It’s been well over a hundred years, but just off Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail the remains of the SS Valencia can still be seen, scattered along the beach and rocky shoreline. The 1906 wreck is considered to be the worst maritime disaster along this dangerous stretch of coast, known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
The passenger steamer SS Valencia was a small ship, with a varied history of carrying passengers, cargo and troops. After 20 years at sea, she was sold and launched as a second-class passenger steamer, running routes out of San Francisco, often up to Seattle. It was late January on one of these excursions in 1906, when the Valencia struck a reef, the particularly stormy weather having rendered celestial navigation impossible. Running aground resulted in a large gash in her hull, and the ship quickly started taking on water.
To avoid sinking, the captain ordered her beached (they were only 55 yards, or 50 meters, from shore), but she again struck the rocks. Unable to make it to safety, she was battered mercilessly by high winds and crashing waves. In the panic, the lifeboats were launched against the captain’s orders, and nearly all went horribly wrong. Three flipped on descent, three more capsized after reaching the water, and the last one disappeared in the waves.
Estimates of the death toll vary, ranging from 117 to as many as 181. After an investigation by the U.S. government, the final number was released as 136 souls lost. Only 37 men survived, and every woman and child onboard the Valencia died in the disaster.
Given the remote location along the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the remains of the wreck have been left relatively untouched for the past 111 years, although ravaged by the notoriously rough waters. If you can make your way along the West Coast Trail, about five miles southeast of Pachena Beach, you can still see pieces of the ship dug into the coastline. To this day there are rumors of ghost ships and sightings of lost lifeboats, rowing through the surf.
Know Before You Go
The remains of the wreck are on Vancouver Island, part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, located southeast of Pachena Point, about 11 miles (18 km) into the West Coast Trail from the Pachena Trailhead.
Fair warning: Access is difficult, and for experienced hikers.