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Tales of Hope and Courage

Shipwreck Times

Newspaper date July 2, 1875

Extra! Extra!

USS Saranac Sailor Tells All! Dramatic Survival at Sea! All Hands Saved But the Ship Goes Down!

Sailor 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.

Harrowing 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 great speed.”

“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 aspect.

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.”

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