Newspaper date July 2, 1875
USS Saranac Sailor Tells All! Dramatic
Survival at Sea! All Hands Saved But the Ship Goes Down!
Gives First-Hand Account
The Shipwreck Times has scooped an exclusive on the wreck
of the American naval frigate the USS Saranac! Charles Sadilek,
seaman aboard the three-masted wooden side-wheeler, has
generously provided us with excerpts from his own written
recollections, reprinted here! He tells us what happened
the morning of June 18, 1875, when the vessel struck Ripple
Rock. She had been bound for the Alaskan coast on a scientific
expedition. Fatally damaged by the collision with the rock,
the Saranac’s hold filled with water and she sank
rapidly in Seymore Narrows.
Tale Of Life and Death
Sadilek begins his harrowing tale on the Saranac’s
deck, where, nearing the narrows, he “heard the pilot
order the engines to put on all possible steam, intending
undoubtedly to rush by the dangerous rock in safety by using
“In the midst of the whirlpools
the ship refused to answer her helm and was for a moment
beaten about the angry waters. [A]ll of a sudden there came
a crash [that] shook the ship as if it had been fired into
by a battery of guns. The mad currents had driven the Saranac
on one of the rocks which had crushed a hole in her side.
Orders were given at once to fill the boats with provisions
and [we] made ready to lower into the water. No time was
to be lost for she was sinking under our feet.
When finally everybody was ordered
to leave the ship, some of us inexperienced sailors thought
the action rather too hasty, imagining in our ignorance
that it would continue sinking quietly until it disappeared;
such however was not the case, for hardly had we got away
to a safe distance, [when] the combined pressure of the
rising water in the hold and the air started to tear away
the upper deck with all its weight of guns. But only for
a moment, for the next instant the ship commenced to sink
under the water stern first and it was but a brief moment
before she disappeared entirely. The fearful rush of water
as it closed over her was so powerful that it would have
killed any living being who might have been aboard!
Some loose spars shot out of the
water and the Saranac was a thing of the past. Cheer upon
cheer rose up in the air from the crew as the ship was disappearing.
It seemed like losing a friend whom we had not properly
cherished until he was leaving us forever. During this incident
the tide was rising causing the surface of the water to
be less turbulent, thus lessening somewhat the danger we
were in in the small boats.
The next thought was our own safety.
From the time of the wreck until dusk we were tugging at
the oars with all our might trying to reach the shore, and
although at times but a short distance from it, [we] could
not reach it. The turbulent eddies and whirlpools [were]
making it impossible for us to land. The writer has never
seen an inland body of water more threatening than the Seymour
Narrows. Even the ocean in a tempest has no such ravenous
Towards evening we were so exhausted
that we were commencing to be indifferent to our fate, and
had the boat capsized it would have been doubtful if any
of us would have made any great effort to save ourselves.
They informed us that shortly after the wreck the pilot
with one of the officers and a boats crew of volunteers
were sent back to Nanaimo [150 miles to the south] to obtain
assistance. It was a risky undertaking, but under the circumstances
about the only remedy.
The 22d day of June, the fourth day
after the wreck, the English gun boat Myrmidon with a lighter,
engines and wrecking machinery and a small steamer named
Otter came to our aid. Several divers were also [sent] from
the Esquimalt Navy yard but upon seeing where the wreck
occurred no attempt was made to ever raise the ship.
Among those who brave the storms
of the sea may be found hearts as true and as brave as ever
walked on land.”
Issue: The Suwanee