Wreck of the S.S. Alice Gertrude

  • Fri Mar 11th, 2016 11:10pm
  • Life

The Alice Gertrude

It was in early January 1906, when the little steamer Alice Gertrude piled up on a rocky ledge in a raging blizzard and was pounded to pieces. Fortunately, no lives were lost although the passengers and crew were trapped aboard during a long, terror-ridden night.

 

In 1966, then 92-year-old Guy Lesure of Sappho still remembered vividly the night of the shipwreck. He was freighting at the time between Clallam Bay and Forks.

Most of the freight was carried on the southbound journey but on that particular trip he brought a thousand pounds of butter churned by the Glendale Creamery of Forks and consigned for delivery to Seattle. There was no road then either to Port Angeles or to Neah Bay. All transportation was by boat.

A succession of little steamers linked Puget Sound points with the outlying settlements along the Strait.

The Alice Gertrude made a practice of not only unloading passengers and freight at Clallam Bay on its western voyage but also loaded any return cargo before continuing on to Neah Bay. So the butter Lesure brought from Forks was loaded aboard before the ship cast off.

The next time he saw the butter it was strewn along the beach at Clallam Bay.

Snow was falling and the wind increased in intensity as the Alice Gertrude backed out into the stream and nosed westward. The storm kept mounting and Capt. Kalstrom decided against attempting to dock at Neah Bay and turned back to Clallam Bay.

Darkness had fallen and the blizzard reduced visibility to a few feet. The captain listened for the sound of the foghorn at the Slip Point lighthouse but the warning horn was not sounding.

At a point where he felt the Clallam Bay dock should be, Capt. Kalstrom swung the wheel and headed in. Moments later there was a tremendous crash as the little vessel ground into a reef.

Lesure was among a group of friends gathered in the lobby of Fred Rudeslle’s Clallam Hotel when five blasts of a whistle, the distress signal, split the air. The men lit lanterns and rushed out into the night.

The snow was falling so heavily it was difficult to see the glow of a lantern a few feet ahead. But the men made their way to the beach near the lighthouse where the fatally stricken ship lay a few hundred yards offshore.

The voices of the rescue party carried faintly to the Alice Gertrude; Capt. Kalstrom ordered a leaded line fired ashore. The line became fouled under a rock and could not be disengaged.

One side of the wrecked ship opened up following the impact and cargo washed ashore. A telegraph line to Neah Bay pounded out a report of the disaster and a group of Makah Indians were recruited to make a rescue attempt.

The deep sea tugs Wyadda and Lome, towing several large Indian canoes, headed for Clallam Bay. The waves were pounding so furiously against the exposed side of the listing vessel, however, that the canoes could not get close enough to transfer the shipwrecked men.

It was decided to wait until daylight. The hole in the side of the Alice Gertrude had not enlarged and it was believed the ship could survive the night without further breaking up.

In the meantime cargo was cascading out of the broken hull and bobbing onto the beach. A small army of treasure hunters braved the storm, picking up swag as it floated to shore, groceries, dry goods and even 50-pound boxes of butter. Among the salvage were several cases of whiskey.

When daylight finally filtered through, the outline of the listing steamer emerged, mostly intact and with crew and passengers huddled at the rail. A raft was floated out and anchored.

A line was shot to it from the Alice Gertrude and the men were transferred in a life buoy one by one until the last, Capt. Kalstrom, left the doomed ship.

The steamer was replaced by the Bellingham and no blame could be attached to Capt. Kalstrom for the shipwreck; he was given command of the new vessel.