The Northwest Pacific’s worst shipping tragedyPrincess Sophia was built in 1912 at Paisley, England, by Bow McLachlan & Co. for Canadian Pacific’s British Columbia Coastal Service. She was a single-screw steel steamship designed for service from Victoria and Vancouver to northern British Columbia ports and Alaska. She was 245 feet in length with a 44-foot beam, she drew 12” with a displacement of 2,320 tons.
After six years service Princess Sophia grounded on Vanderbilt Reef in Lynn Canal near Juneau, Alaska on 24 October 1918 during a blinding snowstorm. Though her entire hull out of the water at low tide, she continued generating power for heat and light so Captain Locke and her 268 passengers and 75 crew apparently remained calm, awaiting calmer weather before transferring to rescue vessels.
United States Coast Guard lighthouse tender Cedar
At 4:00 P.M. on October 24th, the U.S. lighthouse tender Cedar received a radio message from Princess Sophia that she was taking on water. That night a heavy blizzard driven by gale force winds made efforts to locate the ship impossible. Next morning, the Cedar located Princess Sophia with only her mast above water. It was assumed that the Princess Sophia slipped off the and reef went down at 7:30 A.M. on the morning of October 25th. All her passengers and crew, 343 in all, were lost. It was the worst disaster in the history of Northwest shipping.
“Just time to say goodbye. We are foundering”
The last message sent by Princess Sophia
Captain Troup, Director of the British Columbia Coast Service fleet had dispatched Princess Alice from Vancouver upon hearing of the wreck. Rather than providing succor, Princess Alice returned to Vancouver as a floating hearse with the bodies of 156 of Princess Sophia’s passengers on board.
Divers subsequently recovered $100,000.00 from Princess Sophia’s safe and a number of her passengers’ trunks but the ship’s salvage was impractical. An inquiry into the disaster held no one responsible though no vessel in the BCCS fleet was ever named Sophia, the name went down with the ill-fated ship.
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