Ear: Alaskan

From The Daily Morning Astorian, May 21, 1889: “Capt. Pohlman, of Oregon, reported on his arrival yesterday that when coming up from San Francisco, and about 60 miles south of the bar between Tillamook Bay and Coos Bay, he saw both masts of the lost Alaskan floating. He saw no other vestige of the wreck …”

The wreck of the 280-foot iron sidewheeler steamer Alaskan is a sad tale, indeed. She was not designed as an ocean-going vessel, and the disaster happened while she was heading for dry dock in San Francisco, having left Astoria May 11, 1889. The next day, 18 miles offshore, rough seas and heavy wind slowed the ship almost to a stop. At 4 p.m., she began taking on water — despite the pumps and plugging leaks with bedding — and parts of the vessel were torn away by the turbulent sea.

All of the lifeboats were launched, but one got stove in. The men were ordered to don life jackets and get in the boats, but many were frightened, and stayed on board. Veteran steward Al Rahles said, “It’s no use, captain; I am too old, and could not make it. I will have to go down with the ship.”

Hope blossomed, when they spotted another ship, and sent up rockets, but it was too late. The ship went down stern first, breaking in two, with 12 aboard. The captain jumped into the sea, and managed to grab a piece of deck; three others climbed onto the floating wreck of the pilot house.

The tug Vigilant showed up that evening and picked up the three on the pilot house, another from a life raft and Capt. Howes, who had been floating for 33 hours, 12 of them on his hands and knees. The survivors were transferred to a steamship and taken to Portland. A second boat from the Alaskan came ashore, empty. Nothing was ever heard of the remaining crew members.

Elleda Wilson is an editorial assistant for The Astorian and author of the award-winning In One Ear community column. Contact her at 971-704-1718 or ewilson@dailyastorian.com.

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