reed broke into three separate sections and for a time they were easily visible, but these days it seems the only bit that can be seen is the “rib cage” mid section.

“In 1962 the Rockaway Beach fire department came out and used their hoses to blast away a great deal of the sand,” Best said. “They got most of the ribs exposed and even took it down to the ship’s keel. Sadly the ocean didn’t take long to reclaim it.”

The Emily Reed was a tri-masted clipper ship, which was a common type of commercial freight and passenger vessel during that era.  A member of a large family of sister, brother and mother ships the Emily Reed was originally launched from New York in 1880 and made her maiden voyage to Calcutta, India.

Last seen in 2008 the Emily Reed was then once again covered by the beach and lay preserved up until recently when the winter tides washed it away to reveal the long wooden beams that make up the majority of her skeletal hull.

By the time of publication, it is very possible the Emily Reed has once again been covered by sand, but it is safe to say she will grace Rockaway Beach in the not too distant future.