Since the dawn of the Age of European Exploration, the Olympic Coast has occupied a special place
on the map. As early as the 17th Century, the rumor of a Northwest Passage was associated with this
area. European "discovery" of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the 1790s brought a rush of
explorer/traders and sparked intense competition among Spain, Russia, England and the fledgling
United States. Shipwrecks mark the history of maritime shipping on the Olympic Coast, their remains
broken by the intense natural forces of the coastline or concealed from us in deeper parts of the
Contact for page content: Robert Steelquist
The combination of fierce weather, isolated and rocky shores, and heavy ship commerce established,
early on, the Olympic Coast as a graveyard for ships. More than 180 wrecks have been historically
documented in the vicinity of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, an amount proportional
to the commercial development in the region and the region's significance in the economic lives of
the United States and Canada. However, due to the destructive forces of wave and current, very few
ships remain intact, particularly near the shore.
There are few recorded shipwrecks prior to the mid-nineteenth century, and no authentically-reported
wrecks during the eighteenth century. The number of losses increased significantly as Puget Sound
developed as an economic center and as Victoria developed on the north side of the Strait in the
later 19th century.
Ship losses were predominantly weather-related, including vessels adrift, collisions and groundings.
Many ships simply disappeared, their last known location recorded by the lighthouse tender at
Tatoosh before they disappeared into watery oblivion. "Last sighted, Cape Flattery," is the grim
epitaph for many unfortunate ships and crew.
One of the best-known wrecks on the Olympic Coast was that of the Austria, a Bath, Maine-built
"downeaster" converted from a full-rigged ship to a bark to ply the West Coast trade. Fragments of
the Austria remain visible at Cape Alava during extreme low tides.
Read about individual shipwrecks in the sanctuary:
W. J. Pirrie
See Shipwreck Map