Ear: Cairnsmore

From the Wednesday, Aug. 15, 1888, edition of The Daily Morning Astorian: "Geo. Fuller, chief engineer of the R.R. Thompson, W. E. Warren, chief engineer of a fast sail boat, and Ed. Wright, chief engineer of the Pioneer, went down to the wreck of the Cairnsmore yesterday by the overland route, and caught 1,783 crabs and 214 clams …"

In 1883, Capt. B. Gibbs was sailing the three-masted British bark Cairnsmore from London to Portland, loaded with 7,500 barrels of cement. On Sept. 26, disoriented in a thick fog, he ran hard aground on a Clatsop beach. Heavy surf prevented the crew from leaving the ship, so there they sat for 15 hours.

When they were finally able to board the ship's boats, they were picked up and taken to Astoria by a passing steamer. There were no fatalities, but the Cairnsmore was hopelessly mired in the sand. She is shown, courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society.

So where is she now? Land that exists now wasn't there before the South Jetty was built. The jetty caused the sand to build up, and the shoreline began extending farther and farther into the ocean. Consequently, where the ship ran aground is now inland.

Don Marshall's book "Oregon Shipwrecks" says she "lies just a few hundred yards due west of the south end of Coffenbury Lake at Fort Stevens Park." The ship was still visible even in 1914, and local children used to play in the rigging. 

In 2003, the late Richard Fencsak wrote about how he and his companions "trudged through a swampy morass and scrambled gingerly over logs buried in waist-high cut grass" to get to what little is left of the wreck, which is mostly buried, like the Peter Iredale.

The only clue he gave of the location is to find "the distinctive tree that marked our entry through a grove of shore pines." Other than that, he said, "you're on your own."

If you decide take a shot at finding it, be sure to take a metal detector. (bit.ly/LewDry, bit.ly/RFcairnsmore, bit.ly/cairnwhere)

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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