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The Hazards

Ripple Rock, Race Rocks and Pachena Point

There are many features of the Vancouver Island coastline that can prove hazardous to mariners. Each place has its stories, and the greatest rock formations, cliffs and shoals have become part of local story-telling traditions. Ripple Rock, Race Rocks and Pachena Point are three geographical hazards that deserve a special place in the history of Vancouver Island shipwrecks.

Ripple Rock

Ripple Rock was a large, submerged rock formation in the middle of Seymour Narrows, north of Campbell River on Vancouver Island. It proved deadly for many vessels trying to make their way through the passage, which separated Vancouver Island and Maud Island. The submerged rock and the rushing tides through the strait were legendary terrors to all who knew them.

After sinking or severely damaging 120 known vessels including the USS Saranac, many attempts were made to blow up this menace. In 1943 and 1945, barges were sent to drill holes for the explosives. The water tossed the barges about the strait and snapped the cables that were intended to hold them in place from the shore. These efforts were abandoned. Engineers finally completed their plan to drill underground and up beneath the jagged rock, where they placed Nitramex 2H explosives into a series of tunnels. On April 5, 1958, 1270 tonnes of explosives displaced over 630,000 tonnes of rock and water in the largest non-nuclear explosion up to that time. Seymour Narrows was finally cleared of its hazardous burden.

Race Rocks

Race Rocks is a geographical formation of islets located at the entrance to Victoria Harbour. The islets proved treacherous for ships navigating their way through the narrow turn of the strait due to the persistent fog, tricky tidal conditions and unpredictable winds.

The hazardous nature of the formation prompted the Hudson’s Bay Company to name it "race rocks" because the swirling tides can "race" past the rock outcroppings at speeds reaching 8 knots. As a result of these dangerous conditions, many ships were lost here, including the Barnard Castle and the Nanette, without aid or much hope of rescue until the Race Rocks lighthouse was lit in 1860.

Today Race Rocks is a protected Marine Park Area which is used for study of its diverse First Nations history, eco-systems, geology and weather patterns.

Pachena Point

Pachena Point is a headland located 12 kilometers south of Bamfield on Vancouver Island’s west coast. It was considered to be among the most dangerous places along the stretch of coastline now reached by the West Coast Trail. Despite its perilous reputation, Pachena Point only received its name after its lighthouse was first lit in 1909. Prior to that, it was called Becherdass-Ambiadass after the British ship of the same name wrecked in a nearby cove in 1879.

Pachena Point is most closely associated with the tragic Valencia wreck, which still remains one of the worst maritime tragedies in British Columbia’s history. It was at this location that well over 100 people lost their lives and many more suffered under truly horrific circumstances.

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