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In One Ear: Searching for the Mauna Ala

Bar pilot seeks help finding exact location of 1941 shipwreck
By Elleda Wilson

The Daily Astorian

Published on February 9, 2018 12:01AM

“On Dec. 3, 1941 the steamer Mauna Ala, belonging to Matson Navigation Company, sailed from Seattle under the command of Capt. C. W. Saunders bound for Hawaii,” bar pilot Capt. Robert Johnson wrote. “She was carrying general cargo that included Christmas trees and food for the troop buildup in Hawaii.”

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, the “Christmas ship” received a cable saying to head to the Columbia River, instead. “On the evening of Dec. 10, a misty evening, their position showed them approaching the Columbia River lightship, where she would take a bar pilot,” Capt Johnson explained.

“They continued expecting to pick up the navigation aids of the lightship Cape Disappointment and North Head at any time. Instead, at 7:03 p.m., the lookout called ‘breakers ahead.’ The engine was put full astern but she ran aground south of the river entrance. Unbeknownst to the ship, all aids to navigation … had all been turned off, fearing a Japanese attack.”

The crew was safe, and taken to Astoria. Not so the ship, which broke apart and was a total loss.

Soldiers rushing to the coast, fearing a Japanese invasion when the ship grounded, instead found the ship’s cargo — of “60,000 Christmas trees, 10,000 turkeys, 3,000 chickens,” as well as a case each of steaks and Almond Roca — washing ashore, according to the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum ( Word spread fast, and beachcombers weren’t far behind to collect the unexpected Christmas bounty.

“The exact location of her grounding is unclear,” noted Capt. Johnson, who is researching the ship for the Maritime Archaeology Society ( “One record has her 3 miles south of the jetty, and another 1 mile south of the Peter Iredale. Can anyone who remembers this incident give us a better description of the location of the beaching? Are there any pictures or stories from local family lore about the incident or taking care of the crew?”

If you have any information, please email him at or call 503-325-3211, ext. 257.


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