West Coast Trail: Last Great Shipwreck

 

The West Coast Trail has been witness to many shipwrecks during the 1800s. Most of these were the result of fierce coastal storms and poor navigational aids. As charts and more sophisticated navigational equipment evolved, the likelihood of any major shipwreck lessened – that was until the Russian freighter Uzbekistan ran up on a reef on April 1, 1943.

The Uzbekistan was assigned to transporting supplies for the war effort, between the west coast and Vladivostok, Russia. The reason the Russian captain, P. Ovchinnikoff, ran his vessel straight onto shore near Darling Creek, and far off its intended course, is still a mystery.

Speculation is that the surfacing of a Japanese submarine near the lighthouse at Estevan Point, and subsequent shelling of the beach nearby on June 20, 1942, played a role. After the attack, west coast lighthouses were ordered to maintain black-out conditions to protect coastal installations. Without a lighthouse reference, it is quite possible the captain became disoriented and steamed into shore.

With the vessel settled high on the coastal shelf, the captain and crew had no alternative but to abandon ship and wade through shallow tide water to shore. The crew hiked the rough coastal trail to Bamfield, some 18 km (9 mi) away. They were picked up by a Canadian naval ship and returned to Victoria. No inquiry followed as the captain, his crew, and ship’s log were very quickly returned to Russia. The Canadian army was charged with guarding the vessel. Bored sentries used the vessel as target practice to ward off the tedium.

It wasn’t long before water filled her hull and fierce coastal storms rolled her onto her side , eliminating any possibility of saving her. Looters took little time in taking advantage of the ship’s situation.

“Them waters was bad news for the skipper of that boat, but good for me! As soon as she started breaking up, I knew there was no hope of salvaging the whole thing, but there was lots of smaller bits for me to pick up! You can still see her boilers and some engine parts wedged on the beach at low tide there. Nothing you could haul in to sell, but a good reminder of that night she ran aground.”

Pieces from the steel hull from the Uzbekistan can still be seen today at low tide at Darling Creek by hikers along the West Coast Trail.