Location of SS Pacific

If you look at the post I have titled “Olympic Coast Shipwrecks” you’ll find a map that was put into distribution by NOAA and the OCNMS. In this map they mark the location of the SS Pacific. This position has long been understood as approximate because the SS Pacific has never been found.

I’ve been actively researching the location of the Pacific for a number of years. I now believe I know where the Pacific is located, but the environment where it rests is so harsh that even the best sonar operator in the world would have a tough time locating her – even if they were provided the exact coordinates of the wreck.

As skilled as I know the JaWS resources to be, I suspect this wreck may be impossible to locate. So rather than sit on this compiled data the rest of my life I am putting a high level overview of my research up for public consumption:


SS Pacific (side-wheeler)
876 tons
225 feet long
30 ft width
Captain: Jefferson D. Howell
Collided with square-rigger Orpheus (Captain: Sawyer) on Nov. 4th, 1875 off the coast of Cape Flattery, Washington

SS Pacific
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Capt Howell & Capt Sawyer
capthowell.jpg captsawyer.jpg
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Piece of wreckage, signed: “S.P. Moody. All is Lost.”
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Cargo & Gold:

Original Print Article from 1875 reporting Cargo/Gold:
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“Victoria banks had on board $78,801 in treasure, and miners and others are supposed to have carried at least $100,000 more”
“The Pacific’s safe, a Wells Fargo shipment of $79,220 in currency and gold.”

Most estimates of this treasure conclude it is equal to about 48,000 troy ounces of gold. At current gold prices of $900/ounce we’re talking about $43,200,000 million in gold. Interested?

Other Cargo:
– 2159 sacks of oats
– 363 bales hops
– 111 hides
– 60 cords bolts
– 16 tons misc merchandise
– 11 casks furs
– 31 barrels cranberries
– 130 green hides
– 122 dry hides
– 2 cases opium
– 18 tons merchandise
– 6 horses
– 2 buggies

Mapping Location:

Here is the high level process I went through in estimating the Pacific’s location:

Current Navigational Route Marked in Black
(San Diego to Strait of Juan de Fuca) :
Closely follows 3 nm contour:
46 11′ N, 124 12′ W (off Columbia River)
48 10′ N, 124 52′ W (off Umatilla Reef)
48 26′ N, 124 47′ W (off Cape Flattery)
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Sworn Testimony: Capt Sawyer of Orpheus (As Reported by Victoria Colonist, reprinted by Seattle Star, Nov 1875):
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“[…] at noon Cape Flattery light bore N.1/4W., distant 95 miles; course steered N. by W. till 8 P.M, distance run 65 miles [65/8=8 knots]; then steered N.N.W. wind increasing and sea getting up; thick and rainy. At about 9.30 PM lights reported on port bow; one point.”

N.1/4W = 357.18 degrees
N. By W = 348.75 degrees
N.N.W = 337.5 degrees
1 point = 11.25 degrees

Capt Sawyer/Orpheus Route , San Fran to Departure Bay, BC (based on sworn testimony):
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Expected Route, SS Pacific (Victoria to Tatoosh):
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Expected Route, SS Pacific (Tatoosh to San Fran):
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SS Pacific Route (Variable Speeds from Tatoosh):
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Orpheus / SS Pacific (Convergence Area):
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Area of High Probability:
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Bathymetry: General Area of Interest

Area of High Probability (with Bathy overlay):
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Final Close-Up of Expected Location (Juan de Fuca Canyon):
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So far as I have been able to put together, the players that are or have been involved in looking for the Pacific are as follows:
JaWS Marine
Odyssey Marine (note “Seattle Project” within the “shipwrecks” section of their website)
– Pacific Sea Resources (William M Mathers), who contracted a search with Oceaneering.
– Jeff Hummel

Interestingly, there is a bit of a web that ties a lot of them together:

Jeff Hummel is locally known for pulling a Corsair out of Lake Washington in 1984 and then fighting the US Navy for ownership, and winning. He is or has in the past been partnered with Bill Mathers and is reportedly required to make a yearly expedition to look for the Pacific or risk breaking one of his contractual agreements. Jeff’s current claim is that he has located a piece of coal that he had analyzed by an expert who told him it was coal from a mine near Coos Bay, Oregon. Which if true would be significant because the Pacific took on coal in Coos Bay. But while it seems possible an expert could date the coal, it seems highly unlikely an expert could tell what particular mine a piece of (130+ year old/brought-from-the-ocean-depths) coal was extracted from.

Bill Mathers of Pacific Sea Resources holds the strongest position in my opinion as he had the foresight many years ago to pre-arrange exclusive ownership agreements with the US Salvage Association, Fireman’s Fund and the American Presidents Lines. These three companies are generally accepted as the companies who could lay insurance claim to any treasure that was recovered from the Pacific.

Because of Bill’s arrangement with those organizations, Odyssey Marine negotiated an exclusive agreement with Bill Mathers. Note Odyssey’s quote on the subject: “Odyssey has reached an agreement with researchers and insurance interests that gives the company 80% of any net revenue generated by the project.” This likely means if Odyssey located the wreck they would get 80%, Bill Mathers would get 10% and the insurance interests would get the remaining 10%.

JaWS actively tried to strike an agreement with Bill Mathers as well but despite numerous discussions with Bill over the course of last year, Mr. Mathers remains unwilling to depart from the behemoth Odyssey Marine. Though I believe quite strongly Odyssey will never be back to search for the Pacific.

Why won’t Odyssey go back? Is the possibility of $40-$50 million in treasure and not having to deal with any courts other than our own not enough to allure them back? Further, why hasn’t anyone else been successful in locating the Pacific despite numerous attempts?

Look again at the bathymetry image:

My research would indicate the SS Pacific is sitting somewhere in or around that Juan de Fuca canyon, a canyon that drops quickly from 71 fathoms (426ft) to 153 fathoms (918ft). That is one hell of a steep drop in an environment of house sized boulders and high currents.

I think Odyssey has determined the wreck to be in the same location and hit the area (and surrounding area) very hard in 2003. When identified targets outside the canyon proved dead-ends, they came back to the conclusion that the wreck lies in the canyon and scrapped their plans to come back in 2004 or beyond.

Operations smaller than Odyssey (i.e. JaWS, Mathers, Hummel) may still mount expeditions to try and locate the wreck, but to be successful a very skilled crew and sonar operator are going to have to run the capital equipment risk of doing very low flybys through that canyon – and even if a capable crew comes together to pull it off, the sonar returns that will be banging off the side of that canyon are going to make it nearly impossible to discern the 130+yr old remains of a ship ravage by the collision, the sinking, the rocks, the depth and the relentless current.

Additional supporting documentation included in the post below.

Pacific Location: Additional Supporting documents

Capt Sawyer of Orpheus Account (2nd Hand):
CaptSawyer of Orpheus Account_2nd Hand

Current Navigational Routes:
Current Navigation Routes

Cutter Oliver Walcott report (Weekly Pacific Tribune Nov20,1875):
Cutter Oliver Walcott report_Weekly Pacific Tribune_Nov20_1875

MrJelley account to Colonist part 1 and 2:
mrjelley-account-to-colonist-part1.jpg mrjelley-account-to-colonist-part2.jpg

OHenly account (second survivor):
OHenly account_secondsurvivor ohenly-account_secondsurvivor_v2.jpg

Short Telegram to Intelligencer:

SS Pacific Cargo List:
SS Pacific_CargoList

Sworn Testimony from CaptSawyer of Orpheus as Reported by Victoria Colonist:

Sworn Testimony from Crew Member of Orpheus:
Sworn Testimony_Crew Member_Orpheus

Sworn Testimony from Passenger Henley of the Pacific (part 1 and 2)
Sworn Testimony_Henley_Pacific_part1 sworn-testimony_henley_pacific_part2.jpg

Skagway Report & Photo

From NOAA OCNMS records:
“A fire was discovered at 4:40 a.m. in number 2 hatch. Fire hoses were put in the hatch, ventilators and the steam smothering lines were turned on. Vessel was positioned on the lee side of Tatoosh Island to prevent wind from fanning flames. The vessel grounded at 6:00 am, then pulled off. The vessel was heading to sea when it was reported that she was taking on water [19′ draft]. The vessel started to list and was purposely grounded again at 8:10 a.m., and the crew was picked up by Coast Guard 9:00 a.m. and the Captain later at 1:00 pm.”

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Additional Skagway Details

Name (former): Stanley Dollar
Official Number: 205052
Propulsion: Steam
Nationality: US
Masts: 2
Age: 21
Decks: 1
Value: 150,000
Type: Freighter
Call Sign: KWNM
Use: Commercial
Home Port: CA, Los Angeles
Tonnage (gross): 1838
Built: 1908 Seattle, WA
by The Moran Co
Tonnage (net): 955
Material: Steel
Length (ft): 240.0
Cargo: Glycerine, alcohol, plaster, graphite, oils
Beam: 41.0
Owner: Skagway Steamship Co G.H. Walker
Depth of Hold: 20.0

Wreck Information
Sunk: 12/16/1929 Time: 0810
Approx Location: Latitude 48°22N Longitude 124°44W (Tatoosh Island, Fuca’s Pillar or Skagway Rocks)
LAST PORT: CA, San Francisco (12/13/29)
People on Board: 26
CAUSE: Fire and rough weather

Wreck of the Skagway

The last few months I’ve been working toward becoming a certified science diver for NOAA. Later this year I am planning to take part in what is expected to be the first of a number of NOAA missions to document shipwrecks located within the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary. We heard recently mission planning for that trip is being centered around documenting the remains of the shipwreck Skagway.

Quoting directly from NOAA’s OCNMS website, history on the Skagway is as follows:

“The steam schooner Skagway, originally named the Stanley Dollar, was built in Seattle in 1908. Designed for the coastal trade, she was steel hulled, 240 feet long and capable of carrying 1,500,000 board feet of lumber.”

“In 1925 she was sold to the Alaska Steamship Company and renamed Skagway. On December 16, 1929, en route from San Francisco to Seattle with a cargo of glycerin, alcohol and paint, a fire broke out in the hold. As the crew worked to extinguish the flames, Captain Strandquist took the ship close to shore to avoid a strong east wind that was fanning the fire. She ran aground on the rocks just west of Cape Flattery. The Coast Guard cutter Snohomish rescued the captain and crew, but the ship and her cargo were a total loss. Afterward the captain and crewmembers exchanged bitter accusations of incompetence, drunkenness and misconduct.”